Launch Angle vs. Attack Angle

Launch Angle vs. Attack Angle

I was scouting at a high school game recently, and another scout asked me if I teach the “Launch Angle Swing.” Before I could answer, the player that we both there to see did something of note so we never returned to the subject, but it got me thinking. There seems to be some confusion as to the difference between Launch Angle and Attack angle. Today I want to clear up that confusion.

Launch Angle

The term Launch Angle has recently become a popular and for some reason polarizing term in baseball. The reason is has become so well known and has such a strange connotation is it really began being used right around the time a few years ago when many hitters began trying to hit the ball in the air more. Those who disagree with this approach will talk against launch angles. However, launch angles have always been a part of the game, it just wasn’t until recently that we really had a term for them. Let me state this very clearly: Every single ball that gets hit has a launch angle. Launch angle refers to the angle of the ball off of the bat, so without a launch angle, you are missing the ball. Launch angle refers to the way that the ball moves off of the bat.

Groundball: -90 degrees to 10 degrees

Line Drives: 10 degrees to 25 degrees

Flyballs: 26 degrees to 90 degrees

Look at the chart below (From a pro hitter I train): The highest batting averages are seen between 10 and 20 degrees: Line Drives. Launch angles above and below this range begin to fall off and limit our ability to get a hit.

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Attack Angle

Attack angle is about the bat not the ball. Attack Angle is the path that the bat takes as it makes contact with the ball.

Downward bat path: Anything negative

Level: 0 Degrees

Upward bat path: Anything positive

How do Launch Angle and Attack Angle interact?

Launch angle is determined solely on where the bat meets the ball. If the bat hits the top of the ball, the ball will go down and if the bat meets the bottom of the ball it will go up and everything in between are varying degrees of launch angles.

We can get any launch angle with any type of attack angle. No matter whether a swing is up, down or level, a hitter can hit any part of the ball.

Why do high level hitters swing up?

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Good hitters have a positive attack angle, swing up, uppercut or whatever you want to call it. The best hitters in the world get the bat on the path of the ball early and stay in the hitting zone for a long time. The average fastball come in at between 6-12 degrees and they need to move the bat up to stay on the plane of the pitch for a long period of time. This increases their chance of hitting the center of the ball and creating a line drive.

While any attack angle can produce any type of launch angle, most players and coaches have the opposite view of what really happens. To read more about why swinging up does not actually produce pop ups check out my article here on EliteBaseBallPerformance.com


Exit Velocity Update

Exit Velocity Update

About 2 years ago, I wrote an article on Ball Exit Speed detailing things that can effect exit velocity and tips on how to improve it. While all of those things still hold true, I now have much more data than I had then. When the article was written, I was using a radar gun set up in front of an L Screen, much like what is now done at most showcases. While this worked, there were a number of variables that effected the results. Since opening Elite Diamond Performance and have been using the Hit Tax with every session that I do, I have obtained thousands of data points on exit velocity from players of all ages from 6 years old through professional players. In today’s article, I wanted to give an updated version of Exit Velocity Ranges for each age group.

Exit velocity is very important. Simply put, the harder the ball gets hit, the batter chance the hitter has to get on base. However, there is much more that goes into hitting besides exit speed. Each age group has a minimum that I feel has to be reached to be a consistent hitter. Beyond that, there are so many factors that go into success at the plate.

Note: All of the exit speed numbers below are from live batting practice.

Level Average High High

Pro 97.5 104.4

College 93.8 101.8

High School (Varsity) 90.9 101.2

High School (Fresh/Soph) 84.6 96.4

13-14 81.7 86.9

11-12 67.9 79.7

9-10 59.5 69.1

The Most Important Word my players can use:  Why

The Most Important Word my players can use: Why

My biggest job as an instructor is to educate my players. I want each and every player that I work with to understand their swing, their approach, etc to the best of their abilities. This is simply because the vast majority of swings that my hitters take will be outside of my facility, and the only way for them to improve is to truly understand what can make them better. The hitters that do the best with what I teach are the ones who overuse the word “why.” Let me explain.

Someone once told me that the 6 deadliest words are: “That’s the way its always been.” This could not be truer in baseball. The sport, and hitting in particular, are going through somewhat of a “revolution”. The typical wisdom about hitting is changing. The terms “Launch Angle”, “Exit Velocity”, Flyball revolution, etc. highlight the perceived change that are going on in the game. However, hitting really hasn’t changed over the past 150 years. Much of what the great hitters from 100 years ago are the same as what the greats of today’s game do. However, we have so much more information and technology that can highlight what good hitters actually do, rather than relying on theories.

In the coaching world, baseball has never been so contentious. There are the old school coaches fighting with the new school coaches, hitting gurus getting into online fights like kids over mechanics, and numbers guys arguing with eye test guys. Why is this? Baseball, like every other sport has never had so much information, so many statistics, and so much technology that can disprove much of the old wisdom. Baseball is improving, yet many who have been around the game for a long time, are trying to hold on to outdated thinking. Baseball is older than any other american sport and is usually the slowest to change, but slowly, people are beginning to.

Going back to my original point, the players who do the best with my instruction are the ones who come in with an open mind and question everything that I tell them. Yes, many of the things that I talk about sound completely backwards from the traditional wisdom surrounding hitting. The board of rules in my facility reads like a list of what bad hitter do, not good hitters. Here are the first 2:

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However, as against conventional teachings as some of these things may be, the hitters who succeed the most are the ones who ask me a ton of questions as to why I am teaching them things that are completely different from what they have always been taught. They are eager to learn and don’t close off when they hear something that goes against what they have been taught previously. They can see from exit velocities, launch angles, video, that when they do certain things their swings improve.

I was taught many of the wrong things throughout much of my career. When I began to be introduced to correct information, I fought it because I didn’t want to believe that what I had been taught could be wrong. However, if I didn’t get exposed to correct mechanics and began to question what I had previously been taught, I never would’ve had the opportunity to play professionally.

