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At Baseball Rebellion, the most important thing we look for is progress. Progress is a sign that our athletes are understanding the concepts we teach and have an ability to translate that understanding into competition. At the end of the day, the reason they are here is to get better at baseball. A recent example of this is a 14-year-old hitter named Nick Reed who takes lessons with Eric Tyler, one of our hitting instructors. Eric had a four-year career at East Carolina University from 2014-2017. Eric was a big part of the team’s American Athletic Conference tournament championship in 2015, as well as their run to Super Regionals in 2016.
When Nick got here for his evaluation (initial lesson) on May 20th, Eric saw the potential that he had to get better, and knew that with a few tweaks to his swing, they could unlock that potential and improve Nick’s contact quality tremendously. However, getting better always depends on the athlete’s ability to “buy-in” and comprehend our instruction
Our ‘eval’ process is something we take seriously here at BR. While a large amount of it involves our instructors using their finely tuned eyes to detect strengths and weaknesses in a hitter’s swing, we also take a data-driven approach in order to confirm or question these observations, as well as to quantitatively detect progress (or lack thereof).
For hitters, the main pieces of technology we utilize are our HitTrax systems and our Diamond Kinetics SwingTracker bat sensor.
HitTrax is an easy-to-understand interactive technology that tracks the flight of where each ball hit would end up based on the batted ball velocity and launch angle off the bat. This ball simulation is overlayed onto a major league or minor league stadium scaled to the field dimensions that an athlete normally plays on. We display our HitTrax on a monitor behind each cage in order for the instructor, the athlete, and the athlete’s parents to watch. Diamond Kinetics gives us metrics involving the path and speed of the bat, as opposed to HitTrax which tracks the ball.
The way we think of it here is that Diamond Kinetics features the underlying metrics that contribute to the batted ball results displayed on HitTrax. Diamond Kinetics for the most part lets us know what we should help the athlete improve on and HitTrax reflects whether or not the adjustments are working.
Our goal for hitter development is to maximize their production potential. The main three things that directly factor into working toward this goal are launch angle, exit velocity, and distance. The ideal numbers for these two metrics differ based on the hitter and the competition level. For launch angle, we generally look for numbers between 10° and 30° regardless of the competition level, with outliers depending on exit velocity. For the other two, the optimal results are heavily dependent on the level.
For Nick, the main thing Eric noticed in his eval was his low launch angle. To help Nick sort this out, Eric went straight to his iPad to check out the data that the Diamond Kinetics SwingTracker was picking up. The main thing that stood out was Nick’s attack angle (also known as approach angle). This metric is not to be confused with launch angle which is the angle the ball leaves the bat.
Attack angle is the angle at which the bat approaches the ball prior to contact. These two metrics correlate strongly. In other words, high attack angles generally produce high launch angles and vice versa. For attack angle, the number we generally look for is somewhere between 5° and 15°, slightly lower than our launch angle benchmarks. We want players to avoid this number regularly registering in the negatives. This would mean he/she is swinging down on the ball and therefore asking for low launch angles or excessively back-spun pop-ups. This concept could be tricky to comprehend at first, but it makes sense once you figure it out. In order to lift the ball more consistently, it is important to approach the ball at an angle more properly geared to elevate.
To take this a bit further, consider the angle of a baseball pitch coming in toward home plate (this concept is different for softball). The baseball is not usually rising up toward the hitter, nor is it typically coming on a straight line. The ball is almost always approaching the batter at a slightly downward trajectory, or “plane”, toward the strike zone. Therefore, in order to stay “on plane” with the incoming pitch, the optimal angle to approach the ball is similar to the angle that a pitch is coming in from. Many Major Leaguers have discussed this concept of staying on plane in recent years, including Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez helping visualize the idea here.
The final concept that we believe in greatly is the importance of connecting with the ball out in front and not letting the ball get too “deep”, or close to the hitter. This is another thing that HitTrax is able to show us. We pulled up Nick’s session review following his eval (shown below) and noted the point-of-contact plot on the top left illustrating that Nick was a tad late on the ball and letting it get too far into the hitting zone, which limits batters’ ability to barrel up balls with authority. You can see proof of this just to the right of this chart which shows Nick’s average exit velocity in this session split into 6-inch segments. The bulk of pitches Nick saw he met 6 inches or less in front of home plate. This, as you can see on the spray chart directly right of the point-of-contact chart, results in taking most balls the other way, as oppose to driving them into gaps.
These are the ideas Eric had at the forefront of his mind when considering the swing adjustments that were ideal for Nick. In his eval, his stance was a bit too tall, causing him to have to drop his hands for many swings. They worked on Nick’s setup and load phases. Making his base narrower and hinging his hips put him in a much better position to more efficiently shift his weight. These were simple adjustments, but they proved to be a big difference in Nick’s batted ball results.
Fast forward to Nick’s 3rd hitting session a bit over a month later:
If this difference doesn’t stick out than I don’t know what would. Take a look in that segment between the front of home plate and the first line below where it reads “6 in”. This is where most balls were situated on the first plot. Those have nearly all disappeared and Nick was able to connect far out in front, mostly around 10-15 inches, as opposed to less than 6 a month prior. As you can see to the right, look at those exit velocities now. He also evened out that spray chart, ripping balls to all fields.
One month later, the results are eye-opening. Nick took well to the instruction and properly executed the adjustments. You can see below that Nick raised his average launch angle into our optimal range, which resulted in his launch angle also escalating into our preferred range. Nick also increased his average exit velocity from 64 MPH to 71 MPH in just over a month. We are excited to see what is in store as a hitter for Nick Reed moving forward.