How to Swing on Plane
Baseball and Fastpitch Softball
This How to Swing on Plane article was excerpted from our new book, The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide (click for book details).
For recommendations on how and when to use various training methods (dry, heavy bag, pylos, tee, toss, live, machine, etc.) and to shop for practical and durable training equipment, click on the link Hitting Training Methods and Aids.
Introduction to Swing on Plane
In this conceptual and mechanical hitting article portraying swing plane baseball and swing plane softball, Building Rome Series details techniques to improve ball exit velocity and the frequency of hard-hit balls by increasing two essential elements:
- The margin of error (the distance the barrel is in the path of the ball).
- Energy transfer from bat to ball.
While swinging on the same plane as the pitch crosses the plate increases the percentage of hard-hit balls, it is important to understand that this skill does not necessarily optimize the hitter’s productivity.
Click the link for our free article, Optimizing Launch Angle, where we broaden the focus – the hitter constructs the ability to maximize productivity by optimizing attack and launch angles to Fit the Player.
Who Should Swing on Plane?
The attack angle (click the link for how to measure attack angle) required to swing precisely in the pitch plane produces launch angles (click the link for how to measure launch angle in your cage) with lower trajectories than ideal for many older and stronger hitter.
Swing on plane is not optimized for extra-base hits.
Swing on plane may be a productive strategy for developing hitters who are still building the strength and fundamentals required to hit with high ball exit speeds (click the link for how to measure exit velocity by age). Also, contact-type hitters should strive to swing on plane.
The History of Swinging Up
The optimum swing plane for hard-hit balls has not been a hidden secret, which we are just now discovering (thanks to the advent of bat sensors and swing analyzers). For example, Ted Williams (the last Major League Baseball player to bat over .400 for a season) in his historical book, “The Science of Hitting,” published in 1970, advocated swinging with a slight uppercut to match the trajectory of the incoming pitch (image above). This idea was in stark contrast to the prevailing wisdom (hands short and linearly A to B to the ball) of the day.
Swing on Plane Defined
The baseball and softball hitter swings the bat in the same plane as the ball travels to maximize the number of hard-hit balls. The barrel moves on a slightly upward angle (baseball 7 to 12 degrees; fastpitch 4 to 7 degrees), exactly coinciding with the fastball’s downward trajectory as it reaches the plate. The hitter must avoid dipping under the ball or upper-cutting too much.
“Getting on plane with the pitch is not to drop the barrel below hands too much or too early and then follow thru high — it is not that.” (Williams T. , Science of Hitting, 1970)
The hitter begins by accelerating the barrel on a downward path behind the rear shoulder. The direction of the bat then bottoms out and arcs a few degrees upward to contact. The shape of the swing path is in the form of the Nike logo.
“This is one of the many faulty idioms taught by hitting coaches, that you must swing down on the ball either to create backspin and loft or to hit more groundballs, depending on whom you talk to and what their philosophy is. In fact, the hands do come down, but they do more so behind the body, only to come slightly up as they approach contact. This makes sense if you think about it; the ball is coming in at a slight downward angle from the pitcher’s mound. This is partially due to release height, but more importantly, because of gravity. Gravity makes everything fall, and baseballs are no exception.” (Farnsworth, Breaking Down the Swing: Best Hitters of 2012, 2013)
Drawbacks of Swing on Plane
Swinging slightly up has one drawback – the barrel travels a longer distance with a longer “loop.” However, a longer in distance swing isn’t always necessarily bad. The batter starts movements a little earlier in the pitcher’s motions or ball travel. Furthermore, while the swing is longer in distance, the hands connect to core and shoulder rotation earlier. As a result, the barrel moves faster, earlier, compared to an A to B linear hand path, thereby increasing bat speed and quickness (click for how to measure time to contact – the best indicator of quickness).
Benefits of Swing on Plane
The baseball and fastpitch softball hitter promotes two productive outcomes by adjusting the swing plane to be on the same plane as the downward angle of the pitch:
- Maximizes margin of error.
Maximizing the size of the hitter’s contact area increases productivity because timing does not have to be perfect.
The expanded contact area serves to improve overall timing. For example, with a larger margin of error, the hitter can be slightly late, making solid contact towards the front knee. Or, if the hitter is somewhat early, solid contact occurs out in front of the front foot. Thus, timing improves even though the upswing may take a little longer than a short to the ball, A to B, linear hand path.
Critically, when hands move from a higher position directly to a lower position, the barrel also moves downward. When swinging with force, it is impossible to level out the barrel. Thus, there is a tiny window for timing errors with a downward swing path.
- Maximizes power.
Swinging in the plane of the pitch maximizes ball exit speed.
