The summer season can be a great opportunity for college baseball players to go off and play in various summer leagues throughout the country. Some of the top tier guys go to the Cape Cod League or other competitive leagues like the NECBL and Northwoods for an opportunity to play in front of pro scouts and elevate their draft stock. Younger guys may head off to smaller leagues where pitchers can get a ton of innings and hitters can get plenty of ABs to supplement those they might not have gotten in the spring. But for other guys, the “In-Betweeners,” the summer provides a different, maybe less conventional opportunity – a chance to pop open the hood and work on their game to return to school in the fall a more efficient athlete from both a hitting and strength standpoint.
At RPP Baseball, we provide the setting and all the resources an athlete can imagine (and maybe some they can’t) to help make this happen. To paint a better picture of what this process actually looks like, this two-part article will walk through the training environment that one specific college hitter navigated with us for two months. Part One will outline the initial assessment and game plan we constructed. Part Two will take a more in-depth look at the work we did and the progress we observed.
This player had just completed his COVID freshman year at a Division I program. After a successful start to his college career in the shortened 2020 campaign, hitting for a decent average with 50% of his hits going for extra bases, he struggled during the 2021 season and knew he needed to find himself in the box again. With the summer ahead and no collegiate summer league option that fit his needs, he turned to us. And we got to work.
Like all of our athletes that walk through the door at RPP, before we begin any sort of training regimen in the weight room or the tunnel, we assess mobility, strength, power, and injury history, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. After that, we perform a hitting assessment.
Our hitting assessments evaluate every part of the swing, from the beginning of the load all the way through contact. We use:
- K-Vest (K-Motion 3D) to analyze how the body is moving
- Blast Motion to see how the bat is moving through space
- HitTrax to evaluate how the ball is coming off the bat
- Video to analyze mechanics and the interface timeline as a whole
We collect swing data at two different levels; this allows us to determine if there is any sort of breakdown of the swing when the hitter is challenged with more game-like velo. We collect about 40-50 swings at each level with intermittent breaks during the rounds so the athlete does not get fatigued.
Now, let’s take a look at our takeaways from this athlete’s initial assessment on June 22nd and then work backwards to tell you how we reached these conclusions:
- Doesn’t get beat with velo, but makes compensating moves to get to it – sacrifices adjustability vs. off-speed
- Can go the other way, but sees significant drop in exit velo
- Hard hit, side spun balls through left side of the INF
- Excellent pop to pull side/LCF gap (righthanded hitter)
- Good when he can get arms extended, but struggles to create space on inner-third
- Ks on breaking balls away and, at times, FB up
Here are the critical movements and metrics from the June 22nd assessment that allowed us to reach the above conclusions:
We noticed on video analysis that the hitter did not create independent hands. This means that the hitter did not create any further separation from negative move to toe touch. He relies on a front shoulder move to create this coil, and we’re going to see how this can lead to issues in the kinematic sequence and create an upper half dominant swing, or “frontside move,” costing the hitter valuable time to contact and adjustability.
K-Vest Kinematics Analysis
The first thing that jumps out from the graph is the lack of speed gains up the chain; while the angular velocity of the pelvis is well in-range, the torso speed is low, and this requires the athlete to yank the front shoulder to accelerate the bat to contact. You’ll see below why the torso may be “underperforming” in the swing. The graphic on the left is the torso at Heel Strike, and the graphic on the right is the torso at Contact:
Take note of the extreme forward bend at heel strike (left); our hitter has essentially rolled his front shoulder in and over the plate. For that reason, he will almost certainly have to break posture during rotation or make an arm/shoulder dominant move to get to the baseball.
Due to these suboptimal positions early in the swing, the hitter is underrotated at contact (right) and has failed to fully convert forward bend to side bend. Rotation should be between 60-90 degrees depending on pitch location, and torso bend should be a small negative number, or at the very least closer to 0.
Blast Motion Swing Analysis
Considering the body positions we’ve analyzed, the low connection at impact metrics and high attack angle on Blast Motion (below) make a lot of sense. When he’s on time, he displays his excellent pull-side power; however, when timing is an issue, he often gets the side spun balls in the infield or clipped flyballs to the right side.
HitTrax Batted Ball Analysis
HitTrax also allows us to get a cleaner look at where in the zone the hitter impacts the ball well and where he struggles. Notice the weak fly balls on the middle-in zone, soft liners low & in, and the rollovers on the low-away pitch.
Initial Plan of Action
The “lowest hanging fruit” for improvement was creating a little more separation and stronger upper half “anchor” by developing a better scap load, which would also allow the torso to remain more upright rather than folded over at foot strike. We used a connection ball in the rear arm for this drill work, along with a stride-separation drill to help engrain the new movement pattern.
What works for one athlete may not work for another. For these specific drills, we used K-Vest to monitor the body positions throughout the swing and Blast to confirm that attack angle and connection metrics were being positively impacted, along with video so the athlete could begin to visualize what he was feeling in the drill environment and carry it to his full rhythm swing (understanding the connection between “feel” and real). The key physical improvements that would facilitate his development in these areas were better front shoulder mobility and core control were emphasized.
Now lets dive into the work this athlete put in through the remainder of the summer, as well as the information we gathered from reassessments and the changing landscape of our training environment.
Month 1 – Reassessment
After several weeks, we put the athlete through several re-assessments to make sure that we were on the right path.
Blast Analysis – Upon reassessing this athlete on July 9th, a few weeks after his initial evaluation, the ability to create more stretch at launch (improved scap load) was evident. The targeted Blast metrics improved except for average attack angle which remained higher than we would have liked at 17.55. This is something we would take into consideration with our ensuing work in the cage.
