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  #1  
Old 12-01-2007, 07:21 AM
kyleb kyleb is offline
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Default Introduction to Five Tools Analysis: Hitting

"That kid's got tools!" -rwperu

"Carlos Gomez is an example of a toolsy player." -Any one of 9849843689 baseball blogs

Through a series of posts, I will attempt to display MLB-caliber animated images of players that best describe the five tools (of a position player) we see on a daily basis. For those of you who don't know my background, I played college ball, I'm a high school hitting coach, and I currently have delusional dreams of playing semi-pro someday. I have studied many scouting manuals, tons of video and literature about hitting/pitching, and focused mainly on the Chris Yeager style of rotational hitting (think Ted Williams / Barry Bonds). My inspiration is BBTF/HBT's Bullpen Mechanics blog, something you should definitely read for more information.

The five tools of baseball are:
-Speed
-Arm Strength
-Hitting for Average
-Hitting for Power
-Fielding

Speed refers to straight line burner speed; it doesn't capture baserunning ability (often considered an intangible). Arm strength is possibly the least important of the tools, but magnifies itself in right field or the left side of the infield. Hitting for Average is NOT the ability to hit for a high batting average, but rather the ability to make consistent <u>hard</u> contact. Jason Kendall puts the bat on the ball consistently, but it rarely leaves the infield. Hitting for Power is the ability to produce loft and backspin (remember these) with your swing - making hard contact alone is no guarantee of home runs and doubles. Fielding is what it looks like; subsets of fielding include First Step, Soft Hands, and Range.

Examples of young players that I feel excel in the above five tools:

Speed: Carlos Gomez
Arm Strength: Troy Tulowitzki
Hitting for Average: Daric Barton (interesting case)
Hitting for Power: Chris B. Young
Fielding: Troy Tulowitzki (I know, it's a cop-out)

Daric Barton is an interesting case because Daric is all about hard contact. He makes consistent solid contact with the ball, however, his swing has little loft to it. He will have high LD%, keeping his ability to maintain high batting averages (and higher-than-normal BABIP since LD% is the main positive component of BABIP) but possibly less power. Another example of someone who is not as good as Daric Barton but profiles in a similar way is Brian Barden, former 3B for the Arizona Diamondbacks (now in the Cardinals organization).

Anyway, I just wanted to clarify the difference between hitting for average and power using a real-world example. Moving on...

Hitting: The most important tool

No scout will disagree; being able to hit is important. But what do we mean by "ability to hit" - do we mean hit for power? For average? A dead pull hitter, or an opposite field hitter? Walk a bunch? Strikeout not much?

The truth is somewhere in between all of those. Scouts look for the following things in an elite hitter (in no particular order):

-Centering: The ability to center the ball on the barrel of the bat consistently. This leads to hitting for high averages.
-Plate discipline: The ability to take with less than 2 strikes if it's an unhittable pitch. All hitters have weak zones - knowing when to not chase into that weak zone is crucial.
-Loft/backspin: The ability to generate high fly balls that hopefully land over the fence.
-Ability to hit to the opposite field with power
-Repeatable swing; a swing that does not change based on the type of pitch thrown, the location, or the speed. A swing that can be comfortable and is free of flaws.

What are the major flaws in amateur hitters?

-Bat drag: The elbows lead the bat into the zone. This causes a late bat and saps power; hitters with significant bat drag will never be able to hit 85+ MPH fastballs and will not hit for power.
-Poor weight transfer: "Stay back!" No. You've heard it time and time again in Little League and probably from announcers - "you have to keep the weight back to hit the curveball." That is [censored] advice. By keeping the weight on the back foot, you are unable to transfer the weight forward and rotate on the front leg.
-Inconsistent stride: Moves the head in various directions, ruins timing.
-Poor timing: Not having a set timing mechanism (often the stride) basically turns every pitch into an off-speed pitch. Good luck.

The major league swing has four basic parts with many minor characteristics to those parts. For now, we'll stick to the four parts, which are:

1) Back leg load. The hitter shifts his center of pressure and weight to the back leg. This happens as the pitcher goes into his windup.
2) Back leg push. The hitter pushes his center of mass forward, generating power towards the pitcher. This happens as the pitcher is releasing the ball and should be complete as the pitcher releases the ball.
3) Front leg block. The front leg lands on the ground sideways and blocks the forward momentum of the hitter. This transfers linear momentum into rotational momentum. The decision to swing is now.
4) Front leg push. The front leg stiffens and pushes against the ground to help generate the final rotational momentum.

