There’s more to rotation than merely turning
It seems to be pretty well-established in most fastpitch softball circles these days that rotation is a critical, must-have element of good hitting. Yet it’s important to keep in mind that the mere act of rotating itself doesn’t guarantee success. When you rotate, you actually have to do something, i.e. generate power with it.
As a hitting instructor I see it all the time. Players understand that they have to “turn on the ball.” Yet they do it in a way that looks good in slow motion video but doesn’t actually accomplish what it’s supposed to accomplish.
The idea of rotation in hitting is to recruit the big muscles — thighs, butt, core, back, chest, etc. — to help move the mass of the bat. Those muscles create power and batspeed. The smaller muscles in the arms can then be focused on getting the bat head on-plane with the ball and making fine adjustments. But when the big muscles aren’t used, hitters have to depend on the smaller muscles to get the bat moving, which means they’re less capable of making adjustments. They also don’t hit the ball as hard.
However you go about it, rotating the hips has to be an aggressive, ballistic movement, not an easy turn into position. I will tell hitters to “pop the hips” to get them more aggressive. It’s not just about speed — the body has to be used properly, driving the back side up and around the front side — but assuming the right things are happening “pop the hips” gets the idea of being more aggressive.
Another thing a quick, powerful rotation does is give the hitter more time to see the ball before committing the bat to the swing. If the hitter can cut the time of rotation in half, that extra time can be added to the time he/she has to see the path of the ball (and if he/she is really good its rotation), which helps the hitter make a better final decision on where to take the bat.
I tell hitters I always want to see them making their positive move (striding as I teach it, although a forward shift with no stride also counts) and at least starting hip rotation on every pitch. Sometimes they worry that they’re going to swing at a bad pitch, but when they do it they see committing to strong rotation on every pitch actually makes it easier to hold back on a bad pitch because they can start the bat at the ball later.
When they make the powerful hip turn they also see how the ball jumps off the bat at contact. It just gets easier to hit well. Maybe when you’re moving faster overall you have less time to take yourself out of a good hit — you’ve gathered the info you need and now you’re just executing, reducing the act to see ball/hit ball.
Something you want to watch out for is the “rotation” that is more about turning the back leg than driving the back hip forward. The old “squish the bug” cue is the worst example of it, but there are other ways that are less than optimal as well. If the thigh bone (femur for those who like medical terms) is primarily rotating in the hip socket you don’t have rotation.
Instead, you want the back hip to drive forward around the front hip and into the ball, which at the point of contact generally results in the back foot being up on the toe with the heel pointed at the sky rather than the catcher. (Mark, I’ll save you the trouble — see these videos for some good examples.) I say generally because you’ll always be able to find cases where it doesn’t happen, but those are more the exceptions where a hitter has to make an unexpected adjustment, such as an inside pitch that gets to them more quickly than they were ready for.
The point is just turning isn’t enough. To really be successful with it, the hitter has to practice and become confident in his/her ability to rotate quickly and powerfully in order to maximize the swing.
Now it’s your turn. What have you observed in hitters when it comes to rotation? How have you gotten them to commit to doing it more powerfully? And what kind of results did you see?