THE BATTING GRIP
A proper batting grip is essential. Its purpose is to control the bat while allowing the hitter to generate maximum bat speed with minimum effort. Much has been said about the lining up of the “knocking” or middle knuckles of the hands. We don’t think it’s enough to just tell a kid to line up his middle knuckles without explaining why. This can be uncomfortable for young players due to their small hands and may need reinforcing. Nevertheless, it should be taught from day one…
The knuckles should be slightly ‘misaligned’ with the top hand ‘knocker’ knuckles between the middle and top knuckles of the bottom hand. An easy way to teach this (from Mike Epstein) is to “have the hitter place the bat barrel between his feet and lean it against his body. Have him to pick the bat up by the handle with both hands. This places his hands in the correct grip: the “knocker” knuckles of the top hand will be aligned perfectly between the “knocker” knuckles and the big knuckles on the bottom hand.”
Another way to show this is to use an axe handle to demonstrate the correct grip. We teach the hitter to grip the bat at the point where the fingers join the hand. Usually this will align the middle knuckles somewhat but more importantly, it provides flexible or “flippy” wrists. This flexibility is what provides the crucial “late” bat speed that is prevalent in all great hitters and nonexistent in average hitters. To see this first hand, pull out some of your baseball cards at home. See how the bat appears to be a “blur” in the contact zone? This would not be possible if the bat is gripped in the palms. There would be no blur. The bat would be moving much slower through the contact zone. Just before and during contact, this allows the hitter to maximize his bat speed by “throwing his hands” into the “palm up/palm down” position where the bottom hand is facing palm down, and the top hand is facing palm up. The wrists do not roll over until well after contact with the ball is made.
A youth coach can tell if a hitter has a proper grip (from the dugout or mound) by looking at his wrists. They should be bent at a 45’ angle to the forearms and gently waggling the bat head back and forth or side to side during his stance and load. The waggle is important. How they do it is not.
It is common for young hitters to grip the bat further back in their palm, especially the top hand. This ‘wrapping’ will cause the hitter to hit with a ‘casting’ motion, (hitting around the ball) reducing his power and bat speed. The bottom wrist should be flexed “in” and not flat.
The grip pressure is also an important factor. It must begin extremely light or loose during the stance, load and stride, because it will tighten during the swing. In the contact zone the grip will be extremely tight. If a hitter begins with a tight grip or one that is in the palms of the hands he will actually have to slow his bat speed down in order to maintain control of the bat in the contact area. Instead of accelerating, he will be decelerating through the contact zone.
Another factor that contributes to a poor grip in youth players is the pressure to get a base hit instead of just being encouraged to hit the ball hard each at bat. Kids are often taught to “just make contact” or “don’t kill it, just meet it”. Our ‘teach’ is to “hurt the ball when you hit it.”
Another problem with youth players (and parents) is a false sense of accomplishment they get from swinging a –7 to –11 aluminum bat. Kids often think, “what is the coach talking about? I don’t need to change my grip. I have plenty of bat speed. I have a few home runs and regularly hit the ball harder than anyone on my team”. Parents often think, “Don’t fix it, if it ain’t broke”. “My son has made all stars 3 years in a row. How much more bat speed does he need”? Unfortunately when these kids enter high school at age 15 and start swinging –3’s and wood (-1’s) against 18 year old pitchers that have 3 years of weight training under their belt, they often fail.
Tim coaches in one of America’s hot beds for youth and high school baseball (Atlanta, Georgia). He says that many of the incoming freshmen he sees each year grip the bat tightly and in their palms. At that point it’s almost too late. The competition in high school is fierce. Kids aren’t usually willing to take a step backwards in order to go 2-3 steps forward as a hitter. They usually only have 2 hours to 2 days to impress the coaches at tryouts. They are not apt to try/risk anything that could make them look worse.
Should a coach change an incorrect grip of an 8 year old even if he is by far the best hitter in the park? ABSOLUTELY! You are obligated to teach him skills that will not only make him better now, but 5-10 years down the road as well. Our advice to youth coaches is to make every player grip the bat properly. No matter how unnatural or uncomfortable it feels. Encourage them to ignore the result while they work to develop more bat speed during every tee, soft toss, self toss, and BP station. Their hand eye coordination will be better than you think. Bat speed is teachable by coaches that give their kids the freedom to fail while they learn.
One note about batting gloves: This is “old school” but we believe serious hitters should not wear batting gloves. (If your hitters use gloves wear them only at games.) Without gloves you get direct feedback and a more natural feel of the bat. Without gloves a coach can gauge a hitter’s work ethic. Is he swinging the bat enough away from practice? A serious player will develop calluses as he develops as a hitter.
If you do allow gloves make sure they are a tight fit so the hitter gets a good ‘feel’ of the bat. Batting gloves are made of thin grain leather and they shrink (and stink) due to sweat and wet weather. When they shrink, the palm of the glove protrudes over the palm of the hand. This causes the bat to be gripped in this area instead of where the fingers and hands join. When a hitter’s gloves shrink he should buy a new pair.
A DRILL: A good way to reinforce the correct grip is to have the hitter stand at the plate, stride, swing and literally throw the bat at the pitcher’s mound. If the grip is correct the bat will sail directly to the mound. If he has wrapped the bat it will travel toward the third base side of the mound. His hands will not be in the “palm up-palm down” position. The top hand will turn over early. Both hands must work together to deliver a severe blow. (This drill can also be used with a hitter whose top hand is dominant or with a hitter who steps in the bucket).
As you can see there is a lot to teach when it comes to the batting grip. This is one of the basics that coaches should look at initially when teaching hitting.