You may notice that I have said nothing about the hands above! The hands play an important but ultimately secondary role to the swing; without a sturdy base the hands are not relevant. Recall your ninth grade physics class - when you slap the ground, it doesn't hurt because you are hitting the ground, it hurts because the ground is hitting back. The same theory is applied in the baseball swing - by turning linear momentum into rotational momentum, we are generating our swing from the ground-up.

Notes about the hands:
-The hands stay up and point the tip of the bat towards the pitcher when starting. This causes a "hinge angle" that allows the hitter to simply rotate his body and release his hands in a circular path around his body.
-The back elbow buries itself into the side of the hitter. This produces the power position we want to release the barrel of the bat into the ball and eliminates any bat drag we might have.
-The hands move in a CIRCULAR PATH to the body - NOT TO THE BALL.
-Imagine barring your lead arm (left arm if you are a RH hitter) and gaining 180 degrees of extension. This is basically the position the bat should be in BEFORE IT GOES TO THE BALL. In other words, you swing the knob of the bat all the way linearly before you release the barrel of the bat into the ball. This maximizes power and produces bat lag which is good (not to be confused with bat drag).

Bat lag:





Here's a picture of Travis Hafner murdering a Twins pitcher.



I paused the image at the four steps of hitting, and slowed it down as his hands "hinge" to the ball. See where his elbow is? See how the hands move around the body and not to the ball?

Another Point of Contact still. Look for similarities:



Here's a fast-motion clip of a great swing from a right-hander, this time:



Seeya.

Hopefully this helps you to understand how elite MLB hitters approach the game and what is important in the tool of hitting. Though I have written a lot, I could pontificate for several thousand more words easily, so if I've left something out or you have a question, please feel free to ask.
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  #2  
Old 12-01-2007, 07:22 AM
kyleb kyleb is offline
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Default Re: Introduction to Five Tools Analysis: Hitting

Pole time:
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  #3  
Old 12-01-2007, 07:26 AM
kyleb kyleb is offline
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Default Re: Introduction to Five Tools Analysis: Hitting

Also, in that last image, look at what part of Pujols' arms move first. Is it the hands? Is it the elbow?
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  #4  
Old 12-01-2007, 07:29 AM
bugstud bugstud is offline
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Default Re: Introduction to Five Tools Analysis: Hitting

looks like right elbow &gt; hands &gt; left elbow? I dunno I'm blind.

pretty fantastic stuff kyle
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  #5  
Old 12-01-2007, 07:30 AM
kyleb kyleb is offline
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Default Re: Introduction to Five Tools Analysis: Hitting

[ QUOTE ]
looks like right elbow &gt; hands &gt; left elbow? I dunno I'm blind.

pretty fantastic stuff kyle

[/ QUOTE ]

Yep. All you need to focus on is that the right elbow hinges first. That helps delay the bat and not release it too soon.

Thanks!
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  #6  
Old 12-01-2007, 07:44 AM
kyleb kyleb is offline
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Default Re: Introduction to Five Tools Analysis: Hitting

Here's a vomit-worthy swing:

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  #7  
Old 12-01-2007, 09:10 AM
Myrtle Myrtle is offline
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Default Re: Introduction to Five Tools Analysis: Hitting

Kyle,

Good start!

What you're trying to do here is VERY admirable and I fully support it.

What I'm concerned with is that once you get down to analyzing each of the tools at the detail level that they must be discussed at, is that instead of intelligent discussion you will encounter disagreement that is based upon either uninformed or incomplete opinion and information.

Be prepared to be patient and do your best to explain (not defend) the principles that you will have to put forth in order to give those who truly want to ratchet up their knowledge about the mechanical fundamentals necessary to excel at the game.

Good Luck!
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  #8  
Old 12-01-2007, 10:47 AM
Assani Fisher Assani Fisher is offline
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Default Re: Introduction to Five Tools Analysis: Hitting

Gotta give it to you, this is pretty cool stuff. Questions for you....

In basketball there are some guys who have terrible form yet still for whatever reason can succeed(Shawn Marion's jumpshot is the best and most well known example that I can think of from today's game). Which baseball players(if any) have very basic fundamental errors in their swings yet can still succeed and what is it about them that lets them succeed despite this?


