J RobinsonWhat can we learn from baseball that is applicable to markets?

In looking at how to hit for Aubrey, I focus on posing and gaining potential energy by moving the back foot back or lifting the right foot up before hitting the ball. Also holding the head directly at pitcher, and the trigger point. Also following through the ball with the bat following it on a line before snapping up. I don't know anything about baseball but all this seems applicable.

Please augment. We have quite a few experts on baseball who read this site and the All-American also.

James Lackey replies:

They don't teach you to lift your foot up anymore when you bat. You use a wide stance, and you pivot your back foot towards the pitcher and snap your hips. Some teach you to pivot your back foot on the ball of the foot, with you front foot on its heel while swinging, and you end the swing with your feet pointing to the pitcher. My son's 11-12 year old hitting coach had a hard time retraining my kid. He cut a 1" piece of PVC pipe the length of his shoulders made him stand over it and do a zillion swings to get his front foot down before he could snap his hips. We were all taught to keep your elbow up, use a narrow stance and step into the pitcher.

J.P Highland comments:

Being able to choose the pitchers we want to face gives us a great advantage over baseball hitters. The Nymex's pitching rotation is my favorite. They like to intimidate batters with lightning fastballs but their stuff suits my swing, as opposed to the tough off-speed pitches ES has mastered that have victimized me so often.

James Lackey adds:

My kid was born with a cannon. I knew it at age four when he threw me a hardball. By 10 he could throw from the fence to the catcher. He was a good pitcher at 12, but his coach would always yell at him over the top when he lost control.

Now what I do not quite get is that his football coach yells at him at practice to quit throwing a baseball. It's how quick you release to give the defenders a chance to attack. My son explained to me how it works, but I still do not get the mechanics.

The only good thing to report is I have never been his football or baseball coach only dirt bikes. So naturally he loves team sports.

Tim Melvin writes:

I'm not a much of a pitcher as I have a noodle for an arm and always have, but in the excellent baseball book featuring John Smoltz and Mike Mussina we learn that speed, location and deception are the keys to successful pitching over time. I am not just talking about power speed either. The Nolan Ryans are the one off Soros and Buffets of the baseball world. The ability to vary speed and move the ball around are the key to long term success.

I shall leave you all to draw you own market conclusions as there are many that leap to my mind.

Scott Brooks comments:

Good pitching isn't about overpowering batters and striking them out, it's about throwing the ball so that the batters make bad contact, and then letting your fielders do their job.

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

 Albert Pujols does both old and new school. He has his right foot turned 45 degrees towards the pitcher, the right knee bent slightly, the hands held back and high (at the top of the strike zone), the right shoulder held above the left, with the bat vertical. When he unloads, the left foot and hips do a quarter turn, the right shoulder drops slightly as he throws the bat at the ball, and the bat stays level to the ground for the full travel across the plate. In 4 days against the Giants he made one bad swing: when Matt Cain threw him a 1-2 slider down and away. He absolutely ate Barry Zito alive even though Zito now has game back and had no trouble at all with the rest of the Cardinal lineup. Theoretically, you could throw him changeups and curves down and away; but, when Lincecum tried it, by the 2nd at-bat, Pujols was hitting doubles down the line in right. It was like watching the Yankees try to pitch Williams inside (with his long arms and height, he should have been vulnerable) and watching him take the ball early and park it in Ruth's pavilion. Yo-Yo Ma with a pine bow.

Pitt T. Maner suggests:

This article which I quote from was interesting in light of an optical illusion I had seen a few days earlier on the internet. Many years ago I had read stories of knuckleballers who had pitches where even they themselves were not sure of the ball's pathway to the catcher's (often oversized) mitt.  This story has a bit of that mysterious, "unhittable" pitch reminiscent of Plimpton's April Fool's hoax:

"DiFelice grips the ball across the seams, like a four-seam fastball, and tilts it so his middle finger rests along the red stitching. He squeezes the ball with his middle finger, raises his index finger and throws it as he would a fastball. The result is confounding: The ball spins like a fastball and moves like a slider, and the optical illusion it plays on hitters allows him to get away with throwing an 82-mph pitch the batter knows is coming."

And here is the optical illusion (best illusion of the year in fact).

How would you learn to hit such things? Would you need to learn to selectively ignore information coming from your eyes?

