Monday, May 17, 2010

Jason Heyward Practices Perfect Hitting

Throughout his high school playing career Jason Heyward was always recognized as a prodigious baseball hitting talent. This recognition and the hype that began early in 2010 with his debut in the Major Leagues have proved to be legitimate.

Heyward has lived up to his reputation. He began his professional career by hitting a 3 run, home run on the first at bat of his MLS career for the Atlanta Braves against the Chicago Cubs. He has followed that first strike up with 7 more home runs and a batting average of .276 for the season.

Heyward has started his MLS career this way because throughout his youth league and high school playing career, he has practised perfect hitting mechanics.Below is some video of Heyward hitting at different stages as he advanced in the youth leagues, 2004, 2005 and 2006.

From the video we can see that Heyward from as early as 2004, has been taught and understood how to create power in his hitting by using his large body parts such as the hips, torso and shoulder and combining this with perfect timing.

On this site we call that the Kinematic Sequence. The kinematic sequence can be described in almost any hitting or throwing sport. By rotating the major body parts in sequence the hitter is able to create bat speed. The hitter starts in the wind up position, bat above the head shoulders and hips rotated away from the pitcher. He then begins the kinematic sequence by planting his front foot and unwinding in sequence, first the hips, followed by the torso and shoulders, then arms and finally the bat.

Each subsequent body part rotates quicker than the previous one until in the end the bat has accumulated all the speed from the sequence and can strike the ball with power created from the movement of the whole body and not just the arms, wrists and hands.

Lets break down Jason Hayward's swing and take a look at his mechanics and kinematic sequence.

These first 3 pics show Heyward at the load position in 2004, 2005 and 2006 (left to right). Notice how as he gets bigger and stronger he continues to maintain that loaded position of shoulder and hips facing away from the pitcher. This stance prepares his body like a compressed spring to release all the energy necessary.

As he moves through his swing we see that Heyward takes a step forward and drives with his hips first rotating them to face the pitcher while his shoulders, arms and bat remain behind. His shoulders and arms are beginning to rotate at this stage. By rotating his hips first he is using their rotational speed to increase the speed of his shoulder rotation which will follow.

Just before ball contact Heyward has now rotated his hips and his shoulders and now only the arms and bat need to hit maximum rotation speed. Each large body part has built on the speed of the previous one and thereby increased his bat speed. To get maximum speed he still needs to complete the swing by following through. His bent arms allow him to hit through the ball and follow through to maintain balance and control.

As we look through the video and the images, we notice that Heyward practiced perfect mechanics from as early as 2004 and probably before. His batting coaches made sure he used proper technique throughout his career. From 2004 to 2005 and 2006 and on to his MLB career he has continued to put together his swing using the kinematic sequence of events.

Of course there are other factors in Heywards past and possible future success. His size and strength (6'5", 240lb) are definite bonuses. However a powerful hitter will need to use all his most powerful muscles to have a long and successful and injury free career. In fact Heyward currently has a small groin strain but this is more likely the result of stretching for an outfield play rather than anything to do with his hitting. We hope to see Heyward continue to impress and as long as he maintains the perfectly practised mechanics we expect he will.

Practising perfect mechanics is an important element of training for any sport. It is very difficult for a good young athlete to change his bad habits after practising them for many years. Video analysis can help to pick out these bad habits and correct them at an early stage allowing your athletes and kids to practice good mechanics, avoid injuries and improve faster.

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