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Thank You Tyler Colvin

By Jeff Wilder

Tyler Colvin has been on the Cubs for all of nine games now, but he has already managed to reaffirm my stance on a topic I’ve debated for years. As a student of the game, I’ve long been fascinated by the science of hitting, and what is the “best” method or approach to use. Open stance, closed stance; back elbow up, back elbow down; hands back, hands in; all factors to consider when trying to hit good pitching.

Specifically, I believe one of the most critical components in hitting is how to hold the bat. Back in my little league all star days, more focus was placed on where to put your back elbow instead of how to hold the bat. I can still hear my coach telling me to get my back elbow up. In fact, anyone remember Joe Morgan, and how he used to not only keep his back elbow up, but pump his elbow prior to each pitch? This was the way to generate bat speed and power through the hitting zone.

In recent years however, I have seen kids being coached differently, encouraged to keep their back elbow down. More noticeably, I’ve seen examples of kids being coached to align their knuckles when they hold the bat. For clarity sake, we’ll refer to two sets of knuckles here, your “finger” knuckles, and your “punch” knuckles. Because I’ve coached my son’s little league team for 5 years now, I went to a coaches clinic recently where the instructor advised taking a magic marker, and drawing a line across the finger knuckles of both hands. Then, when the player holds the bat, the knuckles are aligned so that the magic marker line is straight up and down.

Another way to think of this is to hold a bat, and point your index fingers straight out. Are they parallel to each other and pointing in the same direction? For somebody a little more old school like me, this feels awful, forces me to put my back elbow down, and I can’t imagine generating much power or bat speed, not to mention breaking my wrists. My method was to always hold the bat so that the finger knuckles on my top hand aligned with the punch knuckles of my bottom hand. If you do that and point your index fingers, they are perpendicular to each other, and make a much more comfortable “X”.

Back to Tyler Colvin, and where I think old school meets new school. I had almost become convinced that the new method of batting instruction was to encourage players to align their finger knuckles when holding the bat. But then I was watching the Cubs against the Braves last week, and was enlightened. Within the span of about 10 minutes, I saw great views of both Tyler Colvin and Jason Heyward batting, with relative close-ups of how they were holding the bat. Here are two of the youngest players in the National League, if not all of Major League Baseball, and BOTH of them were holding the bat in what I’d like to call “my” method. Heyward wasn’t quite as much, but Colvin held the bat exactly how I would coach a kid today. And after seeing what he did in spring, going from a relative unknown with little chance to make the roster, and outplaying and outperforming to a point where you couldn’t really keep him off the roster, this was so reassuring.

I fully understand that major leaguers are so good, they can pretty much do anything in the batter’s box. Look at how Kevin Youkilis bats. It’s unlikely any coach would ever encourage such a style, and yet if you can hit .300 at the major league level, you can do a hand stand and pirouette in the box if it works for you. But if you’re coaching kids, what should you tell them? In my opinion, the most important thing is to hold the bat so that it’s comfortable. From there, you can break down a batting stance and get into more technique, (elbows, hands, feet, etc.).

By now, I’m hoping you’ve put your hands together to see how you currently hold the bat, (or for most of us), how you used to hold the bat. I’m also hoping that you either agree with my method, or are inspired to debate with me and explain why alternative methods are better, particularly aligning the finger knuckles. Please leave your comments below. For the moment however, at least I can say that my method is in the major leagues, being perfectly demonstrated by the Cubs most exciting rookie, (see embedded picture above). So thank you Tyler Colvin, thank you.

5 comments:

  1. Really interesting article and a nice topic. Of course I have heard this debate since little league but I still had to grab the bat one more time. I always had the keep the elbow up thing told to me and I hated it and didn't follow it, I was always able to find MLB players with a similar batting stance and that was my excuse. I always was one of the best hitters in my league but I also grew up playing tennis and probably could at a high level before college with any bat position I chose. I don't like the high elbow because I feel it is wasted motion if you have a line drive swing. I can't stand aligning the knuckles either but I will grant by the time that my bat makes contact with the ball they are aligned anyways. My main thing when hitting was always what my actual stance was and how I brought my front foot up. For me this has always been a delicate balance as I feel you need some movement in the foot and it is my timing mechanism as I hold my bat still unlike some guys who clearly use the bat for timing. I think like you said you need to do what works for you, if I was telling kids though I would try and tell them to keep the elbow medium high and try to get an approach that doesn't rely on a lot of wasted motion.

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  2. Thanks for your comments. This is exactly what the article was intended to do. A discussion about batting can really get in depth, which is a tribute to the game and how hard it is to hit successfully and consistently. Interesting about your foot motion, as the best hitter in baseball, (Pujols) barely moves his front foot, but simply uses it as a timing mechanism to rock bat and come through the zone. I think we agree though that comfort is key, as well as minimal movement to generate smooth bat speed.

    Is anyone else out there for more comments? Let us know what you think.

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  3. I think the interesting thing about most stances is what the player is using for timing, most stances are way to complicated in my mind and it usually about timing and not something about generating bat speed or power.

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  4. Hey Jeff, great article, I also coach both my son's baseball team and my daughter's softball team. With the knuckles, that does seem to be a common technique taught these days although it was never a focus when I played either (little league or even into college). I think the biggest arguments for it is as anonymous said, unwasted motion (simulate a swing, your knuckles end up that way anyway) and also to promote a relaxed grip, it's hard to get kids to keep the bat in their fingertips and not over squeeze it. As for the shoulders, I've been told that for those strong in the upper body, it's more important to keep the back shoulder high and for those with more lower body strength, keeping the back shoulder at more a 45 degree angle makes more sense. Attending clinics with both my son and daughter, the boys seem to always be told to keep the back shoulder up while the girls keep it down, reaffirming that theory. Anyway, keep up the good work, interesting topic.

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  5. Just wanted to follow up from before, I barely move my front foot as well but I feel like it needs to move a little. How much to move the foot is the tricky part for me because what I try to be cautious of is over time that it doesn't become more than a little movement. I can see very easily how the relaxed grip might be hard to get young players to understand so aligning the knuckles can help actually probably make it less important.

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