Ground Force Production
More and more hitters at the highest level are showing the ability to keep their feet planted in the ground and use it to create torque. Based upon our assessment video from the beginning of winter training, many of our hitters appear to shift their entire body weight to their rear foot during the load, and transfer to their front foot to bring the barrel to the baseball. What we’re looking for is the hitter’s ability to keep their weight mostly neutral and coil their pelvis into their rear hip joint in the load, and snap open the rear hip joint into extension upon launch; a more efficient and more powerful mechanism of the swing using the body’s natural stretch reflex and kinetic chain. When a player can keep his center of mass over the middle of his body, he will be able to use the ground to create this strong coil and fast move into back hip extension, transferring torque up the body into the hands and barrel.
The second piece of ground force is the ability to decelerate the torque created in the initial fire of the hips with the hitter’s front leg. A bent front leg or weak tension of the foot into the ground may cause the hitter to over rotate, lose power, and throw the direction of the swing significantly to the pull side. Imagine a trebuchet launching a boulder. If the arm of the trebuchet does not slow down, the boulder would sling directly into the ground in front of it. The arm must be decelerated to allow the transfer of torque into the boulder. A hitter who struggles decelerating his swing will appear to extend his arms toward third or first base, depending on their handedness, over rotate, and decrease their margin for error on any given pitch.
New Cues: Coil with the ground, use the ground, keep your weight centered, smooth coil
Along with this new line of thinking comes a few new constraints our guys are training with, the most important of which is the Post-Stride stance. The hitter starts the rep with their feet where they would land after whatever loading mechanism they use. It is important that the hitter gets to this position and starts each rep with their front foot slightly open. This emphasizes the front leg deceleration required to keep an efficient swing on plane as the hips launch open and the semi closed front foot braces the force. Without much leg or upper body movement, the hitter will coil and fire smoothly with the timing of the rep using the ground (tee, flip, throw). The main emphasis of the drill is keeping the hitter’s feet in the ground to create the coil and launch. Again, the hitter is trying to feel their hips provide the load and power of the swing using the ground, not the shifting of the hips (valgus knees) or weight from backwards to forwards.
Post stride stance pairs well with something we’ve used for a few years; banded resistance on the hips using the PC 360 harnesses overload and underload training bats. The PC 360 harness and band should be used to first resist, then assist the hitter in an efficient action of the hips. By switching which side of the body the band pulls from, the hitter can feel multiple extra variables upon their swing patterns that encourage efficient moves to the baseball. The same concept is true of the weighted bats: the heavy bat reinforces an efficient swing to get a more difficult implement to the baseball as the underweight bat encourages moving at greater bat speeds than normal.
When I get a new hitter in for the first time I will get him loose, get video from a couple different angles and then we will sit down at the computer and talk. I will ask him what he has been taught and what he is trying to accomplish with his swing. I will then pull up some MLB hitters and go over the things that I think are most important in a baseball swing. Once that the hitter has a rough idea of what a high level swing looks like, I will ask him what he sees in his own swing that are similar or different from the MLB swing. This allows us to begin a dialogue that will lead us into the creation of a plan for the hitter going forward.
These first time evaluations typically take 45 minutes to an hour. By the time the hitter has warmed up and we have captured some swings, I have about 30-40 minutes to describe what I believe to be a great swing. So what do I say in those 30 minutes? How can I possibly describe a movement as complex as the swing in just 30 minutes? It's impossible to get in too in depth but I can provide a foundation to build on. I can create context that will allow the hitter to understand why certain things are important. I focus on the principles that I see in every great hitter and how they help the hitter be successful.
Put simply, all great hitters do three things. They get loaded, they get sequenced and they get on plane. That is the easiest, most understandable way I have found to communicate what I believe the high level swing is to hitters of all levels.
