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The Role of Backspin in Hitting
One thing many hitting instructors spend a lot of time talking about is the idea of backspin. They believe that...
You can see this assumption at work in statements like...
Hitters that hit with a lot of backspin, you can tell by the way the flight of the ball and the way it carried.
As a result, they teach a number of mechanical things, like swinging down on the ball, that they believe will increase the odds that a ball will come off the bat with backspin.
I've never been particularly comfortable with the idea that backspin is necessary to hitting the ball a long way and that hitters should, or even can, be taught to hit the ball with backspin. That is because, while the research I've read says that backspin is certainly a good thing, my knowledge of the game says that backspin probably isn't something a hitter can control while still hitting for a reasonable average.
I didn't known how to determine whether good hitters are actually using backspin to hit home runs until one day when I was looking at some clips of pitchers and correlating the spin of their pitches with the type, movement, and quality of those pitches. I did this by watching the seams of the ball using high speed clips that I had shot. After a few days of doing this, and being amazed at how well I could monitor the spin of the ball once I got the hang of it, I realized that my clips might allow me to answer the question of the role that backspin plays in hitting.
The first thing I did was take a close look at the clip below, which shows a no-doubt home run to left field hit by a local independent minor leaguer. I started with this clip because I knew it was shot in good light. That is important because you have to have good light in order to be able to see the seams of the ball and how the ball is rotating.
Home Run to Left Field
What the clip above shows is a complete absence of backspin. You can tell from watching the seams of the ball as it comes off of the bat that the ball isn't spinning much, if at all. In other words, rather than coming off the bat with backspin like a fastball, the ball is coming off the bat with little to no spin like a knuckleball.
Curious whether what I saw in that first clip was a fluke or something more significant, I then went through my clips again and found another clip of a home run, this time to the opposite field.
Home Run to Left Field
Again, you can see that this ball wasn't hit with backspin. Instead, it was hit mostly flat with just a tick of topspin and sidespin.
In both cases, that means that the spin of the ball isn't contributing much, if anything, to the ball's trajectory or distance. Of course, the fact that two hitters can hit no-doubt home runs with little to no backspin says that backspin might not be as important, much less as necessary, as people seem to think.
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