So first things first, let us dethrone this myth of hitting. Now as youngsters keeping the back elbow up accomplishes some very good things, and this theory holds true for super athletes all the way through minor league ball. First, it keeps the hands from dipping in the zone, helping hitters to swing on a level plane or “down at the ball”, in essence preventing pop-ups and fly ball swings. It is a technique designed to help promote line drive hitting, and for that it does work. Where the mistake comes in, enter Brett Jackson, are that it makes a swing very loopy and long, and forces a hitter to come around the ball. We will get to that more later, but as a premise just remember that keeping an elbow up keeps a hitter from dipping his hands in the zone, but also forces that hitter to come around the ball rather than directly to it.
Let us get to Brett Jackson then as it pertains to his swing change. As Jackson progressed through high school, college, and the minor leagues there was always this understanding that Brett could be an outstanding player with speed, arm, average, power and defense, a prospective five-tool player, but he always struck out so much. And in doing so held his offense back a lot, even though he drew walks and seemed to have a good batting eye. Well, quite simply put, he always hit from an elbow up, hands back approach, probably as he was taught as a youngster. What the Cubs’ did, as you hear Jackson reiterate, is change where Jackson’s hands are when he starts his swing. The side effect of this is his elbow being down and closed to his side as opposed to high and back as it used to be.
Let us take a side bar real quick to analyze the swings of a few big time hitters in baseball history. Beginning with Ted Williams, here is a video of Teddy Ballgame: , showing a few things, hands tight and elbow in at the start of his swing, as well as his hips leading his hands. Notice in his swing how he loads in his hips for power and his hands stay tight to his body as his elbow stays tight to his body. This rotational swing generates power from the hips and enhances the amount of power a hitter generates as well as elongates the time the bat stays in the zone.
The reason the elbow in and hands following hips swing keeps the bat in the zone longer, is because the hands really never leave the zone so for nearly the entirety of the swing, and the bat maintains a level plane and keeps itself in the hitting zone. The simplest way to understand this method of hitting is letting the ball meet the bat as opposed to bringing the bat to meet the ball. When a hitter tries to meet the ball with his bat, he has to adjust his bat speed, plane, and hands. As far as Brett Jackson, and many other phenomenal athletes, this works well for a long time until the pitchers are as good or better than the hitter. That is the majority of the problem Brett Jackson has encountered in his career. His ability has always allowed him to be just good enough to project well and move up with out too much concern. But as he advances his K numbers continued to increase and his production dipped. This happens because when going against guys with major league stuff he could no longer adjust the bat to meet the ball, resulting in that same good eye at the plate, but many issues and difficulties making contact. When he did make contact he was successful but that was minimal. This very simply why scouts across the board said nothing about his hit tool or his power or plate approach, but simply that if he can make more consistent contact when he swung he would stick.