Think about what has been taught to you over your career. If you have always been told to swing down on the ball or squish the bug, ask yourself why. Don’t simply trust someone because they played at a certain level or have coached for x number of years. Use the technology that we have at our disposal that coaches who came up with many of the fallacies surrounding hitting didn’t have. Watch players, observe what they do and always question the “conventional wisdom” because as soon as we stop learning, we are doomed to failure.

Extension

Extension

Extension during the swing is something that is one of the most talked about phases of the swing. While the extension position is something that we should pay attention to, it is not something that most hitters should force. I believe that the extension position is more of a diagnostic part of the swing that can help highlight problems earlier in the swing that need correcting.

What is the extension position?

The extension position is the moment in the swing when the arms are fully extended. Most swings will display this position but there will be swings, especially in younger hitters where they may not get fully extended. This is because the extension position is something that should occur naturally as a product of the arms not being able to hold the bat close to the body as the force of the swing takes over.

When should it occur?

This is still an often debated topic but I’m not sure why. There are still coaches who will tell kids to get extended at contact, but take a look at what good hitters look like at contact. Unless they are completely fooled by a pitch off the plate, hitters will maintain some bend in the arms at contact. Take a look at the pictures below. The picture on the left shows what an amateur hitter looks like at contact vs a pro hitter on the right.

What should the extension position look like?

Biggest thing to look for in the extension position

Back forearm position

Look at the photos above and notice the back or top hand forearm. Regardless of pitch location, the back forearm should point either straight or up, never down.

What does this position tell us?

  1. Bat Path

    The Bat needs to move up through the hitting zone to match the plane of the incoming downward moving pitch. If the bat moves level or down, the arms will point to the ground rather than up and out

  2. Hand Path

    In order for the bat to move in an upward path, the hands must not shoot down. Rather they should work in an upward path through contact. If this doesn’t occur, the arms will point towards the ground. Notice how the hands work through contact in the video below.

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3. Time in the Hitting Zone

The reason the bat path and hands have to work in an upward fashion is to keep the bat on path with the pitch for as long as possible. If you notice an extension position with the arms, particularly the back forearm pointed down, the bat will not be on path with the incoming pitch for long. This will result in inconsistent contact and reduced power.

Significance of the Extension Position and how to work on it

The extension position is a byproduct of the rest of the swing. We should observe it to diagnose issues that occur before and up to contact, but we have to remember that it occurs after contact. Without addressing body position, weight shift, hand path, bat path, arm position, etc., focusing on the extension position will likely only cause hitters to try and force a good looking finish, overuse the hands and under use the rest of the body.

One of the cool things about the Hit Trax machine is when I show a player a swing, the clip usually pops up at the extension position. Instantly, my hitters can tell me if it was a good or bad swing based on the position. From the information gained from the extension position, we go back and look at the the beginning parts of the swing to determine why the swing turned out well or poorly. However, we never try to put the cart before the horse and focus on the ending position when the wheels are falling off earlier in the swing.



Long vs. Short Swing

Go to any baseball game from little league through professional baseball and you will probably hear a coach tell a player to shorten their swing. I hear players all of the time talking about trying to shorten their swings. So today I wanted to discuss what the difference between a short and long swing is, why having being on either end of the swing length spectrum can be bad and some drills to work on swing path with.

Swing Length Defined

Swing length is basically the length that the barrel of the bat has to travel to get to the ball. This is represented by the blue line in the picture below. The shorter the distance, the shorter the swing, longer distance means a longer swing.

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What do we want short or long?

Like just about everything else in hitting, somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately, most coaches think that every player needs to shorten their swing.

Benefits of a long swing

A longer bat path when done correctly, will come through the zone and contact point with much more bat speed. A longer path can also allow the bat to get on the plane of the incoming pitch sooner and increase the time the bat is in the hitting zone, thus increasing chances of making contact.

Downside of a swing that is too long

The biggest weakness of a hitter with a long swing is that they usually have to commit to the ball sooner. This can leave the hitter more susceptible to off speed pitches. Also, a hitter with too long of a swing risks being late on fastballs if they don’t initiate the swing early enough.

Benefits of a short swing

More time to react to the pitch. The shorter the path of the bat, the more time a hitter can wait to commit to swinging at the ball.

Downside of a swing that is too short

Often times players who shorten their swings too much will not be able to drive the ball due to a lack of bat speed creation. In addition, many times players who shorten too much can display an impaired bat path that does not work up enough through the zone.

Where coaches go wrong

Have you ever heard a coach tell a player that their swing was too short? Probably not. However, while I do see many kids who have swings that are too long, I see just as many kids with swings that are too short. Let me explain.

Most coaches think that shorter is better. However, this is just not the case. Most coaches advocating for a shorter swing will throw out cues such as “point a to point b”, “take the shortest path possible”, etc. Drills like this tee will help players develop this sort of swing.

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Yes, the shortest path is straight to the ball, however, this is not what good hitters do. Good hitters allow the bat to work behind them for a few reasons. Look at the pictures below:

In the first 3 pictures, the barrel of the bat is working behind the hitter, getting underneath the ball and as shown by picture 4, working in a circular path, not straight. This is a constant among good hitters. Every high level hitter will take this elliptical path to get to the ball to both increase bat speed as well as ensuring the bat gets on plane with the pitch as deep as possible.

How do I know if my swing is too long?

Although every major league hitter that I have ever studied take a circular path to get the the ball, they also usually display a limit to how long that path is. After all, if they took too long of a path, they would get beat especially by the increasing fastball velocities in the big leagues. Take a look at the pictures below. I have drawn a line about 6 inches behind the hitters back foot in their stance. What do we notice? The bat doesn’t cross that line. They are allowing the bat to work behind them and get into the zone early, but in the shortest possible route to achieve this. If the bat crosses behind this line, that is what I would consider a long swing.

Drill to work on swing length







Deep Tee Drill

As I stated in this previous article, I have a love/hate relationship with the tee.  I think that the tee can be a very valuable tool that can make learning new mechanics much easier.  However, I also see many hitters take some pretty terrible swings off the tee that can reinforce bad habits. 

Today I wanted to talk about my current favorite tee drill:  The Deep Tee Drill.  You can check out the video below and be sure to subscribe to the Elite Diamond Performance YouTube Channel.

