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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, 12:07 PM
Iconoclastic Iconoclastic is offline
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Default Re: Introduction to Five Tools Analysis: Hitting

I'd love to see an analysis of Vladimir Guerrero or Ichiro's swings and approaches to hitting.
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  #8  
Old 12-01-2007, 06:27 PM
Myrtle Myrtle is offline
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Default Re: Introduction to Five Tools Analysis: Hitting

[ QUOTE ]
I'd love to see an analysis of Vladimir Guerrero or Ichiro's swings and approaches to hitting.

[/ QUOTE ]

Hehe....The "short" answer that you're looking for goes something like this:

There's "talent" and there's "skill".

What Kyle is talking about is how to increase you skill level.

The assumption is in the above is that one has a basic "talent' foundation upon which to build the "skills".

Every great once in a while we will find someone who has such an enormous "talent" for hitting a ball that they can do so without developing the basic mechanical requirements necessary for most human beings in refining their hitting ability to a higher level. As a matter of fact, their talent level is SO good that they can actually violate much of the basic mechanics of hitting and still be successful at a higher level.

The basic "talent's" that I'm talking about in this regard are....

Eyesight....

Hand to Eye coordination....

Reflexes......

Innate Strength........
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  #9  
Old 12-01-2007, 06:55 PM
kyleb kyleb is offline
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Default Re: Introduction to Five Tools Analysis: Hitting

[ QUOTE ]
I'd love to see an analysis of Vladimir Guerrero or Ichiro's swings and approaches to hitting.

[/ QUOTE ]

This is fairly interesting; Vlad is a rotational hitter much like most successful power hitters. However, you probably refer to his "swing away" attitude and his ability to make contact with pitches anywhere within 10 feet of him.

Vlad's (and Soriano's, to a lesser extent) ability cannot be taught - it is innate and it is superhuman. IIRC, Vlad has a high pitches seen per AB ratio, not because he takes a lot of balls, but because he fouls off a ton of pitches that are meant to get him out. Vlad is a rare case of a high-average, high-power, low-strikeout, low-walk player, which is basically impossible, yet he manages to do it.

Ichiro has two swings: One with runners on and one without. When he is leading off, his swing is very linear - he takes his hands straight to the ball in a similar fashion to Roberto Clemente:



This style of hitting leads to high contact percentage and low power. Of course, he is using it to get on base where he is a disruptive force on the basepaths.

With runners on, he switches to a more rotational style of hitting (but still has linear elements) to generate more power.
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  #10  
Old 12-01-2007, 08:46 PM
MuresanForMVP MuresanForMVP is offline
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Default Re: Introduction to Five Tools Analysis: Hitting

great post,lots of info. Nice work Kyle. That jpeg of Pujols is awesome
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