The Value of Being a Data-Driven Program – Part 2

In Ryan's final post of Season 2 on the blog, he will be following up on a previous post on the significance data can have on your team. In doing so he provides you with framework for how to implement all sorts of new techniques for your hitter's into your practices and games.

What’s up SS Crew! I’m back with my last blog for Season 2 and with that, I will be wrapping up this two-part series on the value of being a data-driven program. In Part 1 of this blog, I talked about some of the ways to leverage different sources of data throughout the Fall baseball season in order to provide a clear path of development that focused mainly on the pitching side of things. In Part 2, we will turn the page and offer a plan to effectively develop the hitters on your team by utilizing the information available from the same tracking technologies I mentioned in Part 1 along with others that I think have a ton of value.

Pitcher’s get to decide what they throw, where they throw it to, & how hard they throw it, while a hitter has the responsibility of figuring out what pitch it is, where it is going to end up, and ultimately if he is going to swing at it or not. Among other contributing factors, this makes the skill of hitting incredibly difficult. It’s crazy to think that someone who is successful 3/10 times at anything in life can be considered above average at what they do.

We are going to approach this post in a very similar manner to Part 1, in that we will frame our development phase around the Fall collegiate season knowing this system can be applied throughout any time of year.

Assessing Your Hitters

Like your pitchers, it is important to assess your hitters as they return from their Summer. Whether they were playing summer ball or training at a private facility, it is important to gather as much information as possible from their performance while you were not able to train them yourself. Information such as summer ball statistics that provide a summary on how they performed or a private facility’s report detailing overall improvements in areas like bat speed or overall strength provides a great amount of context about their Summer.

Assessing a hitter’s movement limitations/restrictions can also be beneficial in understanding if they are capable of making the swing changes you want throughout the Fall. For example, if a hitter is dealing with a hip mobility issue, the drills you’re asking him to do may have no benefit due to his inability to get in certain positions. In saying this, some areas of interest I would assess would be: hip and thoracic spine mobility as well as the ability to disassociate the pelvis from the shoulders. If you don’t have a structured assessment, reaching out to your athletic trainer to see what they think would be good to know when it comes to a hitter’s movement capabilities is a good place to start.

A trait I quickly realized was important to being a good hitter in my time in Iowa was a hitter’s vision. Even though a hitter may have a good swing, if they are unable to detect the pitch type or have poor depth perception as the pitch travels to home plate, they may be making poor decisions based on what their eyes are telling them. Measuring and assessing a hitter’s vision is extremely important and is something we did early in the Fall at Iowa. If you’re interested in learning more about vision testing, here’s a link to a video of my Head Coach at Iowa explaining what you can do to get your hitter’s vision tested. The link is only accessible to active ABCA members so if you are not a current member, the two pictures below provide some contact information Coach Heller mentions in his presentation.

As we assess a hitter’s swing, we can utilize a number of different tracking devices to gather as much information as possible. Starting with the Blast Motion bat sensor. This sensor tracks a number of different metrics that can help a coach breakdown a hitter’s swing better than just the ‘eye test’. We won’t go into detail about all the metrics to assess in this post, but the link provided does a great job of breaking down what the different metrics are telling you and certain drills to have a better swing. One metric that has a strong correlation to hitting the ball hard is Bat Speed. By definition, Bat Speed is the peak velocity the sweet spot of the barrel is traveling at the point of impact. By assessing Bat Speed we can understand how hard the hitter is able to hit the ball on any given pitch. After collecting data throughout the Fall, we can see what improvements the hitter makes and if Bat Speed is something we should focus on during the offseason. My advice when evaluating metrics is to understand each metric in context of one another and how certain metrics influence others.

Last but not least, it is important to understand what the hitter excels at on the field. Does he hit for power? Is he hitting balls that have a high probability of being an extra base hit? Is he making solid contact a certain percentage of the time? All of these questions can be answered by a combination of batted ball metrics. Whether it be Trackman, Rapsodo, Yakkertech, or any other ball flight tracking device, we can better understand how the ball is coming off the bat by the data they give us. A couple questions I would want to know that help would help me better understand the type of contact a hitter is making are:

- What percentage of the time is he hitting the ball hard, (Exit Velocity = 95 < )?

- At what angle is the ball coming off his bat the majority of the time (Launch Angle Distribution)?

- Is he making solid contact at a specific percentage (Batted Ball Spin Rate)?

There are several other factors at play when assessing a hitter to ensure you are capturing everything you need to know when it comes time to evaluate their performance over time. With that, it’s important to remember that it might take a larger sample size to assess other aspects of hitting such as performance in different counts or situations or the ability to hit in different parts of the zone.

Feedback Loop Timeline

In my opinion, it is important to let a hitter adjust and go through the Fall competition phase without a ton of coaching to change his swing. There may be glaring issues that can be addressed but letting a hitter find different solutions to the pitching he is seeing may allow him to become more self-aware of his swing. In the meantime, it is our responsibility to be collecting data from Trackman, Blast Motion, & HitTrax so we are able to understand what his roadmap is going to look like in the development phase following the Fall. As you collect data, trends may appear which can inform the coach about what information to give to the hitter as he continues to progress.

For example, you may see a hitter’s bat speed improve over the course of the Fall, but after analyzing his batted ball spin rate, you notice a decline in his ability to make solid contact. Knowing this, a coach can now program certain drills to work on the type of contact he is making.

How It All Comes Together

Hitting is an incredibly tough skill and to make it harder, we now have pitchers in the game who are throwing nasty pitches harder than they ever have. The idea behind collecting and leveraging data to enhance player development is to eliminate as much guesswork as possible and to expedite the process as a whole. By having more information about our players, we are able to better understand what kind of players we are working with and how to plan their development accordingly.

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