 

 

Checklist for Choosing the Right College

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Travel baseball for high school players comes down to one goal: Get seen by college coaches.  Yes everyone wants to win, but the main point of traveling all over the country and spending thousands of dollars is to help get exposure to play at the next level.  Today I wanted to discuss what players should look for in a potential college.  Many players simply choose the best baseball team with the most recognizable name.  While the caliber of the program is important, there are many factors that players should assess before committing to a school.

The Obvious:

1.     Right fit on the field

Choose a school where you will have the best chance to play and develop as a player.  Whether you are a top prospect being contacted by SEC and ACC schools, or a kid who cold calls division 3 coaches, you want to find a school where you can get time on the field and develop.  Look at the team’s roster.  Look for schools who have upperclassmen starting at your position.  This will likely give you the best chance to get on the field earlier in your career.  If a school has a freshman starting and producing at your position, it will make it much harder to beat them out for a spot as a newcomer.

2.  The Right Fit Academically

As much as I would love to see every player that I work with go on and make a living playing baseball, the sheer fact is that most won't.  The senior year of college will be the end of the road for most players on the field, and then it is time to start a career outside of the game.  While you don't have to, and probably shouldn't know for sure what it is that you want to do after baseball, spend some time and really consider what that future might be.  Make sure that there is a major that you would be interested in studying.  This is a mistake that I made when looking at schools.  I had no idea what I wanted to do and just chose the school where I felt the most wanted from the coach.  I thought my best guess as a senior in high school was physical education.  However, the school that I went to didn't offer it and I just pushed that aside and thought that I would figure it out later.

3. Location/atmosphere

Some kids want a small environment where they can know most of the kids on campus and some kids want a huge school where 100,000 people go to Saturday football games.  Think about what type of environment you want.  While baseball will consume much of your time as a college student athlete, there will be a good portion of time where the rest of college life will be very important.  Picture yourself not playing baseball.  Would you be happy at the school if you suffered an injury couldn't play baseball?

The Not so Obvious

The reason I wanted to write this article was for this final point.  Make sure you really know what the program is about.  Not just what their record was last year or who got drafted from there, but know what the coaching staff’s philosophy is.  This means that if you are a hitter who has been successful working on driving the ball in the air and trying to work on an incline path to the ball, make sure you don't go to a school where the coach is advocating hitting the ball on the ground and chopping down on the ball.  If you are a pitcher and you know that weight training has helped you increase velocity, don't go to a school where the coach doesn't think pitcher should lift.  I have had many players who fight for four years against stubborn, misinformed coaching staffs and it can make for a very frustrated player.

The best way to learn this information is to go to camps that are held at the school and talking to players at the school.  This should give you a good idea of what the coaching staff emphasizes.

All in all, there are a lot of choices out there for players aspiring to play college baseball.  When considering your options, go through this list and ask yourself some of these tough questions to help determine which schools might be the right fit ratchet than simply choosing the most recognizable name.

The Unrealized Difference between Professional Hitters and Amateur Hitters

Last week marked the official end of the off season for all of my professional hitters with the independent minor leaguers leaving for spring training.  I have spent a good deal of time noticing differences between my amateur hitters and my professional hitters this off season.  While there certainly are physical differences between them, the biggest difference I have noticed is in the mental and emotional side of the game.

One of my favorite days since opening Elite Diamond Performance was the "Night with the Pros."  We invited the younger players to come hit alongside all of the pro players that train here.  In addition, we had an extremely informative and valuable question and answer session.  Interestingly enough, the talk of mechanics never came up.  Overwhelmingly, the topic of mental approach came up much more than I was expecting.  The pro guys talked about 2 very important aspects of the mental side of baseball:  Trusting the process and keeping emotions in check.

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1. Trusting the Process

Since it is their careers on the line, professional hitters tend to know their swings inside and out and know what they need to do within themselves to be successful.  These hitters understand that in training, we may spend an entire week doing boring drills or may do some things that make them uncomfortable.  They understand that every swing will not result in a great hit and they learn to take positives out of negative outcomes.  They trust what they have learned about their swings and what will ultimately make them successful.  

Amateur hitters often times want a quick fix in their swings.  They don't understand that improvements as a hitter take lots of time and lots of repetition.  They jump ship from something either because it feels uncomfortable or they don't have immediate success.  This leads to them constantly chasing a quick solution when  

2.  Controlling the emotional side of the game

One question that was asked at the Night with the Pros was how do you handle the metal grind of playing every day for an entire 100 plus game season.  The answer was that you have to take each day as a separate event. You cant dwell on the successes or failures of the previous day.  If you do, it will eat you up because of the overwhelming amount of failure you experience as a hitter. 

This was probably the best advice given during the night.  Professional hitters have a unique ability to handle the inevitable failure that comes in hitting.  This time of year I get calls, texts, and emails just about everyday from players of all ages.  When everything is going well, they sound very similar.  However, when things don't go well, there is a glaring difference in the way that players communicate that to me.

The typical amateur player or parent will tell me of a game or 2 where the player struggled.  Lets say the player went 1-4 and 0-3 in back to back games.  I will often get a panicked message about how they need to make some drastic change in their swing or how they need a new bat or some other fix.  Sometimes there is something to fix but more often than not, it is just the inevitable ups and downs of being a hitter.

On the other hand, lets say a professional player has a similar stat line in back to back games.  I will get a message pointing out the positives in those 0 for at bats.  Many times, they will state that they are seeing the ball well, swinging at good pitches, or hitting the ball hard but right at someone.  When they don't feel well at the plate, they don't panic and take a step back and try to make some small adjustment rather than over hauling everything, and this goes back to trusting the process.  

Final Point

In this article, I use the terms professional hitter and amateur hitter.  For the most part, the terms hold true to the level that a player is playing at.  However, I have many, many younger players who have a very similar mindset to the true professional players, and guess what, they are the ones who tend to be more successful over the course of the season and their careers. 

