It’s not uncommon, and becoming more common, to see major league hitters wearing a shin guard on his lead or front leg, but do you really know why they do this?
Let’s eliminate one answer immediately. It has nothing to do with the pitcher hitting you with a pitched ball, although that’s always a possibility, but that results in a free pass to first base. That very seldom hurts.
While we’re on the subject, let’s eliminate answer two. Shin guards are not worn to look cool, but rather as a viable piece of safety equipment. Chances are the player wearing a shin guard is one of the team’s best hitters, which accounts for the increased risk of injury to the shin and/or ankle. Confused?
There are many aspects of hitting which a good hitter must master to become a great hitter and some of these variables are different for each player. If they weren’t different every player would have identical batting stances and swings, which we know is not the case.
However, there are a few basics which apply to all hitters and mastering these basics can subject you to being hit by more foul balls than the normal batter.
The type of swing and where you hit the ball are the main culprits for producing shin busting foul ball tips. There are two trains of thought and I won’t debate which, if either are entirely correct, but the end results are often the same.
Hitters are taught to hit the ball out in front of them and to swing down on the ball, not in a hatchet type angle, but with a slight downward arc to the swing. This angle of approach results in the ball being hit from the ball’s center upwards to the top. When the bat hits the ball on the upper top area, it creates a back spin, which if the ball is not hit solid enough to produce forward motion, will created a downward motion.
Downward, in like off the shin, ankle or foot. This same principal applies to a swing in which a slight upper cut is taught. The bat hits the ball on the top portion as it drops or curves downward, creating backspin and a sore shin or foot.
These two types of swings are designed to produce different results, both of which are common to great hitters. The downward swing results in more ground balls and line drives, a Tony Gwynn type hitter, high batting and on base percentages. The upper swing produces more fly balls, balls hit deep and home run power, with middle to below batting average, but above normal home runs and RBIs. This is the reason most professional ball players who wear shin guards are usually one of the best hitters on the team.
I recommend any player approaching high school age who experiences more than one foul tip off the shin, foot or ankle in a season, including batting practice or practice games, seriously consider using a shin guard.
One, it’s like any other piece of new equipment, it takes a certain amount of time to become accustomed to it and the sooner the better. Secondly, should they continue on their current path they are well on their way to developing a swing which will only produce more foul tips as they improve.
Thirdly, foul tips off the shin, ankle or foot hurts like crazy. If you’re like me you’re not real fond of pain, so try to avoid it if possible.