If you are a baseball fan you have noticed that there are a variety of swing styles that look drastically different on video ranging from Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger to Jeff Bagwell, Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou or Kevin Youkilis. Have you ever wondered how such drastically different looking baseball swings can all be productive/efficient? Regardless of their swing style (how it looks), the best hitters all have something in common: the kinematic sequence, or transfer of energy that occurs during the swing. All great hitters begin by generating speed from the ground up through their lower body and transferring this speed through their torso, into their arms, and then into the bat.
Unfortunately this sequence cannot be seen with traditional 2-D video analysis. This requires 3-D motion capture to assess this. However, thanks to tools such as K motion, all players can now get access to the same information as the top hitters in the major leagues. Keep reading to see the value of the kinematic sequence and the data is provides and how it can help enhance your development and performance as a hitter.
What is the kinematic sequence graph?
Let's first start off by showing you what a kinematic sequence graph looks like and orient you to the what is going on in these graphs.
In the graph below you will see four lines. The red line is is the pelvis. The green line is the torso. The blue line is the arms and the gold line is the wrists/bat. Each of these lines is measuring the rotational velocity of that segment of the body. When the line goes up it accelerating. When it goes down it is decelerating.
The kinematic sequence graph can be broken down even further into two sequences: the transition/firing sequence and the deceleration sequence. Both have important implications for the swing:
The Transition Sequence: How do you start your forward move?
Lets first break down the transition sequence. The transition sequence starts as the player initiates their swing at first move. Think of this like the start of a race. An efficient transition sequence should begin with the lower body (red line) starting first, followed by the torso (green line), then the lead arm (blue line) and finally the bat (gold line). The graph on the left is showing this efficient transfer of energy. Compare to the graph on the right where the bat/gold line is firing too early and is out of sequence. This can limit energy transfer/speed as well as result in compensations the body will need to make during the swing
The Deceleration Sequence: Who won the race?
While it is important to see how you initiate the swing, the deceleration sequence provides even more insight into your swing. The deceleration sequence occurs after the transition sequence and finishes at contact.
During the swing the segments of your body should reach peak and then slow down as the next segment begins to accelerate. This mirrors the transition sequence in that the lower body should reach peak speed and decelerate first (red line on the graph), thorax second (green line), lead arm third (blue line) and the bat last (gold line). Using the analogy of a race this would mean that the red line (pelvis) won the race and is slowing down after it crosses the finish line. The green line (torso) should finish next, followed by the blue line (arms) and finally the gold (hands/bat).
The proper sequence will help with consistency and repeatability of the swing. Compare the graphs below:
1. The graph on the left shows an efficient energy transfer (red-green-blue-gold).
2. In the second picture the green (torso) and blue lines (arm) are peaking at the same time
3. In the third picture the blue line (arm) is peaking first indicating the bat is firing too early in the sequence
4. Same as the third picture but a more drastic example.
If you are out of sequence this doesn't mean you can't still hit at a high level. However, you are going to have to make compensations during the swing which will make it more difficult to repeat the swing and be consistent. As I mentioned above the deceleration sequence can also provide us valuable insight into energy transfer, which is critical for maximizing power.
Energy Transfer: Is there a Tidal Wave?
Energy transfer is best visualized as a "wave" during this sequence. We should see the wave grow/build as it travels through each segment. On the graph this means the green line peaks higher than the red line. The blue line peaks higher than the green line and the gold line peaks higher than the blue line. The greater the difference between the peaks, the more energy that is transferred between segments. This indicates speed is increasing up the chain until it reaches the ball at impact. Examine the graphs below:
1. The graph on the left indicates this increasing wave of energy throughout the sequence where each line is larger than the previous segment.
2. The second picture shows minimal space between the red, green and blue lines, then a big gap between the wrists/bat. This player is significantly missing on on maximizing his energy transfer and speed created during the swing.
3. The third picture shows minimal space between the red and green graph, or minimal transfer or speed between the pelvis and torso.
4. The picture on the far right shows minimal speed created between the green (torso) and blue (arm)
The other important aspect to the deceleration sequence is the rate of deceleration. This is seen on the graph by how rapidly/sharply the line increases (accelerates) and decreases (decelerates). The quicker a segment can decelerate, the faster the next segment can accelerate. This quick deceleration and acceleration can result in significant speed production. The graph on the left shows this quick deceleration in each of the lines (looks a mountain peak). In comparison the graph in the middle has a much more gradual slope (like a gradual hill or mound). This indicates slow acceleration and deceleration and likely minimal power production. However, its also possible to have this vary between the segments as seen on the far right. You can see the red line (pelvis) has a more gradual slope compared the green and blue lines. This allows us to see where your "power" leaks are at.
What causes issues with proper sequencing and energy transfer?
The kinematic sequence graphs we showed above help to identify if a problem exists in sequencing and energy transfer. However, we then have to be able to answer why this problem exists. There are a couple of very common reasons for this:
1. Mechanics: common hitting inhibitors such as sway, drifting, loss of base, loss of posture and casting the hands (among others) can create problems with the kinematic sequence.
2. Physical Limitations: limitations in mobility, stability, strength and power cause a breakdown in the kinematic sequence
3. Equipment such as the type of bat you use and even your footwear can alter your sequence.
When we combine all of this data we can start to make these connections and create a very targeted and specific approaching to your training program to make sure you are working on the right things to speed up the learning process and improve your performance at the plate.
How can we use this information to help improve your performance at the plate?
To summarize the information above, an efficient kinematic sequence offers several benefits to performance. An efficient kinematic sequence can help you maximize the power that you possess and also the consistency/repeatability of your swing. An efficient kinematic sequence also allows you to commit later to the pitch and to get up to speed faster/reduce time to contact. This extra time allows your body to gather more information on the pitch before making a decision. While this doesn’t guarantee a successful outcome by any means it does give you better chance at success. When a swing is out of sequence this will also result in compensations that the body has to make during the swing which again will make it more difficult to be consistent when hitting.
*Disclaimer: Hitting is obviously a very complex and difficult activity and there are several characteristics that make a great hitter besides their kinematic sequence. Hand eye coordination, the mental side of the game and several other characteristics are also important to being a great hitter.
Contact us today if you have interest in going through a 3-D swing analysis for your swing and see how you compare to the best hitters in the world. If you have any other questions in regards to 3-D motion capture you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be happy to answer any questions you have.