The load is probably the most misunderstood move. It is a critical because it sets hitters up to be dynamic into their launch pattern. The load is the squat before the jump, the stretch before the snap, the tension before the release. Below you can see the loading pattern of Miguel Cabrera. Notice that he is loading while he is going forward. Also, notice the balance. The head is centered between his feet, his shoulders stacked above his hips. You can see that while Cabrera is in fact moving forward, it looks like he is trying to avoid going forward. There is a fight taking place where parts of his body want to go attack the baseball while others are doing everything they can to stay back. This battle is resistance. Resistance creates explosiveness, it creates pace, it creates adjustibility. The swing is resistance!
The question of precisely which parts are loading is a complex one. Let's focus on three areas (notice how I like to work in threes?). First, the back leg, ground zero. How does a hitter load the back leg? Often you will hear that you need to shift your weight back to your back leg, but we can see that there is virtually no backwards weight shift in Cabrera's load. But you can see his belt buckle turn back towards the catcher as he loads forward. This coil twists the back leg up like a candy cane and prepares it to fire the hips forward.
Next, an area that I believe is a true separator between good and great hitters at the high school and college levels, the core. The loading of the core is most obvious by looking at the shoulders in the load. The shoulders themselves contribute a little bit of the “downhill” look but the majority is created by lateral bending. Lateral bending puts the backside lats, obliques and small muscles in the lower back into stretch (right side for righties, left side for lefties). Muscles are able to produce increased force when put into stretch followed by an immediate contraction or shortening of the same muscle. I will discuss why the forceful contraction of these muscles is so important a little later when I discuss sequence and plane.
Our third area of focus is the back arm. Cabrera’s hands are moving back while his rear elbow works up. This is internally rotating his rear arm and putting his shoulder joint into stretch. It is also working to put additional stretch in the lats. Different hitters will use different patterns to load the back arm. Some will start with hands and elbow high then rotate the hands down and back while keeping the elbow up. Others will start with the hands and elbow neutral then work the hands back as the elbow works up. The important thing is to create some space and at least a little bit of internal rotation. These moves also have the added benefit of putting the bat in a close to vertical position which is helpful in creating early bat speed into entry plane.
Remember, all of these areas are being loaded simultaneously while the hitter is moving forward. They should work together to create balance and rhythm. And even though the words “stretch” and “load” imply tension, the move should be relaxed, easy, and paced.
You can see what proper sequence looks like in the “Launching Pattern” of Cabrera above. You can see all the areas that were previously “loaded” are now being launched in the opposite direction of their load. The hips which loaded into a coiled position now fire forward and into extension. The core which loaded downhill now works uphill. The rear lats and obliques which were put into stretch are now contracting and getting the backside on plane. The rear arm which loaded into internal rotation now goes into external rotation, creating resistance and stretch across the trunk just before it contracts and rotates the shoulders and hands forward. That external rotation also puts the hands close to the back shoulder where the barrel can begin to be whipped around the “corner” and enter the zone on plane. This is the meat and potatoes of the swing, the rest is easy! This sequence, this launching pattern is 90% of the swing! It also is crucial in allowing hitters to perform the last principle, getting on plane.
The idea of getting on plane has been around for a long time but is often either oversimplified or just plain wrong. True plane must be thought of from a 3 dimensional perspective. It’s not enough to say that bat plane should match pitch plane from the dugout view. We also have to consider where the force of our swing is concentrated. We want focus (for lack of better term) our bat speed through the middle of the field. Hitters that top spin a lot of balls to the pull side or flair balls off oppo are often in need of better swing direction. There are a couple mistakes that really negatively impact plane and direction that I will discuss in a later article.
The goal is to get the barrel on plane early and stay on plane for a long time. “Short to it, long through it” Right? Another well-meaning cue that can be easily misunderstood. Whenever I hear a coach use this cue it is, almost without fail, followed by a demonstration of the hands disconnecting from the body and going straight down at the ball then pushing forward to stay “through it”. Not only is this a sequence killer but they also aren’t getting on plane very early or staying on it for very long. You can see in the image below, on the left Pujols is on plane well behind his butt. Because the barrel is on plane so early, he truly can stay through it for a long time. The vertical blue lines essentially represent his margin of error in timing. Now compare it to the hitter on the right. You can see the hands have disconnected and are working “short to it” but the barrel doesn’t get on plane until it is in front of his body. You can also see the lack of margin, hardly “long through it” when you compare it to Pujols.