I had a younger player who told me that his teammates were getting on him for taking practice swings with an uppercut.  He looked at me and said, "Coach there are kids on my team who may be successful right now doing it a different way, but I know that this is what I have to do to be successful in the long run.  I don't want to just be a good player at my age, I want to do things the right way so that I can go as far as I can."  Even as a little leaguer, that is the mindset of a professional hitter trusting the process.  

Approach Part 2: Neutral counts

When speaking about approach, I break counts into 3 categories.  

1.  Hitters counts:  Any count with either no stirkes or more balls than strikes.  Read last weeks article on hitters counts here.

2. 2 Strike counts

and finally

3. Neutral counts

What is a neutral count?  

Simply any count that is not a hitters count or a 2 strike count.  While many of them may be slightly in favor of the pitcher or hitter, they are those middle counts (0-1, 1-1, 2-1).

What should be my approach?

There are a few things that hitters need to do in a neutral count.  

1.  Always look fastball first, adjust to anything off-speed. 

With good mechanics, it is possible to hit something slower if you are looking fastball.  However, if you are looking for something slow, it is almost impossible to catch up to a fastball.  

2.  Don't give in to the pitcher

Neutral counts mean that the pitcher generally has more options and freedom to mix pitches and locations than in hitter's counts.  However, that does not mean that we need to chase a pitch we can't put a good swing on.  We should open up the zone we are looking for compared to a hitter's count, but should not chase anything too far out of it.

3. Drive the ball back at the pitcher

Thinking about hitting the ball up the middle helps us with timing.  With pitchers having a little more say in these situations, we need to be ready for both the fastball as well as anything off speed.  If we get too pull happy in this situation, we leave ourselves open to being too early. If we think too much about driving the ball the other way, we may miss a pitch on the inner half that we can drive.  Taking the approach to hit the ball back up the middle allows for us to adjust to a wider variety of pitch speeds and locations.

 

Approach Part 1: Hitter's count

This time of year, we shift much of the focus from mechanics to approach. There is a lot to cover when talking about approach at the plate so I will be breaking this post into a few parts.  Today, I want to discuss the approach I want hitter's counts. 

What is a Hitter's Count?

A Hitter's Count is any count where the hitter has the advantage.  These counts include 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0 (with green light), 3-1 and 2-1.  Basically, any count where the hitter has no strikes or there are more balls than strikes.

Take a look at the chart below of batting averages, ON-Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage and OPS from the 2016 MLB season. 

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Lets take a look at those hitter's counts.  The highest batting average, slugging percentages,  and OPS are seen in these counts.  Aside from a full count (due to the probability of a walk) they also have the highest On-Base Percentage.  

Why are these counts so favorable?

The pitcher has to come to the hitter.  Baseball, boiled down to it's simplest parts, is the pitcher trying to get the hitter to hit his pitch and the hitter trying to get his favorite pitch.  In these hitter's counts, the pitcher has to give in a little more to the batter.  He can't try and be too fine and more often than not, will throw the pitch that they have the best control of which is usually a fastball.  

What should be our approach as a hitter in these counts?

There are two big components to the approach in a hitter's count, pitch selection and swing.

1.  Pitch Selection

Look for one pitch, in one location.  Unless you have some advanced scouting where you know a pitcher will throw a certain pitch the majority of the time in these counts, the pitch type and the location should be your favorite pitch, (the pitch you can put your best swing on).  

Split the plate into 2 halves.  Middle in, and middle away.  Choose which area you handle better.  Choose a pitch type, (most of the time should be a fastball). I would say for the majority of hitters, this will be a middle in fastball.  Sit on that pitch. Most hitter's will simply just look for that pitch and then react to it. I want hitters to take a more aggressive approach.  Expect the pitcher to throw that pitch and gear up everything you have for that pitch.  If it is there, hammer it, if it is not, out the brakes on and take the pitch.

2. Swing

Aside from the pitcher having to give in a little more to the batter in these counts, the type of swing that hitters take accounts for much of the success. Be Aggressive.  Swings in hitter's counts should be the best most aggressive swings that you take. The last thing that I or any other coach wants to see in this situation is a weak defensive swing.   

Overall

The best hitters in baseball take advantage of hitters counts because they know the pitcher has to come to them.  Sit on your favorite pitch in your favorite location.  If it is there, be aggressive and put your best swing on it.  If it is not a pitch you feel you can drive to the outfield, take the pitch. Remember, we get 3 strikes for a reason, so we don't have to give in to the pitcher in hitter's counts.

 

Snow Day Tips

Snow Day Tips

Here we are.  Another snow day in the middle of March pushing the start of everything back another week.  It is frustrating, I know, but a reality of playing and living in the northeast.  Today I wanted to offer some suggestions on how to make yourself a better player while stuck in the house. (Fort Nite is not one of them)

1. Take Swings

If you happen to have an area that is large enough to accommodate taking dry swings or hitting off of a tee then take some swings.  Make sure they have a purpose.  If you have a tee, check out my tee article and if you are taking dry swings check out my article on practice swings. Make sure you have a purpose with each swing.  Even if you pick up a bat and take 20 quality swings, you have made yourself a better player.

2. Practice movements 

Here is a picture of Joey Votto on First Base in a Spring Training game.  He doesn't even need a bat to work on his swing.  He is working solely on the movement of his body.  What do we notice about this position?  Back shoulder down, head out over home plate, front elbow up.  Check out my article on why dropping the back shoulder is so important.

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3. Watch Videos/Read articles

The wealth of information that players have at their disposal today is amazing.  Check out some of these great videos:

Joey Votto: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nxd7M4wRiuE

Josh Donaldson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyWNCrxVzPU

Or check out some of my articles Here

 

 

How to deal with a coach who wants you to swing down and hit the ball on the ground

Every season, I have hitters who work their tails off at improving their bat path to become a more successful hitter and make huge strides, only to be told that they are doing everything wrong by their coach in the spring.   I have countless conversations with young hitters asking me how they handle this situation.  I will address this later, but first I want to discuss what coaches who disagree with a hitter using an upward bath path are missing.

Baseball has been undergoing a hitting revolution over the past few years.  There seem to be 2 camps that have developed.  The old school approach and the new school approach. 