The barrel and the ball must be traveling in precisely the same plane for one hundred percent of the energy generated in the swing to transfer to the ball. Therefore, if the swing path and ball trajectory are traveling at slightly different angles at contact, the center of masses (of the barrel and the ball) never wholly align.
“Up, up is the way; you hit consistently with authority.” (Williams T. , Science of Hitting, 1970)
The baseball or softball pitch’s downward trajectory is 3 to 12-degrees at higher levels of competition. The hitter utilizes a +3 to +12 (upward) attack angle to maximize ball exit speed, precisely matching the pitch’s downward trajectory.
These attack angles result in launch angles too low for homerun hitters with excellent exit velocity to maximize ball travel distance. The average trajectory (launch angle) of swing on plane hitters is a low liner.
Two Crucial Positions Necessary to Swing on Plane
Swing on plane with the pitch to increase the margin of error and ball exit speed is a matter of achieving a slight upward angle of the swing plane (click the link for our free article Measure and Track Attack Angle). The positive attack angle matches the downward slope of the pitched ball as it enters the hitting zone.
The baseball and fastpitch softball hitter’s spine angle and axis of rotation are crucial to swing on plane:
- Spine Angle.
An inward angle of the rotating shoulders, created by a twenty to thirty-degree spine angle as the hitter turns, has the following effects:
- Contributes to raising attack angle by increasing the vertical bat angle.
- Increases margin of error because the swing path is deeper and, therefore, in the course of the ball longer than with a more upright hitting position.
- Increases power as the hitter is in a more leveraged (torqueing) athletic position.
- Axis of Rotation.
The hitter’s axis of rotation is the primary establisher of the upward gradient of the swing path. The larger the degree of rearward tilt, the higher the average launch angle generated by solid contact.
The hitter can “stay back” (click on our free article Stay Back Drills) a little more to accurately align the swing plane with pitch trajectory, thereby increasing the margin of error.
Homerun Hitter (swing plane does not match the plane of pitch) (Zepp Analyzer).
Home run hitters often use a large rearward tilt to hit higher trajectory line drives (25-35 degrees launch angle). One downside to this strategy is the reduced margin of error, especially for high pitches, due to the overly upward swing path, which no longer matches the pitched ball (look closely at the image above).
Further Swing on Plane Mechanics
Here is a more “granular” list of the mechanics for swinging in the plane of the pitch. Observe these finely honed movements in the slow-motion videos of High-Level hitters:
- As the shoulders begin to rotate, the barrel is first turned rearward and downward toward the catcher by:
- The rear shoulder tilting.
- The rear elbow slotting.
- The lead arm is working up.
- A centered head (middle between feet) at contact helps the hitter establish a rearward leaning axis of rotation.
- Shoulders rotate on an inward tilted plane (not horizontal to the ground!). The extent the rear shoulder drops below the front shoulder depends on the degree of spine angle. The steeper the inward lean, the more the back shoulder drops.
- Maintain the lead arm in line with the bat and the swing plane through full extension. If the lead elbow drops below the barrel before full extension, the wrists roll too soon, and the barrel comes out of the intended plane.
- The bat head is always below the hands at contact.
“Since the barrel of the bat works underneath the hands in every one of these swings, the bat is still going up and out through the ball even when the hands stay level.” (Farnsworth, Breaking Down the Swing: Best Hitters of 2012, 2013)
- The swing path is down, then up (in the shape of Nike Swoosh).
“Everything looks like it’s going uphill from Bat Lag through Extension. The hands come down behind the body as they drop in on top of the back elbow and then proceed through the zone at a slight upswing. The average upward slope of Major League Swings is 8.76-degrees.” (Farnsworth, Breaking Down the Swing: Best Hitters of 2012, 2013)
- Extension of arms and release of the barrel is through the path of the ball.
- Follow-through is to shoulder level.
For a detailed discussion of these fundamentals and techniques, click to learn more about The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide.
Swing on Plane Summary
To maximize the rate of hard-hit balls (HHB%), hitters can intentionally match the plane of their swing to the plane of the pitch.
The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide (click to view details of our new drills book containing over 140 functional drills):
Building Rome Series Books: Building the High-Level Swing Series
Click on the link to learn more about our new book series Building the High-Level Swing. This two-book series contains a detailed and comprehensive description of 100 hitting fundamentals and 140 step-by-step drills that efficiently construct the batting swing from the ground up.
In the Building Rome Series of books, the construction of skills are in functional order, providing a “roadmap” to becoming a great hitter.
All baseball and fastpitch softball players can “climb the Roman Coliseum steps” to become a powerful and productive hitter.
Enjoy the quest!