This means the bat is perpendicular to the spine, the most efficient angle to deliver force. Think of a string tied to a pencil, now spin that pencil quickly, what happens to the string? It rises up perpendicular to the axis it is spinning around (the pencil). Anything other than perpendicular is fighting angular momentum and slowing your swing down!
There you have it, the framework for which I build swings around. My hope with this article was to provide some context for future posts. Moving forward, I will be able to dig into some of these pieces with even more detail and hopefully this post provides the foundation for your understanding.
Today I’d like to show some of the swing variation training that we have been doing, and explain how we are seeing some of the benefits of this type of swing work. Recently, variation training has come to the forefront through weighted baseball and weighted bat work, which you can read more about here. In addition to the scientific research showing how swinging overload and underload implements can increase bat speed, I am a big believer in the importance of what Jason describes as “Kinesthetic Awareness.” This winter, we worked through an overload and underload program with our guys, and while that is a huge part of our training, we also have come up with different ways for hitters to feel their swings, as well as created drills that force them into efficient movements. So lets look at some of the specifics!
The main thing to understand is that while doing these drills, the purpose is for the hitter to eliminate most internal focus, and concentrate on the goal. Our goal every single swing we take (aside from a few specific drills) is to hit the baseball on a line to the top back of the cage. About 15-20 degrees for you launch angle lovers. With this as our reference point and armed with drills that force correct movements, we are easily able to see how the variation is affecting the hitter. The one piece of internal focus we sometimes use here is making sure that tempo is good from the beginning of the swing through the load, but that’s it!! Setup with the variation, and try to crush the ball over the center fielder’s head. We’ll also use this on the heavy bag, with an external focus on high or low pitches and full intent!
Today I’ll break down our upper half variations, and will continue with lower half variations and timing variations in future posts.
Upper Half Variations
1 Arm PVC
This is most often at the beginning of our progressions and is done on the heavy bag with a PVC pipe. This allows the player to feel the body’s movements without having to handle a lot of weight. While we usually use PVC with the bottom hand, we also can use it to feel the top hand and how it makes the unload move independently. With the bottom hand, we break it down into pieces, with the player going from their stance, to the load move, to the unload move and then to contact. As we progress, we take stops out and allow them to take full swings with one hand. Again, this is beneficial as a start to a hitter’s progression, as they have to really understand what their two hands/arms are doing independently.
This drill essentially overloads our top hand, with the grip split as if the hitter is getting ready to swing a sledgehammer. This forces the top hand to make a strong move deep, as a steep swing will really cause the hitter to push out front, usually topping balls. This drill is good for guys who get a little too aggressive with their hands out front, and helps them feel aggressive deep in their swing.
Overlap does just the opposite of split grip, overloading the bottom hand and forcing it to do the bulk of the work. Both drills are effective when hitting actual baseballs because the hitter gets the feel of his normal two armed swing, while one arm does most of the work. This compared to one arm drills, which many hitters report as not realistic and hard to feel. Here, the hitter wraps his top hand over top of his bottom hand, forcing the front arm to work up and get the bat on plane. If the front arm works out of sequence and steep, it’s very tough for the hitter to drive balls consistently, as the top hand cannot pick up the slack and help the hitter stay through the baseball.
Top Hand Over
This is a drill I did in college and never fully appreciated or understood until recently. The player inverts his top hand, and keeps it open throughout the swing. This setup forces the front arm to get the bat on plane, and then the back arm can push the bat through the zone. This drill is great for direction as well, as any push away with the top hand causes the player to lose the barrel. This drill really forces the front arm to lead the way, and the back arm to stay connected to the back shoulder while the unload move is made.
