Baseball Magazine

Hitters Don’t Stay on Top of the Ball

By Meachrm @BaseballBTYard

Stand near many hitting coaches and third base coaches at the upper levels and you will hear a common phrase.  The phrase is some variation of “get on top of the ball” or “Come-on Big Papi, get on top of one here.”

Some may see a problem with this because batters never really do get on top of the ball.  All hitters have a natural loop in their swing.  It’s basic physics.  Technically, a “downward” swing to the ball doesn’t really exist.  At least it shouldn’t if the batter wants to be any good.  So, knowing this, why do so many coaches (including me) say “get on top of one” or “keep the barrel above the ball“?  They have to know that a good swing doesn’t stay on top or above the ball all the way to contact.  So why do they say it?

They say it because the ultimate goal is not to have the batter create too big of a loop.  It’s basically the power of exaggerating the swing in the batter’s mind to get the result you want out of his body.  The diagram below is an example.


In this diagram, the batter loops too much under the ball with his swing (green line) and misses.


In this diagram, the coach says “don’t loop as much” so the batter can better match the flight of the ball.  The coach is trying to get the batter to swing on the dashed green line instead.  However, when a coach says that, he often gets the following out of the player:


The batter’s swing does improve slightly (larger dashed line) but it is still looping too much under the ball.  This is because the batter still has the word “loop” in his mind and the body overreacts.


In this final diagram the coach says “swing down” or “stay on top of the ball.”  The batter’s mind thinks “stay on top” but his body still creates a natural loop.  It’s just not nearly as much so the bat ends up hitting the ball.

This type of exaggeration is used in so many areas of the game.  Another example of this is with pitchers when you want the kid to improve his release point to get the ball down in the zone.  A coach might say, “release it in front of your face” and hold his hand in front of his head to show the player.  In reality, a pitcher will NEVER release the ball in front of his face. But what it probably WILL do is get him to release the ball a little bit more out front of his original release point which is actually what you want him to do.  In essence, you are exaggerating the words for the player’s mind in order to get the small physical adjustment from his body.  (Much more about release point in tomorrow’s post!)

One problem, of course, is when a third party observer wanders over and hears you say “get on top of the ball” or “release it in front of your face.”  He’s likely to think or even say “that coach is an idiot.  He thinks hitters should swing down at the pitch and wants his pitcher to release it in front of his face.  This guy is clueless.”

In reality, you are saying it but with the knowledge that the batter or pitcher won’t actually do it literally.

Tomorrow’s post: Release point and the Pitcher’s Arc

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