Old School Approach

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Terms used: Swing down or Level, Hit the top of the ball, Hit line drives and ground balls, keep the barrel above the ball, Knob to the ball, short swing, etc.

This is the way that hitting has been taught throughout the majority of the history of the game.  The thinking is that avoiding strikeouts, increasing contact and keeping the ball out of the air will lead to a successful offense.  

New School Approach (I use this term only to simplify the article, as the mechanics taught here are what can be seen in good swing from 100 years ago)

Terms used: Drive the ball in the air, hit line drives and fly balls, take an upward bat path, hit the middle/bottom half of the ball, don't hit the ball on the ground, take a curved path to the ball, etc.

The thought behind this school is that hitters take an upward bath path to not only increase their chances of making solid contact, but also have more of a focus on trying to drive the ball and increase extra base hits.  

This approach is starting to expand in the world of hitting.  Coaches and instructors who teach this school of thought have utilized high speed cameras, data, analytics, and other technologies to show that hitters don't do what has been commonly taught. 

I have written a bunch of articles on all of this, but will give a quick synopsis.

Here are 2 videos, one of Jose Altuve hitting a HR and one of Greg Bird hitting a scorched line drive. Watch their bath path closely.  Notice how the barrel gets under the ball and works up to contact.  These are just 2 examples, and is what you will se in just about every good hitter at any level. 

This "New School approach" was even advocated for by Ted Williams in the 1970s.  Somehow, even when perhaps the greatest hitter of all time flies in the face of conventional wisdom at the time, people won't agree.

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Why if it is so clear what good hitters do, do coaches still advocate for the old school approach?

Even though Ted Williams advocated for taking an upward bat path over 40 years ago, this "new school approach"  has really only become popular over the past decade or so.  Why is this important?  Coaches start their coaching careers often times right after the end of their playing careers.  Most coaches have, at a minimum, played through the end of high school with many playing in college and possibly professionally.  This means that most coaches have been around baseball for somewhere between 12-20+ years before they get into coaching.  If we go back 12-25 years, we have to recognize that the "Old school approach" dominated hitting.  Why?  We didn't have the technology or data that we have today that proves that hitters don't swing down.  When most coaches enter coaching, they have been engrained with this thinking for much of their lives.  Try believing something for that long and changing your mind.  Not easy to do.

With all of that being said, I do think that the "New School Approach"  can be taken too far.  A wave of power has swept over the Major leagues over the past few seasons, with home run totals jumping back up due at least in part to hitters trying to elevate the ball. So what is the problem with this?  Many young hitters do not have the size or strength to hit the ball over the fence that these Major League hitters do, so getting these extremes in positive launch angles will not translate into a ton of success.  

So what are these coaches missing?

Coaches who still teach the "Old School Approach" believe that all fly balls are created by hitters swinging up too much and that line drives are created through a level or downward swing. Fly Balls are created by the bat hitting the bottom of the baseball, often times from a bat path that is working too down or completely level.  The whole point of an upward bath path is the increase contact area with the baseball and create line drives.  This is what successful hitters at any level do. 

What can we agree on?  

I think that finding common ground is the key to being able to weather a storm from a coach who teaches a style of hitting that has never really worked in the game.  What can we all agree on?  The main goal of any hitter is to create as many line drives as possible.  Take a look at the chart below.  This shows that batting average is highest between the launch angles of 10-25, aka line drives.  

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How to deal with a coach who teaches the "Old School Approach"

1. Don't tell him that he is wrong. 

Josh Donaldson gave the advice to young hitter to say no to a coach who tells you to hit the ball on the ground.  While I agree with his premise, never tell your coach that he is wrong.  For one, this is the easiest way to find yourself on the bench.  secondly, like I stated earlier, you are not going to change his mind.  I have sat down with coaches and given them all of the evidence in the world and they still refuse to buy in.

2. Find common ground.

If you know your coach teaches the "Old School Approach" and he approaches you about your swing, simply tell him that you are not trying to create fly balls but rather your aim is to create line drives.  This is something that he cannot argue with.  As much as I advocate for fly balls (to a point) being superior to ground balls, hard ground balls still trump weak fly balls to the infield.  

3. Stay the course

Most coaches who teach the "Old School Approach" don't have a tremendous eye for hitting mechanics.  I have seen it time and again where a coach will tell a hitter to swing down, the hitter takes their normal swing (upward bath path), hits a double to the gap and the coach applauds the hitter for doing what he told him to do.  Don't overhaul the mechanics that you know work because often times these coaches will not really be able to differentiate between what you are doing versus what they are telling you to do.  They will only see results and taking an upward path will lead to results.  

Takeaways from Joey Votto interview

It seems like every year there is one interview that runs on MLB Network that sparks new conversation in hitting.  There was the Josh Donaldson interview where he tells young hitters to say no if their coach tells them to hit the ball on the ground, the Nolan Arenado interview where he states that he doesn't want to hit the ball to the middle of the field because that where the best athletes are and this year the most talked about interview has been this Joey Votto interview.  

Joey Votto is, in my opinion the most underrated hitter in the game today.  This interview has a ton of great takeaways.

1. Launch angle is important but doesn't tell the whole story

Votto states that while Donaldson is correct in not trying to hit the ball on the ground, just trying to drive the ball in the air may not be the best approach for alot of hitters.  

I agree, and this is why the first thing I tell hitters is that our goal is to hit line drives.  After all the major league average on line drives is over .700 and is below .215 for both fly balls and ground balls.  Nothing novel here, but what he doesn't touch on is how to hit line drives.  The reason that I advocate for players to try and hit the ball in the air to is create line drives.  Most hitters stay too flat with their bat path and using the mindset to drive the ball in the air can help create a path that produces more line drives.  Check out my article on what happens when I have Hit Trax HR Derbies here.

2. Look for positives in non productive at bats

Votto states that one season his best game was an 0-6 day against the Cubs.  He felt like even though he was getting out, he was striking the ball well and that it was only a matter of time before the ball started falling.  This is a huge takeaway for younger hitters.  Often times we get very hung up on how each at bat effects our batting average.  Look for positives in each at bat even if it results in an out.