Phil McDonnell writes:

Lifting the front foot high does not inherently add energy to the swing. If you think about it lifting a foot straight up adds potential energy only in an up and down direction. The point of a baseball swing is to drive the ball in the horizontal direction. Any energy from the foot lift is orthogonal to the intended swing and does not add any power.

The real reason for the foot lift is that it enforces a good weight shift. When the foot is lifted all of your weight is on the back foot by necessity. This allows the weight to start on the back foot and shift to the front foot. The weight shift adds power to the swing by starting the twisting motion of the body and the hips. Fundamentally the power is generated by the centrifugal motion of the bat. The center of that motion is the twisting of the hips and body.

There is another subtle but important aspect to batting. That is the need to have a good follow through. The key is the hands. If you do an imaginary swing with your hands you will see that when you fully extend your left hand in a follow through that your right hand cannot stretch out nearly as far as the left (for righties).

This compels two types of follow through motions. The first kind is simply to break the hands. The follow through continues with only the left hand still holding the bat as the right hand is released. Reverse for lefties.

The other type of follow through involves a roll of the wrist. Basically the right wrist rolls over the left as the bat passes to the left of the body. The object of either finish is to keep the bat moving even after it is in contact with the ball.

The one follow through technique that is bad is to keep both hands on the bat without a roll. If you try it you will see that you get a hitch in your swing just about when the bat handle passes your body.

One little known, but good exercise is to simply swing a light bat 50-100 times with your left hand only. The left hand is an important hand for guiding the bat. The left tricep is the important muscle for this motion. This exercise is best started pre-season because it often leaves the tricep sore after the first few times.

Dr. McDonnell is the author of Optimal Portfolio Modeling, Wiley, 2008

Jeff Watson adds:

 With much ado regarding the merits of different pitching styles, and the physics of different type of curves, knuckelballs, fastballs, and sliders, I'm surprised that nobody has brought up the pitches of Gaylord Perry and Joe Niekro. Perry allegedly did wonders with a spitball, and when the heat came to tough for him to bear, he replaced spit with Vaseline. Perry was constantly hounded by umpires his whole career, and had to develop different methods for hiding his illegal substances after the 1968 ruling regarding wiping the mouth before a pitch. The spitball was one of those pitchers that made the ball seemingly disobey the laws of physics, and was hard to hit. Perry and pitchers of his ilk had deceptive moves down to a science, and whether they threw a spitball or not, the batter was never sure. The market has shown similar characteristics in the past and present, where following the rules is winked at. Certain reports are released early by officials to their friends, and nobody really says anything. Naked short selling was allowed until it was apparent that there would be a possibility of the whole financial sector going to zero. The market players just had too much of an advantage over the public and the rules had to change, much like they did in 1968, and much like little things like the height of the hill being modified from time to time. Even after the rules are changed, in baseball and the markets, people still try to cheat. Niekro was caught red-handed by the umpire after he was searched for an emery board, and it flew out of his hand onto the field. That was one of the classic moments of baseball.

Stefan Jovanovich responds:

 Niekro used a piece of emery board to scuff the ball so he could get a better break on his curve. That was what he was throwing away when he was caught. Perry used perspiration from the back of his neck to load the ball so his sinker would have more drop. (He would take off his cap and run his pitching hand over the back of his head and down to adjust the top of his jersey). Baseball, being like the SEC, had and still has elaborate rules that are utterly useless in terms of actual cheating on the mound. For example, the pitcher cannot go to his mouth while standing on the mound (automatic ball to the batter; balk if there are men on base); but he can still walk off the mound and lick his fingers all he wants. However, since saliva doesn't work nearly as well as sweat (which is much heavier because of the salts and dries more slowly), the anti-spit rule itself is pointless. The spit ball was outlawed was the one where the spit the pitchers used was loaded with chewing tobacco.

The idea that pitchers used vaseline is a media urban legend. There is no question that the stuff could be useful; but you would need a towel boy with soap and a basin of water that you could go to between pitches so you could clean off your hands. However, since the batters - who are always looking for an explanation for their inevitable failures - never figured this out (not being particularly concerned about hygiene), Perry and Early Winn and others always made a great pretense of using it. Perry still does; but you can hardly fail to notice the twinkle in his eye whenever he gives his seemingly evasive answer to the latest interviewer.

