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Hitters are athletes and athletes like to move. A hitch allows hitters to move. When most people hear the word “hitch” they assume the worst. A hitter with a hitch needs to get rid of it! Grab the pitchforks and torches! Burn the hitch!

Hitch, please. Bryce Harper and Mike Moustakas have both added a hitch and the results have been impressive. Using these two hitters as case studies, let’s establish what a hitch is, how it helps, and how to execute a hitch.

What is a hitch?

  • A hitch is movement with the upper body (usually the hands and arms) during the loading and striding phase of a swing.
  • A hitch happens when the hands move from their starting position away from where they will eventually end up when the front foot lands.
  • Like any other aspect of the swing, a hitch can be helpful to a swing or a roadblock to success.

There are two main kinds of hitches: Those done by manipulating the position of the end of the bat and those that involve moving the position of a hitter’s arms. Sometimes a hitch involves both these movements.

There are hitters who hitch by tilting the end of their bat tip away from their body or towards the pitcher.

Gary Sheffield:

There are hitters who hitch with their arms typically lower their hands as their first move.

Barry Bonds:

And there are hitters who do both and change the positon of the end of their bat as their arms move.

Josh Hamilton (in high school!):

How it helps

Isaac Newton was on to something. The idea of keeping a body in motion to make further motion easier can be applied to athletes. I finally found a reason to show what happens when an athlete breaks their motion, tries to restart, and the results are terrible.

Jokes aside, the mechanical advantages to a well done hitch are delaying the hands moving forward and creating some rhythm and timing in a swing. So many hitters—especially younger one—want to take their hands directly to the baseball. No bueno. Why only use the muscles in your arms when a little bit of movement and patience will allow your other muscles to fire and help deliver the barrel? In a simple sense, a well done hitch keeps the hands and arms occupied while the rest of the body aligns and prepares to fire.

How does a seemingly excess move help timing? Think of how the hands move in a swing like a car getting ready for a drag race. Picture two identical cars with identically skilled drivers about to race down a quarter mile drag strip. Car no. 1 has to wait at the starting line while car no. 2 is allowed a 100 foot rolling start. Car no. 2 can’t immediately floor it because they still have to time up the light signaling green. So car no. 2 starts with a slow rolling start, picks it up a bit as the light turns to yellow and then cuts it loose when the light turns green. Car no. 2 will win every time, and is going to have an overall smoother ride.

Sticking with the metaphor, what if car no. 2 starts from 500 feet back or floors it, has to slam brakes to time the light, then accelerates, or has a terrible driver? A hitter still needs to be skilled to take advantage of a hitch, and the hitch can’t be so abrupt that it ends up creating obstacles in swing.

But enough with the metaphors, time to dive into two hitters who have had big-time seasons with a recent addition of a hitch.

Mike Moustakas

Here’s the swing 2015 on left and 2014 on right:

And here are his spray charts for the first two months of the season for 2015 and 2014:

His 2015 swing is so much smoother. In the past he would set his hands and then track the baseball. Now he is setting his hands as he’s tracking the baseball. This idea of moving while tracking is most obvious in his hands, but look at how this beneficial idea has permeated his whole swing. In 2014, his lower body looked like a step-by-step progression. He would flex his back leg, coil his hips, and then pick his leg up. Following his coil he moves forward with his lower body, but look how his hips are pretty much dead. Coil, stall, then forward.

In 2015, despite a smaller leg lift, he creates a better rhythm. He still initiates by flexing his back leg, but watch how his foot begins to float off the ground as his hips are coiling. He’s still coiling as he moves forward and unleashes the energy from that coil as his foot hits the ground.

Past years saw Moustakas as a low average hitter with major pull tendencies, and his swing accounts for this trend. As he goes to launch his bat there is no energy or rhythm in his swing. His bat speed came from his raw strength. Moustakas is not a hitter with a big forward move, so the only option he had was to muscle up and turn hard on balls. His pattern was based on yanking that front side around rather than driving through backside. That’s a tough pattern to repeat and one which can only create pull-side power.

This year, he can go to all fields because there is energy created before he launches the bat. Rather than act as just a placeholder, his lower half is driving and contributing. Like car no. 2, he has a rolling start in his swing that makes it much easier to get things going. He can still pull the ball, but it’s not the only weapon in his arsenal now.

Bryce Harper

Here’s the pre-hitch swing on the left and the swing with a hitch on the right:

And here are the spray charts comparing his results this season before and after adding a hitch in May:

The swing on the left is from Harper at the very start of the season, and the swing on the right is when Harper started obliterating everything early in May. Harper’s new move isn’t as obvious as Moustakas’. With Harper, watch how the bat moves as he picks it up off his shoulders. At the start of the season he would pick the bat up off his shoulder and then pause as he tracked the ball.

When he started getting hot, he would pick up the bat, point the end towards the pitcher, then proceed through the rest of his swing. Although the hitch is different than Moustakas’, the idea of not stopping movement is the same. Harper has always possessed killer bat speed, but now he’s much more fluid in his launch. He’s got the rolling start that makes getting to top speed an easier task.