3. Treat each at bat as a separate event

Joey Votto has one of the highest first inning batting averages in the history of the game. However, if hes not successful in his first at bat, he doesn't let that carry over into his next at bat.  This can be a very hard thing to do but is something that high level hitters have the ability to do.  Often times if we get out in the first at bat, we press in the next at bat and get away from our game plan at the plate.

4. Let the ball be your guide

The most important thing that we can do as a hitter is hit the ball hard, consistently.  Hard line drives are what successful hitters get more often than lower level hitters.  If a mechanical adjustment helps you do that then stick with it.  If you are not squaring the ball up and hitting hard line drives, make an adjustment.  Let the ball off the bat lead you to the adjustments you have to make.

 

Guide to Successful High School Tryouts

Guide to Successful High School Tryouts

The first Friday in March was always better than any holiday.  In New Jersey, the first Friday in March marks the first day of high school baseball practice.  Depending on your grade and level played at last year, there are numerous emotions. The varsity player from last year is excited to get back and chomping at the bit the top last season.  The Sophomore who played Freshmen ball last year is hoping to prove himself to make it to the Varsity level and the freshman is hoping to make the team.  Excitement and nerves will be felt by most players as they go into tryouts.  Today I wanted to offer some tips for the players who are hoping to make the team or make it to the next level.  Often times High school tryouts last for only 2-3 days so these tips can go a long way in making an impression on a High School Coach.

1. Hustle

It sounds obvious, but hustling is something that most players don't do.  Make it known to the coaches that you want to be there and are passionate about making the team.  One of the quickest ways to get a coach down on you is to lack hustle, get easily upset, throw equipment, etc.  Handle practice like a professional.

2. Take the right approach in batting practice

Depending on the number of players on the team and the number of tryout days, a hitter may only have the ability to take a limited number of swings under the watch of the coaching staff. There should be only one thought in the mind of the hitter: Get the right pitch.  If it is a regular BP round, look for a no strike pitch.  All of the mechanical adjustments in the world can't do much if pitch selections is poor.  In fact, some of the best rounds of BP often come not as a result of significant mechanical changes, but from better pitch selection.  Give yourself the best oppritunity to drive the ball by getting a pitch that will allow you to do that.

3. Prepare your body

To put yourself in the best position to play well, you have to get your body ready. Sleep and diet are the top 2 things that you can do in the upcoming week. 

Sleep-  Get a good night sleep starting tonight, not just the night before tryouts.  You don't want to be fatigued going into the first day of practice.  If your team has an AM practice, get your body used to the earlier wake up time by going to bed earlier and waking up at the early time a few days before the first practice.  (I'm not a big fan of 5:30 am practice, but many schools have them and if your coach wants to have them you have no choice.)

Nutrition- Eat well and drink lots of fluids.  Many schools have conditioning as a major part of tryouts to see who has been working in the off-season.  Even if you have worked your butt off, poor nutrition and hydration can make it appear as though you haven't.  Wake up and drink a glass of water, have breakfast, make sure that you are fueling your body so that you can be at your best.

4. Relax and Control only what you can conrol

Remember, baseball is a game of failure.  Chances are, you will take at least one bad swing in BP, miss a ground ball or make an overthrow at some point during tryouts.  It happens....to everyone.  Forget about it and move on.  Don't let a single mistake dictate the rest of the tryout.

When you are competing for a spot on the team, there will be competition.  Don't worry about the other player you are competing with.  If they do something spectacular, don't try and one up them and get outside of yourself.  Control only what you have control over: yourself.

Summary

Tryouts can be both exciting and stressful.  An off season worth of training often comes down to just a few days to impress a coach.  Prepare the right way, stay within yourself and have fun!

 

Night With the Pros Recap

Last Tuesday marked the first "Night with the Pros" at Elite Diamond Performance.  This event was one of the goals that I had envisioned when I opened up the facility.  I wanted to give my younger players the opportunity to interact with these amazing athletes and baseball players.  I had an amazing night and want to thank all of the parents, players, and coaches for joining in the evening. 

The event began with the professional players shadowing live at bats off of Mike Wallace, a pitcher in the Pirate minor league system.  The hitters then put on a show in batting practice for the younger guys, launching balls over the fence at Yankee Stadium on the Hit Trax.  Following BP, came the highlight of the night for me, the Question and Answer section.  The professional players took questions from players and parents and I would like to share some of the highlights.

Ty Benson (Padres), Nick Egnatuk (Brewers), Kevin Mahala (Pirates), Derek Jenkins (Angels), Mike Wallace (Pirates) and Ryan Rinsky (Florence Freedom), all shared valuable insights into how they got to the professional ranks and what it takes to get there.

College Recruiting:

We had a mix of high school draft picks, players who signed before they graduated college, and players who finished college.  However, they all went through the college recruiting process and shared 2 very valuable pieces of advice for the aspiring college players.    

1. Don't give up when a coach tells you that you are not good enough for their program

All of the professional players had similar stories of coaches who had no interest in them or simply told them that they weren't good enough.  Think about that.  The vast majority of players who play college baseball professionally, and all of these pro players were told by someone that they were not good enough.  Use that as fuel to get better!

2. Stand out with the way that you communicate

In today's world, college coaches are more accessible than ever, but players often struggle to communicate in a way that help coaches remember who they are.  Coaches are constantly bombarded by impersonal emails and text messages.  When leaving a camp or showcase, introduce yourself and shake the coaches hand.  It may help them remember you when the time comes to offer a spot.  Follow up the meeting with a hand written letter.  In 2018, that will definitely stand out.

3. Act like a professional

Hustle on and off the field.  Don't throw your equipment.  Run out everything.  Be a good teammate.  It sounds cliche but play like you are being scouted at every game.  You never know who is watching.  After working with these players, they all act like professionals.  They all show up on time, work hard, don't get down on themselves when they struggle and help each other out. College coaches want not only good talent, but good people for their teams.  One of the quickest ways to have a coach lose interest is to act like a jerk.

