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A few days ago, I put out a video on twitter called "Screenless Front-Toss". Many people misunderstood the context and intentions of the drill for the hitter I was with. First, let me say this: DO NOT TRY THIS DRILL. We were working on and demonstrating her ability to pull the ball in the air. Pull pitches for power hitters are from the middle of the plate to the white line. The "Value" of her hits is very high when she does this instead of pushing middle pitches into centerfield. Here is the video below. Again, DO NOT TRY THIS DRILL!
Now, let's add some context to that drill. I wanted to prove a point. The point was that she, and many hitters we train, are solid enough mechanically and approach-wise to successfully hit certain pitches over and over without a dangerous mis-hit. She can put runs on the board instantly with 5 of those hits. Yes, she flew out a few times and fouled a few balls off but the 'look' of the result had people going nuts! "That's all pop-ups!" one person wrote. Another, "she's just pulling every ball foul", she had two foul balls. Looks can be deceiving but the HitTrax isn't...it works and works very well. Also, maybe I am a little crazy.
There are many things that go into making a great hitter. It’s not just a pretty swing or how hard you can hit a ball. Great bat speed and swing path help, but there's more to it than that. It’s not just your lower body mechanics or your turn. And it's for sure not just a 'snap and a hip slip around a corner'. For the first time in a long time, I’m going to talk about RESULTS today.
Learning how the exit velocities of your hitter's on your team effect where they can hit the ball to be successful. This matters for EVERY SINGLE HITTER in the lineup. From the smallest slappers to the biggest bangers. Exit Velocity determines optimal Launch Angle, Period.
You, the hitter or the coach, can instantly put this into practice in the cage TODAY to get better. Are you a smaller player or do you coach younger kids? At the 8u and below, the small field and less advanced defenders make grounders a great weapon. Errors run rampant at these games, and it’s a quick way to a win to hit the ball hard on the ground, especially to fielders that are not the shortstop. But, does that work as the fielder’s get better in 10u and 12u and what about when the field grows to 300 feet all the way around after that?
I heard a quote once from private hitting coach Bobby Tewksbary, (@TewksHitting) that said something like, “if your hitting strategy is relying on the other team to make mistakes, what happens when they stop making mistakes?”. That’s a great question!
As players get older, their fielding percentage goes up...and so does the skill of the pitcher, the size of the field, and the deadness of the bats. Let’s use player’s exit velocity off the bat to figure out how to coach them into hitting more balls to places where fielders are not! And even better...you can do it inside a batting cage!
Kids that hit the ball fair are likely to get a hit. Even the best 8u teams have many players who lack the attention span and defensive ability to field above .800. That being said, hitting the ball to the shortstop side of the field is a much better play than the shorter throw from the first base side.
Hard contact is key, coach that and reward that. Don’t react to swings and misses or ‘weak’ hits that result in ‘hits’. Reward aggression and power swings, and more aggression and power swings will come!
Below, you'll see a picture of launch angles that are good for kids in this group or this exit velocity to drive the ball out of the infield. Green is good, Red is bad. Notice this group, the weakest exit velocity hitters, have the smallest green area. Launch angles, for this group, between 12 and 25 degrees have the best chance of getting out of the infield in our experience at BR.
You can easily track this on your own with an iPhone. Download the Hudl Technique app from the app store and start filming the hitter's session. You can draw your own lines use the angle tool provided to determine the launch angles of the hitter
Kids are significantly more coordinated at this level than 8u. Most infielders can field and throw and normally the center fielder can catch most fly balls as well. Now it begins to become important to hit the ball hard and high enough to get the ball out of the infield in the air as often as possible. Balls hit over 50 mph, which for decent 10u kids is pretty easy, should be hit up at about a 20-degree angle. This gets the ball out of the infield and into the outfield every time.
Now a good 10-year-old is going to push the 60 or 65 miles per hour mark in exit velocity. That player may be able to carry their velocity up into the 30 or 35-degree launch angle. In that case, he’s your doubles and home run hitter! Coach him to hit the ball higher than the kid who hits it 55mph when they hit it 30 degrees.
Below, you'll see a picture of launch angles that are good for kids in this group or this exit velocity to drive the ball out of the infield. This group has a higher margin for error in spite of the better fielders due to their higher exit speeds. The highest chance for hits is between 9 degrees and 35 degrees at the higher end of the launch angle window here.
Kids are now almost all decent fielders, especially in the travel ball circuit. Double plays happen at least once a game and all the outfielders can catch and throw to correct bases or hit the cut off man. Most kids can hit the ball over the fence, and some can do it regularly and repeatedly.
A good 12-year-old with a non-USA bat can consistently hit the ball harder than 70 mph with elevation. Those balls EASILY go more than 220 feet and should be practiced if you want to them happen in the game.
Truly elite power hitters in this age group can hit the ball well over 275 feet and into the 300's if they move well or are large for their age. Encourage these hitters to hit as many fly balls as they can in the cage. The top of the cage is where the money is, and where the runs are for these players. Nurture that power and encourage them even in games when they fly out. Fly balls are homers and doubles.
Below, you'll see a picture of launch angles that are good for kids in this group or this exit velocity to drive the ball out of the infield. With exit velocity in the 70's kids pretty much have to miss-hit the ball to get out or hit it hard right at someone at the 12u level. Fair balls hit about 70mph are almost always hits, and if they have any elevation at all, can be driven over the fence and into the trees at these exit velocities. Again, the key to having this window of success is the exit velocity being high.
In 13u, the field grows and the bat rules change! So what does that do to the 12u kid who was bombing balls? The size of the field and the new bat rules make his launch angle window change. That kid who used to hit homers is now flying out over and over if he takes the same swing with the same intended launch angle. So...lets give him the same swing but a launch angle window like the first kid until he can hit the ball harder more consistently. Then, and only then, he can we re-open up his launch angle window and go back to driving the ball in the gaps and over the walls.
Once it becomes clear what type of player you have based on their exit velocity, bat type, and field size, then you can decide what launch angle is correct for them. What is their role? What are their skillsets? How often does the hitter reach their peak exit velocity and how high is the average? This is the part of baseball and softball that requires coaching!
Improving players is one thing but completely on the other side is winning games. Establish with your players that you're testing to help them be the best they can be. Yes, this may help find out 'who is the best player' and it also allows players to have a chance to be used in the best way for them! Better usage equals a better team, and that isn't possible without gathering knowledge through data.