I want to begin by saying I’m a big believer in using analytics to improve hitting performance. I rely on my Swing Speed Radar and bat sensors to measure critical components of the swing sequence. However, a trend that concerns me is the current “Analytics Arms Race” that is dominating hitting conversations at every level of softball and baseball. My challenge to all hitting coaches is to make BIG hitting DATA small. I’ll explain.
In the Customer Relationship Management class I teach to MBA candidates, we study how Big Data is gathered, analyzed and ultimately used or goes unused. The term Big Data is not new. Since the invention of the computer, the question in boardrooms around the world has been, “What do we do with all this data?” The answer is often illusive, even in today’s highly connected world.
One of the pitfalls of Big Data in business is the wealth of information gathered about customers can mask the need for the execution of a cohesive strategic marketing plan or critical customer engagement initiatives. As consumers, data is being gathered about us at an alarming rate. Our consumer preferences are now part of a detailed public profile, accessible to almost anyone. The most successful companies know what to do with this gold mine of information. They use it to build relationships and overcome obstacles. The same can be said of the most effective hitting coaches.
Gathering basic hitting data like bat speed, hand speed, the time it takes to make impact with the ball after initiating the swing, the angle of the swing before and after impact, and other metrics are all valuable data points. But, they should never replace a thoughtful strategic hitting plan.
Hitting coaches can now measure and analyze a seemingly endless amount of data. This information can be mined through an assortment of devices and tools, ranging from simple handheld devices to sophisticated interactive video technologies. Unfortunately, like companies who don’t quite know what to do with customer data, some hitting coaches are missing or intentionally neglecting an important step in the instructional process.
Making big hitting data small means using hitting analytics to implement specific adjustments to the mechanics of a hitter.
I recently watched a hitting instructor at a local batting cage measure the “spin rate and direction” of the ball off the bat of a softball hitter. The data from the swing of the hitter indicated too much side spin. I asked the coach what he was going to do with this information. I was pleased with his response.
He said, “I’ll focus on making sure the back elbow stops collapsing into her body, which causes her to push the bat toward the ball at an angle that results in a weak fly ball to the opposite field.” This smart young hitting instructor made the “red flag” he noticed in the swing data very small. With laser focus, he made a specific adjustment to her swing, which turned out to be the perfect remedy for her inconsistency.
I use swing analytics as both a diagnostic tool like this coach and a progress report for continual improvement. It starts by setting desired ranges for each data point, measuring the baseline numbers for each hitter, and then working on specific hitting keys to achieve optimal performance.
It’s important to always maintain primary focus on the hitting plan and use analytics to confirm the effectiveness of the plan over a period of time.
Here are the metrics of two swings by one of my college freshman hitters, measured twenty-one days apart. The low end of the desired ranges I set for this hitter were fairly modest due to the fact she is one of the smaller hitters on the team. To achieve a “green” reading, she merely needed bat speed of at least 60 mph, hand speed of at least 20 mph, time to impact of less than two tenths of a second, bat vertical angle between negative 5 to 20 degrees, and attack angle of at least positive 5 degrees.
Based on her initial swing metrics, we developed a hitting plan to improve every category by the end of fall practices. The numeric objectives we agreed to shoot for included, bat speed (not exit speed) over 70 mph, hand speed over 25 mph, and time to impact below .160.
To make the data as small as possible, she and I initially focused on the most critical hitting key for me, which is the position of her hands as the swing is initiated. During the baseline assessment, I observed her hands were too close to her body and head. After moving her hands back toward the catcher just a few inches, I re-measured her metrics. This simple adjustment resulted immediately in higher bat speed and hand speed, while lowering her time to impact. It was important for us to confirm the improvement by taking this new “snapshot” of her key data points. She was well on her way to achieving impressive metrics in all categories by the last day of the fall.
It is important for hitting coaches to be accountable for the hitting keys we teach. Any time I suggest a swing change, it MUST be accompanied by an improvement in one or more data categories. This not only makes Big Data as small as possible, it forces me to continually look for new ways to improve the performance of my hitters.
When my hitters fail at the plate or don’t improve, my attitude is it’s my fault, not theirs.
Making big hitting data small can also be fun! It never gets old for me when a hitter makes an adjustment I propose and the measured improvement is dramatic. One of my fondest recent memories happened in the Dominican Republic. During my third trip to this softball and baseball paradise, I was blessed to be able to work with a group of softball players, several of whom were candidates for the Dominican Republic National Softball Team.
At the beginning of the hitting clinic, I measured the bat speeds of each hitter. Based on my observations of their swings while they were warming up, I wasn’t surprised by their initial bat speeds that ranged from the mid-50s to the low 60s. For the next ninety minutes, they practiced the simple hitting keys I demonstrated for them. At the end of the clinic, I asked them if they wanted to measure the results. Of course they were eager to see if their bat speeds had improved.
The first hitter, who was very talented and a member of the Dominican Junior National Softball Team, stepped up to the radar and made three swings. When she saw her bat speed had increased by an average of 8-10 mph, she screamed, flipped her bat in the air, and began jumping up and down. It was all I could do not to scream and jump with her. After each successive hitter showed similar improvement, the entire team screamed and danced. I was right in the middle of each celebration.
This fun and memorable event would never have happened unless I was accountable for the hitting keys I teach. A commitment to measuring the hitting keys we teach not only makes us accountable, it makes us credible.
Hitting coaches who make big hitting data small will naturally build better relationships with their hitters after the successful implementation of mechanical adjustments that are measurable. They will also be better equipped to help their hitters quickly overcome inevitable hitting obstacles during the season. Making big hitting data small by using valuable information to implement practical swing adjustments that lead to success in the batter’s box is the ultimate reward for any hitting coach.
For more of my thoughts on hitting and life, please visit my website at http://www.torque-hitting.com