Swing Down on the Ball?! Breaking One of Baseball’s Biggest Myths.

I confess. Years ago I preached the importance of swinging down on the ball. It sure made sense when you consider that the hands start at shoulder height and have to hit a ball that is obviously lower than that. So swinging down seemed to make a ton of sense and we sure didn’t want to encourage the dreaded uppercut.

But even as I taught the “swing down” concept, there was something gnawing at me that kept whispering that this just didn’t make the most sense. But I trusted my eyes and the advice that had been passed along to me. Isn’t it true that much of what we teach is because that’s how we were taught? The really good news is that most of that which is passed along remains true. Swinging down on the ball is not one of them. Here’s why.

The top of the pitching rubber is set at 10 inches above the ground. Most baseball pitchers throw the ball from an overhead position. The instant the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, gravity begins to do its thing and a 90 mph pitch decelerates at about 1 mph every seven feet. When the ball crosses the plate it’s traveling diagonally down at about -10 degrees.

So, Coach Tim, what’s your point???

My point is that because the ball is traveling downward when it crosses the plate does it really make sense to swing down to make solid contact? The ANSWER: It doesn’t make sense at all. And thanks to high speed video we can confirm that, at the point of contact, the ideal swing should be 7 to 10 degrees tilted upward. In other words…an uppercut. Getting the bat head on the same plane as the ball is undeniably the best way to “square up” a pitch. Video confirms that our major league hitters swing up at contact.

Brandon Phillips squares up a fastball with a slight uppercut.

Brandon Phillips squares up a fastball with a slight uppercut.

If you are hearing this for the first time, I realize that it may challenge what you were previously “sure” of. New video technology has rocked many of our traditional beliefs. But here’s why you don’t necessarily have to change a thing about how you coach, even armed with this new information. If you are teaching the correct starting position, correct hand path and proper finish, the likely result is a slight uppercut at contact. Mission accomplished.

The uppercut that we see from our young hitters that ends up with a pop up, a top-spin grounder or a whiff is the result of a severe 15-30 degree uppercut that does not match up with the downward angle of the pitch. At the Reds Baseball Camps we don’t teach to uppercut. We teach the correct positioning of the body and the proper swing sequence. The resulting path of the bat head is where it should be…traveling about 10 degrees upward at contact.

So the irony is that we want them to swing slightly upward but don’t teach kids to uppercut because you will not like the result. Teach proper swing mechanics and the result will be more balls hit on the “screws.” Whether or not you decide to continue to shout out “SWING LEVEL!” to your hitters is up to you. But now you know the truth.

Until next time, “If you’re gonna swing, might as well swing hard.”

Coach Tim


Could you elaborate on if and how this thinking transfers into a softball swing?

Hi, Missy. In one of my future posts I will write about the softball swing compared to the baseball swing but your question goes right to the heart of the biggest difference. At the younger ages, because the pitched ball may be traveling downward due to lack of velocity, an uppercut may be effective in softball. However, as the girls get older and see more speed and especially begin to see the rise ball, any dropping of the hands or exaggerated uppercut will make the rise ball nearly impossible to square up. I watched a D-1 game this weekend and saw power hitter after power hitter swing and miss or pop up the rise ball because of an exaggerated “tilt” in their swing. The softball player must work particularly hard to stay on top of the pitch because of the rise ball…which does not exist in baseball except for the occasional “submariner.”

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