The pros and cons of pulling the ball

There have been similar articles https://blogs.fangraphs.com/the-pros-and-cons-of-pulling-the-baseball/ about the advantages of pulling but I wanted to do a new research because the ball has changed as well as player developement did.

Recently there has been a lot of discussion among hitting coaches about pulling the ball. Traditionally batting coaches usually suggested going gap to gap, which means basically hitting where the ball is pitched and mostly trying to stay in the middle of the field between the middle infielders however recently this has changed and more and more sabermetrically leaning coaches suggest focusing on pulling the ball because they think that this will create more power.

So let us look at some pros and cons of pulling using 2019 MLB data. I am starting with the cons

Cons of pulling the ball

The first con of pulling the ball is that BABIP is negatively correlated with pull%. In 2019 hitters with a sub 35% pull rate have a ..322 BABIP.35-40% it is .309, 40-45 it is .301 and 45=.285.

Now this is partially because the shift eats up grounders, so let us test a common suggestion of the modern coaches: “Hit over the shift” because avoiding grounders means mostly avoiding the shift. To test if that works for BABIP (Spoiler, in the pros of pulling we will look at the effect of this on other stats) I was looking at hitters with a 45% pull rate and a GB rate of lower than 38%.

Surprisingly the BABIP of this pulled flyball group is even lower at .277. Granted the sample size of this group was very small with but historical data show the same pattern for this, extreme pull flyball hitters have low BABIPs which is hurting the on base percentage of those players, albeit they still can be elite hitters with the best example of this probably being Jose Bautista which always had BABIPs around 270 but still was an elite hitter due to above average contact skill and elite power and batting eye.

The other con of pulling is that it is harder to lift pulled balls. The league launch angle for pulled balls is like 5 degrees vs about 20 for oppo as you are more likely to roll over and top it if you hit it more out front.

https://community.fangraphs.com/the-effect-of-batted-ball-direction-on-launch-angle/

However this can be influenced by the hitters mechanics and pitch selection. As the above cited article shows certain pitch locations can be pulled better in the air. First of course as every little league coach knows inside, can be pulled better than outside but also high can be pulled better than low, high middle and even outside pitches can easily be pulled while pulling low outside pitches leads to topped roll overs.

The ability to pull low pitches in the air strongly depends on batting mechanics.

https://community.fangraphs.com/finding-keys-to-elevate-the-ball-more/

Specifically achieving and maintaining a good vertical barrel angle helps with pulling low pitches in the air as this avoids roll overs.

See this post to explain the mechanics behind that.

So the pull hitter cannot really overcome the BABIP penalty but he can overcome the launch angle issue by the right pitch selection and hitting mechanics.

The pros of pulling

A big pro ist that pull rate is positively correlated with power. League ISO for under 35% pull rate is just .131 while between 35-40 and 40-45 it is around .184 and finally .212 for 45+.

wRC+ is at 103 under 35% and then slightly raises from 110 (35-40) to 116 (45+).

So there is a positive effect of wRC+ by pulling more. This effect is dependent on the hitters power. Conventional coaching wisdom says low powered hitters should spray the ball and power hitters should go for the pull bomb but the data actually show otherwise.

The hitters with a sub .150 ISO benefit a lot from pulling more while .230+ ISO guys actually lose a little bit of production (see the table). Keep in mind that the 166 for elite power under 35% pull rate is only one data point albeit a spectacular one in Yelich.

null

The explanation for this is probably pretty easy. Low powered hitters are gaining a lot from a few feet more flyball distance and also shorter fences.

The average pulled FB between 20 and 45 degrees this year flew 342 feet, to center it was slightly less at 333 and oppo a lot less at 303.

With high powered guys that does not matter as much because they have power to all parts of the field albeit even they should avoid straight oppo because between zero degrees and 15 degrees oppo the FB distance was still a solid 321 but the extreme oppo balls of 15-45 degrees are just 286 feet so they will not go out often. The elite power guys like Trout, JD martinez, Yelich thus can cash in on the BABIP bonus of all field hitting while still hitting 35 bombs, while the lower powered guys need to pull the ball.

Definitely pulling fly balls is a skill needed at the highest level and the top20 hitters average about 42% pull rate which means pulling a lot is not special a trait of elite hitters (just above league average) but a healthy pull rate is needed to succeed at the highest level, you need to be able to turn on some pitches with authority.

How much you pull the ball depends on your power. Fringy power guy should pull a bit more except when they have zero power while great power guys should stay between oppo gap and pull line for power and BABIP.

So the approach I am suggesting to hitters as a compromise between all field hitting and pulling is a “oppo gap to pull line”

approach in which outside pitches are hit middle to like 15 degrees oppo and middle in pitches are pulled and you can also occasionally pull an elevated outside pitch.

Increasing on plane efficiency

A common goal in modern hitting is to stay on plane longer. On plane means that the attack angle is matching with the pitch plane for a long time. We all have seen the famous Ted williams graphic.

https://images.app.goo.gl/iHEFKr2VTGFXmGGHA

 

However it is a bit more complicated than that. First of all a really consistent AA can only be achieved at the high pitch when you have basically zero vertical barrel angle. Once you add vertical barrel angle, and you should do that depending on the  height of the pitch (too flat barrel causes roll overs on low pitches) the swing plane will become more tangential, i.e. the AA is flatter deeper in the zone and steeper more out front which makes timing harder.

