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Rotational Hitting 101

Rotational Hitting is the term people use to describe Ted Williams' thoughts about hitting as laid out in The Science of Hitting. However, and despite Ted Williams' success, Rotational Hitting is often dismissed or even disparaged by people in the business of hitting and baseball.

Why?

The problem isn't with the concept of Rotation. What word would you use to describe what Ted Williams does in the clip below?

Ted Williams' Swing

Ted Williams

Rather, the problem is that Mike Epstein's approach to teaching Rotational Hitting is a flawed interpretation, and not a strict implementation, of Ted Williams' ideas.

I have found that Rotational Hitting can work at the college, minor, and major league levels of baseball and fast pitch softball.

Starting in February 2016, and continuing through the 2017 season, I used the concepts and drills that I discuss in my Rotational Hitting 101 Streaming DVD with the hitters at Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis.

YEAR

AVG

SLG

XBHs

2013

.248

.324

56

2014

.298

.412

72

2015

.263

.357

74

2016

.311

.449

144

2017

.334

.472

142

As you can see, HSSU achieved a dramatic improvement in its offensive performance in a short period of time during the 2016 season and sustained -- and improved on -- that success during the 2017 season.

What is required to make Rotational Hitting work is go back to the original sources and dig into what Ted Williams wrote and (really) said. You must also augment his core concept...

  • Rotation

...with a number of complementary concepts, including...

  • Connection
  • Adjustability
  • Timing

...that adapt Ted Williams' ideas to the modern game.

And strike zone.

Rotational Hitting 101

As I live in St. Louis, I came to understand Rotational Hitting, and the concepts that adapt it to the modern game, by studying the swing of Albert Pujols and putting together my flipbook swing analyses.

Albert Pujols' Swing

Albert Pujols

Since 2005, I've devoted myself to studying the swings of other great hitters, including Mickey Mantle and Miguel Cabrera. In 2008, my writings about Albert Pujols' swing attracted the attention of a career minor leaguer named Andres Torres...

I know about training, but hitting was difficult. And then in ’08, I was working with a lot of guys. There’s a guy named Chris O’Leary (a St. Louis fan who kept online flip books breaking down Pujols’ swing). He’s online. He talks about Rotation. He's got video examples of Pujols and I watched that.

If Andres thought Rotation was the key to his turn-around, who am I to argue with him?

Andres Torres Home Run

Andres Torres Home Run in 2010 World Series

Andres Torres went on to help the San Francisco Giants win the 2010 World Series.

Why Rotation?

Why do I talk about Rotation, given the baggage associated with the term Rotational Hitting?

Matt Carpenter Home Run Swing Video Clip

Matt Carpenter Rotating Into Contact

Believe me, if I could think of a better word to use to describe what Matt Carpenter is doing in the clips above and below, I would.

Matt Carpenter Home Run Swing Video Clip

Matt Carpenter Rotating Into Contact

However, I can't think of a better term to characterize Matt Carpenter's swing than "Rotational." As a result, I've decided to just live with the term and suggest you do the same.

Ted Williams' Concern

Ted Williams' focus on the Rotation of the hips stood in sharp contrast to what he felt was the (over) emphasis on...

  • Weight Shift
  • Extension (at Contact)
  • Swinging Down for Backspin

...that were the focus of Charley Lau and disciples like Walt Hriniak.

Ted Williams knew the high-level swing combines Linear and Rotational elements.

The clip below shows Ted Williams employed a stride.

A Linear movement into Rotation.

Ted Williams Swing

Ted Williams

A balance of Linear and Rotational movements.

What Ted Williams was aware of, and was concerned about, were the limitations of the overly or solely Linear swings that were being taught in the 70s and 80s. He knew they were working only due to the nature of the ballparks of the era; gigantic fields where a thin layer of Astroturf covered a hard layer of concrete.

The Problem

The problem is that overly Linear thinking remains a problem.

That is why I lead with the concept of Rotation, even though the high-level swing is both Linear and Rotational.

I'm just trying to get hitters back to the balance of Linear and Rotational elements that Ted Williams employed.

However, if you listen to MLB oaches and analysts, many seem to be fixated on trying to coach Rotation completely OUT of players' swings, likely because that is what they were taught and it is what worked in their era. However, while limiting Rotation can work as a cue for some hitters, it doesn't reflect reality; it's not what great hitters like Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle actually did.

Ted Williams Swing

MiLBer and Mickey Mantle

Unfortunately, players like the one above are being coached OUT of Rotation and Mickey Mantle's swing -- by a now-MLB hitting coach -- and are being coached out of baseball.

Which is tragic.

Not to mention a waste of talent.

Balance in all Things

A purely Rotational swing would be just as flawed as a purely Linear swing.

I learned that lesson the hard way when trying to use Mike Epstein's, Jack Mankin's, and Paul Nyman's ideas when working with my older son.

I found the high-level swing must combine Linear and Rotational elements.

But in balance.

