The pros and cons of pulling the ball

There have been similar articles 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.

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.

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.


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.


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.