And second there is also a side  to side component of swing plane, which is often called “swing direction”. This means even if the AA matches you are not on plane long when the bat turns to the left too early (for a RHB) which often happens.

But let’s first start with what is needed to achieve the different components of on plane efficiency.

First it helps to get on plane deep in the zone. Too deep isn’t good either as this can make the swing too long when you just lay the bat back but as a rule of thumb the bat should be on plane behind the back hip.

To achieve that the bat gets turned down behind you using the “elbow seesaw” and some supination  of the rear hand.

Here is a drill for the seesaw

Here is a detailed description of the hand movements

This drill with turning over a cup can also help to get this action.

I also use one armed drills like this rear arm ones with a ball clamped in

And front arm one

And this drill to get on plane

For staying on plane in the vertical direction it is important to keep the tangential component as small as possible. Yes the AA will get steeper more out front but good hitters keep  the barrel below the hands as long a possible and thus reducing a rising off the plane.

See JDM here, his AA does increase some out front but his bat doesn’t flip up but stays under the hands as the top hand shoots past the bottom hander under  it and vertical barrel angle is maintained.

A drill to feel that is this board slide drill. In reality path won’t be quite as straight but the feeling should be to stay on the board.

Make sure the front elbow doesn’t roll down too early with this drill

As I said before it is also important to  have a good side to side swing direction.

To achieve that there are some factors that help with that.

One is maintaining the vertical barrel angle. This means keeping the bat pointed angled down and not getting flatter or rolling over as you swing. Also maintaining posture and not rotating late and starting to decelerate before impact helps with achieving a straighter direction.

You can also use a device like this

Or this drill to prevent swinging too much across

A great drill for direction are also stop swings like this one.

A great device to measure this are bat sensors like the blast sensor. Those sensors measure AA, VBA and sometimes even have a compound score for plane efficiency. With those devices you can see where you are at and track improvements.

But as always a good evaluation by a good coach is key, you cannot just throw drills at a player and see what sticks but a very precise evaluation has to come first so you can create solutions for a specific problem.

Hitting the outside pitch

Hitting the outside pitch is very important at higher levels. It isn’t as extreme as it was in the 2000s when the go to approach of every mlb pitcher was going low and away because as an adaptation to the power hitters with a positive attack angle pitchers are now going more up and also in but still a lot of pitches are thrown outside especially at the college and HS level but even by some mlb teams.

The danger of the outside pitch is rolling over and hitting a weak grounder if you try to pull it.  This is especially true for flat vertical barrel angle guys which were more common 15-20 years ago.

Because of this the common wisdom is to hit the outside pitch the other way. In this fangraphs article https://community.fangraphs.com/fine-tuning-the-swing-based-upon-statcast-data/

I showed how this works. It shows that the launch angle goes down if you pull the outside pitch but moreso the low pitch. The high outside pitch can be hit with a good LA to center and in some cases even pulled (see the table in the article for data).

The tough part in hitting the outside pitch is that the rotational momentum goes to the left  (for a RHB) but you need a direction to the oppo gap because for optimal force production the swing direction and horizontal spray angle need to match.

What many hitters with a pull swing direction do is just hit the outside pitch just later and with the barrel inside but with the same right to left direction.  This creates a flyball to the outfield with a ton of backspin but not a lot of force so it hangs up a long time for the outfielder to catch it unless you are stanton strong and you can slice fly balls into the oppo stands.

Now the question is how you achieve a better force direction despite the rotational nature of the body.

An important function is deceleration of rotation. In a good baseball swing the trunk rotation peaks around 50 ms before contact  and the hips peak like 10 ms before that (Forthenbaugh 2011). At contact the rotational velocity slows down to about 50-60% of the max. Eugene Bleeker talks a lot about this in his book old school vs new school. During the acceleration of rotation the hands basically travel in an arc around the spine. You don’t need to force that and trying to be more direct might help some hitters but that arc happens nonetheless.  When the shoulders decelerate the direction goes a little straighter.

You want to achieve a direction slightly towards the other batters box, not a lot the other way but a little bit has to happen.

To achieve that you need to decelerate the body a little earlier so the hands can go a little more away from the arc.

A popular way to achieve deceleration is the kick back or scissor like Miggy does.

However you can also achieve that without such an anchor by tightening up the core enough.

Here is a decel drill I created. You stop that bat when pointing to the oppo gap.

One of my favourite drills is the oppo stop swing. You place the tee outside and stop the bat about one foot past contact (kinda like a late check swing). The bat should stay  over that tee line (slightly to oppo) and below the hands. The ball should fly slightly to oppo.

 

Another drill that might help is from a controversial hitting camp which has a history of internet fights but I think still can be usefull is the flashlight drill from teacherman (gotta give credit). Basically you imagine the knob has a flashlight and you shine it diagonally from the catchers feet to the outside front edge of the plate as you initiate the swing (you can use an actual flashlight to see the shine traveling over the ground), this can improve the path.

Here I tried to show how to hit the outside pitch. The knob “shines” diagonally outward (only mild outward angle)  and bat is turned behind the ball. Body decelerates earlier to allow direction to keep going that way.

Another thing that helps with direction is a steeper vertical barrel angle. A flat bat will have more tendency to go across and a steeper bat turn (25 to 45 degrees VBA) allows for a more centered barrel direction and to hit the ball straighter with less spin and thus harder.  Dk Willardson explained that in his book quantitative hitting. Also from that book I learned that great hitters don’t hit that much oppo. Coaches teach hitting gap to gap but Willardson states that elite hitters hit the outside pitch like just 10 degrees oppo while they pull the inside pitch 20+ degrees (45 would be down the line).

