Upper cut

Travis Sawchik at Fangraphs recently put up an interview with JD Martinez that might change how you view baseball this year. Martinez was once a slap hitting outfielder who had failed to establish himself as a bonafide major league baseball player. He revamped his swing and has become one of the most potent hitters in baseball. He did this by eschewing the ground ball and trying to hit every ball into the air.

“People talk to me and I tell them straight up. I don’t bullshit,” Martinez said. “In the cage, I talk about it all the time. I’m not trying to hit a fucking line drive or a freaking ground ball. I’m trying to hit the ball in the air. I feel like the ball in the air is my strength and has a chance to go anywhere in the park. So why am I trying to hit a ground ball? That’s what I believe in.”

With his hands now free, Martinez demonstrates how he’s in search of a bat plane angle that will produce more balls in flight. He notes that statistics prove the value of a fly ball over a ground ball. In 2016, batters hit .241 with a .715 slugging mark and a wRC+ of 139 on fly balls versus a .238 average, .258 slugging mark and of wRC+ of 27 on ground balls.

Justin Turner is the Dodger version of J.D. Martinez. He revamped his swing to put emphasis on getting the ball in the air and pitchers have paid the price.

Right now the phrase “swing plane” is the 2017 mantra as more players are buying into changing their swing to produce more fly balls. Pitchers might be fighting back by elevating fastballs to counter the “uppercut”.

How this plays out will just be another reason to watch baseball in 2017.




  1. 68elcamino427

    This is a great article!

    Red meat for our friend Attack5

    Ted Williams writes about this swing plane in “The Science of Hitting”.

    inside Out Swing vs. Extension Swing. The before and after gifs make it easy to see,
    if you know what to look for.

    I was introduced to this subject by happenstance. When my oldest son was 15, he started playing on a scout team. He had the classic inside out swing, good hands, good contact, few pulled baseballs, nearly everything oppo to the right side, little power. Great glove.
    So, I went to the first game to watch. The scout leauge revolves around the pitchers, so the batters are
    continually facing the top HS pitchers in Socal. One inning per pitcher was the norm, sometimes a guy would go two innings, kinda like how the pitchers are working in ST today.
    My kid was the number nine hitter in the lineup.
    Sitting next to me was a really nice guy from Long Beach. About your stature, Phil. He was a night nurse at the VA hospital. He was African-American and had two sons the same age as mine, all of our sons would eventually play on this team. We became good friends. He had played up to AAA in his playing days.His name was Lou.

