I am from a small town in central Indiana. I grew up with a basketball in my hands and learned the triple threat position before I could walk. By the time I was ten years old, it was apparent that a small town farm boy was not going make it big playing hoops. I developed a love for the game of baseball and I was very good at it. My father was a college pitcher that never had the opportunity to play professionally. I wanted to be a catcher and, needless-to-say, he did not know much about hitting and he knew even less about catching. We quickly learned that the information and instruction in Indiana was very limited. As in most northern areas, teaching the game is more regurgitation from a book or a keynote speaker than from knowledge or experience. For a kid who had a limited vocabulary and knowledge about his swing, terminology was confusing and the instructors did not know the concepts well enough to really explain them. It was only after I got to professional baseball that I had the opportunity to really discuss terminology and learn the concepts they were trying to teach.
We have all heard the fun, catchy phrases that illustrate concepts to kids like “squish the bug” or “step on thin ice.” These concepts are very self-explanatory and are difficult to misinterpret. However, the biggest confusion in my career has always been the concept of separating the hands. I have heard too many speakers or instructors talk about this concept and never understood it until after I was in the big leagues. Even most of my instructors did not understand it entirely.
Using Your Hands and Body Independently
I began to understand the concept while playing winter baseball in the Dominican Republic for my first time. But, I still had not grasped the terminology until this year when I worked with Terry Crowley, the hitting coach for the Baltimore Orioles. He was able to discuss the concept because he understood it and was knowledgeable enough to explain it in different ways.
After a hitting session where all we did was talk about my swing, he finally used a phrase that made it click. Instead of “separating” the hands, he only talked about using them “independently” from the body. Where instructors before would tell me to move my hands away from my body or, even, slide my hands back with my load, Crow only discussed my hands working as an independent entity within my swing. My whole life, I was told what my body should be doing and the position it should be in. I had never had anybody talk to me about how to use my hands. Nobody had ever really broken down a proper bat path or the most effective way to take my bat through the zone.
Hands Take a Path to the Ball
The game of baseball is all about being able to repeat an action. Working on the action of the body is very important and your body should take the same swing every time. The only thing that changes from pitch to pitch is where the hands go in relation to the ball. This idea holds true regardless of how the hands approach the ball within the swing. So, if the swing is uphill, downhill or level, the hands still take the bat to the ball and the body stays in the same position no matter where the pitch is located. I have seen many times in a major league game where a hitter is able to hit the ball with power regardless of his body position. In the same manner, there are times when a hitter’s body will go through the swing but his bat will stay on his shoulder because he recognizes the pitch is not in the strike zone. Most people think this has to do with a hitter’s physical strength, when it is their hand independence that allows them to maintain a strong hitting position. Strength plays a part of it, but because they have learned to separate the two entities of their swing, they are still able to drive the ball using their hands or lay off of a pitch even when their body goes through a normal swing.
Keep it Simple
The body is an aid in the swing and not the swing itself. Treating the hands as the primary component to the swing creates a much more simple approach to hitting. The simpler it is, the better it will be. So, the body is used to generate more power or simply put the hands in a better position to work. If the body does not restrict the hands, they will have a free and easy path to the ball and will allow a hitter to find his contact point more often and, ultimately, find the sweet spot more consistently.