This means you shouldn’t go foul line to foul line but more oppo gap to pull field which makes the job a little easier to hit balls hard.

In summary try to hit the outside pitch hard with little spin in the air slightly more oppo than the middle and you will be fine. To achieve this you need a good decel pattern and a good barrel turn slightly to the oppo gap. Practice hitting outside pitches and even pitches an inch or two (but not more) off the plate.

A dril to practice this I like is the 4 corner drill where you hit off the tee or flips off all 4 corners.  Also like this stop swing 4 corner drill for plate coverage.

What can also help is hitting driveline plyo balls outside because that will expose slicing even more.

Also read my other article on the inside pitch

http://batspeedfitness.com/?p=122

It is important you cover all 4 corners. Practice hitting balls up to an inch off the plate off all corners. In games you want to do the opposite and give the outer two inches of the plate to the pitcher (take strikes there like this  ) https://twitter.com/dominikkeul/status/1099932594853027841?s=19

to force him over the middle but practicing that excess plate coverage will transfer to hitting the middle in and middle away pitches while players who only practice down the pipe will even struggle with those hittable pitches. Vary speed and location in practice.

 

 

Do baseball hitting coaches teach what they really see?

Player development is a huge topic currently and a lot did change due to the statcast numbers. Many players have improved their swings and became starts out of nowhere. The most famous examples of this are probably Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and JD Martinez but also many other guys like Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner.

However when listening to broadcasts you will still hear many of the old cues or the broadcasters will speak in a derogative way of the what they call “launch angle swing”. They will call players selfish and not caring about Ks but of course the term launch angle swing is stupid because every swing has a launch angle and it has been proven that launch angles of about 10-30 degrees are ideal. https://community.fangraphs.com/evaluating-statcast-hit-type-boundaries/

And even for the softer hitters an angle of about 5-20 degrees is most productive, only balls at 20+ degrees are extremely exit velocity sensitive.

Now here are some cues we are hearing daily in broadcasts and also still by many coaches although there are more and more “new style” coaches even in pro ball like for example Jason Ochart at the Phillies or Jeff Albert at the Cardinals (formerly Astros).

Cue 1: Squish the bug

This is a quite common cue. The idea behind it is that the squishing motion (turning the leg inwards on the ball of the rear leg) drives the hip turn and allows the hitter to stay back.

https://imgur.com/VwuioG7

However this is not really what we see with elite hitters. Elite hitters often have their back foot off the ground and their weight against the inside of the front leg. You don’t want to climb too much on the front leg and still stay behind the front side but the weight does transfer with the swing. Force plate measurements have shown up to like 1.5 times the body weight of force on the front foot.

https://imgur.com/eSmft0B

Cue 2: Extension at contact

You often hear after a homer “he got full extension at this one”. A common teach is to extend the arms to move the knob of the bat to the ball while keeping the bat lagged and then like a whip throw the bat head forward.

https://imgur.com/kxszitA

But when watching pros this is not really what happens.

With many homers the arms are still bent a lot. On pitches middle in the arms often form a „box“ with both elbows bent and on outside pitches the front arm tends to be more extended but the back arm still bent.

https://imgur.com/WrEKvMe

https://imgur.com/PQ9G9dv

The hands are not really pushed forward as the bat turns down in the zone.

You essentially want to turn the bat to the ball without pushing the knob forward and then extend through as you make contact reaching extension well after the ball has left the bat.

https://imgur.com/WuKz3f0

There are still hits with more extended arms but this is usually when the timing is early for example on an offspeed pitch. Because of that the deep contact with following extension works as a „timing reserve“ in case you are fooled by a pitch.

Generally the hands will maybe start slightly down but then level out quickly and go forward to slightly up (kind of like a “J” laying on the side)

Cue 3: Swing down

The shortest line between two points is a straight line, right? The bat starts higher than the head and makes contact below the waist. This means the shortest path is a diagonal line down.

https://imgur.com/F8Bf10o

However that is not what we see with the pros. Their bat turns down like a „C“ behind the body and then goes slightly up. This path is longer but since the pitch comes in a downward plane the slightly upward path means your bat is on plane longer and can hit the ball even if timing is off. This is not a new concept, Ted Williams described that in his book the science of hitting but this approach was replaced by the more linear direct path in the 70s and 80s in teaching and yet it is not what the best do so Williams was right. The best hitters in the game have a positive attack angle of like 10-15 degrees. More uppercut can help power production but might cause some more swing and misses while a lower attack angle of like 8-10 degrees might be ideal for conistency but not ideal for power output.

Early “online hitting guru” Jack Mankin already noticed that in the late 1990s

Cue 4: Don’t drop the back shoulder

Traditional teaching says don’t drop the back shoulder and make contact with level shoulders and a level bat.

https://imgur.com/dllfjtv

This is actually kinda correct on the high pitch at the letters. If the pitch is high dropping the bat too much indeed can be a flaw and this makes some good low ball hitters struggle against high heat. However on low pitches the back shoulder and bat head should actually drop. What you can see is that the bat is always about perpendicular to the spine (level to the top of the shoulders) and this whole axis tilts like a clock hand through the zone.

https://imgur.com/9KeI3yo

BTW even on high pitches the bat is usually not completely level. On high pitches the vertical barrel angle usually is at around negative 15-20 degrees and like 45 degrees on very low ones (numbers from DK Williardson’s book „Quantitative Hitting“.