    So as we are sitting there watching, Lou nicely complements my son on his baseball actions and then narrows his focus and starts talking about the inside out swing vs. getting the ball up and out.
    Then he asks, “Who is your son’s personal coach?”. We had no personal coach.
    From our vantage point in the stands, we were Mayfair HS that day, we had a clear view of the bench of the opposing team.and Lou knew every player and went down the bench, one by one, left to right. That’s the son of a scout, that kid works with Reggie Smith, etc., etc., all the way down the bench.
    Lou said a personal coach would be a big help and gave me the number of a man, Mike Edwards.
    Lou said that Mike would be expecting my call.
    Mike played in the MLB with the A’s. He and Rickey Henderson were there together at their beginnings. For a long time, Mike was the holder of the stolen bases record at UCLA. Between bouncing around the MLB and the Mexican League, Mike played professionally for about fourteen years. He has a notoriety of sorts, he has a twin brother who played in the MLB, and another brother who also played in the MLB. Mike was a part time scout for the Tigers when we met. He was also training a youngster named Coco Crisp at the time, helping him get ready for the draft.
    So we went to see Mike. Within two weeks Mike had revamped my son’s swing and he went from number nine to number four in the order on this scout team.
    The principals and theory Mike was teaching are repeated in your piece today.
    Mike said he learned this and the swing technique from his twin brother, who was shown this by Paul Molitor when his brother was with the Brewers. Mike told us this was the same swing that Barry Bonds was using.
    Basically, with an inside out swing, there is a step forward with the front foot and this can easily result in “drift” and less bat speed and most balls that are put in play go oppo.
    First, Mike and my son got into the cage. Then Mike did a few soft toss.
    Then Mike stopped and explained the theory, which he repeated many, many, many times.
    Next, Mike had my son assume the batting stance. I had earlier noticed there was a cinder block in the cage and wondered why the block was in there. I found out when Mike put the block against the outside of my son’s front foot (left foot, RHB) and told him not to move the left foot as he moved the bat. Then he did more soft toss.
    “Look for the bottom half to the bottom one third of the ball!”.
    “Get your hands out there! Let go of the bat with your top hand (right hand) just after contact, EXTENTION!”
    Then Mike had my son do a slow motion swing leaving two hands on the bat, stopping the swing just as the bat was exiting the hitting Zone. Next, holding the end of the bat barrel, Mike said, now let go of the bat with your top hand. The sweet spot on the bat was now nearly two feet farther out toward the pitcher.”This gives you more time, more power, more hits”, he said. “Feel like you are hitting the ball two feet in front of the plate on an inside pitch, a foot and a half in front of the plate down the middle, and six inches in front of the plate outside corner.” Mike then took a batting tee that had the post in the middle of a home plate facsimile and placed it on the plate. “This is all wrong! No wonder kids have such a hard time hitting today trying to learn with junk like this!” The Mike moved the tee out so the baseball was in front of the plate to the desired points of contact and said, “Look out farther for the ball, make your decision to swing sooner, when the ball is at the cut of the grass in front of the plate! With this swing, when the pitcher throws inside he is doing you a favor!”
    Eliminating the step with the front foot gives you more time too see the ball, an extra split second is a long time when a 95 mph fastball is on the way, he explained. When the front foot is not moving forward, you can stay back and the breaking balls will be hit harder”
    And so they resumed the soft toss. “Get it out there, get it up, again!” …and again and again and again.
    There was an Iron Mike in the cage too, and they hit off that for the last five minutes of their first hour long session.
    The next week started off with more soft toss with the cinder block. With all of the swings so far the cinder block had been employed, occasionally the cinder block got stepped on and there had been some stumbling.. Now it was OK to lift the front foot slightly, with the block in place, the foot could not move forward, the foot could only return to it’s starting point.
    “STAY BACK! THAT FRONT LEG IS JUST LIKE A KICKSTAND ON A BIKE, THIS IS WHERE YOUR BAT SPEED COMES FROM!” To further illustrate, Mike had a little piece of wood tied to the end of a string.
    He started spinning the wood and string in a circle. “Let’s see how fast you can make it spin”, he said to my son. So around and around the little piece of wood was spinning, faster and faster.
    Then Mike said, ok, now instead of pulling against the string, move your hand forward with it slightly.” The little piece of wood slowed down. “SAME THING HAPPENS WITH THE BAT WHEN YOU DRIFT FORWARD!
    Another odd item in the cage was a gate with hinges attached to a board. It had been a gate to a little picket fence on someone’s sidewalk. Mike explained the rotating action of the hips and body, “Imagine that you are standing in a tube and that is how you turn, the only way you can turn!. Then as you are rotating, the arms move like the gate on the hinges, GET THE HANDS OUT! USE THE KICKSTAND!”
    More soft toss, bottom half of the ball, get your hands out!” For every ball in the air, “GOOD, GOOD, GOOD, NOW DO IT AGAIN!” . Then fifteen minutes off the Iron Mike.
    The increase in bat speed was spectacular. The baseballs were jumping off the bat like super balls.
    The finishing touch was, “As you are making contact and releasing the top hand, TURN THE DOORKNOB!” This “Doorknob Turning” combined with hitting the bottom half to one third of the baseball imparts backspin while the ball is in flight. the greater the rate of back spin, the more the ball can “sail” on the air molecules. Mike said this could give five to ten feet more carry on a well struck ball in the air.

    I could see what “More Time” and “Staying Back” was all about.

    They call this a “High Maintenance Swing”, because it requires constant practice and attention.
    Watch Matt Kemp hit baseballs today or watch some old clips of Bonds and you will see “The Swing” in action.

    I think more players are employing these techniques today, with the exception of releasing the top hand as a habit. The deceleration of the bat on a swing and miss puts more stress on the front shoulder. This might have been a contributing factor with the shoulder problems and surgeries that players like Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez experienced years ago.

    Mark McGuire employed “The Swing” too.

    Mike was friends with Dick Davis and convinced Dick to include my sons on his travel team.

    I loved that my boys were receiving some great instruction that really improved their ame.
    The year prior to my boys participating on Duck’s team, six of his players were drafted.
    He was also a wonderful teacher.
    What I loved even more was that these men were black Americans and my sons got to experience the give and take from being around them, learning. It was eye opening for them, seeing a part of life different than what they encountered during their day to day life living in Whittier.

    Dick was raised in Compton, CA. At the beginning, he was always testing me to see where my head was at. One day, after about three months he looked me in the eye and said,
    “You really are truly color blind!”

    We worked with Mike and Dick for about five years and met lots of other new friends along the way too.

    There is a lot more that goes into it all …


  2. I feel like I just got a $200 an hour hit lesson. This was awesome.


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