These variations not only are very effective in our training environment at Rogue, but equally as important they are very easy for players to take with them when they go to their practices at their schools or with their club teams. Players spend much more time in these other environments, often times with swings being taken without much purpose or direction to them. Having these tools allows them to work on very specific movements and feels in those environments. While they may get a funny look or question from a coach, knowing the purposes behind these variations will allow players to get very specific work in without having to have a specialized space or equipment. This is crucial in order for players to continue to get the most out of their reps and progress.
As spring training gets rolling, twitter is heaven for any baseball junkie that loves watching the elite players in the game PRACTICE. We get small glimpses of pre game BP and even some early work during the season thanks to MLB Network’s ballpark cam, but the clamoring for anything baseball in mid-february allows us unparalleled access to watch these guys on the backfields laying the foundation for the brilliance we see on display all season. This in itself is worth it’s own post, but we will shelve that for another day in favor of a look at a more specific skill on display in this practice setting.
Nolan Arenado is, in my opinion, the elite defender in baseball (6 straight gold gloves is decent evidence) and we here in Colorado are fortunate enough to get to watch him on a nightly basis. A video of Nolan fielding a ground ball came across my feed the other day and before I show you the actual play, here was my reaction.
While the length of time may be slightly exaggerated, I have found myself looking back at this video frequently over the last couple of days and I can’t help but think that this single ground ball encapsulates all of the pieces that make Nolan the elite defender in baseball. So without further ado here is the aforementioned play.
Pretty pleasing to the eye, am I right?? Here are the pieces of this play that really stand out to me as foundational evidence of his defensive brilliance.
As you can see, Nolan immediately makes the decision to go get the ball. At a difficult position like third base indecision is especially killer, but anywhere on the field the ability to expect the baseball, create good timing of your prep steps and landing, get an instant read, and make the correct move to the baseball are key to making plays. You can see all of these on display here.
Nolan realizes here that he is not going to be able to get the long or the short hop if he stays on his current course and square to the baseball. About halfway through his break to the ball you can see him start to turn his body as he continues to attack, which is evidence of this realization and his way of setting himself up to make the necessary adjustment.
Nolan’s ability to make this decision mid play is a tribute to his adjustability, something that I have written about before. The move he makes here allows him to lengthen the hop by giving his glove the ability to work back away from the baseball, turning it from what would surely have been an impossible tweener into a longer and more manageable hop. Keeping his body square to the ball wouldn’t have allowed for the creation of this space, and the hop would have had it’s way with him. This adjustability is a huge separator between the elite fielders and the rest.
In addition to Nolan’s ability to create a longer hop with his body, the maintenance of his glove positioning allows his to secure the ball. You notice how as his arm works up, the fingers of his glove stay vertical keeping the angles the same and giving the baseball maximum surface area. This is critical when having to make plays on different types of hops in different lanes of the body.
The athleticism here is clearly on display, and Nolan’s understanding of his momentum is what makes this play look so pretty. There were a few twitter comments on this video denouncing the spin as unnecessary, but because of the move he makes to create space for the hop, his momentum is shifted back towards the third base line. The spin is just him staying in rhythm with his momentum and allowing it to get him realigned in the direction he needs to go towards first base. You can also see that Nolan immediately gets the ball to the center of his body in order to prepare for the throw.
As Nolan makes this spin, you can see that his eyes immediately pick up his target as his body gets fully turned back around. This vision allows him to recalibrate his body in the right direction as he prepares to throw. Having a clear look at the direction he will throw allows him to take a second, gather himself and make a strong throw across the diamond.
One more time for good measure!
Part 1 - An Overview
Now that Rogue Baseball’s methodologies, principles, expectations and goals for our fall season have been laid out, we can get into the meat and potatoes of what we do with our guys, and that is WORK! We truly believe that our program provides players the opportunity to develop their game in all aspects, and our weekly routine and the work that we put in is evidence of that. Below is the layout of a typical week in the life of a Rogue Baseball player, with detailed descriptions from the coaching side on what we do and why we do it.