In the end, I found I needed to develop my own, more comprehensive approach to teaching hitting. I have since used and refined my approach with a number of now major league hitters.

Rotation is only one of a number of concepts I discuss.

 In fact, Mark Trumbo has credited much of his recent success to my helping him understand the concept of  Timing.

Why Rotation & Rotational Hitting?

As I discuss at length in my Rotational Hitting FAQ, I was attracted to the concept of Rotational Hitting because I thought Rotation was a good way of describing what I was seeing in the swing of Albert Pujols in his prime.

Albert Pujols Swing and Hitting Mechanics

Albert Pujols

In the clip above, which shows Albert Pujols hitting THAT home run off of Brad Lidge, does he stay closed? Does he keep his front shoulder in?

Maybe early on in his stride and swing, but certainly not into contact.

The self-evident truth of Rotation led me to study both Ted Williams' ideas and Mike Epstein's approach to teaching them. However, as I discuss at greater length in my Mike Epstein guru guide, I came to understand that Mike Epstein at best ignored what Ted Williams emphasized in The Science of Hitting.

Albert Pujols Swing and Hitting Mechanics

Albert Pujols

What Mike Epstein taught was subtley, but as I was to learn, significantly different than what Albert Pujols did.

I then began an intense, in-depth analysis of Albert Pujols' swing, including putting together a number of now-famous flipbook swing analyses.

As I discuss in my experience with Andres Torres, my analyses of Albert Pujols' swing were discovered by Andres Torres in 2008. He contacted me and I helped him rebuild his swing and approach and he helped the Giants win a world championship in 2010.

I continue to think and talk about Rotation, and use the term Rotational Hitting, because I think it remains an important and useful concept, especially given the proliferation of cues like...

  • Keep your front shoulder closed.
  • Don't fly open.
  • Don't pull off the ball.
  • Don't spin off the ball.

If you don't understand how a hitter can Rotate while not pulling/spinning off the ball, then I'd suggest you don't understand Timing and Adjustability, two concepts that were key to Mark Trumbo's resurgence.

Barry Bonds Demonstrating Rotational Hitting

Barry Bonds Demonstrating Rotational Hitting

My Story

As a kid, I loved the game of baseball. However, I was never a great hitter. While some of my problems were admittedly due to my not wanting to wear my glasses, most of my problems were due to poor hitting instruction.

I wasn't taught to do what great hitters (actually) do.

I was taught to transfer my weight from back to front, to keep my hips closed into contact, and to hit the ball at full extension and make the Power V at the point of contact.

George Brett

George Brett

Just like George Brett did.

Or so I thought.

As I had kids of my own and coached them and their friends, I resolved to teach them better than I was taught. In my case, I started with Jack Mankin and then, following the lead of everyone I knew, moved on to Mike Epstein.

However, and following some very good advice, I eventually realized I needed to drill down to and read Ted Williams' own words and ideas, not Mike Epstein (and Steve Ferroli's) interpretations of them.

All the while, I was independently studying what the best baseball players (actually) do, starting with my flipbook analysis of Albert Pujols swing.

Mike Epstein Vs. Charley Lau

To understand why the term Rotational Hitting made -- and still makes -- sense, you have to understand what Charley Lau and his disciples like Walt Hriniak were teaching during Mike Epstein's day and, in many cases, still teach.

Greg Luzinski

Greg Luzinski

In sum, the Lau approach, at least when it comes to the lower body, is that all the power comes from the stride. As you can see in the clip above of Greg Luzinski, which was taken from Charley Lau's DVD, the hips stay closed into the Point Of Contact. There is no separation or torque. The hips, shoulders, and hands move together because it is believed that any rotation of the hips will cause the front shoulder to fly open.

Joe Thurston

Joe Thurston

Joe Thurston's swing was the closest I've ever seen to a textbook Lau swing in a (more) recent player, and he barely made it work in the major leagues.

Why Rotation?

Given that the high-level swing combines both linear and rotational components, and the term Rotational Hitting carries with it significant baggage due to Mike Epstein, why would anyone still focus on Rotation and not something else?

While I use the term the high-level swing to characterize what I teach, I continue to talk about the importance of Rotation, and use the term Rotational Hitting, because it...

  1. Encapsulates the thing that Ted Williams emphasized; the rotation of the hips ahead of the hands.
  2. Contrasts with the conventional wisdom that too often -- and, in my experience, increasingly -- views rotation, and being rotational, as a bad thing.

I was reminded of the value of the concept of Rotation during the fall practices of the college baseball team I work with.

The problem was, when looking at video of their swings, too many of our hitters were using terms like "Flying open" to criticize what were, in truth, good swings. Then, in an attempt to fix something that wasn't broken, they developed an actual problem with covering the entire plate with power, I believe in part due to their efforts to not fly open.

Don't get me wrong.

Cues like"Stay closed" and "Keep your front shoulder in" can and do help some hitters. When they are interpreted advantageously.