4. Every player develops at a different rate

With the exception of Nick Egnatuk who got drafted out of High School, none of the other pro guys were on anyone's draft radar in high school.  None of them committed to college as freshmen or sophomores.  They were all later developing kids.  In today's world of 8th graders and freshmen being offered by the Vanderbilt's and Florida's of the world, you have to keep in mind that every player develops differently.  Some players who develop and mature early, may be offered more early on, but it is still very much a possibility to advance far in this game if your personal development is later.  

Hitting:

1. The metal side of hitting is huge

There was a little talk of mechanics, but the main thing that the pro guys kept going back to was handling the metal side of hitting.  With such long seasons, they have to be able to navigate the roller coaster that is hitting.  They all talked about not allowing the previous at bat or game effect the upcoming ones.  They train for this when they are working at the facility.  They get excited when they hit 100 mph exit velocity or crush a ball over the fence, and get upset when they struggle, but they have a unique ability to not get too high or too low.  They are purely focused on the next swing and what they have to do to get the best result.  Baseball is filled with failure, especially as a hitter.  Learning to deal with that and work through it is a key to advancing.  

2.  Having an approach at the plate is key

Each hitter talked a little about the way that they approach at bats.  While they varied slightly, they all touched on the concept of having a plan.  Far too often, young hitters have no plan when stepping in the box.  Most of these guys are zoned in on their pitch with the count in their favor and are looking to do damage.  From there, they adjust based on the count, situation, pitcher, etc. 

"I'm a Jersey boy just like you guys"

Angels outfielder Derek Jenkins said it best to the kids when he told them that he was once in the same exact spot that they are in.  These guys are all New Jersey born and raised who were not standouts until later in their careers.  They are all getting paid to play baseball.  Work hard, never give up and good things will happen.

 

The Importance of Spine Angle in creating a powerful, consistent swing

Just about everything is developing a powerful, consistent swing path begins with body position.  If the body is not where it needs to be, you can do whatever you want with your hands and the swing won't fall in place.  Today I want to discuss the importance of spine angle, that is the position of the upper body from a side view from the beginning of the swing through contact.

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What should the spine angle look like?

Notice how each one of these hitters is slightly leaned back with their upper body.

The degree to which they lean back is dependent on each hitter.  Look at the picture below.  Both hitters have some lean back, but Chris Davis is leaned back much more than Ichiro Suzuki.   Why?  It all has to do with the type of hitter they are.  

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Every successful hitter uppercuts and has an upward path to their swing.  The degree to which they move the bat up varies slightly from hitter to hitter.  Chris Davis is one of the most prominent power hitters in the game and makes his living by hitting the ball over the fence.  Therefore, he works up more to the ball than most hitters.  Ichiro on the other hand has made a hall of fame career by hitting line drives.  His bat path, while still very much working up, is designed more to slapping singles all over the field. 

I use these two hitters to showcase the 2 ends of the body position spectrum.  Most hitters are not as big and strong as Chris Davis and cannot launch balls at a 45 degree launch angle over the fence.  Likewise, most hitters do not possess the bat control and speed that Ichiro does to almost begin running out of the box as he makes contact.  Just about every hitter should fall somewhere between these two when it comes to the amount that they are leaned back.

Why is leaning back important?

If you look at the Chris Davis and Ichiro pictures, you should notice that the bat path (yellow line) is perpendicular to the spine angle (blue line).  This simply means that the most powerful, efficient bat path a hitter can produce should match the spine angle.  Chris Davis swings at a steeper angle because he leans back more, and Ichiro is less upward because his spine angle is a little straighter.  Why do young hitters tend to swing level or down?  Because with an upper body that is leaned forward (Lunging), the most efficient path is down.  

Without the upper body leaned back, a hitter cannot create a powerful upward bath path that is essential to being a successful hitter.

Drill to work on spine angle

This drill is one of my favorites for helping players feel their spine angles.  Align the tee up in the center of the body instead of out front.  Try to and drive the ball in the air.  This will force the upper body to stay back and not get out front.

How to use the Tee

Perhaps the most commonly used piece of hitting equipment is the batting tee.  I use it for almost every lesson that I do.  However, I have a love/hate relationship with the batting tee.  Let me explain.

Why do I love the tee?

The tee is an awesome implement when working on certain mechanical issues.  The tee allows hitters to really focus and break things down in their swing.  Most of the swings that I have hitters take off of the tee are sub max effort swings where they are trying to exaggerate certain mechanical changes we are trying to get into their swing.  Often times, these muscle memory changes can only occur in a controlled environment such as hitting off of a tee.

Why do I hate the tee?

While the tee can help hitters gain feel in their swing and allow hitters to slow things down, often times hitters change their swings when working on the tee.  I see hitters change their bat path, get too pushy with their hands, and become out of sync with coordinating their body.  Hitters can take a bad swing off of the tee in a cage and the result may look nice, but would not translate to a good swing in a game setting.  In addition, I see far too many ground balls off of the tee due to changes in bath path.  

What should hitters try to do when they are working on the tee?

Hitters are often told to try and hit line drives to the back of the cage.  While not the worst advice given to hitters, hitters should aim to drive the ball to the top of the cage.  Why?

The biggest mechanical issue that I work on with hitters is creating more upward bat path in their swings to match the plane of the incoming pitch.  The reason for this is that this upward path meeting the downward plane of the ball will increase the chances of producing line drives.  Off of the tee, the ball is not moving, it is stationary.  Therefore, if a hitter takes a proper upward bat path, the ball should be more elevated than it would be in a game.  When a hitter creates line drives to the back of the cage, the bat path is often too flat.

2 of my Favorite Tee Drills

I have numerous drills that I work on with players off of the tee based on what their specific needs are.  However, these 2 drills are ones that I use most often with hitters to create a good bat path.

1. Bat under stick

Have a coach hold a long plastic stick about a foot behind the baseball at the same height as the ball and have the hitter swing under the stick to hit the ball.  This will recreate the proper bat path.  

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2. Double tee Drill

- Set up 2 tees about 1-2 feet apart/back tee should be about 3-6 inches lower than front tee.  Have hitter try and hit both balls to create an optimal bat path

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- Set up 2 tees about 1-2 feet apart/back tee should be about 3-6 inches lower than front tee to create an upward bat path

 

 

 

 

Maintaining Tilt during the Swing

 Body position is paramount when talking about hitting mechanics.  We can discuss all sorts of details, but if the body is not positioned correctly, nothing else will fall in place.

