All About the Uppercut
Note – This article was written by Jonas Fester. To read about Jonas’ background, please click here.
Two swing types include those that are line drive/contact oriented and those that are fly ball/power oriented. Some examples of hitters with a line drive/contact oriented swing are Robinson Cano, Ichiro, and Derek Jeter, while on the other side of the spectrum, you’d associate hitters like Adam Dunn, Carlos Pena, and Mark Reynolds with fly ball oriented swings.
There are some with the rare ability to hit for both power and make consistent contact, one example being Albert Pujols, but he’s a topic for another time.
Today however, I’d like to focus on Mark Teixeira, and the power of the uppercut.
Many coaches tell you to swing down on the ball and eliminate any type of uppercut in your swing path. When players are younger, coaches try and teach this “contact swing.” By this, I mean the hitter is working down towards the ball at a 45 degree angle from where your hands loaded.
As you swing, you attempt to hit the top half at a downward angle, resulting in rising backspin as you hit and extend through the ball. Of course, most of your mishits — due to timing or hitting too much top half — will be hard, chopping ground balls because of the steeper angle. For a contact hitter, these mishits are fine, because most contact hitters have the speed to beat out ground balls, and they aim to put pressure on the defense.
However, not every hitter was destined for this simple contact approach. A player like Teixeira for instance, he utilizes his power with a proper uppercut. Every major league hitter looks essentially the same at contact with the only major difference being from the angle they approach the ball.
Power hitters with an uppercut like Teixeira will approach the ball from underneath at a 45 degree angle. Instead of working on top of the ball, they will come from below, throwing their hands from a lower launch position.
Ideally, they will make contact with the bottom half of the ball, and get the same type of backspin so that the ball rises and takes off.
The enemy of all power hitters is top spin. It’s pretty self explanatory, but a ball that has top spin will sink upon contact and tumble through the air, minimizing distance. Teixeira often grounds out weakly to second base, typically because he was early on the pitch, and made contact with the ball later in his swing, so that his swing path was above the baseball.
Teixeira and hitters like him — Ryan Howard for example — can still get hits despite mishitting the pitch because of their raw strength and high extension, which means the bat head staying through the zone for a long period of time after contact. Short to the ball, long through the ball, they can buy some hits this way.
What to Look For
Here are some things to look for when Teixeira and hitters like him are at the plate. And here is a clip to help you visualize what I’m saying:
*Credit to MLB Advanced Media
1. They cannot hit the high pitch well because their bat path is designed to work in the lower half of the zone. The hole in Tex’s swing is up and in.
2. They need to hit behind the baseball. This means they will stay more on their backside, behind their belly button — a power curve from their back leg through their back — at contact. This achieves the launching position — and through extension — everything almost points into the sky at the 45 degree angle. If they leak their weight, and lunge forward (front leg may have not locked out), everything goes out of whack, and you’ll see some weak grounders.
3. Uppercut hitters also need to let the ball travel deeper than contact hitters, especially on the outside pitch. The earlier they commit to swinging, the more topspin they will get. The deeper it travels however, the quicker their hands have to be to the ball.
4. Many uppercut hitters start with their hands lower so that their distance to the ball will be minimized, and it’s easier to work underneath the ball this way.
5. As you uppercut and dip your back shoulder, it is crucial that the hitter does not drop his bat head. Simply, you want the bat to be as level as possible at contact and through extension, giving you more margin for error.
If the bat head is tilted downward, this will make contact all the more difficult. This is a battle for a lot of uppercut hitters, because it’s very easy to drop the bat head, and naturally, your extension will not be as level as a contact hitter’s because of the upward angle and the bat leaving the zone sooner.
This is a big reason why you see so many strikeouts in power hitters. The simplest things can throw off a hitter’s timing, and an uppercut is not the most efficient (high average) type of swing. But power is clearly the goal, and this is the best way to achieve it.
So when you are watching the likes of Teixeira and Howard, pay attention to their swings and how they utilize the uppercut. Watch their approach and see how they lay off pitches their swings are not designed to hit.
Also, pay attention to the spin of the ball off the bat. If it sinks, you know there was too much top spin. If it takes off into the sky, you’ve got yourself backspin. The uppercut may seem like a bad thing, but when a power hitter correctly implements it, they will reap the benefits of big home runs and many extra base hits.
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