“Just going through the physical motions when [players] practice…increases the likelihood that they will repeat any mistake their body makes. The wrong movement, unattended to and therefore uncorrected, is left in the body’s program. The error is likely to be habituated.” — The Mental Game of Baseball
Four hitting flaws are commonly found in youth baseball: (1) leading rear elbow, (2) casting, (3) lunging/head drift, and (4) early unload. Younger players who are good athletes can still find success even if they have these flaws. However, these problems make success more and more difficult as they get older and the level of competition improves. By the time players reach high school (if not earlier), these flaws will often put them on the bench or get them cut. Regardless, a player cannot reach his or her full potential as a batter unless these flaws are corrected.
A LEADING REAR ELBOW occurs when the rear elbow gets in front of the hands and knob during the swing. It is a very, very common problem, particularly among youth hitters.
A leading rear elbow creates bat drag. As the rear elbow slides forward in front of the knob, the top hand lays back and causes the barrel to wrap and drop. Consequently, the swing gets longer, that is, it takes more time for the bat to get to the ball. Bat drag causes the batter to hit the ball late (and to the opposite field) unless he starts his swing earlier to get the bat around on time. Starting the swing early, however, gives the batter less time to track the ball and pick up breaking and off-speed pitches. It also makes it more difficult to get on plane with the ball when the bat head drops.
CASTING involves the hands and bat moving out and away from the body during the load/stride and swing. As a result, the front arm will bar or straighten out. In some cases, the hands get behind the rear elbow during the load causing the barrel to tilt rearward away from the batter. As the arms begin to move forward, the hands (and bat) will drift away from the body. Casting typically occurs in conjunction with a leading rear elbow.
Casting creates bat drag. Because the hands and bat move away from the body, the swing becomes longer and the bat takes a looping path to the ball. The front arm is also in a weaker position prior to contact because it gets extended too early. Casting, like a leading rear elbow, causes the batter to get to the ball late or forces the batter to start his swing earlier to get the bat to the ball on time.
LUNGING or HEAD DRIFT is when the head and upper body continue moving forward after the front heel hits the ground. In more severe cases, the head and upper body continue moving to contact. Often you see a bent front knee and the player leaning forward from the waist up when the bat hits the ball.
This linear swing tries to generate power by moving forward. However, it actually reduces power production because it impairs rotation. When the upper body drifts forward, an axis of rotation cannot be effectively established limiting the ability to maximize rotational power, which is the key to hitting the ball harder. The head movement also makes it more difficult to track the ball.
An EARLY UNLOAD happens when the upper body begins to swing the bat during the stride instead of waiting until the front heel hits the ground. Another way to think about it is the upper and lower halves move at the same time instead of in sequence.
Ideally, the upper half loads (creates torque and gets into a strong position) while the lower half is striding or moving to toe touch. As the front heel hits the ground, the hips then begin to rotate against the front foot and activate the upper half of the body.
In more mild cases of early unload, the hands will drop and the elbow will begin slotting prematurely. Whatever torque created in the load dissipates and the batter will be in a weaker position when the front foot lands. In more severe cases, the batter is trying to use his arms and body together to generate power linearly. This usually happens in conjunction with lunging or head drift. The result is impeded rotation.