As we start the new year, I wanted to share a little bit about the process of how we are integrating technology, and discuss how the data that it provides us allows us to better train our hitters. It should be said up front that while having access to technology and data tracking is great, how it is used with hitters that ultimately matters. While we are just at the beginning of gaining an understanding how to do this, we feel like we have developed a solid assessment process to record this data, a detailed and informative way to evaluate it as coaches, and simple ways to share with our hitters and implement it into their training. It is important to note that recording and tracking data is only one piece of the puzzle, and other tried and true methods including video, targeted drill work, variability training and coach/player collaboration are all necessities if we really want to get guys better. In this post, we’ll look into the process of how we assess our hitters, with a future posts detailing the specific information that we evaluate, general trends we have seen in our hitters, and finally how we have implemented all of this into training on a day to day basis.
We are fortunate to have a Rapsodo hitting unit which sits 14 feet in front of home plate and allows us to observe, record and analyze relevant batted ball metrics including exit velocity, launch angle, distance, direction, spin rate, spin axis, and zone location. In addition, we utilize Blast Motion sensors, which attach to the knob of the bat and give us detailed information about how a hitter is swinging the bat, including but not limited to bat speed, attack angle, power, and time to contact. By having detailed information about each player’s batted balls, and the swings that created those batted balls, we are able to form a strong picture of each hitter and better understand how to build on their strengths and attack their weaknesses in our training.
In addition to batted ball and swing data, we use the deCervo uHIT virtual program to measure and practice strike and pitch recognition skills. This is a critical area and this program allows us to test and practice these skills in an indoor training environment, where they are sometimes put on the back burner. uHIT forces players to make a decision as the ball is coming towards them, and measures a player’s accuracy and their reaction time for balls/strikes, as well as on fastballs, curveballs and sliders.
Finally we utilize video with our hitters, which provides us with visual insight about each hitter and allows us to program targeted drills for them based on their swings. In addition we can share these videos with players for their understanding and reference.
The Assessment Process
Our assessment process is designed to gather as much information about each hitter as we can, so that we can approach their training in an individualized and relevant way. Assessment days are “non-instructed” days, and our focus is to capture each hitter at their current ability level with little to no input from coaches. We first collect some basic information, including height, weight, age, playing level (varsity, JV etc.), hitting and throwing hand, and bat size. From there we allow each hitter to work through a warmup that fits them if this is their first day with us, and for returning players we are evaluating them as they work through drills they’ve previously done in order to understand which ones they gravitate towards. Hitters take swings on the bag, tee, front toss and into overhand with the goal of getting loose, but not tired. We want players to be able to take their best swings throughout the assessment.
As players are loose, we begin the assessment process with the goal of recording 60-75 swings, giving us a solid sample size to evaluate. All assessments are done with a coach throwing overhand fastballs from 35-40 feet, and working to throw to all parts of the strike zone in order to see how pitch location affects how a player swings the bat and makes contact with the baseball. Rapsodo tracks pitch speed, so coaches will throw harder to older players and softer to younger ones. We work in rounds of 7, to avoid players taking too many swings in a row and getting away from their optimal effort.
It is critical that we keep the Blast Motion data and Rapsodo data paired for each swing, so as we go through an assessment the data will be tracked by a coach who does a couple things on each swing.
- Check to make sure Blast sensor registered the swing. Almost all swings in which contact is made are recorded by the sensor, but occasionally one is missed.
- Check to make sure Rapsodo registered the batted ball. Extremely mishit balls are often not registered by the Rapsodo, so we check that all the metrics were captured each time a ball is hit.
- If the Rapsodo does not read but the Blast does, we will mark down which Blast swing to delete as we go back through the data later. If the Rapsodo reads but the Blast does not, we simply delete the last swing in the Rapsodo app.
This monitoring of the technology is most easily done by one of our coaches sitting on the side (especially with our small groups), but is also a very simple process for the coach who is throwing the BP.
After we have captured as many swings as we can from a player (goal of 60-75), we get video from a couple of different angles to save, analyze and share with the player, and we finish our assessment by having the player go through a 30 pitch block on uHIT’s Strike Recognition test, and 30 pitches on the Pitch Recognition test. uHIT allows us to adjust pitch speeds which keeps things level appropriate for players of different ages. With all of this info in hand, we can organize and evaluate it, and have it ready to share with a player at the next session as we begin going to work in the appropriate areas.
This assessment process serves multiple purposes, depending on where a player is at in his training with us. For new players or players who haven’t utilized this technology, it simply serves as a starting point, and a way for us to immediately start designing a program for them that is specific to their needs. This eliminates any guesswork for our end which is critical when it comes to maximizing our players’ time, and allows us to get to know them as a hitter more quickly. For players who are retesting, having a second set of objective evidence is key to measuring progress. It enables us to see what is working and what isn’t, see where we need to continue to improve, and ultimately holds both the player and the coach accountable for progress made. In addition, it allows us to share ability level and progress with current and prospective coaches, which is a huge advantage when it comes to placing players at a level that matches their abilities, as well as providing unbiased transparency between instructor and coach.
In the next post, I’ll will discuss how we evaluate the data we collect, and how we work to distill it down to simple, presentable, and actionable concepts for our hitters.