Lets take a look at Bryce Harper’s swing sequence here. This is early 2019 before spring training. Nothing new to see from him vs his usual swing (or that I can tell from this) but there are some things to note.
His swing may seem out of control at times or like he is swinging as hard as he can but his balance is always great. You can swing as hard as you want if you can control it and stay balanced.
Load and Stretch
This is probably the key to his power. His load is back and wide and he creates so much stretch and power with his hips, shoulders, and back elbow.
This is where his swing is unique and its not something you would teach. That doesn’t matter because its perfect for him. But he becomes very down and steep to the ball and more noticeably his head drops and tilts back. This may give him the sense that he is staying down and behind the ball.
All the power is unleashed at impact. He doesn’t get cheated. That big load and powerful launch gets him to this spot and when he has the natural skill to square the ball up, he hits it hard. His hips fire so hard that his back foot has to release and come up.
Balance and up and the things to look at here.
This isn’t a swing anyone would teach but that’s the point. Everyone is unique in the way their body moves. In the swing the feet, knees, thighs, hips, back, core, shoulders, elbows, neck, wrists, and hands have to work together. The mind already knows that it needs to just react and get the bat on the ball. I’ve only listed 12 body parts out of the thousands that need to work in a swing. Every muscle, tendon, nerve, etc need to work together. But now you can mathematically understand why everyone’s swing is different.
Feel vs Real is a “real” thing. I have worked with a lot of people who need to feel something to get into the proper position. Actually, everyone needs to feel something to get into position. Its a matter of what they feel (or think they are doing) and what is actually happening (on video).
Josh Donaldson is an elite hitter but what he thinks he does and what he actually does isn’t the same. That’s ok, it’s normal. But where this becomes an issue is when he tries to explain how he swings and has an MVP season, then every kid wants to swing like him. So they mimic it and listen.
They take this idea or lesson and go to:
It works. They can swing up and hit the ball. Ball flight looks like it is on a home run trajectory.
It works. They are now matching the plane of a flip with the attack angle of the bat and the ball is flying at probably 30 degrees and looks great.
They struggle a little here. The ball is coming in a little flatter and faster but the hitter is just saying to themselves “Donaldson can do this on 95 mph so I just need to get my timing right here and figure it out”. Eventually they figure it out.
Now the player really struggles. The ball is coming in fast and flatter and the hitter needs to make his decision so much sooner on GO or NO GO and where the ball will be. This is where I see people super late on the pitch. The new swing lesson usually fails here.
Live At Bat
No chance. Now the hitter needs to be ready for every pitch and every location. Hitting is reacting and you cant fake it in this step.
Now this hitter has worked for 3 months all off season on a swing change that doesn’t play. They had ideas on coming into the new year hitting long and hard fly balls that would amount to home runs but instead they are striking out way more than usual and if they do make contact they are hitting oppo flares because they are late and under. Lets break this down.
Josh says “Dont do this” and “Say no”. Ok, this is fair but I have never seen a hitter literally swing down and do this.
Then Josh says “Do This”. The issue is that he doesn’t do this (well he may, its pitch and pitch location dependent) in his real swing. To be more clear, what he is saying he is doing and what is actually happening is different. Its been a while since Ive listened to this whole interview but I think he is describing this as swinging up. He is actually swinging down and rotating. But swinging down and rotating is probably the right feel. The bat needs to start down before it can go up. The other thing that is happening here is that the ball is set up really deep on him. This would be a pitch he is late on and jammed. He wouldnt be able to get his normal path to this ball. You have to catch the ball out front and get into the ball there.
Now here is an actual swing. Contact is made out front. He was perfectly on time and hit the ball where he wanted. This resulted in the perfect attack angle to match this pitch.
I want to state that you should be careful watching videos of swings and slo mo especially. When we look at these swings they are usually home runs. But not every swing produces a home run. We are looking at the perfect combination of pitch vs swing vs timing vs contact point. Thats hard to do.
My point in this post is that you need to be careful when you listen to someone talk about the swing. What they think they do vs what they actually do is probably different. But you might take that advice literally and get the wrong results. Make sure you cater or filter the information you are receiving and make it fit for you and your swing/style. Swings are unique. Make your swing the best it can be. Take cues from guys but dont worry about perfecting their swing. Do you.
Let’s look at the footwork. We can’t go looking at it blindly though. Swing on the left is an offspeed inside pitch where he gets his foot down early and waits back. This is a great move where his weight and hips stay back and he literally rotates and turns on this pitch. That’s why you see the elbow triangle stay through the whole swing. He can’t extend here. But notice the back foot rotates to allow the back hip to turn out of the way which allows the upper body to turn through the ball. Also notice the front foot. Weight is on the heel and that has to open up because of all the rotational force from the backside. You can’t keep that front foot planted and closed while allowing the hips to open. If the foot stays closed then you slide and don’t rotate.
In the swing on the right, that’s a fastball middle away and down. He gets to extend here. But the footwork is similar. It’s not exact because on the left (or top) he has to completely turn to get inside. On the right (bottom) he has more freedom to drive the ball and stay in the ball. Body still rotates just not as violent and sudden. Front foot doesn’t need to turn so much because force is going more towards center field than the left field pole.
Point here is that when you see a swing, keep in mind that it’s pitch dependent. The swing and body has to adjust to pitches. Your core mechanics are key but every swing is different. It has to be. Don’t look at a swing and emulate it blindly. Look at a swing and know when that swing is happening. Take some key things ad apply it to your swing. Your personal swing is all about timing and confidence. Do you… Do what makes you feel like you can win that at bat. Of course there are a hundred other things to consider but here we are talking footwork and energy direction and ability to adapt.