This myth has been said to perhaps millions of players across the globe over the past 20 years. Especially when you count the alternate versions:
- “Get on top of the ball”
- “Take the knob to the ball”
- “Hit down on the ball”
No matter how you say it, the idea of the myth is that the swing path should be at a downward angle.
Why it came to be
What’s the quickest way to get from point A to point B?
A straight line.
Thus the thinking of this myth is that the quickest way from the barrel (at the point of the swing load) to the ball at contact was more/less a straight line…down to the ball. Sounds like a simpler swing path right? And if the swing is shorter, it’d also give the hitter more time to “pull the trigger.” All of this should result in more of a chance to make contact, right?
Why it does more harm that good
The video above will illustrate this concept very clearly, but the bottom line is this. Swinging down on the ball:
- Decreases your chances of making contact
- Decreases energy transfer from barrel to ball on the few that you actually do contact *
Concerning the decreased chance of making contact, the reason is simple:
If you swing down, you have to be perfectly on time with the ball to hit it, because your bat path is only going to intersect with the ball path at one single point.
The pitch comes into the hitting zone anywhere between -4 and -21 degrees. In other words, it’s traveling down. This is due to the fact that you have a pitcher standing on an elevated mound, throwing to a squatting catcher, and sometimes with a downward breaking curveball.
So when you’re also swinging down, your swing path and the balls path only cross for a split second. This is called the hitting window. Here’s a screenshot from today’s video illustrating the “crossing” of the two paths.
Now when you DO hit the ball, you generally get one of two results:
- You square the ball up, hitting the top half, and thus blast the ball into the ground. Your chances of that becoming a hit decreases the older you get (when grounders become outs).
- You hit the middle of the ball, or worse, clip the bottom half of the ball. To varying degrees, it’s a pop up. But not a very far one, because there’s a big loss of energy transfer since you’re essentially clipping the ball.
A better way
And thus it should come as no surprise that the typical major league swing is 7-15 degrees uphill. If you matching the trajectory of the incoming pitch:
- You dramatically increase the hitting window
- You dramatically increase the potential energy transfer
Here’s a quick illustration of the huge hitting window of an uphill swing that matches the incoming pitch. Notice how long my bat stays in contact with the white string. That’s how big of a window I have to hit the ball since I’m “on plane.”
So if I’m late, I at least foul it off. If I’m early, I can still hit it way out in front. And in the middle of that window: KABOOM.
Speaking of kaboom. Have you ever seen a kid with a “live bat?” They swing seeming nice and easy but the ball just JUMPS off their bat! It’s because they get the barrel directly behind the incoming ball and push it 180 degrees back the other way. They don’t glance or cut or clip the ball at all. They completely barrel it back in the direction it came from.
Ready for a quick drill that will help you kiddo “get on plane?” It’s in the video above.
Youth Baseball School Founder
* Unless you square the ball up…and thus drill it directly into the ground
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