Only on extremely high pitches you will see a level bat.
https://imgur.com/HlP9tsA

Players with a too flat vertical bat angle on lower pitches will often have trouble lifting pitches in the bottom half of the zone especially to the pull side. I talked about this in https://community.fangraphs.com/finding-keys-to-elevate-the-ball-more/ article and analysed Arenado’s swing in that regard. https://community.fangraphs.com/how-nolan-arenado-avoids-the-ground/

Cue 5: Keep the lead shoulder in

It is true that the lead shoulder shouldn’t rotate before foot plant. You actually want to keep the shoulders still while you start to open the hips into foot plant to create some separation but then the shoulders do turn well before contact.

Studies have shown that hip turn speed peaks slightly before trunk turn speed. Both peak relatively early in the swing (about 60 ms before contact with the swing taking 150m ms) and then slightly decelerate to allow the bat to accelerate past the trunk. This is called the kinetic chain (Forthenbaugh 2011).

Cue 6: Hit the ball on the ground

Many coaches like to teach backside grounders because the fielders need to make a play and youth hitters don’t have the strength to hit homers. However at the highest level launch angles of 10-30 degrees are the best. Those guys are strong but even for low exit velocities angles of 5-20 degrees play best.

Here are angles marked in a cage:
https://imgur.com/LT24zWC

We usually teach hit the L-Screen waist high in the cage and for preteen kids I do teach that too but for 12 and older kids I think it is ideal to hit the ball over the L-Screen because that zero degree cage liner is going to be a grounder in a game due to gravity pulling it down.

I’m not advocating swinging for homers but I think the goal should be to hit high liners with an apex height of like 15-30 feet (5-10m) at least for advanced youth players. Those hits have a very high chance to b e a single (over .500 BABIP) but also a good chance to be a double. Teaching to hit high liners thus is a good compromise between the „launch angle“ teaching and traditional hit for a base approaches.

Cue 7: Stay back

Before you swing you need to load the body up to generate maximum force. Many teach to go back and then forward. Some players indeed go back but it is important that the actual load occurs on the forward move. The head is not really staying back (see point #8) but after loading on the back hip it indeed goes forward and slightly down, but the weight tries to stay in the back hip until just befoe foot plant. While this forward move happens the body very slightly counter rotates and the hands go back some. It is very important that the hands load on the forward move and not while going back so the body can create stretch between the lower and upper body. Here is a good video of the load while going forward.

Staying back means keeping the weight on the back foot and keep the head still to wait better on soft stuff. However if you watch almost any pro hitter the head will actually move forward (and slightly down) but once the front heel is planted the head doesn’t move.

However while the head does move forward in relation to the ground it shouldn’t move ahead of the hips. The hips and trunk is very slightly coiling in and the head moves over the inside of the rear hip and stays there until foot plant. Some call this move forward yet back because the body is moving forward but with the rear hip and head going forward at the same rate. The body is essentially riding on the rear hip and then after the hips start to open the weight is transferred to the inside of the front foot.

Training hitting the modern way

In my last article http://batspeedfitness.com/?p=133 I promised writing a collection of swing training methods. While the first article was about correcting swing pattern deficiencies this is more about improving hit ability and power with training methods.

 

A good swing pattern with a well timed hip dissociation, a good load, good deceleration patterns and good swing path already does help batspeed and hitting ability. There is a movement in hitting coaching to worry more about intent and moving fast than moving well but I’m not in 100% agreement with this. It is certainly right that getting too anal about mechanics and especially styles is bad and the body has good self organisation abilities but I do think that certain movement foundations need to be laid at a sub maximal speed. For example some martial arts styles do practice punches and kicks in super slow motion so that a punch takes 20 seconds and only if the sensei is satisfied you are allowed to move faster. I’m not that extreme and some movements only work at a high intensity (like throwing arm layback) but I still think some moves need to be practiced at lower intensities first. That doesn’t mean you need to worry about every little detail before you can swing hard but not a fan either of just giving a kid a stick and tell him to crush the ball and the rest will be fine.

Yes it is true that hitting middle middle balls off the tee won’t make you a good hitter but if you have a kind who sucks off the tee busting him inside with 90 won’t make his body magically self organize into a good swing. Because of this I will asses mechanics and do a movement/mechanics block before I start with the following advanced training methods. You shouldn’t force a certain style (leg kick/hitch vs slide step/more direct load…) and worrying about little details won’t make you a better hitter either but certain movement basics just need to be there before you can worry about moving faster.

 

However once you have a certain proficiency in your movement and also a good base strength there are ways to improve your hitting which haven’t always been used by coaches. While I think some take the “challenge hitters” too far traditional practice has been too easy on hitters.

 

So here are some things you can do.

