The Axis of Rotation

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One of the most prolific conversations still going on in hitting instruction is whether or not you should be a linear or rotational hitter. I have people ask me all the time: “do you teach linear or rotational hitting?” I suppose if the swing had to be classify into a single category you could call it rotational, however there DEFINITELY is and should have some form of a linear movement.

The way you describe it is up to you, but the fact of the matter is that the spine is the axis of rotation once we get to launch position.

When we make our way from stance to launch position many players have a negative move first and then have a positive move as they make their way to launch position. Some players have a big positive move while others have none… as long as you end up evenly balanced at launch position you’ll be just fine.

Notice how Babe Ruth in this gif makes a positive move from stance to launch… meanwhile, see how he hits the ground at front toe touch with his spine angle slightly back?

Now his angles have been set and hes ready to fire!

  • Positive move: Weight/head will move toward the pitcher
  • Negative move: Weight/head will move away from the pitcher

Once we hit launch position, the angle in our spine becomes the axis of rotation. This includes the back view and well as the side view.

From the side:

  • Your spine angle should be anywhere from 2 degrees to 20 degrees… composite major league is about 10 degrees, which also happens to be perpendicular to the line of the pitch.
  • We usually just say spine angle slightly back as a good verbal cue.
  • Notice how the players still land evenly balanced.

Looking from behind or the front view:

  • The spine should have a slight tilt forward roughly perpendicular to the center of the strike zone.
  • This is also the same tilt you should have in the universal athletic position.
* Note: at launch position, your spine should be straight, not slightly curved. This can be a tricky move to be able to keep your spine straight and slightly back, while having your front shoulder down-and-in.

Keeping your spine angle slightly back is going to help you elevate the baseball more easily. Why?

The center point of the swing is the base of the neck. The further back we keep our spine angle at launch the further the bottom of the arc shifts back… this gives us a greater portion of the swing to catch the baseball on the upward part of the swing, relative to the bottom of the arc.

What does all this mean exactly?

More BOMBS!

An example below will show a range of different spine angles. Note: Beltre is much more known for power, while Jeter is known for hits. A couple reasons for this is Beltre’s bat is more wrapped while Jeter’s is more laid off, and Beltre’s spine angle is farther back, while Jeter’s is closer to vertical.

The other pictures are Buster Posey and Mike Trout. Both players have a similar spine angle at front toe touch, however at impact you can see Trout’s pitch is more outside due to less rotation of the hips and hes reaching a little more, while Posey’s pitch is closer to being down the middle or slightly inside.

There are going to be a number of common flaws related to spine angle all the way from stance to launch to impact and finish.

  1. Curved spine forward at launch
  2. Drifting
  3. Reverse “C” at impact
  4. Forward Finish
  5. Spine Angle Slightly Forward
Explanation of flaws:

1) It is very common when practicing a major league launch position that players will focus so much on their front shoulder getting down and in that their spine will curve forward in a ‘C’ like fashion.  Not only is a curved spine a weak spine, but as you start your swing you are creating extra noise which is an inefficiency. Many times a player will over correct and also produce flaw #3… Reverse “C” at impact.

2) Drifting is often caused by having too much weight stacked on the back leg at launch. Once the player begins to swing, drifting is when the spine and hips “drift” forward… rather than rotating around the axis.  This also creates a major inefficiency and can throw off timing as the batter is now moving toward a pitch that is coming in at him/her.

*(note: if the batter gets a lot of drive off the back leg and hits launch position with spine slightly back… as the batter begins to rotate the entire spine may move forward slightly toward the pitcher… which is okay, as long as the spine angle itself doesn’t change.)

3) The Reverse “C” is when the batter gets to impact and has collapsed their spine backwards… creating a reverse “C” type shape.  This can be caused by flaw #1 as well as a thrusting forward motion with the hips. It is also common in reverse C position that the head will dip right before impact.

4) Finishing forward would be the least significant spine angle flaw in the swing, due to the fact the ball has already left the bat.  In order to keep a smooth/consistent/repeatable swing, generally the less noise we create  the better… and finishing way forward onto our front foot is not only going to make the swing look goofy, but could potentially shift the bottom of the bat head arc forward if done too soon.  Once we start rotating on the axis, ideally we stay there all the way around.

5) Spine angle slightly forward at impact is going to result in more ground balls.  This is because the center of the radius (the base of the neck) will shift the bottom of the arc forward, resulting in more balls hit closer to the bottom of the arc of the bat head.

The overwhelming majority of major league hitters have their spine angle slightly back roughly about 10 degrees or so. If you are able to set your spine as the axis and rotate, you become extremely efficient to the ball.
I haven’t mentioned this yet, but it is very important to keep your head still!
Your eyes should be level and square to the pitcher, and your body should feel as though it is rotating around the fixed axis of your spine. If your head is collapsing down or your eye level is changing, it is possible and likely your spine will go with it.
Remember: Keep your head still, rotate around the spine, stay slightly back with your spine, and keep swinging hard!