As a young coach, I tried to learn everything I could to make my players better; I was constantly reading and researching everything I could get my hands on to figure out how to get them better results. It’s been so long that I’ve initially forgotten where I’ve read this, but there was a research study done on swinging with bat weights. The major university that conducted this study came to the conclusion that swinging with bat weights would more than likely have a counter effect and slow players down in the on-deck circle rather than speed them up. This topic developed a lot of traction in player development circles, and coaches were repeatedly discussing it. I started messing around with this concept in the cage a lot; I had guys carrying out different variations of swings between a bat with a donut, a sledgehammer, a regular bat, a swift stick or a light bat. I was looking for a combination of things that provided an optimal result. As it turns out, I was looking for something that didn’t exist.
Bat speed and underload/overload training has gained a lot of traction in recent years, which is a good thing because it can certainly help many players, however, I have also watched it screw people up beyond belief. We recently had a player come in that hit leadoff for a Southern California JC last year and hit well over .300, yet when I watched his swing, all I could think to myself was “How the hell did this kid hit like that?” At the end of the evaluation process, we typically sit and walk through the swing. We discuss tons of topics and movements and then highlight what they do well and what they don’t do well. During that portion of the evaluation we started discussing what changed and I learned that he didn’t actually hit like that, in fact, he basically got cut from the team last season after not hitting ANYTHING all fall. Over the summer, coming off of that .300+ BA season he wanted to get better, this kid is a 24/7 workaholic with a whole lot of want and he decided to start doing some drills that consisted of his rear hip and back leg snapping his barrel behind him. He coupled that move with some overload/underload training at a cage by his house. He went into fall feeling like a badass but he self-organized himself onto the bench, off of the team and ended up falling on his ass.
Overload bats can be great for some yet awful for others given where they are at with their swing. They can be great for altering a pattern, and they can be great for challenging the system with variability. The same goes for underload bats; hitters have to develop a legitimate and consistent pattern to challenge before they start challenging it. The brain focuses on task rather than efficiency, which is key in the swing. Everything is great, but everything also sucks. It all comes down to who, what, when, where and why. Who are you using the drill for? What is the purpose behind it? When do you program it? Where is it going to help them? Why is it going to work?
In Baseball, we lack educational resources as coaches. We typically rely on what we did, what we felt, and what we were taught. That lack of education failed to arm us with the tools necessary to develop ALL of our players to the best of their ability. As a result, when people smarter than us come out with research studies on things we feel, our typical reaction is “omg, that makes sense”, and then we abandon something we’d done for so long. Maybe bat weights in the on-deck circle do slow swings down. But what if that’s a good thing? The avg in GAME MLB bat speed hovers around 70 mph believe it or not. Which means there are some swinging 75 mph and some swinging 65 mph. In fact, some of the greatest ever have notably lower bat speeds. What if that slower bat speed keeps their barrel square to the ball longer? What if that slower bat speed increase consistency in EV and ball striking because they are able to compress the cork of the ball more often? What if their slower bat speed is a major reason why they are so good?
After that study came out someone asked Nick Swisher about it on MLB Network or Baseball Tonight, I can’t remember which one, he replied something along the lines of ” Yeah, that’s cool and all but I’ve been doing this forever and it makes me feel good, so I’m going to keep on doing it.” The greatest in history may not know why or how, but they know what they feel and how to repeat that feeling that makes them so good, which is a huge step.
There are a lot of counter intuitive notions, thoughts and feels that exist in this game. Baseball deals with extremely complex and dynamic movement systems and the game itself has so many nuances that it takes a lifetime of studying, learning and being around it. In fact, I heard one of my coaches at the academy I grew up going to say something that really stuck with me, we were talking about why we loved Baseball so much and he said “Bleecker, Baseball is the only sport that you can be around your entire life and literally see things that you have never seen before”.
The ELITE of the ELITE have a feel for what they are doing. Up till this point, have you ever thought about why Baseball players can reasonably compete in other sports, but why other athletes can’t play Baseball as well? Have you ever thought about the ridiculous % of MLB players, REGARDLESS OF THEIR CURRENT POSITION, that grew up playing SS. What makes a specific kid end up at SS when they are young? He isn’t necessarily the best athlete I can tell you that. Many of the greatest athletes in the world do not or can not play Baseball. It isn’t power, speed, or size; the best Baseball players have ridiculous neuromuscular control, and an unreal degree of proprioceptive awareness. Simply put, their brains control their limbs in space better than everyone else. As a result, they have more feel and are more in-tuned to what their body is doing. I have zero data behind what I just said, and no numbers to back it up. What I do have are years and years of experience being in the trenches. I’ve also been blessed with the opportunity to watch, work with, and be responsible for the development of some of the best young players in the country. If we could test neuromuscular control in Baseball, it would be a HUGE thing for the game. At 108, we have been working on training that for years now and are getting better at it all the time. Here’s the thing, I don’t give a shit that I don’t have data on it, I have a feel for it and it makes sense. As Galileo once said, “In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.” I honestly feel like that’s what I have been able to do over the years; deductively reason, problem solve and try to make sense of this crazy game. That is the only way we are going to be able to push this thing in the right direction. Experienced coaches, using data and technology to make sense of things and see what is actually working and what’s not. So when I say you can take your data and shove it up your ass, I’m talking about your data on GIRD, hip/shoulder separation, mobility, strength, arm injuries, arm recoils and anything else like it.
Here’s the bottom line, I read so much research over the years that was responsible for temporarily screwing me up, it’s not even funny. I’ve had so many guys that I’ve had to go back to years later and say “Hey, remember that thing I used to yell at you not to do. Ya, we need to go back to doing that because it’s actually a good thing”.
I’ve come full circle, gone back to my roots over the last few years and instead of arguing about swinging up or down, I spent a hell of a lot of time trying to figure out why so many of the best have said what they said. The more I’ve used data to test things like combining empirical observation with data collection, the closer I feel to the truth.