 

  • Making BP more game realistic

 

Driveline has written a lot about this. Here is a good article https://www.drivelinebaseball.com/2019/04/randomized-blocked-training-balancing-different-types-hitting-practice/

 

Basically, those method means you challenge hitters in BP by mixing in breaking balls and throw hard and well located instead of soft down the pipe. Reaction time is a critical factor as hitters have less than half of a second on 90+ MPH fastballs and really much less if you factor in decision time.

https://www.google.com/search?q=reaction+time+pitch&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwio2N_a7dLiAhUILVAKHQl3AfwQ_AUIESgC&biw=1440&bih=818#imgrc=SsBbHND6pGRkQM:

This means both bad reaction time and pattern deficiencies can cause batters being late and you need to practice that. The best practice is obviously live at bats against elite pitchers like they do on driveline but there are alternatives if you don’t have that like the good old pitching machine or simply throwing from a shorter distance. For example at driveline they are doing short box hitting against a pitcher throwing like 70s from 50 feet.

 

Here is a conversion chart for reaction time. Just measure how hard you can comfortably throw and then calculate the right distance

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/2103/6709/files/Conversion_Chart_baseball.pdf?6526148161168650030

 

It should be noted that some studies suggest that there are other factors at work than reaction time so a short box equivalent 90 is not quite the same

https://twitter.com/dan_aucoin13/status/1122884323957334017

 

This means it is probably better to throw harder if you can and not just shorten the distance.

 

You also need to work on different locations. Pitches in games don’t just come down the pipe to practice all 4 corners. It is best to do so in a randomized manner but it is OK to work on a single location exclusively first but then make sure that you don’t cheat. A common cheat is to adjust stride direction, which is something you don’t have time for at 90+.

 

A beginner drill is for example the Tee 4 corners drill which you can use in warm up. Instead of just hitting balls down the pipe you place the ball on the corners (low/away, low/in, up/in, up/away) and then you hit 4 or 5 balls of each location. To make it tougher you can also locate the ball an inch or two out of the K zone to improve your bat path variability. Don’t go farther than that though or it can hurt mechanics. The progression for this would be front toss (ideally overhead) with the batter knowing what is coming and finally in a randomized manner.

 

  • Decision making

 

Plate discipline is very important. Swinging at balls creates more swings and misses and weaker contact. However while the focus of plate discipline for a long time was patience and seeing pitches it is equally important to not take mistakes by the pitcher. Against MLB pitching a hitter might see one mistake pitch per at bat and if he takes it or fouls it off he might not get another chance.

 

Improving plate discipline isn’t easy. It isn’t really about patience or a good eye but about the ability of your brain to project the second half of the pitch flight based on visual cues of the first half. This is because due to the speed the decision needs to be made a little past halfway.

 

There are some ways to train this. I would suggest to work at one edge at a time. For example if a hitter chases high pitches work on high pitches and ask him to pay great attention how a too high pitch comes out of the hand. The too high pitch for example will come out of the hand a little more horizontal while the high strike will have a gentle downward angle. Work until you master that edge and then go to the next one. Start with fastballs then breaking balls.

 

What you can also build a frame or ring that is standing halfway to home plate and if it passes it is likely a strike. This works best for fastballs and you have to do some angle calc to make it work (if you have a rectangle a little smaller than the zone (because of the widening pitch angle) the lower edge must be like 1.5 to 2 feet higher than knee height to account for the downward angle. Peter Fatse has created such a device https://twitter.com/fatse_baseball/status/1051833974811779072

Carlos santana for example mentioned that he imagines a circle halfway home in games and it worked for him. Those devices help you to see the correct tunnel of a strike. For breaking balls it is a bit more complicated though. A good way to go about this is to only swing at breaking balls that are in the upper half of the imagined circle. A good curve drops about a foot compared to a fastball and the average zone is like two feet high so this should be about correct. So if a fastball has to be about 3.5 feet off the ground to be a strike on the lower end at 30 feet a curve needs to be at least 4.5 feet high. You don’t really have to swing at any low tunnel breaking balls but the hard thing of course is to recognize them.

 

So a way to practice this would be to put a 4 feet high or so bar halfway to home plate and let a pitcher or machine throw curves or sliders so the batter sees the necessary height of a  breaking ball. The numbers are of course only an approximate example and not exact numbers.

 

https://twitter.com/dominikkeul/status/998950952186073088

 

Another way to practice pitch recognition with less effort is using vision apps. A good app I have tried is the uhit app https://decervo.com/ You see a virtual pitcher throwing and you need to tap the screen if it is a strike before the ball crosses home plate. After some time you learn the vectors out of the hand.

 

  • Power and batspeed

 

Batspeed is extremely important. It is directly correlated to power but it also helps the hit tool along with swing quickness to get around good heat.

 

A good way to improve is getting stronger. I won’t get into that much but you should do heavy compound lifts and also some explosive lifts. A good resource is for example the book “starting strength” by Mark Rippetoe https://startingstrength.com/ or for more advanced athletes the westside barbell system. For younger athletes BWEs and some lower impact plyometrics also work well.

 

Another method that is very effective is overload/underload training. It really was made famous by driveline but it was used in track and field by the soviet union since the 1970s at least. I have actually created an OL/UL program before driveline hitting was out http://batspeedfitness.com/?p=31 and I personally went from 65 mph batspeed to low 80s within like  2 months or so (it was zepp and swing speed radar though so likely it was 57 to 73 mph in reality😊) but I would recommend the driveline program as this is much more sophisticated than my system.

https://www.drivelinebaseball.com/2017/01/training-hitters-overload-underload-implements/

 

Good drills are also med ball drills like this one at baseball rebellion

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnxpIwvdzMo

A personal favorite of mine is the tire drill which I have created myself. You can see it here, it works on separation and power generation

http://batspeedfitness.com/?p=40

 

Hammer throw releases with a Kettle bell are great for turning and hip extension

https://twitter.com/dominikkeul/status/861597850874118144

 

A good drill to work on dissociation and elastic energy is this drill where you stand backwards and then first open the hips and then the upper body

http://batspeedfitness.com/?p=59

 

 

  • Improving launch angle

 

LA is a big topic in these days. It has been widely accepted that angles between 10 and 30 degrees produce the best results. EV is still more important but good angles can maximize your output for your athletic talent.

