Baseball Physics

Want to Hit? – Stop Swinging Down!

You do not swing down or “chop down” on the ball.  This technique was popular in the 90’s. There are coaches and “hitting instruction” web sites that still teach this method of hitting. It’s wrong – Why?

Here are three simple facts about a pitched baseball:

  • The pitching rubber is 10 inches above the ground therefore the pitcher is elevated/ above the batter so to throw to the strike zone he has to throw down.
  • Once the ball leaves the pitchers hand gravity starts pulling the ball down along with the effects of air pressure, humidity, wind, etc.
  • Once the ball leaves the pitchers hand it is at its peak velocity. As it travels toward the plate it begins to decelerate at approximately 1 mph for each 7 feet of travel from the pitchers hand (“The Physics of Baseball” by Robert K. Adair, Sterling Professor of Physics, Yale University).  As it decelerates – it drops.

By the time the ball crosses the plate it’s actually traveling diagonally down at about -10 degrees.

Since the ball is traveling at a downward angle of at least 10 degrees when it crosses the plate does it really make sense to also swing down to make solid contact?  Well, NO – and high speed video confirms it. Take a look at a snippet from ESPN’s Sports Science video “The Physics of Hitting a Baseball” with Nomar Garciaparra – the video confirms that major league hitters have a slight upward swing angle at contact.


Getting the bat head on the same plane as the ball as soon as possible is undeniably the best way to consistently hit a pitched ball squarely.

Ball Trajectory


A pitched ball comes in on a downward plane. The best hitters are able to match the downward pitch with a positive attack angle of the barrel into the ball. Meaning you should have a slight upward swing angle of 10 to 15 degrees* – this matches the path of the ball. Plus this allows the batter to be long in the zone so they don’t have to have perfect timing (if the batter is early or late they will make contact).  But take note, this isn’t “upper cutting” – which is just as bad as swinging down – just in reverse.

Support Research

Alan Nathan (professor emeritus of physics at the University of Illinois) while testing the theory that an optimally hit curveball can be hit farther than an optimally hit fastball (the effects of back spin) states: “One additional thing easily can be seen from the contour plots: If your goal is to hit the ball as far as possible, swinging down on the ball—i.e., with a negative attack angle—does not appear to be a good idea.” (Optimizing the Swing, Nov 2015) It’s a long read. Back spin will be addressed in a future article “Baseball Back Spin And Distance – Don’t Worry About It”.

Also according to Nathan’s research, approximately 80% of all balls hit with a slight upward swing angle of +10 to +15 degrees become hits.

*The 10 degree angle is based off a 90mph fastball from a mound 60’ 6” away.  A slower pitch from the same distance will have a little more downward angle therefore the 10-15 degree range.  For younger players where the mound is closer than 60″ 6″, they too should work on a positive 10-15 degree attack angle swing.


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Matt Helke

Active coach since 1992, Peak Performance Mental Skills / Mental Game Specialist, Instructor - The Academy (Baseball/ Softball), Founder of The Baseball Observer Magazine Founder of 360 Peak Performance -Accredited Interscholastic Baseball Coach -Certified Sports Psychology Coach (Ed.) -Certified Sports Hypnosis/ Sports Guided Imagery -Certified Core Conditioning Specialist -Certified Biomechanics Specialist/ Human Body Movement Long Standing Member: -ABCA, NFHS, OHSBCA Professional Affiliate: -APA Div 47 (Society for Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology)


  1. I’ve been teaching that way for many years. I always felt the more your on the ball the better we will be.
    I’ve had guys nock my style down for many years but I wasn’t going to change. I use to put a string from the pitchers release point to the catchers mit. I felt the longer I could get my guys on the ball it would cute out a lot of strike outs. I so agree on what your teach.

  2. I always learned to try and swing as level as possible, leaving the follow through with that same swing connecting against your back…I see guys today thinking they’re in a damn golf game, dusting the plate with the bottom of the bat and following through right over the opposite neck/shoulder junction…who tells these pros to do that? yes, you have to go down to get a low pitch, but they’re swinging that bat like a 9 iron….what ever decided for us we didn’t want to learn from those with the greatest ‘hit numbers’, like pete rose, who crouched over, laid the bat parallel to the ground and slapped out nearly 4500 base knocks….??? Rod carew and so many others at the time; is it that they hits don’t sell as many tickets as the 4 baggers??? ichiro is another modern styled slap stick hitter using similar skills…and oh, my god, do I dare forget henry aaron…if you take a little time in deciphering his swing, he used rolling of the wrists even after being fooled on a change of pace pitch, and his weight out over his front foot…he still slapped 714 hrs. and never used drugs to do it…

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