GIF from hittingdaily.com
Choking up on a bat, by moving your hands up the handle and closer to the barrel end of the bat, has been a common way to achieve greater bat control for as long as the game has been played. Why does it work, though? Can we do it better?
If the player is swinging the same bat, regardless of whether he is choking up or not, how does moving his hands actually improve bat control? Or, is it simply perceived to help?
With an approach that has been around as long as choking up has, even though we see fewer players utilizing it now, there must be something to it. It is really based on manipulating the moment of inertia (MOI) of the bat. The MOI of a bat is basically the total of each mass particle multiplied by its length-squared.
Without diving into a full-on math formula (there are plenty of articles out there to provide greater depth of discussion, if you are interested), the more mass there is further away from your hands the greater the MOI of the bat. Generally speaking, the greater the MOI, the harder it is to control the barrel, but the greater the potential power. By choking up, a player can effectively reduce the MOI of a bat; providing greater control.
One area where the research on choking up seems to conflict with general theory surrounding the impact of MOI on swing performance is in swing speed. The theory on MOI and swing speed is generally that a lower MOI will produce greater swing speeds (although we have some field data that seems to challenge this theory to some extent). When a player decreases the MOI of the bat by choking up, however, the player's swing speed actually decreases by about 11%.
What research does seem to verify is that choking up encourages players on-time swing initiation. While the actual swing speed is decreased, the stride time also reduces, which allows players additional time for pitch recognition and helps ensure readiness to swing. The impact of choking up on a player's batted-ball output, however, isn't statistically significant.
The research on the topic leads us to believe that choking up may improve outcomes for a hitter, but it has less to do with making more contact and more to do with providing greater time to react to a pitch.
That said, would a hitter be better served to use a standard grip, but use a no-stride approach? I think this is an interesting alternative that may achieve similar advantages to choking up without sacrificing the potential power output (reduced MOI and swing speed) from choking up.
Bottom line, research shows choking up will provide better bat control and improved overall outcomes for the hitter (conceding that power will be reduced), as opposed to a standard grip and stride. However, greater outcomes may be achieved through a standard grip, no-stride approach.
Players are choking up less now than arguably ever before, and one has to think it has to do with the push for achieving greater power outputs as a hitter. If we could find a way to achieve the same positive results as choking up without the sacrifice of potential power output, why not do it?
With the technology present in the game, and the number of people leveraging it to improve player performance, it won't be long before someone develops the most efficient way to approach those "you better choke up" situations.
DeRenne, C. (2010). A Choke-Up Grip Facilitates Faster Swing and Stride Times Without Compromising Bat Velocity and Bat Control. The Sport Journal, 19. Retrieved May 18, 2018, from http://thesportjournal.org/article/a-choke-up-grip-facilitates-faster-swing-and-stride-times-without-compromising-bat-velocity-and-bat-control/