 

Some say there is a contact cost of LA but I couldn’t really find a strong effect.

https://community.fangraphs.com/is-launch-angle-having-a-contact-cost/

 

To improve LA and especially good EV at optimal LAs it can help to improve attack angle. I won’t go into the mechanics that are behind this in this article (have done so in other articles or maybe will in the future) but at sensors like blast or zepp can help to control for AA. Most believe an AA of around 10-15 degrees is ideal.

 

Also important especially for low pitches is the vertical bat angle. VBA varies from like 15-20 degrees to 40-45 depending on pitch height. The best low ball hitters have a VBA of around 45 degrees. I talked about this in this article https://community.fangraphs.com/finding-keys-to-elevate-the-ball-more/ but basically a too flat VBA can cause roll over and topspin on low pitches even with a positive AA (for higher pitches a lower VBA is slightly better though).

 

It can also help to mark LAs in a cage with ropes

https://twitter.com/dominikkeul/status/795318878368858113/photo/1

 

or build a wall out of screens in on field BP.

 

This are some methods to train for hitting. Again you of course need to asses the athlete and  see what he needs  whether it is flexibility, strength, mechanics or specific power and then train the athlete accordingly.

 

Drills for a modern swing

 

There are a lot of bad drills in baseball that promote bad patterns. Because of this I want to make a collection of drills that I think promote good patterns or at least not create bad patterns.

Some of the drills have been created by me, others by other coaches in the hitting community. If the latter is true of course I will give credit to the inventors. I will only show drills that I have tested personally.

 

Drill(s) 1:

A very good series of drills is the baseball rebellion rebels rack progression. It works on separation, posture and the turn. Here you can find the drills which are essentially dry turns.:

https://baseballrebellion.com/the-movements-that-made-the-rebellion/

 

If you don’t have a rebels rack you can also use a bat or a pvc pipe across the chest.

 

For a good hand and bat path I like those two one handed drills.

Rear arm: clamp a connection ball between forearm and upper arm and don’t release it until just before contact. Promotes a good elbow slotting and getting on plane early.

Drill 2:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNWcvOQNBhg

Variation: if you tend to roll over stop with the arm extended and the bat pointing to the pitcher.

Drill 2b:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW8vzo_mIio&feature=youtu.be

Drill 3:

Here is a lead arm drill. Clamp something between chest and biceps to promote “connection” but make sure the elbow is not down but away from the body (don’t clamp in arm pit but high on chest).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqzm9zcNXuU

 

Drill 3b:

Make sure the elbow and shoulder work up before the bat works down. This creates a better posture and attack angle. Finish over the head. To work on this you can provide resistance with the back arm like this

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ng54P0hx-O0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqmtkmoHT-o

You can also use both constraints https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpvlT70ABHs

 

Drill 4:

This drill can also help with swing plane

https://twitter.com/dominikkeul/status/848213318015778817

 

Drill 5:

Here is a more detailed progression for the hand and arm movements. Not everyone needs it that detailed but for some you need to build it from the scratch.

https://twitter.com/dominikkeul/status/1128310460309282816

 

To get to different pitch heights the vertical bat angle needs to change. Around 45 degrees for very low pitches and 15-20 for high pitches.  Here is a check swing turn drill for different pitch heights. It is important that shoulders and bat tilt at the same angle. Can also be done very good against a gymnastics mat. Do it to all 4 corners to increase path variability.

Drill 6:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzQs1wT-h28&list=UUP_COKERLxTNoCOwPOWmJRg&index=12

 

https://twitter.com/dominikkeul/status/995971519774937088

Drill 7

This BR drill can help rotating the shoulders on a steeper plane for low pitches:#

https://baseballrebellion.com/1-simple-drill-to-crush-the-low-and-inside-pitch/

Drill 8

This is a drill for the load

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgYyG_-OQ1E&feature=youtu.be

Drill 9:

Here is a drill for the transition from load to “entry in the zone. The elbows move a bit like a seesaw with the front elbow going up and rear elbow going down.

https://twitter.com/dominikkeul/status/1130848124820262914

Make sure the rear elbow doesn’t drop before the body is launched

https://twitter.com/dominikkeul/status/1132706879417868293

https://twitter.com/dominikkeul/status/1090280260363538432

 

Here is a constraint drill for guys who have trouble with losing being in the rear hip and maintaining head over rear hip posture

Drill 10:

https://twitter.com/dominikkeul/status/1133751749762854913

This is a dissociation drill. During the stride hips and shoulders usually slightly counter rotate, then just before foot plant the hips open under the body while the shoulders don’t move before the shoulders start to turn after foot plant.

