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Related Last Update: 1/27/2014 (see update list at bottom of page)

What is a Rotational Baseball Swing? What is Linear? What are the Cues for Each?

This may be the most important thing you read about baseball or fastpitch instruction.

Understanding the difference between rotational hitting and linear hitting is the most important concept in advancing to the next level when you play or coach baseball or fastpitch softball.

You must understand the key differences in these techniques in order to know what to look for in choosing baseball clinics, lessons, coaching, which team to play on, etc.

What most coaches are teaching and what the great hitters have actually been doing for over 100 years is something completely different.

Since a swing happens so fast, it is not obvious to most observers what is involved in a professional baseball or softball swing. Therefore, it was difficult to prove or disprove an "expert's" opinion. The advent of freeze frame video has revolutionized hitting instruction over the past 10-20 years.

Two Types of Swing Techniques - Rotational and Linear

The main differences between rotational and linear have to do with the action/timing of the arms, hands/wrists, and the back elbow - and the swing plane (or bat plane) that results from these actions.
When do these differences occur?
There are 3 phases to hitting a baseball or softball
  • stance
  • coil (aka stride/ weight shift/load)
  • swing forward (linear vs. rotational differences)
Linear vs. rotational differences are only relevant in the swing forward (3rd) phase (after the coil/stride and after toe touch).

Some insist that a linear swing is defined by the forward movement, or weight shift, and rotational swings include elements of linear movement. They are misinformed.

In reality, the stride vs. no-stride debate is not related to the linear vs. rotational debate. Some people advocate no-stride in linear hitting. Some advocate no-stride in rotational hitting.

Linear hitters can stride, and so can rotational hitters. Linear hitters can lunge, and so can rotational hitters. Linear hitters can rotate their hips, or squish the bug, or any number of things. But, so can rotational hitters.

Linear Swings - How to Identify

A pure 'linear swing' is trying to 'whip' a (rigid) bat (which can't be 'whipped') at the end of two outstretched arms without the use of the rotating body.

Sue Enquist Pure Linear
Here is Sue Enquist, former 27 year head coach at UCLA, teaching the classic "pure" linear swing.

The "pure" linear swing is immediately taking the knob straight to the ball, without any hip/ back elbow "connection" (the elbow just passes by the hip), and extending both your arms at contact, and (generally) flipping your wrists.

A "pure" linear swing is a weak double pendulum (arm extension + bat flip) that does not greatly benefit from the torso rotation because of the power leakage from the increased distance from the body.

If you kept your hands back with a linear swing, this would create a triple pendulum with the added back elbow, but "pure linear" pushes the hands in front of the elbow early. However, this generally creates late (vs early) "bat lag", so good luck with linear.

A linear swing generally creates a downward or diagonal swing plane(a).

The type of swing is usually predetermined the moment your hands leave your shoulder. If they leave too soon (linear), you create a downward swing plane, take your hands to the ball, and disconnect with your hips.

Linear usually results in bat drag (think the fence drill), and hitting the top of the ball (thereby driving the ball into the ground).

Howard Carrier linear
Mike Candrea linear
Typical Fastpitch

Rotational Swings - How to Identify

The "typical" rotational swing, among many other things, is taking your back elbow/shoulder to your hip as one of your first moves, while keeping your hands back.

Albert Pujols
Slotted Elbow
Then release your hands and continue to rotate your hips while maintaining an "L" (sometimes called "slotted") back elbow until contact. Rotational MLB swings generally produce a slight uppercut swing plane (a).

A "pure" rotational swing is a quad pendulum (back shoulder stops, then back elbow stops, then forearms stop (with bent elbow), then bat flips) which is compact around the body's torso.

Chipper Jones
Stride to Slot
Pendulums 1 and 2 - shoulder + elbow

Chipper Jones
Slot to Contact
Pendulums 3 and 4 - forearms (with bent elbow) + bat

also notice the bat path goes down, then upward to the ball

Where are these swings used?

The linear swing is mostly used in fastpitch softball, and is rarely seen in MLB.

Here is a good article by a coach named Joseph M. White explaining more about the history of linear vs. rotational debate.