In my next life I want to hit against the pitchers on Dr. Phil's team. Everything he wrote is wrong. The knuckleball wobbles because it has no gyroscopic balance. It has no gyroscopic balance because it has no spin. The pitch is thrown with the ball held by the nails so that when it leaves the hand there is no friction with the skin. The trick is in holding the ball with the nail of the thumb; that is the part of the grip that defeats most people. (This is why nuckleball pitchers are fussier than manicurists about their nails; they want them trimmed so that they perfectly fit the curve of the ball.) The pitch is called a knuckle ball because when you have the proper grip the knuckles all stick out on the pitcher's hand. That also makes it instantly noticeable so there is no deception whatsoever about what the pitcher is throwing. If the ball has any rotation at all — even the magic reversible one from the "sail effect of the seams" that Dr. Phil has discovered, then the pitcher is in for a world of hurt because the pitch becomes a batting practice fastball (think Tim Wakefield pitching relief against the Yankees in the playoffs). All the other pitches Dr. Phil mentioned — the palm ball, fork ball, split finger — do have spin; they have to because the pitcher has to control their location. The knuckleball and the true 95+ mph fastball are the only two pitches where the pitcher can say "here, hit it" and not worry about where he or she throws it. (Some day some bright woman is going to learn how to throw a knuckler!) What the palm ball, fork ball, split finger all do is change the velocity. By holding the ball against the palm or jamming it down between your fingers, you lose some of the whip from your release. The circle change has the same effect; by holding the ball with all 4 fingers, you lose speed while keeping the same arm action. The cut fastball that Pitt posted about earlier is different; it is like the screwball. You are throwing the pitch with the same speed as a fastball but with a different rotation.

Phil McDonnell remarks:

 Curve balls really do curve. There are many proofs of this but the simplest is the center field TV camera where the resolution is too poor to show the spin, but the curvature is obvious. If the viewer cannot see the spin then it is difficult to explain how it can be an optical illusion.

Basically the curvature comes from the spin of the ball. The easy way to remember is that the direction that the front of the ball is spinning is the direction of curvature. A pitch that is thrown with a right to left spin will curve to the left. A pitch that is thrown with a down and to the left spin will break low and away.

The spin exerts a small orthogonal force on the ball as it speeds toward the plate. This force is governed by Newton's equation:

Force = Mass * Acceleration

Note that the last term is the acceleration not the speed of the sideways movement. The ball actually curves at a faster and faster rate. Thus the most deceptive part of the curve occurs right at the point where the batter swings.

The knuckle ball is a bit different. The idea of a knuckle ball is no spin. What happens is that the seams act as little sails that catch the passing air causing curvature in one direction or another. Naturally the seams also cause a very slight rotation of the ball until the another seam comes around. The effect is that the ball begins to curve one direction and then as the seam changes it actually begins to curve in a new direction. From the batter's perspective the ball can appear to wobble. Other times it can fly off in one direction or another in a strongly curving manner. Even the pitcher does know what it will do. The knuckle ball is not the only grip that results in no spin. Others can be the fork ball AKA split finger fast ball and the palm ball.

Another deceptive use of these no spin pitches is that they can be thrown just like the pitcher's fast ball. If the batter has previously timed the pitcher's fast ball then he will likely start his swing based on that timing only to be fooled by a ball arriving slower than expected. So even if he is not deceived by the wobbles of the ball he may be swinging too early or need to hold up his swing and lose critical power.

In many ways these change up style pitches are reminiscent of the deceptive action of the seemingly dead market last Friday which suddenly exploded to life in the last seven minutes of the trading session.

Dr. McDonnell is the author of Optimal Portfolio Modeling, Wiley, 2008

George Parkanyi comments:

In pick-up ball where it's pretty easy to hit, I choose the direction I want to go by adjusting my back foot. If I want to hit to the opposite field because I'm being played to pull the ball, then I'll drop my back foot further away from the plate, which turns my torso to slightly lag my swing and "point" the direction of my "power" through to the opposite field. If I want to hit to center I line up parallel to the plate, and if I want to pull the ball, I move my back foot closer in toward the plate. If you connect well with the ball, it will go in the direction of your set-up. Against a professional pitch, I think I'd be happy just to touch the ball — perhaps even just to see it.