 

Drill 11:

https://twitter.com/dominikkeul/status/1133752760518598658

Drill 12:

This stop swing drill is great for guys who lack direction and roll over on outside pitches. Set tee outside and stop about a foot after contact with the bat below the hands and pointing towards the oppo gap (stay over tee and not pull inward).

https://twitter.com/dominikkeul/status/1012399644549185536

https://twitter.com/dominikkeul/status/996789277504823301

Drill 13:

This drill helps maintaining VBA on low pitches and not rolling over

https://twitter.com/dominikkeul/status/969958365186150400

Drill 14:

For guys having trouble with inside pitches the Cano fence drill can help. Make sure the fence isn’t too close or it can hurt the swing mechanics.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5hQdQ2UtJQ&t=47s

Drill 15:

Deceleration drill: the shoulders reach peak speed about 60m MS before contact and then  decelerate in a good swing. This is a deceleration drill that can help hitters who overspin, especially on outside pitches. Peak turn speed early and not after contact:

Drill 16:

“Stretch and fire” drill. This drill is hitting with an open stance. You stand feet facing forward, then you coil into the back hip and swing forward. Not a drill for everyone but it can help with separation and swing direction and also help with guys who have too much slack in the swing. With the open stance and coiling back you take the slack out so the bat really starts turning immediately when the back hip begins to move. Done correctly you should feel a tension down the rear body side  into the rear hip and and on the opposite oblique then start the swing with rear hip extension to the pitcher which then immediately starts the bat. It is kinda like starting the swing from after the “dissociation” position.

 

It can also be good to do drills with a pvc pipe since the lighter weight causes less fatigue

I realize those are a lot of drills. I try to use mostly constraint drills that don’t need a lot of words by the coach. You don’t need to do all drills, the most important rule is don’t fix what is broken, if an athlete does it naturally don’t try to change it and work on something else. I have more drills but this is a collection I like. The most important is an assessment of the athlete so you know what really needs change. Thus I will first asses the athlete and then give him the drills he needs or make up a new one that fits him better. Those are drills to correct mechanical problems. Later I will also write an article about drills that help batspeed, power and game adjustability.

 

Keys to pull side elevation

Pulled air balls are the most effective batted balls but they are not easy to achieve. Last year in mlb the average pull side LA was just 5.8 degrees, vs 9.2 to center and a whopping 24.4 to opposite field.

But which factors make pulling the ball in the air so hard?

One is pitch selection. https://www.fangraphs.com/community/effect-of-pitch-selection-on-launch-angle-and-exit-velocity/ Pulling outside pitches yields lower lauch, the same applies to lower pitches, especially down and away.

But also hitting the inside pitch also has some problems. One problem is simply that the body is in the way. The sweet spot of the bat is like 20 inches away from the hands and the inside of the plate is closer to the body than that.

https://imgur.com/a/yEPTt7C
Creating space
Because of this to hit the inside pitch you need to create space.

1. Create space ahead of the body
This ist he first way. Every hitting instruction, traditional or modern teaches to hit the inside pitch out front more.This means the hands are slid across the chest slightly so the hands are more in front of the belly button instead of besides the body

https://imgur.com/a/iIiQqpY

2. Create Space laterally
The out front method is good but it also has issues if overdone. First of all raking the hand across the chest is breaking the kinetic chain, it creates some kind of „push“. This is needed to hit some inside pitches but it also can reduce exit velo, which is shown even in mlb were up and in leads to the lowest EV of all zone locations.

Also a too circular swing that is too wide around the body leads to a strong right to left component which can create top spin and roll overs (same applies to too far out front contact when bat starts to arc out of zone).
Pro tennis players actually use that across swing actively to generate topspin

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJHTQncT-AA&t=19s

However in baseball topspin is of course not wanted unlike tennis. Because of this it can help to make the path to the inside pitch more linear. It is still curved of course, but not as big of a curve.

To achieve this you simply need to increase the distance between the inside of the plate and the body. This is achieved by maintaining hip hinge a little longer and also using side bend to pull away from the plate.

https://imgur.com/a/Am3ETQ1
Trout is excellent at this creating space under his right shoulder to create a more direct path. This means he hast o hit the inside pitch less out front and rake the hands less across the chest even allowing him to hit balls on the inside black over the fence to straight center.

If you have created space laterally and bring the hands really tight forward under the right shoulder you can bring the path a little straighter to the pitch and hit the ball straighter too.

This is an extreme case though and most hitters will need a combination of both methods to hit the inside pitch.

The third adjustment is horizontal bat angle. A horizontal bat angle of zero means the bat is parallel to the front of the plate. Negative means it points slightly to the catcher and positive means it slighlty points to the pitcher. A positive horizontal angle moves the sweetspot more to the inside and leads to more pulling of the ball. In conjunction with vertical bat angle a positive horizontal bat angle also can help creating more loft. DK Willardson calls this implicit loft in his book quantitative hitting because the forward and down pointed bat can act a little like a ramp.

Too much horizontal bat angle will lead to foul balls though, Willardson mentions a HBA of about 15 degrees for inside pitches.

So to summarize to hit pull side bombs, pick the right pitches to pull (inside pitches or middle pitches  that are slightly elevated) and create space to pull the ball without going across it too much.

A common mistake that blocks off the inside pitch is a too wide arc to it that causes to hook the ball and also the hips coming toward the plate to soon. Found this golf drill to correct that. Don’t let hip extension occur until they are fully turned.

Letting the barrel do the work

A powerful swing takes a lot of effort but you also read to have a relaxed swing and „let the barrel do the work“. I think there is some merit to it. In the last years there was a lot of talk about turning the barrel early. The proponents of that theory want to accelerate the barrel back and down early using the forearms and elbows (supination, that „seesaw move“ of the front elbow going up and rear one going down). Now I think this is not quite correct because in the kinetic chain the lower parts have to fire before the upper parts.

