Sometimes Resume Doesn't Mean Good Coach
I am never surprised when I hear a professional baseball player (or former player) giving bad advice about hitting. I'm not surprised because I hear it constantly from them. Incredible baseball players who are regurgitating old school junk advice because they've heard it from all their old school junk coaches growing up. Don Mattingly is one of the worst hitting coaches out there, but he's not alone.
People believe this stuff because it's coming from a professional player or coach, and so they pass it along themselves. And so the cycle goes, and the horrible advice just continues to be given.
I'll write more on this subject because it's important, but I'll leave you with this thought for right now. Just because somebody is good at baseball doesn't mean they know how to teach it. A lot of times the relationship between the two is the opposite of that, so be careful who you're listening to.
Yes I know, Don Mattingly hit .307 in 14 seasons in the big leagues. I didn't say the man can't hit, I said he's clueless about HOW he did it.
By the way, I don't know Don Mattingly and this is not meant in any way to be critical of him, the man. I wish him only the best, but this horrific hitting advice needs to be called out because there are people out there that will believe anything a "pro" says.
First let me show you this video. Watch it, watch the whole thing and then we'll discuss.
Sorry I made you watch that, it's one of the most irritating things I've ever seen. I really wish that these guys would actually watch what they're spewing out to kids and youth coaches and consider first whether it makes one ounce of sense.
Especially if somebody is going to make money from the advice they're giving or the products they're selling. Seems to me they have a duty to do a little research first. Too many don't however, so I'll do my best to steer you in the right direction.
Well, let's take a look at it.
Point #1: Right in the beginning he says he wants to take his hands "directly to the baseball". Why? Well he misspeaks in the video but what he means is "shortest point from A to B is a straight line".
So he believes that the swing should take the barrel in a straight line from up by his ear, to the baseball. In other words, straight down from head height to wherever the ball is. Shortest path, straight down to the baseball.
He shows you how to go directly to the baseball with his hands and is actually showing you a chopping motion downward to the ball.
I'm going to start by saying something that should be obvious but not enough people think about: the baseball is coming DOWNWARD to the hitter. It leaves a pitcher's hand (who is standing on a mound) and is thrown downward into the strike zone near the batter's knees.
This isn't rocket science, imagine a ball path coming down from the pitchers hand. Now imagine a line coming down from a batter's ear, straight down through that line. Where those lines intersect is where the bat could actually hit the ball.
Here's a PDF I made to illustrate it:
And here's a picture from Ted Williams' book "The Science of Hitting".
And here's a simple drawing from cmallbaseball.com that shows the same thing. I feel like pictures aren't necessary here, but since so many people think we should swing down, I guess it's worth showing.
Okay so I think we've illustrated that he's teaching the very worst way to give yourself a chance to hit the ball. All other factors being equal, swinging down gives the hitter the least amount of opportunity to make contact. Especially if we're talking about SOLID contact.
Point #2: Don't drop your back shoulder because it creates a loopy swing.
He believes that the shoulders should remain level with each other so that the bat can go directly to the baseball. Any dropping of the back shoulder creates length and loopiness in the swing.
This one is taught by these "linear" hitting coaches and it makes me believe that they've never watched a hitting video in their life. Again, it's just them regurgitating junk.
If you really believe that the proper bat path is straight down, you're wrong. And if you really believe that hitters hit with level shoulders, you're learning from some very poor sources.
Here's Don Mattingly while he's showing you how to swing:
Shoulders level, barrel above hands, straight down to the ball as he says. Does this look right? Does anybody hit like that?
Okay so I showed you a bunch of power guys. I'm hiding the pictures of all the "contact" guys right?
Okay Mickey was a "power" guy but he deserved an appearance.
And Don Mattingly himself?
Oh no, he's swinging up!
I could show you ten thousand more pictures but what's the point. This is how high level hitters get it done, period. They do not swing down, their shoulders are not level, and the barrel isn't above the hands crashing down on the top of the baseball.
At 1:38 in the video he shows us how not to swing and it's by far the best thing he did in the whole video.
Point #3: He attributes popping up to swinging upward, and says he wants to teach kids to get "down into the baseball".
We have shown that a downward path is the worst way to inflict direct and solid contact to the ball. Popups are caused from a glancing blow to the bottom of the baseball. You are far more likely to miss the center of the ball when you're slicing downward at a moving pitch and far more likely to make solid contact when you're in the ball's path.
Please don't tell me it creates backspin to hit the ball swinging down. Physics proves that the best way to put backspin on the ball is to meet the ball on ITS' path, on the bottom half. Here's a picture of scientifically proven successful bat paths:
Green path is bat, red path is ball. This is the swing path that generates the highest exit speed and optimal trajectory for distance.
Point #4: He says that swinging directly to the ball makes your bat level and keeps you in the zone longer. I'll even quote him "If you swing the bat almost straight down, the bat stays in the zone a long time".
Watch at the 2:50 mark in the video.
I'm not sure what to say here, look at the pictures above and tell me how swinging straight down keeps you in the hitting zone longer. This is on level with what a 5 year old might say, it blows my mind that so many "professional" players and coaches talk this way.
He says if you're late, you can still hit it, same as if you're early. I'm just going to accuse him of being confused. A downward swing forces your timing to be EXACT so that you intersect the path of the ball just at the right time.
Being in the hitting zone before the ball and then swinging on its' path, like all good hitters do, actually does give you a good margin of error on timing.
Here's a picture from a video I found of Don Mattingly hitting a home run:
I know the quality isn't great but I drew a line that shows the path of the ball (green), a blue line on the barrel of his bat as we swings, and a yellow line showing his bat because it's blurry in the video. The next frame of this video shows him hitting the pitch at where the next circle is along the blue line.
This is one frame before contact, look how he's doing everything he's saying not to do. He's actually the opposite of the garbage he's selling.
He hit .307 because he was a great hitter with great mechanics, but that doesn't mean he has a clue how to teach it.
My advice to players, dads that are looking for advice, and coaches looking for new tools, is don't worry about what the coach's playing resume is. Worry about how good he is at coaching.
After all, you're not paying to see him play, you're hoping he can make you a guy that other people will pay to see play someday.