Baseball is called America’s Pastime, but there are baseball leagues all around the world. Some reasons for baseball’s popularity are its simple rules, inexpensive equipment, and the notion that anyone can see the ball, hit the ball, and catch the ball. It’s an easy game… or is it?
It’s the most difficult game in the world
Sports scientists determined hitting a pitched baseball is the most difficult task in all sports. Rounded bats and spherical baseballs moving at high speeds in opposite directions make it almost impossible for a typical person put the ball in the field of play. Baseball players make millions for getting a base hit every third or fourth try.
The only thing more difficult than getting a base hit is hitting a home run. Aaron Judge led Major League Baseball’s American League by hitting a home run every third or the fourth game last season. The average player went 30 at-bats or about seven games between home runs in 2017.
What’s the big deal?
To fully explain the difficulty of hitting a baseball over a wall 130 meters away, I could offer you charts, graphs, and long equations.
It is enough to tell you a ball travelling over 90 miles an hour should be struck just below the median line in a 7-centimeter wide by 6-millimeter vertical section of a rounded bat swung from a shoulder in a slightly uppercut motion at the point where the bat is located between 20 and 40 degrees above level height and slightly in front of the batter. This will give the batter a better chance for a home run.
Who can do that?
Theoretically, anyone can hit a home run given enough opportunities. But your odds go up dramatically if you master a few skills and have some physical attributes working for you. Here are five things sports scientists say are common in home run hitters.
How to Hit a Home Run
Lower body strength
Generating bat speed starts with pushing yourself toward the ball. During the pitcher’s windup, batters load up like a spring, with most of their weight on their back leg.
As the pitcher’s wrist snaps forward to release the pitch, the batter picks up his front foot and drives forward off his back leg toward the ball. The stronger the legs, the stronger the frontward push.
Planting the front foot helps provide torque as the bat swings through the strike zone. To help with the leg motion, your knees and hips should be bent as you wait for the pitch and stay bent during the swing.
Every joint is flexed
Too many players straighten their legs during a swing. That reduces power and alters bat height. Step into the pitch keeping your knees and hips flexed in relation to the pitch height.
Another common error is fully extending the arms during a swing. The best home run hitters keep their back elbow close to their body and flexed almost 90 degrees. The front elbow will also remain bent as long as two hands are on the bat.
Extending the elbows takes power away from your arm muscles. Your hands and wrists than have to provide all the power. That is not enough for most hitters to drive a ball over the fence.
There is a noticeable bat lag
Many coaches stress the importance of a strong grip on the bat. That is true, but your hands and wrists have to be relaxed enough to let the bat generate speed.
The process starts with your stride. Your swing begins with the big muscles in your shoulders and arms moving forward. The bat should remain in a cocked (rear facing) position until your arms are slightly ahead of you
Your hands should be relaxed enough that your forearms are pulling them along. When your arms reach the front of your body, the hands will roll forward to catch up with the rest of the arm.
The bat then whips through the strike zone to catch up to your hands. Your grip should be loose enough to allow the weight of the bat to carry it through the swing. This is the bat lag.
There should be a moment in every swing when the bat is a blur. If the ball contacts the sweet spot of the bat during that phase, it will travel far.
Youth players are told to never swing with an uppercut. Level swings make the best contact. In little leagues, infielders don’t have the range of professionals. Therefore, hitting ground balls results in more base hits.
But multiple studies and batting analyses show that almost all home runs are hit with a slight (20-40 degree above level) uppercut. Your little league coach was correct, however, in saying level swings make better contact. Aaron Judge not only led the American League in home runs last season, he also led the league in strikeouts.
This explains why there are many more good hitters who hit home runs than home run hitters who hit well. Trying to hit home runs early in your development will lead to more strikeouts, which could keep you from advancing to the next level.
When is the last time you saw someone hit a home run who was not standing in the batter’s box after contact? It never happens. Home runs are not the result of out-of-control power or reaching out of the strike zone.
Shifting your weight to the front foot and creating torque properly leaves you ready to shift back to a balanced stature after your swing. Don’t try to knock the cover off the ball. Use good technique to generate the bat speed you need so you are in a position to watch the ball sail over the wall.
Simple as that
Good batting techniques result in hits. Good batting techniques with excellent bat speed and some strength result in home runs. Besides your legs and hips, building up your forearms and wrists will help generate long balls. Just remember to keep flexible, too.
See the ball, hit the ball is more than a saying. Your brain can decide to swing and make multiple adjustments to your approach in less than the 0.6 seconds it takes to react to a major league fastball. But you must give your brain good data. Watch the ball until you hit it, or it is past you.
Hall of Fame player George Brett says he hit five home runs in his 20-year career when he was trying. The other 322 just happened. Don’t try too hard. Home runs will happen for you, too, if you continue to use good technique in the batter’s box.