The Later the Better

by Matthew de Marte – June 1st, 2018

Get your front foot down early! You can hear it at any game across the country from youth levels all the way up to the bigs. Watching video of hitters makes one question: Why do I want to get my front foot down early? I understand the logic behind it: get your foot down early to make sure you can catch up to pitching, but still this is a perplexing issue. There are so many different elements to it that I think are worth exploring. As we all know, conventional wisdom has ruled baseball knowledge for more than a century. What was said by old-school coaches went and baseball repeated the same cycle of being played under the same guidance that players in the early 20th century played under. However, with the evolution of science, math, video technology, and other modern tools, the strategies and techniques within baseball have changed drastically. The question is, how does the old theory of getting one’s foot down early hold up in the modern game?

To say it simply, it probably does not hold up very well. Recently, a clip of Mark DeRosa talking about two strike hitting has surfaced where he talks about a famed hitting coach saying you must get your front foot down early with two strikes. Here is the video:

As you can see from the tweet, some hitting coaches on Twitter disagree with DeRosa’s statement. So, what should you do? Get your front foot down early, or try and be on-time with it? The answer lies in video analysis. Let’s watch this video of Mike Trout demolishing a baseball:

This video is Charlie Blackmon depositing a baseball beyond the fence:

This video is J.D. Martinez going deep:

This video is AJ Pollock hitting a homerun:

Lastly, a video of Didi Gregorious leaving the yard:

Each player is showcased hitting a home run, the optimal result for an at bat for a hitter. Each player utilized a different forward move or leg kick option to time up the pitcher. Each player’s foot was in the air at some point while the pitch was coming in. Not one player got his front foot down early. If you go back and watch each video, the second each players front foot touches the ground the swing begins, if it has not already begun while the foot was in the air! Getting the front foot down early is not ideal to optimizing a swing, nor is it a necessity. The goal with timing, rather, should be for hitters to be on time. Being on time will allow for a players barrel to be traveling through the zone at the correct time to give them the best chance to make consistent solid contact.

A large portion of hitting being on time while being able to produce as much force as possible to accelerate the barrel optimally through the zone. Getting the front foot down early prevents a variety of things from happening. First, it does not allow a hitter to accurately get his timing. Being early is not being on time. Maybe it buys a hitter a couple hundreths of a second to see the ball with their foot on the ground, but it ultimately disrupts a hitter’s timing. There is no research on this topic that I could find, but I cannot imagine a player tracking a ball with his foot on the ground for a few extra hundreths of a second has greater production than a player whose foot is in the air during this time. The most problematic issue, in my opinion, of getting the front foot down early is how it prevents a hitter’s swing from flowing. Like the videos I showed above, the second these players’ front foot strikes the ground, their swings begin. The chain of events and force produce a swing that is fluid and maximizes each players’ movement capabilities. In none of these videos does a player stop and start.

The most important part of player not getting his foot down early is the timing benefits. Through research done with the Blast Motion sensor in a study I performed that can be accessed HERE, I learned about time to contact, and its effect on a hitter. The takeaways I had regarding time to contact was that it probably is more effective for a player to train to minimize their time to contact, but a hitter does not necessarily have to have a fast time to contact to be a good hitter. I interpret this as a hitter should learn his time to contact, and be able to use it to his advantage, creating a timing mechanism that allows him to be on time as often as possible. A lot of being successful as a hitter is being on time, and learning how to correctly time a pitch is crucial to a player’s success.

One thought about getting your front foot down early is for some players, it could be a feel thing. Real vs. Feel is a real thing in hitting and a lot of the times what hitters feel is not what they are really doing. Some players may have had tremendous success at the plate when thinking they are getting their front foot down early. It may not be happening, but if an extremely successful hitter thinks that is happening, it is not the best idea to coach him out of something that has made him successful. If you are a great hitter trying to complicate something you believe has worked for you is not going to make you a better hitter.

In short, getting your front foot down early probably is not the best idea. Watch a Major League game, and it is obvious no one’s foot is down early. Timing is not created by getting down early, and waiting, rather it is created by being on time and getting your front foot down on time for when a swing starts to allow for contact to be made in an optimal position out in front of home plate. If anyone has any questions and would like to continue this discussion, feel free to reach out to me at studentsofbaseball@gmail.com !

 

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