After a preseason invitation to work with a college softball team, I was eager to share bat speed improvements with the head coach. Over a two-week period, the bat speed of every hitter on the team increased between 5 MPH to 12 MPH. I also tracked the improvements to hand speed, time-to-impact, and other important hitting metrics.
Surprisingly, the head coach discounted the impressive results saying, “I’m more concerned with the results on the field”. I agreed, but let her know that measuring hitting performance and improvement is the best way to ensure success in games.
This coach is not alone in her skepticism of hitting metrics as a mandatory component of a comprehensive and successful hitting program. I often encounter coaches who never measure and track critical data points for their hitters. I have come to the conclusion that many of these coaches are not afraid of technology, they are afraid of personal accountability.
If hitters fail to improve or perform in games, it is easy for hitting coaches to blame players. After all, they devised unique drills and provided wise instruction. It must be the hitter’s fault.
The best hitting coaches are personally accountable for the success or failure of their hitters. Using technology to measure hitting progress is the only objective way to assess the effectiveness of the hitting template a coach teaches.
I have written about using data analytics before in my article called Make BIG Data Small. Now, I am making a plea to coaches who do not currently use hitting technology to try it. The process is easy and the results can transform any offense.
What Is Quality Instruction?
Early in my business career, a company I worked for applied for the prestigious Malcom Baldrige National Quality Award. To win this award, companies have to endure a rigorous process that evaluates every aspect of an organization’s approach to providing a quality product or service. Even companies that fail to win the award benefit greatly from going through the comprehensive application process. The most valuable lesson we learned was, “If you are unable to measure performance, it is not quality”.
The same holds true for hitting coaches. If coaches are unwilling to measure improvement they are expecting from hitters, it is not quality instruction. Too many hitting coaches are not personally accountable when the results on the field fail to match what they promised their hitters.
Here is the process I go through to ensure what I teach leads to improvement in the batting cage and in the batter’s box in games. The goal is continuous improvement.
Whenever I meet with an individual hitter or team for the first time, I start by observing them hitting off a tee or front toss. Like a good doctor, it is important to visually assess the overall strengths and weaknesses of a hitter’s swing before taking any measurements. Often, I will also take a video of these initial swings as another tangible way to track changes over time.
The next step is to take baseline measurements. With my Swing Speed Radar and other measuring devices, I will gather initial bat speed (not exit speed), hand speed, time-to-impact, and bat angle data. This data is the first step toward accountability for player and coach.
Hitting Template Implementation
Teaching the hitting keys that comprise my hitting template is the next phase of instruction. Some coaches refer to this as their “philosophy”, but that is too vague. Each of the hitting keys (mechanics) I have described on this site and the two books I have published on hitting comprise my hitting template. These simple hitting keys are intended to improve one or more of the metrics I measure. Remember, if you can’t measure it, then it is not improvement.
After implementing my hitting template, I will measure the key data points in the swing sequence. Some hitters will show marginal initial improvement, while others will experience a dramatic change in their power and consistency. This is the first step in personal coaching accountability for me.
When hitters see their hitting metrics improve after adjusting or changing components of their swing sequence, they begin to trust their coach’s hitting template and them as a competent instructor. Conversely, if hitters are unable to see measurable improvement after a coach encourages them to change important components of their swing, they should be skeptical whether the hitting template and approach is effective.
Trial and Error
My goal is to work collaboratively with each hitter to achieve continuous improvement. If a hitter is struggling with a hitting key, then we will try to make a thoughtful adjustment. After the hitter makes the adjustment, we both can visually observe if there is improvement in power or consistency.
Visual confirmation is not enough for me. I want to objectively measure whether the adjustment has increased bat speed, reduced the time-to-impact, increased hand speed, or improved the path of the swing.
If one or more of these metrics improve, then we know the adjustment should be adopted. If the metrics are unchanged, it doesn’t necessarily mean the adjustment lacks merit. It merely means the adjustment may not be mandatory for this hitter.