Just like Moustakas, Harper added the ability to use the whole field rather than rely on yanking the ball to his pull side. When a hitter’s swing has some rhythm it opens up the whole field. Want to beat the shift? Hitch away!

The free flowing movement of his hitch has impacted the rest of his body too. His hips coil more now and it happens in a better pattern. At the start of the year, his stride was lift, coil, and go. Now it’s a lift while coiling, and then make baseballs cry.

As a side note, the hitch is not the only reason for Harper’s dominance. He has elite physical tools and this year is showing an approach to match. The improved swing lets him tap into those gifts.

Hitch Guidelines

  • Move the upper and lower body in unison. As soon as the feet move let the hands/arms move. Also match them in tempo. A hitter with a slow, early stride will be wrecked by a late, fast hitch.
  • The lower body can’t really hitch, but it can help. Don’t sway back during a hitch. Either begin to move forward or coil; or some combination of those two.
  • Either drop the hands (unless they start below the chest already) or keep them at the same height. A key idea in a hitch is to delay the hands moving forward. After dropping the hands, hitters have to get them back around shoulder height and the time it takes to do this delays the hands nicely.
  • Tipping the bat is fine, just as long as the tip is away from body.
  • Don’t ever pause. Don’t ruin a good hitch by pausing.
  • Trust it.

A good hitch creates flow in a hitter. A good swing is not step one, step two, step three, etc. It’s a fluid progression. Swing while moving!

Jose Donaldson:

Hands and feet move together? Check.

Hands go down? Check.

Bat tips away from body? Check.

Troy Tulowitzki:

Hands and feet in sync? Check.

Hands drop? Check.

Bat tips away from body? Check.

Babe Ruth:

Hands and feet move together? Check.

Hands go down? Check.

Bat tips away from body? Check.

Not every hitter who has a hitch is successful. Actually, I would argue they are. The only hitters who struggled with a hitch that the public knows about are the ones at the big-league level. Semantics aside, hitters who struggle with a hitch usually have underlying swing problems. Ike Davis didn’t struggle because he had a hitch. He struggled because he was long getting his bat to the zone despite bat speed, and his lower half stalled and only allowed him to turn on balls rather than drive through them.

Some hitters do in fact have an issue with their hitch that leads to bad outcomes, but it’s a double-edged sword as that same hitch also helps their rhythm and feel in the batters box. Javy Baez wracks up strikeouts and whiffs even with killer bat speed. His hitch helps create this bat speed, but it puts him in a terrible position to use that speed as he keeps his hands too high and tips his bat very late in sequence. Rather than abandon the hitch, I would love it if Baez came back to Wrigley with pretty much the same movements, just a little lower and a little earlier in his sequence.

If you’ve made it this far, let me level with you: There will be many coaches, evaluators, and players who call a well-done hitch a load, a gather, or something else. That’s completely fine. If you want to go back through this article and control F “hitch” and replace it with your word of choice, go right ahead. The idea of not limiting motion is the key idea. What I’m trying to do is take away some of the taboo associated with the word “hitch.” A hitch is not bad. A bad hitch is bad just like any other aspect of the swing.

It blows my mind that a hitch is thought of in such a bad light. The best hitters in the game do it and younger hitters are free to create their own. It looks cool and above all it helps the bat hit the damn ball. It may take time to find a hitter’s own pattern, but that’s perfectly fine. Don’t be afraid of what can go wrong, get pumped about how much can go right with some movement in the swing.

Thank you for reading

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What you call a hitch, many people call a load - which is an essential part of any non-slap swing.

A real hitch is generally any pre-swing hand movement not related to the load - it is a bad thing. See Josh Hamiliton's high school GIF for an example. Purely a wasted movement, which complicates the timing while also creates inconsistent hand positions.
I specifically pointed out how some people would call a hitch a load in the article. As far as wasted movement would Hamilton or any of these guys hit better with less hand movement?

Each hitter had a different amount of movement needed to feel dialed in with their own swing. Pujols didn't have much but Sheffield had a ton. There is no perfect way to swing.
As a golf professional for over 50 years, the concept of swinging is part of my being. I am pleased to see a knowledgeable person say that a hitch is not necessarily bad. I could never figure out what baseball talent evaluators called a hitch when loading the lever is fundamental to any swing mechanism. McCutcheon looks like a statue then suddenly moves all over the place into his dynamic posture as the pitcher starts his delivery. This doesn't look like a hitch but the first movement of his swing. In a golf related anecdote, a great player was asked when he started his swing and his answer was "When I take the club out of my bag". Meaning that every move from that moment on all movements were programmed into a well trained sequence. That is what I see in the various types of loads that you mentioned. Just more great thought stimulating material from BP. Thanks.
Wow what a comment! BP readers are part of the reason I love writing here. I knew this article would reach more of a niche audience and I'm glad it reasonated with somebody.

My golf game is embarrassing. I don't even think a hitch would save me haha.
Very nice stuff...