Jason Ochart of driveline suggested that the supination shouldn’t start the barrel release before the shoulders reach their peak speed. That is an important point in „letting the barrel doing the work“, the trunk speed has to peak early in the swing to allow the distal parts of the chain to work correctly. This means you can’t power your turn all the way through contact. Strength helps but muscling through contact won’t help you much.

In a good swing the trunk rotation speed peaks around 50-60ms before contact and then it slows down. You can see in the early part of the swing the body will turn. The barrel will turn backwards but mostly tied to the tilt oft he shoulders and the „elbow move“.

Just after this phase the supination sends the barrel downward and pulls up the knob.
https://imgur.com/a/JTP0IDt

After this move the bat should basically be ballistic. The arms may or may not extend and the wrists continue to unhinge but you shouldn’t supply power to the bat, all the hands now can do is guiding the bat a little if even that.

If you have to power the bat in this phase
https://imgur.com/a/Jyxti0k
you have not worked correctly in the frames before that.The swing should be like a vertical jump, a frame before contact is basically take off and from then on you just fly. You don’t want the bat to decelerate but a lot of good swings actually reach peak speed slightly before impact.

Here is Todd Frazier demonstrating that the bat is actually ballistic at contact.

Swing power is relatated tot he amounts of watts you can put into the barrel but peak force should occur early in the swing and actually precede peak speed. The swing is less like a deadlift and more like a snatch were you accelerate the bar and let it fly in the end.

As for drills you can do actual bat throws. Try to throw the bat slightly upward into the cage net. Another drill you can do is a two tee drill, put a wiffle ball on the rear tee that is placed slight behind your front knee and a real ball on the front tee that is slightly higher and a foot farther out front. Now try to hit the first ball as har das possible and hit the front ball on the follow through without using effort.

Key motor skills for hitting

Hitting a baseball is often considered the toughest thing in sports. The ball arrives in less than half a second and in that time you have to calculate the trajectory and determine if you want to swing at it or not. Also the ball is hit with a round bat which is unique to batting sports, a round object really isn’t ideal for hitting.

Here are some requirements. If you identify them correctly you can train them separately with drills like classes in a school curriculum or integrated in a holistic approach. You can also create a scoring system.

1. Batspeed:
In order to get around to 90+ MPH and hit the ball hard you need batspeed. The harder you hit a ball the batter the results generally and this is mostly dependend on batspeed. So building batspeed is very important as most good MLB hitters are able to swing at 80+ MPH.
You can increase batspeed for example with an overload underload program as it is found at driveline baseball https://www.drivelinebaseball.com/hitting/ and also this side

2. A balanced turn: Baseball hitters turn in their swing to generate and store energy. To support a good bat path you need to turn while maintaining good posture (lateral and anterior tilt, a still head. From the side view the head should stay centered or even over the rear hip. It can help to pull the rear thigh under the body during the turn and skip the back foot forward but not everyone does that. Baseball rebellion has some good drills to teach that. https://baseballrebellion.com/cpippitt/the-movements-that-made-the-rebellion/

3. The ability to swing on a good plane: Ideally the bat should travel upwards 5-15 degrees at contact. This is to match the plane of the incoming pitch and to generate loft in the swing which creates power. Posture can help with this as well as a good hand and bat path. Things that can help specifically is lateral tilt to the catcher, the front elbow and shoulder working up, the bat being turned down behind the ball early.

4. A good direction through the ball: An old saying was short too and long through the ball. The swing is an arc around the body but it helps to elongate the arc to an elipse so the bat stays in the zone longer and doesn’t roll over tot he other shoulder too early. This also includes good extension through the ball which can occur before or after contact based on a lot of factors.

5. Deceleration/Anti-rotation ability: According tot he forthenbough paper „the biomechanics of the baseball swing“ the maximum angular velocity of the body is achieved about 60 ms before contact and then it slows down to transfer energy. Rotation is important but so is bracing and stability which helps with both balance and direction through the ball as well as batspeed. Also helps on outside pitches on which the body decelerates earlier to allow for a better direction to the other field.

6. A good loading pattern: muscles must stretch to fire at maximum efficiency. Both the lower body (coil) and upper body (hand cock, back elbow row, scap load whatever) must load. Ideally the lower body loads before the upper body so that it can also unload in that sequence.

7. A good unloading sequence: sequence must start in the lower body and continue upward into the trunk, hands and bat.

8. Good hand movements: A lot of people talk about turning the barrel to get the bat down on plane early. I think this thing is overblown but still having effective hand articulations (unlar devation, top hand supination, not too early lead arm pronation) can help delivering the barrel behind the ball more efficient and on a better path.

9. Ability to adjust for timing: Pre pitch: start loading sequence later. Pre toe touch: try to slow down forward movement if you recognize breaking ball mid air. Front leg absorption: this will hurt ideal batspeed but you can sink into the front leg and delay the upper body. Using extension to catch ball out front is the last string. To help for this it can help to hit many balls with bent arms a little deeper to have room for extension but not too deep either as optimum batspeed occurs around at the front toe. Train to hit different speeds.

10. Ability to manipulate the barrel path to all 4 corners oft he zone. Get behind the ball in every zone. Practice hitting balls in all locations.