Here is an example of a small adjustment that turned out to make a big difference for one of my hitters. Maddie is a relatively tall hitter with a fairly upright stance. It was apparent to both of us that she was not maximizing her power. I asked her to try getting into more of a “crouch” when she sets up for the swing. I was hoping this would help her to better engage her lower body to explode into the ball for more power.
After the first few swings, we both thought she was hitting the ball harder. We could also hear a louder crack of the bat. Using a bat speed sensor on the end of her bat, I measured each of her swings in this new set-up position.
As you can see below, her bat speed increased an average of 4 mph, her hand speed increased 3 mph, and her time to impact was reduced by 15%. She was ecstatic! Her goal of reaching 70 MPH bat speed was finally realized. Almost every subsequent swing after the adjustment was in the 70s.
Maddie was skeptical whether lowering her stance would be effective before we made the change. After feeling the power and seeing the improved metrics, she was eager to make this a permanent adjustment.
I was personally accountable for the success or failure of the adjustment to Maddie’s hitting mechanics. In this case, the adjustment produced positive results. This built another level of trust in our coach-hitter relationship that will help when I suggest future adjustments to her swing.
Metrics Can Be Fun!
I consider myself a mad scientist when it comes to hitting instruction. It is fun for me identify new and creative ways to improve my hitters. Whenever I come up with a new idea, I first observe and then I measure. Here are two recent examples:
While watching professional tennis and hearing the players grunt after every shot or serve for more power, I wondered if it could help softball and baseball hitters. I asked a few of my hitters to try grunting when they made impact with the ball. I observed balls being hit harder and it was confirmed by increased bat speeds. Here is a link to the article called Noisy Power.
I also wondered if changing grip pressure impacted bat speed and power. Again, after testing my theory on several hitters, the results were mixed. Some hitters enjoyed more power and others didn’t feel or see any difference. This variability of results was confirmed again by using bat speed sensors. Here is a link to this article called Squeeze More Power Out Of Your Swing.
Looking for new ways to improve hitters should be a collaborative process. It never hurts to try something new that could potentially improve power and consistency. Using video and technology to validate hitting adjustments can be fun and rewarding.
I am certain the best high school and college softball and baseball offenses in the country rely heavily on hitting analytics. However, more programs need to join the technological hit parade.
Players should also be accountable for their success. If a player is not putting in the time and effort to improve the hitting keys we worked on, it will eventually be apparent to both of us.
I can tell when players are working hard between lessons. Their power is increasing, they are hitting with more authority and accuracy to all fields, and they are more consistent. The improving hitting metrics testify to the fruits of their labor.
Hitters who fail to put in the work will be exposed when I periodically measure their hitting metrics. It will be apparent to both of us that the lack practice is causing the numbers to stall or even get worse.
Predictive analytics is the art and science of using data to makes predictions about future events, behaviors, and outcomes. Coaches who use hitting data as a tool to develop hitters will have a competitive advantage over opposing coaches.
Understanding the metrics of an individual hitter’s swing can help coaches determine the best lineups against different types of pitchers. If they trust the data, this will lead to greater confidence in their hitters in critical game situations.
Teams that incorporate metrics in their offensive programs are also more consistent from year-to-year. Coaches will be better able to predict the success of hitters over their careers, instead of hoping players develop on their own. The best programs find the right balance between recruiting good talent and developing hitters to reach their potential. I have written about this in a previous article called Team Hitting–Nature or Nurture.
The Right Approach
To the coaches who use analytics as part of their hitting program I say, “Well done!”. Your willingness to be personally accountable for the success and failure of your hitters is a risk worth taking. You are developing great hitters and you are doing your part to grow the game. Thank you!
About Paul Petricca
In addition to writing this hitting blog, Paul is a hitting coach and the author of the books Hitting With Torque: For Baseball And Softball Hitters and Going Going Gone!. He is also a public speaker and provides unique customer engagement training through his company Torque Consulting. Paul teaches a Customer Relationship Management class to undergraduates at Wheaton College (IL) and MBA candidates at Loyola University Chicago, and DePaul University.