K-Vest Analysis – Even though sequencing could still be improved, we saw better peak speeds and speed gains throughout the swing.
Our next targets for improvement centered on solidifying the axis of rotation to allow a faster, more efficient transfer of energy. The specific area of focus would be the starting position of the pelvis in the setup and understanding how to engage the glutes to maintain hip hinge into toe touch. At this point, at toe touch, his pelvis was essentially “slipped forward” too much. In a game of milliseconds, every bit of extra time counts.
Month 2 – Game Plan
Next Drill Work Phase – Our cage work would now include two foundational drills within our hitting program at RPP, the coil drill and continuous pinch.
“Continuous Pinch Drill”
We used K-Vest to analyze pelvis and torso positions while also using Blast to give us metrics on rotational acceleration, connection at impact, net connection, and attack angle during drill rounds and blended rounds (alternating drill rep with full swing rep). The athlete responded very well to the constraints of the coil drill, demonstrating improved sequencing and speed gains.
Training Environment – Now that the athlete had a good foundation and showed more efficient moves in the box, we want the “conscious competence” to become “unconscious competence.” So, the next month would focus on engraining these moves in the hitter’s game swing. Here is a glimpse of what the environment looked like during the month that followed:
- Prep work on front toss (this athlete came in with a basic prep routine which he continued throughout the summer – we added the coil drill to this phase)
- Short toss – coil drill, continuous pinch, short box mix, angled work
- Machine – straight on with plus spin, RHP & LHP angled fastballs with arm-side run, varying pitch shapes
- BP – mixing, angled work
- Live Abs beginning July 30th
Once again, body improvements facilitate growth in the net, so improving hip mobility and continued front shoulder mobility improvements remained a focus in his strength program.
During the week of August 23rd, the last of the summer, we did a final assessment to see the progress and paint a picture of the latest profile of our hitter in the box. The athlete’s strengths at this point would begin to shape his approach in-game. Below are the results of the reassessment with references to the metrics from the initial assessment and the midpoint assessment.
- Rotational Acceleration: 14.7 → 19.8 → 20.2
- On-Plane Efficiency: 65.2% → 74.1% → 79.2%
- Attack Angle: 16.7 → 17.6 → 12.4
- NET Connection (diff btw. early connection and connection at impact): 16.3 → 12.8 → 7.0
- Bat Speed: 67.4 → 70.5 → 68.2 mph
We primarily attributed the slight dip in bat speed at the end to timing (catching balls deeper in the zone); as the athlete continued to build comfort with his repatterned swing, we expected him to impact the ball out front more consistently without “cheating” to do so. And you’ll see in a bit that the batted ball production showed evidence of an improved swing path and more frequent flush contact.
Following our midpoint assessment, our focus had been to improve pelvis bend at foot strike by making adjustments to the setup, providing space for the hitter to make a cleaner move to the baseball. So, let’s take a look at the visuals below from K-Vest:
The hitter’s graph now shows more rapid peaks and a more efficient transfer of energy. There is still room for more growth though: the hitter made a slightly late swing decision here as you can see the lead arm peaking right at contact (again, future timing adjustments should yield even better results) and his bat is “leaking” a bit early in the sequence, indicated by the brown line on the graph accelerating in front of the other body parts.
Here are the notable improvements when looking at the body positions below:
- Pelvis and torso bend at Heel Strike
- Torso bend at contact
- Pelvis and torso rotation at contact
The side bend of the pelvis at heel strike is still slightly out of range, as is torso rotation at contact; nonetheless, we were thrilled to see this athlete grow in several of the areas we were focused on.
When it comes down to it, we don’t want our hitters to get really good at drills or reach certain metrics just because the technology says we should. We want our athletes to compete in games and hit the baseball hard as often as possible. Joey Votto said it best: “Let the ball be your feedback.”
During the last month, his peak exit velocity increased from 98.1 to 100.6 and his average exit velocity went from 85.8 to 88.5. Additionally, his velocity on contact to the opposite field increased from 82.1 to 83.4 with a lower line drive trajectory on average.
You can see in the zone visuals that his ability to make a clean turn and drive the inner-third improved immensely; what were previously weak fly balls (low-80s exit velocity, mid-20s LA) are now well struck line drives. And while the low and away pitch is still a work-in-progress, he showed gradual improvement from what was previously a negative launch angle on average.
Laying off the up and in pitch in-game can neutralize the hitter’s struggles there. This is one of the most difficult pitches to hit because the perceived velocity is higher for the hitter, but it’s also a location that not many college-pitchers command consistently.
Finally, we will observe this athlete’s power profile to gauge how his growth in the weight room facilitated his improvement in the nets. Assessing power is part of the initial and final assessment done by our strength staff. Here is the initial assessment:
You will see in the highlighted areas from the final power assessment below a notable improvement in jump height, power output (PPO), and Lateral RSI (reactive strength index). This athlete’s lean body mass % also went from 14% to 12%.
This athlete already came in with a powerful engine, he just needed some fine tuning so his engine could run a little smoother. When you get to the college level and above, your tools represent your potential. Putting those tools together to produce in game is what separates guys.
At RPP, we work with the individual and use our resources to guide the player’s development in whatever areas they need most, while also taking into consideration the time of year. We can’t wait to watch this young man’s continued growth as he returns to school. And to any other In-betweeners out there who are looking to make a jump towards becoming a better version of yourself, you’re always welcome here.
By Ethan Newton (Director of Hitting at RPP Baseball)
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