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.
Part Two will examine the progress this athlete made from the initial assessment to the first reassessment, and then outline the subsequent areas of improvement that we targeted and tracked for the remainder of the summer.
By Ethan Newton (Director of Hitting at RPP Baseball)
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