Linear swings are frequently seen and coached (inadvertently via cues) in youth baseball.

The rotational swing is used by most (if not all) MLB hitters.
(a) Note that swing planes for extreme "low and in" or extreme high pitches may not vary much for rotational/linear swing types.

But My 'Hands Are Quicker to The Ball' With Linear

Even if that's true, shouldn't your goal be to generate quicker bat speed vs. faster hand action?

The use of the entire body to generate extra leverage and the additional pendulum action enables you to generate faster bat speed using a rotational swing vs a linear swing.

Faster hands do not create faster bat speed.

Hybrid Swings

Crystl Bustos
Hybrid Swing
Fastpitch is making a transition to rotational, so there are many hybrid swings such as the one used by Crystl Bustos. This swing is not high level.

She tilts her shoulders and takes her back elbow to her hip. That's typical in a high level rotational swing.

Then she goes linear. She throws her hands at the ball, stops her hip/shoulder rotation, and lets her front bicep push away from her body.

I have seen many fastpitch instructors refer to this flaw as a good thing - they call it 'extending through the zone'.

Ripken using
Power V at contact
Do not confuse linear hitting with rare "extension" (sometimes called "Power V") hitters in MLB. Power V hitters slot their back elbow, then extend their arms to contact. Power V hitting=rotational techniques + extension at contact. It is not linear hitting. We believe it is more difficult to time offspeed pitches using Power V, so we do not teach it here. Experiment and make your own call on this.

The Ultimate Linear Test

Linear Test
Without the hitting aid in this picture, the hitter looks like Ripken above, and you would have no idea whether he is rotational or linear.

With the device in place, you know for a fact that he has taken a linear swing. Nobody can take a rotational swing using this device.

If you can swing with this device using this downward angle, you are a linear hitter.

Linear Test - 2 Tee Drill
by SwingSmarter.com
If you can miss the back ball and hit only the front ball using the typical "two tee drill", your bat path is "downward" (also notice the direction of the struck ball).

This downward path is generally caused by pushing the hands forward too soon, which may be part of a linear swing, or may just be part of a bad rotational swing.

Typical Cues for Linear and Rotational Swings

Who uses this swing?
  • Line drive hitters
  • Power hitters
  • Run producers

  • Singles hitters
  • Contact hitters
  • Table setters

Who advocates some version of this swing technique?

What are the typical coaching cues for each technique?
  • Circular hand path
  • Lead with your hips
  • Don't roll your wrists
  • Don't extend your arms
  • Use your hips
  • Keep your weight back
  • Keep your hands back
  • Keep the bat in the plane of the ball
  • Keep your back elbow bent and tucked
  • Strong, powerful swing
  • Rotate your shoulders on an axis

  • Straight (linear) hand path
  • Lead with your hands
  • Roll your wrists
  • Extend your arms
  • Use your hands
  • Get your weight forward
  • Hands to the ball
  • Swing down on the ball (to get it to go up)
  • Form a Power V with your elbows at contact
  • Short, compact swing
  • Don't drop your shoulders
  • Most efficient swing
  • Squish the bug
  • Line up your door knocking knuckles
  • Get the knob to the ball

What generates the power for each technique?
  • The rotation of the whole body
  • Thighs and hips
  • Body torque
  • Elbow drop to hip
  • Bat head extends in front of the hands early in the swing plane

  • Movement of the hands and arms
  • Wrist snap

What are the typical drills or training aids that are used for each technique?
  • Stay Back Trainer
  • Punching bag or heavy bag
  • Compare Hitting Aids

  • Squish the bug (twist the back foot)
  • Swing a bat while standing next to a fence (knob to ball)
  • Instructo Swing Tee (hit into a channel to swing down on the ball)
  • Swing Plane Net (swing plane)
  • Derek Jeter's Zip-N-Hit (swing down on the ball)
  • Quickswing aids (drops ball quickly so you use quick swing)
  • Compare Hitting Aids

What are the advantages for each technique?
  • Hit the ball hard every time
  • Hit hard line drives to the emptiest part of the field - the outfield
  • Most MLB power hitters use this technique

  • Easier to adjust swing
  • Easier to just make contact
  • Most coaches teach this whether they know it or not

Which MLB player uses which technique?
  • Chipper Jones
  • Sammy Sosa
  • Frank Thomas
  • Troy Glaus
  • Barry Bonds
  • Babe Ruth
  • most MLB power hitters
  • See Gallery 2 below

  • Joe Thurston with the Cardinals (not really linear)
  • George Brett (maybe not)
  • Harold Baines
  • Let me know if you see any current MLB players
  • Most fastpitch hitters (except cleanup)

Which Technique Do You Advocate at eFastball.com?