Monday – OFF Day/Weight Room
Mondays don’t have any baseball specific activities scheduled. Most weeks, we have just completed a weekend tournament and Monday provides our guys with a day to focus on schoolwork, get things in order for the week ahead, and take a mini break from the game. From the coaching side, Monday gives us a day to compile the stats and video, and get that out to our guys, which I’ll dive into more specifically in the next blog post. With that info we encourage our guys to evaluate their weekend and think and look through some things they can work on in the week ahead.
Monday’s biggest priority for our guys is to get back in the weight room, which is a staple of our program and a critical part of the development process for high school players. We are very fortunate to share a facility with Push Performance, who run one of the best elite baseball strength training programs in the country. DJ Edwards and the rest of the Push staff provide a personalized program for each of our players, based off of an initial assessment that our players are taken through at the beginning of the fall. Players keep that program and record their weights throughout each lifting cycle, and continue this process throughout the fall. In the weight room, we allow players to get in there at their own convenience, rather than lifting as an entire group. This allows our guys to get their lifts in around their school and baseball schedules, which can be hectic. While they have some freedom with when they can lift they are also held accountable for being in the weight room 4 days each week. We constantly stress that being great is hard, and the ability to diligently plan their weeks and stick to that plan is the key to consistency. In general, the guys that are consistent in the weight room are the guys that show consistency on the field.
Tuesday – Team Practice Day
This fall, Tuesday is set up as our team practice day. We are lucky enough to practice at a beautiful Cherokee Trail facility thanks to my former high school coach, coaching mentor and current CT head coach Steve Eaton. We use this practice day for a number of things, varying from week to week depending on what we have learned over the course of the weekend. We start each Tuesday practice with a 10 minute team meeting discussing the positives and negatives from the week and weekend prior. In addition, we recognize our weekly top performers, awarding each of our three ball bags to our hitter, pitcher and defender of the week. Recognizing our guys like this is a great way to keep them motivated and recognized for their hard work and how it leads to their performance on a given weekend, as well as turning the burden of carrying the ball bags into a positive. We also give the helmet bag to the voted upon “Dummy of the Week,” just to keep things light and allow our guys to have some fun with each other.
After our meeting, our guys go through our stretch as a team, our band and plyoball work to prepare themselves to throw, and then our throwing progression. With our current group, we have nine two-way players, so it essential that we build both pitcher and position player focuses into our throwing progression. Players act as pitchers as they stretch out, working through three or four different steps of the pitching progression, and as position players on the way including position throws and various catch principles (tags, DP footwork etc.) At the end of our defensive progressions, our two way players throw 10-15 pitch flatgrounds, with coach Moritz guiding some pitch specific work that guys may need.
Once our throwing progression is finished, we generally work into individual defensive work, with outfielders and infielders getting focused full length reps in a variety of ways. After indy D, we may do some sort of team defense that we’ve identified as a problem area, or just something we haven’t covered. After defense we’ll transition into hitting in the cages, setting some specific parameters and drills for our guys while allowing them to get a good amount of swings.
After getting a good amount of focused reps, we’ll move into some sort of live work on the field that gets our guys out in the open and playing at full speed. These drills may include our situational point game, live at bats, the ever exciting Runnin’ Rogue game, BP competitions and others. Getting the guys to compete in a fast paced, pressure environment is key here, and they usually respond well and enjoy it. We’ll conclude with some sort of conditioning, which is in place to keep our guys accountable for the week prior’s weight room attendance. Winning practice is always a key focus for us, so the coaching staff makes a decision on whether or not we practiced well enough to win and if so, we’ll get three outs and shake hands as we would after a game win. Our players of the week take the responsibility of the small amount of field cleanup that we need to complete, and we call it a day.
