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Hitting: Take the fat part of the bat to the ball

By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane Blog

Softball is a game of tradition. Often times that’s good, because it is good to honor the past, and it gives us a sense of where we’vestephanie-hands-above-the-ball been as well as where we’re headed. That’s why fastpitch softball, and its male cousin baseball, are still America’s national pastime.

Yet that tradition can also work against us, particularly when we cling to ideas and techniques that aren’t the best, simply because that’s the way we’ve always done it or the way we originally learned it.

A classic example of this type of thinking is the old hitter’s cue of “take your hands to the ball,” also known as”take the knob of the bat to the ball” or “throw your hands at the ball.” It was popular even back in my playing days, and I continue to hear it said whenever I walk by areas where people gather to work on hitting.

Unfortunately, it’s not only bad advice, it’s counter-productive. The truth is no good hitter hits that way, and any that hit with that instruction are ignoring it when they hit, either consciously or sub-consciously.

The idea of taking the hands to the ball is essentially an aiming device. It’s supposed to help the hitter get the bat on-plane so she can swing through the ball. The problem is you’re not trying to hit the ball with your hands, or the knob of the bat. You’re trying to use the fat end. So right away you have an issue. But it goes beyond that.

In order to take your hands to the ball, you have to drop them down, especially on a low pitch. Yet good hitting technique says you shouldn’t drop your hands. You watch good hitters and most will have their hands relatively high, in fact somewhere around the top of the stomach to the back shoulder high except on extremely low pitches. So how do you take your hands to the ball when the ball is at your thighs? The answer is you don’t. Or when it’s anywhere else either.

Taking your hands to the ball is also often taught to encourage a “level” swing, i.e. level to the ground. That’s not going to work too well either. If your bat is leve/parallel to the ground as you swing, you have very little margin for error. If you are a couple of centimeters above or below the center of the ball, you are either going to get a popup or a ground ball.

You certainly won’t get that line drive you want. No, you’ll only get that if you hit it dead center, which is awfully tough to do on a moving ball. If the bat is angled down, with the end tracing an imaginary line in the dirt somewhere around the opposite batter’s box, you give yourself more surface to work with  and a higher margin for error.

No, the thing you want to do is keep the hands above the ball, and focus on taking the fat part of the bat to the ball. Get the sweet spot on it and watch it fly. That’s what the girl in the photo is doing.

Despite the pitch being on the high side, she is keeping her hands above the ball and getting some downward angle on the bat. Her hands are still up around the height of her back shoulder, and she’s getting ready to drive this pitch into the outfield. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that she is one of the best hitters I’ve ever worked with, and one of the toughest outs I’ve ever seen. She went an entire season of 18U ball, plus half a season at 16U before that, without striking out.

It wasn’t because she was so tremendously athletically gifted either. It was because she took her hitting very seriously, and constantly worked at her craft. She could hit for power, she could hit for average, and she was a darned fine bunter on top of it. She never worried about her hands. She simply focused on getting the fat part of the bat to the ball.

That’s the key. Tradition is a wonderful thing, but not when it gets in the way of today. Forget those old cues. Working on getting the fat part of the bat to the ball and you’ll find you (or your team) are a lot more successful.

Comments on Hitting: Take the fat part of the bat to the ball »

April 4, 2010

Towson 15 @ 9:03 am

Do you have the at contact still for this at bat or any at bat for this hitter? She looks fine at the lag position but how she looks at contact tells me more.

Ken Krause @ 9:54 am

No, unfortunately I don’t. This is a photo one of the parents took during a game. But that’s ok, this is an illustation of the hands being above the ball. At contact they should continue to be positioned this way.

April 5, 2010

Mel @ 7:44 am

I like this article. Hopefully the people on Discussfastpitch.com read it because they told me that a level swing was not good.

Ken Krause @ 9:46 am

Mel, I agree and state in the article that a level swing (level to the ground) is not good. You want to match the plane of the swing to the ball’s path, and you want the bat head angled down. Neither of those would be considered “level.”

April 6, 2010

SPM @ 7:33 pm

Well you change my mind on the “throwing your hands” but what about the “axe’ a tree”chop chop keeping your hands high.Out door ball good indoor(cage) bad habbits.

April 26, 2010

Kevin Beese @ 11:52 am

Great article. You want the hands getting through the zone not throwing at the ball. Fat bat of the bat is where the shots are. A good hitter will jam herself with the “throw the hands” system.

April 29, 2010

rexbn @ 10:18 am

I am having a hard time trying to change my thoughts about this. I was taught knob to the ball and my batting average was over .600; yes I can see maybe a wasn’t actually doing just that but I thought about it while I was batting. I am 24 and in my second year coaching at the high school level. Many of the girls swing as you would say taking the fat part of the bat to the ball and they seem to strike out over 50% of the time, pop up 40% and finally drive a ball over the outfielders the other 10%. How do you get them to stop swinging the bat like a golf club without telling them to take their hands to the ball and swing level with the ground?

May 22, 2010

Ken Krause @ 6:00 pm

Rich, slow pitch is a bit different. You’re not really worried about reaction time the way you are in fastpitch. The arc also makes a difference; you’re not going to match your bat to that plane or you will pop up.

I don’t think you’re going to be swinging level to the ground either, though. You should have a slight upswing if you’re trying to hit line drives or long fly balls. You’ll probably have a slight down swing if you’re going for a ground ball. The slow speed of the pitch allows you plenty of time to make that adjustment.

August 16, 2010

Ken @ 1:50 pm

It's obvious that by “taking your hands to the ball” you can't hit the ball with your hands, but anyone that “takes their hands to the ball” is really just driving their hands to the “line” or “path” of the ball. I know of many pro coaches that instruct to drive the knob of the bat to the path of the ball. By doing so, the fat part follows and stays in the path of the ball longer. It is physically impossible to put your hands in the path of an outside pitch by taking the knob of the bat to the ball without stepping out of the box. But by using this term(and that's all it is) you are not teaching wrong. It is just terminology that may not work for a particular hitter. I have been in a spot where a term that I used just was not getting to a hitter. Saying the same thing in a different manner or hearing different words from someone else that basically said the same thing has historically worked. Ask any coach. Terminology is everything.

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