The Secret To Squaring The Baseball
We all know that sound - that loud and powerful crack - that pitchers all dread when they hear it. We all know that feel, that sensation that reverberates all the way up the arms that tells the hitter “got ALL of that one”. It’s the sound and feel that we all look to achieve every time we take a swing at a pitcher’s offering. It’s the thing that pitchers all try with every pitch to prevent hitters from accomplishing, and it’s the reason that the change up came into existence. What am I talking about? I am talking, of course, about a “squared up” baseball.
First, I should probably mention that; the term “squared up” or “squaring up” in reference to a baseball means that the hitter has made contact with dead center of the baseball with the center of the sweet spot of his bat.
The Sweet Spot...
The “sweet spot” of a baseball bat is that “fat” part of the barrel, particularly on that of a wood baseball bat.
A wooden baseball bat is a solid piece of lumber, typically maple or ash (but sometimes other species such as birch or even red oak) that is wide in the barrel (approximately 2.5” in diameter) and tapers down either gradually or drastically (depending on the model or “turn”) into a rather thin handle (somewhere between 7/8” to 1” in diameter).
The “sweet spot” of a baseball bat is that “fattest” - the largest and densest - part of the barrel. It is nearly dead center on the barrel between where the barrel begins to taper into the handle and the top of the bat. The exact location may differ slightly, depending on whether the bat is “cupped” (hollowed out at the top by about 2”) or “un-cupped” (rounded at the top).
Regardless of its exact location, down to the 1/8 of an inch, when contact with the baseball is made with the sweet spot, it is rather unmistakable. It is the goal of every hitter, of course, to make contact with this area of the barrel on every swing. Although, succeeding in doing so is an entirely different thing.
So…..how do we, as hitters, maximize our contact with the sweet spot of the bat? In response to this question, several coaches and players have answered “good hand-eye coordination” - “if you have good hand-eye, you will square more baseballs.” But the truth is, it’s NOT really “hand-eye” coordination - it’s “hand-eye, PLUS 30 inches (or so, depending on the length of the bat).” Hand-eye coordination relates more to handball than it does to hitting.
Because there really is nothing to compare hitting a baseball to (aside from cricket and perhaps tennis, to a lesser degree), the only way to really maximize sweet spot contact, or, to improve sweet spot relationship, is to hit baseballs - a LOT.
Here at The Farm Baseball Performance Institute, we teach our hitters to hit with their legs and hips, just as big league hitters do. If done properly, a hitter will keep his hands in close to his body during early rotation and all the way up to the point of contact. If this “correct” swing is repeated through proper training, then the hitter will develop a good, consistent sweet spot relationship.
If the hitter “leaks his hands”, for instance (if the hands drift away from his body), then the hitter will make contact with the ball nearer to the handle of the bat. If he “flies open”, or even “leaks” the front side of his body, the hitter will make contact nearer to the very end of the bat. In either situation, the hitter will NOT make sweet spot contact at best and, at worst, break his bat.
To ensure that a hitter is maximizing his sweet spot contact, he must develop the relationship by taking mechanically sound swings on easily hittable pitches. This will help him reinforce both his swing mechanics AND develop sweet spot relationship - this is why, by the way, that changing to a different sized bat (even ONE inch longer or shorter) can have a largely negative impact on a hitter.
For hitters who work hard to accomplish it, however, maximizing contact by developing sweet spot relationship comes with a tremendous reward. It comes in the form of a sensation that is experienced when the ball is squared - that wonderful feeling of contact perfection - the feeling that you've just hit the sweet spot.
Director, Player Skill Development
The Farm BPI
Reprinted August 14, 2022