How Josh Donaldson Powers his Swing with the Ground

Oct 24, 2018 | Baseball, Insights, SMP

Recently, Toronto Blue Jays slugger Josh Donaldson appeared on MLB Network to discuss the mechanics of his swing.  Donaldson, the 2015 American League MVP, is one of baseball’s most dangerous hitters.  His ferocious swing is marveled at by analysts and feared by pitchers.  Although we too are impressed with the raw power of Donaldson’s swing, we were more intrigued by his analysis of HOW that power was generated.   Like all great rotational athletes, Donaldson relies on his ability to use the ground for power.

The MLB Network video starts with Donaldson discussing his general mindset in the batter’s box.

“I’ve got my weight in my back heel which is going to allow me to stay balanced into my back hip,” says Donaldson of his pre-swing thoughts.

Just like a golfer, baseball players have very unique swing thoughts.  As in golf, there’s more than one way to get it done, but we felt that some of Donald’s keys were instructive, especially when he shares the importance of how he uses the leg kick to load and trigger his swing.

“I want to feel like I’m engaged into my back hip,” Donaldson told MLB.com.  “When I’m engaged into my back hip, I can pick my [lead] leg up and now I can control when I put my foot down.”

BodiTrak advisor and biomechanics expert Dr. Sasho Mackenzie notes how the interaction between a baseball player’s lead and trail leg contribute to power generation in the swing:

“Driving the lead leg forward creates a reaction force at the hip, which tends to push the rest of his body away from the pitcher. This helps develop a large ground reaction force under his trail foot, which will promote body rotation and a linear drive towards the pitcher.”

Every time Donaldson analyzes his swing, he’ll talk about the importance of timing the plant of his lead foot. In a feature for ESPN’s Sports Science, Donaldson demonstrated how he is able to delay his foot plant by as much as 0.1 sec to compensate for off-speed pitches.

Both baseball players and golfers can plant the heel of their lead foot to trigger their downswing https://t.co/IasW4HR2kspic.twitter.com/D8zQjiDSo4

 

— BODITRAK SPORTS (@boditraksports) October 19, 2016

So why is the timing of the lead leg plant so important for baseball players? Because it’s how many of them trigger their swing. Here’s Dr. Mackenzie on how the lead foot can act as a timing mechanism for both golfers and baseball players:

“The forward swings in golf and baseball are single effort bouts of activity in which energy created by the muscles is transferred from the body into bat/club and eventually into the ball in about ¼ of second. A precisely timed sequence of contractions is required to maximize bat speed (energy) in that 0.25 s. Starting each swing at the same time relative to the pitcher’s motion and making major adjustments to the coordination pattern would hinder the development of bat speed. Instead, Donaldson can unleash a similar coordination pattern on each swing simply by adjusting the start of his forward motion to the read of each pitch. Planting the heel of the lead foot, can be a helpful trigger to initiate the downswing in golf and has been effectively used by greats such as Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson.”

In the MLB Network video, Donaldson mentions that he tries to generate power through the kinetic chain, not with his hands.

“Honestly I never really think about my hands,” laughed Donaldson as we talked before a game against the Athletics. “It more has to do with angles with your legs, your spine, your shoulders. I wouldn’t consider myself a guy who has a handsy swing, that’s more of the old-school kind of thing, or guys that slap the ball around. I use more of my entire body.”

Donaldson’s speed is off the charts.  According to ESPN Sports Science, he rotates his hips at 700 degrees/second which compares favorably to Rory McIlroy who is one of the fastest in all of golf.  That hip speed plays a huge role in Donaldson being able to deliver the bat to the ball at 90+ MPH, but as we’ve shared in this article, it all starts with how he interacts with the ground.