Book review: ‘Positional Hitting’

Jaime Cevallos is probably best known as the swing coach who helped Ben Zobrist hit 27 home runs in 2009. Cevallos has a new book, Positional Hitting: the Modern Approach to Analyzing and Training Your Baseball Swing, published in 2010 by Mill City Press. It is a clear and concise 100-page description of his approach to hitting a baseball, in both mental and mechanical aspects.

In some ways Positional Hitting reminds me of hitting books that have gone before, such as The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams and The Art of Hitting .300 by Charlie Lau. It discusses the philosophical approach to hitting and is full of diagrams of what good swings and good hitters should and shouldn’t look like.

The book by Cevallos falls somewhere between the two in general approach, while having a more modern feel than either. His book is similar in length to that of Williams, who discussed physics and the strike zone while supplementing with some diagrams of good swings and a few quick examples of good hitters. Lau’s book was twice as long and was filled with photo after photo of hitters in various parts of their swings.

Like Lau, Cevallos carefully documents each part of the swing with a photo or diagram of a hitter. Unlike Lau, who used George Brett and other contemporary players to illustrate his points, Cevallos uses photos of himself swinging a bat supplemented with a few drawings of a generic batter. Like Williams, Cevallos tries to apply physics to getting the most out of a swing and talks in detail about how the large muscles of the body, particularly the legs, hips and body core, supply the power to the smaller muscles of the arms, wrists and hands to hit the ball.

Cevallos talks about how he learned about hitting from watching good hitters on video and observing commonalities in their approaches to hitting, which might remind one quite a lot of Lau’s approach. However, Cevallos has taken a fittingly modern avenue with his observation. Rather than simply observing and distilling principles, or “laws,” of good hitting as Lau did, he used the tools of freeze-frame video to measure precisely what good hitters do. He has developed a list of key hitting positions and ways to measure the angles of the body and bat in those positions to determine whether a hitter is putting himself in the best situation to produce good results at the plate.

He begins his book by talking about how he moved from failure to success as a college hitter by developing this approach. He discusses the mental aspects of achieving goals. He posits that hitting practice with video feedback is the most effective way to become a good hitter and argues that game-time failure can be turned to success by disclosing the flaws in your hitting positions, which can then be corrected in practice.

He quickly dispels 11 current myths of hitting, talks about the basic physics of the swing, and then moves on to discussing each of the hitting positions (or parts of the swing) in detail.

The Fall position is the rise and fall at the beginning of the stride, the Cushion and Secondary Cushion positions are the landing of the stride, and the Slot position is the beginning of the hip rotation. The Impact position is the position at ball-bat contact, the Delivery position is at full arm extension after contact, and the Finish position occurs at the end of the swing momentum. Finally, in describing the Guard position, he talks about the best way to be prepared in case one is hit by the pitch. All positions are described in thorough detail and documented with a specific body or bat angle that can be measured.

Each chapter has a practical application or exercise to practice. In addition, he details some specific hitting drills at the end of the book. Everything is very clearly explained, and it would be very easy to put this system into practice as long as one has a way to get video feedback of one’s hitting positions.

I can recommend the book as being clear, logical, well-thought and well-documented, and easy to understand and apply. His approach certainly seems to make a lot of sense. Unfortunately I can’t speak to the accuracy or efficacy of the hitting positions that he advocates.

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