I’ve been studying hitting styles, philosophies, and movements more in-depth for about the past 5 years. With the advancement of technology and the availability of information such as exit velocity, bat speed, launch angles, ground ball rates, fly ball rates, and so much more, hitting has data that explains more than a simple eye test. Data provides the “why” behind some of the greatest swings in the game and gives us the ability to uniquely expand a hitter’s strengths and improve upon their weaknesses. Using measurable data serves as an evaluation tool for an athlete's training methods.
My style of teaching has evolved, especially over the last few years, with the advancement of technology like Diamond Kinetics and information available from sites like Fangraphs. During the summer of 2017, I decided to examine the batted-ball events of my team, the Edgewater Pirates, over the course of a five-week summer season in the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate League. The MACL is a collegiate summer league on the coast of Virginia for baseball players from across all levels of collegiate competition.
Of course, these players all come in with various swing styles, mechanics, and hitting philosophies related to their respective collegiate programs and playing backgrounds. Over the 5 week summer, player development and quality repetition was the main focus.
The MACL does a great job of providing players with the opportunity to develop over the summer through sports performance and weight training. We played six days a week, usually in the evenings, and had daily skill development sessions at a first-class indoor facility, the Norfolk Baseball Academy.
In our hitting sessions, I introduced weighted bats and a few drills to help players feel proper bat path, getting the barrel behind the ball early, and maximizing time in the hitting zone, ideally resulting in hard barrels over the infield. We used a simple hitting device for overloading bats, a 5oz hitting jack-it.
In previous studies conducted by others, overload and underload training at +- 20% of game bat weight resulted in positive increases in bat-speed and exit velocity. The 5oz hitting jack-it allowed each player to overload their bat and take batting practice reps through traditional BP, front-toss, and tee drills. In a typical day, we would hit for about an hour. Players would hit in sets of 5 in the following format: overload 5, regular 5, and overload 5 for a total of 15 swings (10 overload and 5 regular). In a typical day, players hit 100 overload swings and 50 regular swings.
Top of the Cage
Our hitting work consisted of traditional BP, front-toss, and tee work. Hitters were not required to do anything particularly, but free to work on what they felt they needed. Our only real standard was to try and barrel the ball with intent to do damage over the infield. Front-toss from about 15 feet away meant to crush the top of the cage -- a low liner was an accident and a ground ball was a mistake. We would make challenges out of it by creating a point system and adding location criteria, such as hard over CF, hard over RF, and hard over LF.
Summer Results -- Inside the Numbers
We had a pretty good summer season, winning the regular season crown with a 15-7 record and pacing a nine-game winning streak at one point. We would eventually end our summer in the semi-finals of the tournament to a pretty good team that eventually won the championship.
Table 1 - 2017 Edgewater Pirates Offensive Batted-Ball Events Summary
In Table 1, players A-H (the ground ball group) had batted-ball events that resulted in a ground ball more than 40% of the time. Players I-P (hit it in the air group) had batted-ball events that resulted in a ground ball less than 40% of the time.
As you can see, the “ground ball group” hit .240 with a slugging percentage of merely .294 and had an overall ground ball rate of 53%.
The “hit it in the air group” hit .301 with a slugging percentage of .510 and an overall ground ball rate of only 31%. We had 21 home runs as a team and 20 of them came from this group. This group also had nearly 2x as many hits and over 2x the number of doubles.
Over the course of our season, we hit safely on approximately 58% of our batted balls in the air. Over 60% of those hits were for extra bases. We hit safely approximately 30% of the time on ground balls. We reached on error approximately 12% of the time.
Inside the playoffs
In the semifinals we had 27 batted-ball events total, 20 in the air and 7 on the ground. We had 9 hits in the game. We hit successfully in 8 of the 20 balls we hit in the air with 5 of those hits falling for extra bases, including 2 home runs. We hit a .400 average on batted balls in the air and 63% of those hits went for extra bases.
On the other hand, our ground ball rate of success was only 1 of 7, a 14% success rate. The 1 hit that landed safely was a single through the left side of the infield.
Summary and Conclusions
After tracking batted-ball events through the course of our 5 week summer season, the data supports our team had greater success when we hit the ball in the air. We had increased batting average, and increased slugging percentage, resulting in more extra-base hits and more runs scored. Hitting the ball in the air does not guarantee success. Hitting the ball on the ground does not guarantee an out. However, hitting the ball hard in the air provides the greatest chance to do damage and I will continue to train hitters to swing with intent and put some holes in the top of the cage.