Although this Newsletter refers to baseball and the male gender, it is equally applicable to fastpitch softball.
Adjusting To The New BBCor Bats
Not making the adjustments to the new BBCor baseball bats mandated for use by all high schools and colleges this year will bring a lot of long faces to some really good athletes. Proper hitting mechanics will be the key for your youngster's success. Here's why:
Bat speed. Bat speed. Bat speed. It seems like we have been forever hearing that it is the cure-all/end-all for anyone's hitting problems. Although conventional wisdom presumes high bat speed is good, and more bat speed is even better, there is actually more to be said if hitters are to prosper from it with the BBCor bats. This notion can be self-defeating, at best.
Over the past 30 years metal bats have allowed hitters to succeed using upper-body mechanics only, because metal bats have massive sweet spots, weigh less than wood, and have inherent metallurgical characteristics that provide for a "trampoline effect" (ultra-high off-the-bat resiliency) not intrinsic to wood. The lighter the bat, the easier it is to generate high bat speed.
In previous years, metal bats have had weight-to-length ratios ranging from -12 to -3. In contrast, the lightest wood bats have a -3 weight/length ratio; most are heavier. A 34-inch wood bat should weigh at least 31 ounces or more or the wood quality quickly degrades. (Ted Williams used to refer to these degraded bats as "pumpkin wood," whatever the hell that means....) If you've used both aluminum and wood, you have experienced the vast difference between them.
As a result, it was only natural that bat speed became the ultimate goal of amateur hitters, because with aluminum you could swing faster. And, with the space-age metal bat, all a hitter needed was high swing-velocity. The bat did the rest.
The BBCor bats have introduced new variables for success that the hitting community must now address, because these bats mimic wood bats more closely than ever.
Now, if a player can swing a wood bat 80 mph, and the bat is 35" and 33 ounces (minus 2), then, yes, I would say that is terrific bat speed for that weight and length of bat. But, what if the same player achieved that same 80 mph bat speed swinging a 31"-28 oz. wood bat? Would he be able to hit the ball as far and as hard with a bat four inches shorter and five ounces lighter? Not likely. Therein lies the paradox of the concept of bat speed: Bat speed, in and of itself, can be a very poor indicator of power and hitting potential.
When I played in the major leagues (1966-74), nearly every major leaguer swung a 35" bat weighing at least 32 ounces. Owing to my longstanding relationship with Ted Williams, many ask what size bat he used. Ted swung a 35"-34 ounce bat early in the season, then switched to a 33 ounce bat as the season wore on. Personally, I swung a 35"-34 ounce bat. In contrast, Dick Allen, a great hitter of modest size when I played, swung a 36"-38 ounce bat. And before Williams' era, many players swung 36" bats. Some upwards of 40 ounces.
Most of these hitters were considerably smaller than today's players, no one lifted weights, or used "performance enhancing drugs." So it's interesting to note that up until 1995, 42 of the top 50 home run hitters in major league history weighed less than 190 lbs. How was this possible? In pre-aluminum bat days, it was all about using the total body and generating torque. In contrast, the recent generation of hitters learned how to hit swinging light aluminum bats with their hands and arms only, rendering the use of heavier bats "unthinkable."
I'm not saying that today's hitters should swing bats as heavy as previous generations because the game has changed considerably since that time. But, we should approach changes and adjustments with open eyes because the increased use of video analysis clearly shows what works and what doesn't work. Movements which were impossible to see before have ushered in a much improved and refined instruction experience.
Being able to teach what we can now see has resulted in balls being hit harder and farther! That's the good news. The bad news is there are still countless hitting instructors and coaches that remain resistant to learning new things and making the decision where to take your youngster for instruction a daunting one. Especially now with so many new ones seemingly popping up on every street corner.
In their effort to capitalize on the bat-speed phenomenon attributable to the lightness and resiliency of the aluminum bat, the bat manufacturers could sacrifice a key characteristic of the power spectrum: momentum. Momentum is a product of a bat's velocity and mass. Another way to put it is: momentum = mass x velocity. But the super-high resiliency of aluminum rendered momentum unnecessary; mass wasn't needed anymore--nor were good mechanics based on the laws of physics. Simply, it wasn't about the hitter anymore. It was about the bat.
Another largely ignored fundamental in the proper hitting chain is the length of the bat the hitter uses. For example, we know it is far easier to move an object with a long lever than a short one. Leverage is a very powerful tool. With the aluminum bat, leverage wasn't needed, either.