When talking about tilt, we are talking about the way that the body is positioned when looking at a hitter from the pitchers perspective.  

What should this position look like?

One of the biggest mechanical changes I try to make in a player's swing is to get them to drop their back shoulder.  You can check out that article here.  As important as getting the back shoulder down is maintaining it throughout the swing.  At contact, a hitter should look something like this:

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The biggest components of this position are maintaining the back shoulder down, having the head out in front of the feet, and the bend in the side of the body closest to home plate.

In addition, plane of the bat should match the plane of the shoulders.  Like this:

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Why is this important?

Keeping the back shoulder down and keeping the upper body tilted over home plate allows for 2 major components of successful hitting:  Proper bat path and generation of bat speed.  

Proper bat path:

Keeping this tilt throughout the swing allows the batter to get the bat underneath the baseball and work up through the hitting zone.  The bat and hands should be moving up through contact. Like this:

When a hitter cannot get to this position or fails to maintain it through contact the hitter tends to work down or level through contact.  This decreases the hitter's chance of making good contact and decreases their ability to hit line drives or driven fly balls. 

Power:

One of the biggest components of generating power in a swing is the hitter's ability to stay connected.  This means that they are able to keep their hands connected to their back shoulder for as long as possible to allow the bigger stronger muscles in the body to create power.     

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If the hands have to disconnect from the body too soon, bat speed will be reduced and power will drop.

How do we work on this?

Here is one of my favorite new drills for getting players to feel this position and maintain it.  

 

Coaching points:

1. Start in launch position (Athletic position, hips back, chest leaned forward) with head on pole.

2. Slowly rotate until the knob of the bat faces the pitcher, keeping the head on the pole with back shoulder down.

 

 

Home Run Derbies

This past week, hitting games on the hit trax were held each day at Elite Diamond Performance.  Each game was intended to both be enjoyable and improve each player's hitting ability.  One of the days was centered around a Home Run Derby.  Obviously enjoyable, how would that improve a hitters ability?  Interestingly enough, some of the best swings of the week came during the derby.

Home Run Derbies often hold a negative connotation.  People often think that players that participate in the Major League Home Run Derby ruin their swings for the second half of the year due to the contest.  However, there is no evidence that this is true.  Check out my article with the statistics here.

So, why did the Home Run Derby showcase some of the best swings of the week? Bat path.  Bat path is perhaps the biggest thing that I work on with young players.  Successful hitters at all ages swing up through the hitting zone.  Like this:

However, most young players don't have this type of bat path.  Most young players work down or level through the hitting zone.  During the home run derby, what did I observe?  Higher Line Drive percentages and fewer weak fly balls.

When given the goal to try and hit the ball over the fence, players often go from swinging down or level to working up through the zone.  This upward bat path is vital to hitting line drives.

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While the players were getting frustrated because the ball wasn't going over the fence, I was elated that they were hitting hard line drives.  After all, the goal of everything that I teach my hitters and every cue that I give to hitters is to increase their line drive percentage.  

Mental approach to batting practice

This time of year, batting practice and instructional time at Elite Diamond Performance is centered around mechanical changes in the swing.  We are still a few months away from stepping on the field and it is the perfect time to attack any mechanical flaws that may be present in a player's swing.  However, the way in which we approach a session mentally can have a profound impact on the way that those mechanical changes take hold.  There are 3 main things that a hitter must keep in mind when working in the cage.

1. Focusing on 1 thing at a time

One of the hardest things for a hitter to do is to focus on 1 mechanical change at a time.  Every hitter, tee ball through my pro guys all have more than 1 mechanical flaw in their swing they need to address.  However, a swing happens so fast that trying to change more than 1 things at a time seldom works.  For example, if a hitter needs to work on avoiding lunging, focusing on the weight shift in addition to focusing on the bat path will often result in neither getting fixed.  Focus on the most important flaw then proceed.

2. Trusting the process

Mechanical changes take time.  Muscle memory is a powerful tool that is often times not easily manipulated.  The body remembers patterns and swinging a bat is a complex pattern that needs time to mold.  

Perhaps the biggest attribute that my most successful hitters possess is patience.  When I introduce something new, they trust that it will take time for it to feel comfortable but they know in the end it will benefit their swing.  The players who take a few swings with something new and feel uncomfortable and ditch the new pattern will struggle with seeing improvement.  I always tell my hitters that swinging a baseball bat is not a natural pattern that we were born with.  It is something that has to be learned.  However, that doesn't mean that the way our body does it right now is the best way.  Often times what feels comfortable now is not the best and most efficient way to do it.  Allowing the body to feel uncomfortable in the beginning is how we make ourselves better. 

3. Have a plan

Perhaps the biggest lesson that I learned in my short professional career was to always have a plan in batting practice.  Always be working on something.  In professional baseball, most hitters can routinely hit the ball over the fence.  However, not every round consisted of HR Derby swings.  They took rounds where they drove line drives the other way, treated BP like 2 strike counts, and so on. 

I tell all my hitters to always have a plan.  I often times see hitters just get in and swing at everything.  Besides the obvious aspect of this approach translating to the game, this swing at anything approach can impact our ability to see mechanical changes.  If we are working on trying to drive the ball to the outfield, swinging at low outside pitches may not be the best pitches to swing at.  There are countless examples of this, but unless we are working specifically on 2 strike approach or driving the ball the other way, I will tell my hitters to treat batting practice like a no strike count.  This will force them to focus on getting their best pitch and allowing them to put their best swing on it.

Conclusion

When working on mechanics, the way that we approach batting practice is vital.  We need to only focus on 1 issue at a time.  Choose the most important flaw and attack that.  Focusing on more than that often leads to nothing getting fixed.  When attacking the flaw, trust the process and understand that changes take time and that your first few swings may not be the most comfortable.  Finally, always have a plan when it comes to pitch selection so that more quality swings can be taken in a session.