After many years stubbornly using linear, we have been advocating rotational hitting for some time now.

Chris Oleary says:
"Linear Hitting is what most people are taught ... and Rotational Hitting is what most major league hitters actually do"

We spent many years learning hitting techniques at camps and hitting lessons and via coaching during practices and games. Most of this instruction used linear hitting cues described above, such as "hands to the ball", "don't drop your shoulder", etc. So I kept stressing and reinforcing these cues to my kids.

We even attended a clinic held by fastpitch champ Lisa Fernandez where she showed us how to swing a bat next to a fence while getting the knob to the ball. The purpose of this was to get your hands to the ball before the bat head. I never thought to ask her to demonstrate how far she could hit a ball using this drill.

I guess I am slow, but I always questioned whether this technique really worked and I just thought maybe the "experts" knew better than I did.

  • Why were they fouling off so many pitches?
  • Why are they not hitting it deep?
  • Why are they mostly hitting weak grounders?
  • When they swing down on the ball it goes down - not up.

The Eureka Moment

Chipper Jones
One day several years ago, I was looking at a video of Chipper Jones' swing and I slowed it down frame-by-frame. Then I realized, Chipper was not using any of the cues I had been learning from the experts over years.

When I froze the video at the frame where Chipper first struck the ball, I noticed:
  • His shoulder was down (not level)
  • His elbow was tucked at his hip (his arms were not "extended")
  • He did not roll his wrists
  • He did not swing "down" on the ball to get the ball to go up. The head of his bat was going up when it hit the ball.
You decide for yourself which technique you like. It won't hurt anything for you to learn both techniques. Go to an empty field and see which technique consistently drives balls out of the infield. If you understand the cues used by others, you can choose your technique easily enough.

Hitting Camps and Hitting Lessons - What to Look For

Your first question for the instructor or coach is "Which hitting style are you teaching? Rotational or linear?

You may not want to pay much for a camp or lesson if:
  • They have never heard the terms "rotational" or "linear" (these techniques have been around for many years).
  • They don't know which technique they will be teaching.
  • They say that each player has their own style and they don't teach a certain technique.
  • They say they will "customize" a technique just for you.
  • They confuse or intermingle coaching cues (hands to the ball for rotational).
Never combine or comingle coaching cues for linear and rotational swings.

Call around. Look for cages, camps or instructors that will teach you one or both of these techniques.

Pictures or Videos of Swings - What to Look For

Be careful when viewing images from a website, a poster, or a handout. Make sure the image of a "swing" is taken at the moment of impact on the ball. Also, make sure you understand the pitch speed and location. A player reacting to a curve ball, may produce a crazy swing.

There are many books, DVDs and websites with images of "swings" that are made well after the hitter has struck the ball or are made when the hitter was fooled and they are lunging forward at a changeup. Any hitter's arms will likely be extended under these circumstances.

Gallery 2 Rotational Hitters

At impact with ball:
  • back elbow is at the hip and bent
  • back shoulder has dropped significantly
  • weight has shifted to front leg (not lunging though - the head is even with the back knee)
  • back toe is all that's touching

  • 1/27/2014 added further critique to Bustos swing under the 'Hybrid Swings' section
  • 1/27/2014 added intro line to 'Linear Swings - How to Identify' section
  • 3/6/2011 added some linear clips and quick hands section
  • 2/10/2011 added Enquist clip, plus double vs. quad pendulum concepts/clips, 2 tee clip/test
  • 1/19/2011 more clarity to differences based on feedback
  • 1/04/2011 added Ultimate Linear Test
  • 8/17/2008 initial page