Dean Davis writes:

The most critical thing you can teach Aubrey is to avoid moving your head forward (toward pitcher) in the process of moving from a loaded position to the striking the ball. This is often the result of a hip shift which moves weight to the pitcher side of center (this destroys a hitter's power). The timing of hitting a baseball is difficult enough without ceding an advantage to the pitcher by destroying his stereo-vision by moving your head forward.

If you can get him to solidly place his stride foot slightly closed (closer to the near edge of the plate than the back foot), before he starts his swing (done by merely rotating the back heel low to the ground until pointing away from the pitcher), you will avoid him having to relearn the swing when he gets to a select/traveling/high school team later in life.

The Texas Rangers pitchers are taught to throw the circle change where they are attempting to "throw the O" (the circled index finger & thumb) at the target (pushing the index finger down to close the O at release). This means that their middle three fingers are are pointing at one of the dugouts as the shoulders are square to the target. That exaggerates the screwball spin and drop. Index finger should lay across the seam.

I teach my pitchers (age 11 & up with longer fingers) to have the same grip (floating the the middle finger off the ball if possible, substituting the ring finger for stability), throw it like a fast ball (the hand is more behind the ball when coming over the top) and emphasize the index finger pressure through release. They get the same screw ball action and drop as the major leaguers (to a lesser degree). When thrown by a righty to a righty (or lefty to lefty), it is a devastating "out" pitch (thrown on a X-2 count). My pitchers love to see the hitter "corkscrew" into the ground trying to make any contact.

Here is an interesting interview with Mike Basich (gave up record breaking HR to B Bonds) about how pitchers cheat (he names names!)

Steve Leslie contributes:

A great lesson that one learns from baseball pertaining to the markets is in the area of hitting. There are many different types of hitters those who are contact hitters for example and those who are home run sluggers.

Many consider Ty Cobb the greatest hitter in the game. He had a lifetime batting average of .367 over 24 seasons. This is the highest career batting average in the major leagues. He also had 724 doubles 295 triples and 117 homer runs. Through that whole period of time he had but 357 strikeouts. He also stole 892 bases. With the exception of his first season in the majors he never batted below .300 and his peak performance was in 1911 with 248 hits and a .420 average. He also held the batting title 12 times with 9 in a row. Ty Cobb forcused on what he did best which was hit the ball, put it in play and as a result of this dedication maintained a productive career that lasted a quarter of a century.

After his retirement, Cobb was a very wealthy man having been advised by executives and others in the Detroit area how to properly invest his money. He went on to invest in stocks and was a major stock holder in the Coca Cola company.

The lessons for the investor is that success in the markets is a lifetime pursuit. It is showing up for work every day and dedicating onself to the task at hand and utilizing the particular skills and they have been blessed with. Ty Cobb had a very productive and successful career because he concentrated on what he did best and he did it very well. Year in and year out .

Phil McDonnell admits:

Yes, I did pitch for Cal in the PAC-10. We actually won the conference when I played although only slightly due to my minor contribution. Since that time I coached about 50 kids in Little League. Of those, five players were drafted into the Major Leagues for a total signing bonus of about $5 million. Somehow that does not seem random to me.

The wonderful thing about the markets and baseball is that everyone thinks they know all about it. There are many ways to skin the cat. Perhaps I can arrange some batting practice against one of my ex-players next time they visit the A's or the Giants.

With respect to the back foot weight shift, we can do a simple thought experiment. Lift your back foot into the air and try to swing. Did that swing feel powerful? The fact is the weight shift from back to front occurs whether you are conscious of it or not.

The fingernail ball is something I have never taught. However I have never had to pull my starter for a broken cuticle, nor have I ever needed to smuggle an emery board out to the mound for emergency fingernail repair. I have coached the circle change. It is an excellent and easy to learn off speed pitch. My technique is to circle the two fingers in an OK sign, the the three remaining fingers are used to throw a weak pitch. The spin is the spin characteristic of a screwball (curves to the right). But the pitch does not curve because the spin is too weak and the speed is too slow. It is simply an off speed pitch.