If a bat is too short, the hitter loses the leverage required to promote his momentum. While it is true that it does take more physical energy to break inertia and move a longer bat than a shorter one, this movement can be greatly assisted through the hitter's pre-swing movements, rhythm, and by the subsequent torquing of the upper and lower bodies. Using just his hands and arms, the hitter would have considerable difficulty breaking inertia with a longer, heavier bat in the time-frame normally conducive to high-level performance.
Momentum is what helps generate a player's power and is propagated by mass, velocity, and leverage.
OK then, I hope things are becoming a bit clearer. With wood bats, the size of a player's bat is just as important as his bat speed. Yet, over the past 25 years we haven't had to pay much attention to this because of the high resiliency of the aluminum bats. But as the aluminum bats ultimately devolved into -3s and now the BBCors, we collectively have begun wondering where the heck our power went. The -3s became too "heavy" for many hitters, and now, in the case of the BBCors, not only too "heavy," but too "dead" as well. A potential double-whammy for hitters to overcome.
When the cream of the crop wood-bat Cape Cod Collegiate Summer League came to an end in 2005, seven dismayed and disillusioned players from that league visited us in Denver for instruction. These elite prospects, which tore up the collegiate ranks with their torrid hitting during the spring with aluminum bats, quickly found out that even getting the ball out of the infield was difficult with wood. Many hit in the high .100s. Simply, wood is not as forgiving as aluminum; it takes a significantly different approach and swing to be successful.
Rotational mechanics imply that we use the biggest and most powerful muscles in our bodies, our legs, to help generate kinetic energy and high bat speed. As more and more players begin to couple their bat speed with a larger mass to increase their momentum through the contact zone, power numbers and average will continue to increase. BBCors notwithstanding. The power and production will be there. I equate this to "effortless power-versus powerless effort."
It's not about the bat anymore; it's about the hitter.
Bat speed is important. Very important. But only if the player's bat is the longest and heaviest he can personally use effectively. The bat has to be the perfect compromise for all the criteria mentioned earlier.
It's been astonishing how many big players (aren't they all these days?)-- 6'2" and up--that have come for instruction that bring 33"-30 oz. bats with them. And, they tell us that that's the heaviest bat they can swing! Or the players that should be swinging a 35" bat, but can't find one, because the bat manufacturers don't make them in that size.
These players shake their heads in disbelief at the end of our instruction program, because their game bats feel like toothpicks. Are they any stronger when they finish with us? No. They're just able to swing a longer, heavier bat at near (or equal to) the bat speed they could with their shorter, lighter aluminum bats. As hitting instructors, this is singularly one of the greatest gifts we can convey. Nothing magical here. A hitter's mechanics should be matched to the bat they are required to use.
(For me, it's fascinating to note that as players have become much bigger--and much stronger--during the aluminum bat period, the bats became disproportionately shorter and lighter. One would logically think it would be just the opposite.)
Bat Quickness There is another very important issue to think about: bat quickness. Bat quickness is the time interval from swing-launch to contact. When Ted Williams said, "Wait and be quick," this is what he was talking about. Many refer to this as "quick hands," but in reality, it is not about the hands at all: it's about what makes the hands "quick."
What we are now able to see with stop-action video analysis, is the lightning-quick response of the hands to the tight "linkage" (torquing) of the upper and lower body an instant before swing launch. The average major league time-lapse is .16 seconds. A mechanically-proficient hitter may lower this number somewhat, while a mechanically-challenged hitter might not come close to the average.
Using proper mechanics enables the hitter to minimize this time lapse, allowing him to wait longer and giving him more time to determine if the pitch is worthy of a swing. Having more time is a hitter's best friend.
The object, then, is to promote separation between the upper and lower torsos and then, at swing launch, the shortest time-lapse before the hands get yanked forward by the rotating hips. It is for this reason why we are often baffled by players who are not very big, but generate tremendous power.
Mike's Tip: Although bat speed is indeed a benefit to successful hitting, bat quickness is even more beneficial. Why you may ask? Because a hitter can have high bat speed but poor bat quickness--but a hitter who has good bat quickness will always have high bat speed.
These bio-mechanical movements are for every hitter, baseball and softball, small and big, and not just power hitters, because the whole idea behind successful hitting is to hit the ball consistently hard.
A hitter's success with the new BBCors should be a perfect match of proper hitting mechanics, quick hands, and high bat-speed, which are reactive to their kinetic linking. At best, it is a choice. As a parent, where do you stand?
Why make a tough thing like hitting--tougher?
Naperville Baseball Academy 10s361 Normantown Road Suite 2 Guardian Building Naperville, Illinois 60564 630-305-8665