Wednesday – Small Group Hitting Day
Wednesday for us is a hitting specific day, in which our twelve hitters are split into three groups and work through an hour of focused work at the facility. This practice always starts with players getting stretched together as a group, and then working into some mental game work. Our focus on the mental game and providing our guys with strategies that will allow them to perform on the field is something we feel really sets up apart. Visualization, relaxation and concrete ways to handle the inevitable adversity that comes as a hitter are drilled each week for a short time on Wednesday. After practicing our mental game, we generally move into some sort of lower half and upper half warmup work, employing a number of different drills and implements that help out guys optimize their swings. From there we will get into rotations, where our guys spend time with additional specific swing drills on the heavy bag, on deck with timing focuses and in the cage with flips and overhand BP. In addition to swings, our guys train with DeCervo uHIT virtual, a cutting edge program helping to train hitters pitch recognition abilities, and we take measurements with the Blast Motion sensor which gives our guys feedback in a number of different metrics including bat speed and bat path angle. In the future, all of our players will have their own Blast Sensors and uHIT accounts, allowing them to train and receive feedback when working on their own. This use of technology allows us to take some of the guess-work out of our coaching, and provide our guys with useful objective feedback. Wednesdays allow us to take what we saw from our hitters on video from the weekend and design drills to help attack those issues, as well as giving our hitters a chance to decide for themselves which drills and progressions they prefer and can use on their own. These are both critical to helping our players advance as hitters.
Thursday – Small Group Defensive and Pitching Work
This practice is built much like our Wednesday small group hitting day, just in the context of defense and pitching. Generally, our infielders arrive first, working with coach Logan Serena on fundamental aspects of infield play. The same stretching and arm care protocols are used, and catch play is geared even more towards infield skills including adding transfers and additional footwork variations into the mix. Standard fundamental drills are often done at the beginning; with additional drills built in based on weekend observations or general needs. In addition to mastering the routine aspects of infield play, allowing our guys to be athletic and make great plays is a focus as well. Drills built with different variables like oven mitts and lacrosse balls are staples, and getting guys moving around athletically in a four corners or circle drill setting keeps things moving at a brisk pace.
In the outfield, Jordan Serena coordinates the drill work with the same goals of mastering fundamental aspects of outfield play. The format closely matches that of the infielder’s work, with catch play geared towards outfielders specifically, with a heavy focus on throwing footwork. From there, drop step progressions and various drills working on reads are done, and full length, full speed drills are mixed in at the end. A big goal in outfield drills is to help our guys get comfortable being uncomfortable and the use of late and bad read drills force this. Catchers also spend time working on their craft on these days, with drill work mixed in with the catching of bullpens. Receiving, blocking and throwing drills are done on a need basis, and we always try to overtrain with our guys, working at or above game speed. After hammering home fundamentals in a drill setting, catchers can take the work into bullpens where receiving is obviously a priority and blocking is forced as well. This process works well for their development.
On the pitching side, Thursdays are a great day for pitchers to get good focused work in an individual or two on one basis. While bullpens are a priority on these days in order to prepare our guys for the weekend, they are often preceded by focused drills aimed at certain mechanical and mindset specifics. Coach Moritz does a great job of understanding each pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses and tailoring his instruction to those points. It’s a priority to get video of each of our guys over a weekend, which allows Dillon to break down that video and use it in his instruction and this video has been shared with the pitchers prior to Thursday.
In addition to high-level instruction from our coaching staff during the week, it is a constant point of emphasis to our guys that they understand what they need to work on and that these days are collaborative rather than dictatorial. We aim to build in time in all drill settings where they can work through drills that they find useful, and much of what we present to them is for the purpose of understanding and making a decision on a drill’s value to themselves as a player.
As mentioned earlier, our weekly baseball specific training is the meat and potatoes of our program, and while it most definitely is a grind, we feel that it adequately exposes our guys to what it takes to be a high level player. In the next post, we’ll dive into our fall games and how we schedule, how we work lineups and playing time, and specific stats that we look for in game situations.
Part 3 - Our Approach to Games
Part 4 - Helping Players Play at the Next Level