If you had to pick one baseball player that had a textbook swing who would it be? I don't know baseball that well but I've always thought Griffey's swing looked very effortless and picture perfect.


You mentioned two types of hitting "tools" in average and power. You then mentioned a bunch of good qualities scouts look for and a bunch of common mistakes. Of the good qualities which ones are more likely to produce power and which ones are more likely to produce average. Conversely with the common mistakes which ones will hinder average and which will hinder power? Or is this being too simplistic of a viewpoint?


I swear I really don't mean to imply anything about steroid by this last question.....how much does overall strength in your opinion help a hitter hit for power(or average I guess since "average" by your definition means hitting the ball hard consistently)?
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  #9  
Old 12-01-2007, 11:19 AM
kyleb kyleb is offline
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Default Re: Introduction to Five Tools Analysis: Hitting

Assani,

[ QUOTE ]
Which baseball players(if any) have very basic fundamental errors in their swings yet can still succeed and what is it about them that lets them succeed despite this?

[/ QUOTE ]

There is a perfect answer for you, actually: Barry Bonds. He has a severe hitch in his swing (just like Hunter Pence's poor swing above, where he drops his hands before loading his back leg and bat) but is quite obviously one of the best hitters of all time.

See if you can spot it:



EDIT: He succeeds in spite of this flaw because he has ungodly plate discipline, amongst other traits.

[ QUOTE ]
If you had to pick one baseball player that had a textbook swing who would it be?

[/ QUOTE ]

Joe Mauer or Albert Pujols. Ken Griffey Jr. is a good choice as well and embodies the classic power stroke.

Mauer just has a sweet smooth line-drive-heavy swing that generates good backspin. It is simple, repeatable, and effective. It is for these reasons I use him as the template for my students.



[ QUOTE ]
Of the good qualities which ones are more likely to produce power and which ones are more likely to produce average. Conversely with the common mistakes which ones will hinder average and which will hinder power? Or is this being too simplistic of a viewpoint?

[/ QUOTE ]

While it is simplistic, there are strong correlations between certain traits that scouts look for. The ability to consistently center the ball will lead to higher batting averages, the ability to put backspin/loft on the ball will increase fly ball rates and hopefully power if the swing is good, and plate discipline will increase on-base percentage through walks and should also increase BOTH average or power (since you are hitting only pitcher mistakes or tough pitches with 2 strikes only).

EDIT: Pretty much all swing flaws will hinder both power and average equally, though poor weight transfer will hurt power more than average.

[ QUOTE ]
I swear I really don't mean to imply anything about steroid by this last question.....how much does overall strength in your opinion help a hitter hit for power(or average I guess since "average" by your definition means hitting the ball hard consistently)?

[/ QUOTE ]

It all comes down to the simple force formula: Force = Mass * Acceleration. Swing mechanics are responsible for the vast majority of the ability to deliver the barrel of the bat at high speeds, and it has been shown that heavier bats only produce greater distance if the velocity is kept at a high rate; obviously mass of the bat and bat speed are inversely correlated and as such heavier equipment isn't necessarily better.

I get that out of the way because the answer to your question is "it depends." Core strength is the majority of what is important in swinging a baseball bat (or a golf club, or punching someone) and it can be developed by traditional strength training. The key factor is increasing bat speed - the faster we swing the bat, the more kinetic energy we put into the ball at the point of contact. We need only look to the 1988-1991 Oakland Athletics and their revolutionary training techniques, giving way to sluggers like McGwire and Canseco, to show that strength training does work.

Strength training works in a few ways:

1) Greater lean body mass allows for faster bat speed and thusly more power in our swing.
2) Greater lean body mass as developed by compound lifts (squats, deadlifts, cleans, etc) will increase stabilizer muscles and help the hitter to "stay connected" (no bat drag, ability to maintain a perfect swing for longer periods of time) in the swing, leading to less mishits.
3) Faster bat speed not only accounts for more power, but it allows the hitter to wait on a pitch a fraction of a second longer, giving him a big advantage.
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  #10  
Old 12-01-2007, 11:38 AM
wh1t3bread wh1t3bread is offline
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Default Re: Introduction to Five Tools Analysis: Hitting

I like this thread. Please continue.
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