However, those cues are just that.

Cues.

Not reality.

In truth, when it makes things better and not worse, telling a hitter "Don't fly open" works by DELAYING the start of rotation, not by PREVENTING rotation.

As our head coach so effectively summed up to one of our hitters, trying to not fly open works by altering the TIMING of Rotation.

Not by eliminating Rotation.

Josh Donaldson Home Run

Josh Donaldson Demonstrating Rotational Hitting

I simply don't know how else to describe what Josh Donaldson is doing in the picture above other than to say that he's rotating his hips, hands, and shoulders.

A lot.

The reality is that the high-level swing is powered primarily by the Rotation of the hips. The hips then pull the shoulders and the hands around, allowing the hands to focus on adjusting to the location of the pitch.

The problem is that it's easy to find people who at best talk down rotation and, in the worst case, try to eliminate it from their hitters' swings.

Mike Epstein & Rotational Hitting

Rotational Hitting is often associated with Mike Epstein, who was influenced by Ted Williams.

In my (direct) experience, Mike Epstein's ideas and approach were a significant advance over the approach of Charley Lau, Walt Hriniak, Don Mattingly and others that I was taught. However, and also in my experience, Mike Epstein's approach to teaching Rotational Hitting was far from perfect.

The problem is that Mike Epstein's approach to teaching Rotational Hitting is incomplete.

It's an interpretation, not an implementation, of Ted Williams' ideas.

As I found when using Mike Epstein's ideas with my older son and his friends, important parts of Ted Williams' thoughts and swing -- in truth, the core of Ted Williams' approach to generating power -- aren't discussed by Mike Epstein.

What's worse and as I touch on in my piece analyzing Dave Hudgens' views on hitting, in some cases what Mike Epstein teaches runs counter to, or worse inhibits, what Ted Williams did.

Beyond Mike Epstein

As I explain in greater detail in my discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of Mike Epstein's system, when my older son started to struggle with his hitting, everyone I knew told me to get Mike Epstein's books, CDs, and DVDs. I did, and found them to be a significant advance over the nonsense I had been taught about hitting.

However, while my older son's swing improved significantly, he continued to struggle with fundamental problems like Bat Drag, which Mike Epstein's materials didn't alert me to or help me with.

As a result, I decided that I had to go beyond Mike Epstein's materials. That meant doing two things...

  1. Buying a high-speed camera, attending 50 to 75 major league games per year, and studying what the best hitters actually do.
  2. Reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading Ted Williams' The Science of Hitting and literally everything he wrote and said about hitting.

Rotational Hitting 2.0

Since 2008, first with my Rotational Hitting 101 DVD and today with my client site and supplementary webbooks, eBooks, and flipbooks, I have been working to bring Rotational Hitting closer to what Ted Williams laid out in The Science of Hitting.

Andres Torres, shown below hitting a home run during the 2010 World Series, was my first client.

Andres Torres used my DVD to help turn around his career and help the San Francisco Giants win a world championship in 2010.

Since then, I have helped a number of major league baseball players either get to the major leagues or improve their performance. That includes...

The High-Level Swing

Since 2006, I have been studying the swings of the best baseball and fast-pitch softball players and working to understand the high-level swing. As part of that process, I have collected large amounts of high-quality, HD and slow motion video of the best baseball and fast pitch softball players.

Albert Pujols Home Run Swing Video Clip

Albert Pujols

The goal is to bring Rotational Hitting instruction closer to its roots; to what Ted Williams talked about in The Science of Hitting and, more importantly, to how great hitters actually swing the bat.

Rotational Hitting 101 DVD

Rotational Hitting 101 DVDIn 2008, I took much of the information that had been blogging about, organized it, added to it, and put together Rotational Hitting 101 and my client site. They reflect the lessons that have been learned about the high-level swing over the past ten years. They build on the strengths, but also address what in my experience are the weaknesses, of Mike Epstein's approach to teaching hitting.

Since I first published Rotational Hitting 101, I have shipped more than 2,000 copies of my DVD to people all over the world including Andres Torres, my first professional client.

Andres used the information on my DVD, and in particular my information on Connection, to rebuild his swing and his entire approach to hitting. The result was a swing that helped the San Francisco Giants win the 2010 World Series.

Andres Torres Home Run Swing Video Clip

Andres Torres
Home Run to Right Field
2010 World Series

Major League Experience

Andres Torres isn't the only major league baseball player I have worked with.

At last count, I have three other clients in the major leagues, two clients at AAA, one client at AA, and two clients playing for independent minor league teams and trying to get back on the road to the major leagues. I have also worked with a number of D-1 college baseball and fast pitch softball players.

I don't give out the names of these players because I don't want to get them in trouble with their coaches. While they, and I, believe in what I teach, most of the time it contradicts what their coaches are saying, so they have to keep it to themselves and we have to work on the down low. If you are a minor leaguer and are looking for help, e-mail me and we can talk about how you can get access to my client-only web site.

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