Dr. McDonnell is the author of Optimal Portfolio Modeling, Wiley, 2008

Stephan Jovanovich replies:

Heck, Dr. Phil, with my eyesight I couldn't tell you from one of your former prodigies, let alone see the ball. I stopped playing ball at 18, after I went to the Phillies organization pow-wow and met the three catchers they already had in the system and compared the sizes of their hands to mine. The only talented pitcher I ever caught blew out his arm in AA in Odessa; he was from Guatemala, and he had the same stuff Mike Cuellar had. He would have been a marvel. I know enough about the bonus baby mania baseball went through to be unimpressed by the "about $5 million"; it is one of those factoids that is like Clinton's 100,000 new cops - wonderfully round and purposely vague. Hell, even with my puny hands and Molina family footspeed, I was offered $10,000. If you want to post your stats and the stats of your magic kids, I will be more than happy to eat crow and buy you and your camp followers each a bottle of bourbon. Until then, let's call it a draw. You still don't know anything about hitting, but there are few people who do. As for pitching, I would still recommend to the List that they send their kids to Dean's camp, even if his players have never been offered a stick of chewing gum by a scout. He knows far more about this than you or I do, and he lacks your cocoa puffed ego and my bad temper. Neither is a good temperament for teaching people. But - last shot - the most important reason to trust DD (listen up, Lack!) is that he clearly has no interest in any of the kiss-ass rituals that have turned so much of "organized" baseball at the junior level into a game of "my daddy knows your daddy" (out here in the Bay Area it has become even worse than it is in soccer).

Phil McDonnell suggests:

Lifting the front foot high does not inherently add energy to the swing. If you think about it lifting a foot straight up adds potential energy only in an up and down direction. The point of a baseball swing is to drive the ball in the horizontal direction. Any energy from the foot lift is orthogonal to the intended swing and does not add any power.

Dr. McDonnell is the author of Optimal Portfolio Modeling, Wiley, 2008

Charles Pennington demurs:

Potential energy does not have a "direction". Why do batters start with the bat held up high? That's potential energy that ends up contributing to the kinetic energy of the swing, when the bat is low.

Let me add that the pitcher lifts his front foot in an effort to throw the ball fast in the horizontal direction.

Stefan Jovanovich notes:

Randy Johnson did it — at age 45. He became only the sixth left-hander in baseball history to win 300 games in a career. And, like Teddy baseball's final game and last home run (at his last at-bat), it happened while the world was looking elsewhere — before a tiny crowd on a rain-sodden field. Pure Brueghel.





Speak your mind

4 Comments so far

  1. david higgs on June 2, 2009 10:22 pm

    I suspect your son will have a natural swing until someone screws it up for him. Remember, the hips, it all in the hips and you want the bat to swing on the the same plane of the ball. Keep both hand on the bat. www.MikeEpsteinHitting.com the video ” The Epstein Teaching System Do we teach what we really see” is a high recommendation with an intro by Ted Williams if you wish your son to establish proper muscle memory. Worth it’s weight in gold.

    Curve? It’s called a breaking ball these days….should not attempt to throw one until you’re in 8th grade better a freshman. many arms wasted early in life……………….

  2. Steve on June 3, 2009 10:11 am

    Charlie Lau’s The Absolutes of Hitting

    1 Achieve a balanced stance- weight on balls of feet
    2 Launch the bat from a 45 degree position off the back shoulder
    3 Develop a rhythm to alleviate tension
    4 Stride with front foot closed
    5 Take a direct path to the ball; pull the knob to the ball
    6 Develop good weight transfer — from a firm rigid back-side to a firm rigid front-side
    7 Keep head still and down at contact
    8 Hit through the ball with lead arm extension and flat hands
    9 Finish the swing high
    10 Hit to all fields

  3. Rodger Bastien on June 4, 2009 11:22 am

    I believe that energy is created by lifting the heel or the entire foot for that matter, but at what cost? I agree with Dr. McDonnell that this promotes a weight shift which is very important in the power of the baseball swing. One common flaw of most young players is that rather than bracing their swing versus the front leg they move their entire body into the swing and that movement steals energy from their swing. For Aubrey, of utmost importance is hitting the ball in front of the plate rather than at the plate. I like to use a batting tee to promote hitting the ball in front of you with the barrel of the bat. Take note of the pro ballplayers who often hit balls off of their ankles or even their front knees — that is due to tremendous barrel-head quickness. Place a hitting tee in front of your young hitter at approximately the 10 o'clock position and have him hit balls into a metal fence or tarp to teach hitting the ball out in front of you.

  4. Xavier on June 7, 2009 3:29 pm

    “The transition from central to peripheral vision may explain why curve balls appear to change direction”



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