Assessing Hitters at RPP on Day One

By Nunzio Signore (BA, CPT, NASM, PES, FMS), Evan Klugerman (BA, Director of Hitting at RPP) and Bahram Shirazi (BSEE, MBA)

hitting assessment

As an athlete, you are not able to move efficiently if your body isn’t in a position to do so. Incorporating assessments, strength training and data analytics into how we train players is a bit of an art. Since each and every player is different in every way, the key is to parse through the information and determine which pieces are relevant for each player. Below is a typical testing day for position players at our facility and it’s broken up into several sections:

Let’s review these with some specificity…

Movement and Strength Assessment – Ball players move in all three planes of motion so their assessment and programming should reflect that. The Assessment is an extensive anatomical evaluation of the player’s overall physicality and mobility.

hitting assessment

Physical limitations and imbalances, from a strength and mobility standpoint, can have profound effects on a player’s ability to perform at his max potential.  The movement and strength assessment cover a variety of topics, including:

VBT

Video Review and Analysis – Much like pitching, the swing happens at such a high speed that it’s hard to really capture the nuances of where mechanics may be breaking down by simply looking at it with the naked eye.   During our video analysis we breakdown hitting into two phases as follows:

    • The Stride Phase (linear)
    • The Swing Phase (rotational)

The Stride Phase begins at set-up and ends when the player commits to the pitch (approximately at heel plant), at which point we immediately transition to the Swing Phase.  Let’s begin with the Stride Phase, which we further break down into the following components:

    1. Setup / Stance
    2. Leg Lift / Negative Move
    3. Center of Mass (Balance and Posture)
    4. Center of Mass / Tempo into Foot Strike
    5. Front Foot Strike angle
    6. Front Knee Angle / Unstable Base
    7. Stride Length
    8. Peak Hip / Shoulder Separation

If interested in additional detail in the Stride Phases, you can read about these components in great detail here and here.

The Swing Phase (rotational) begins as the front leg blocks at heel plant and the body will begin to accelerate its rotation against a firm front side ultimately ending at contact. The following are some of the key positions we look for that comprise what we believe to be an efficient rotary pattern.

    1. Front Side Blocking
    2. Bat Launch
    3. Axis of Rotation
    4. Bat Lag

Using video analysis allows us find key links in the chain such as poor blocking or an inefficient scap load that can be improved and work them into creating a seamless more “efficient” swing (for additional details on the Swing Phase click here). It also helps us better understand the sequencing report a bit more. Which brings us to our next set of metrics.

Kinematic Sequencing (K-Vest) – Not all hitting motions are created equal. Some guys rely more on strength, some guys elasticity and some are simply genetic “outliers”. But analysis in numerous studies has revealed that there is one common denominator on how athletes create maximum power behind the plate and that’s creating a proper sequence of events from the ground up all the way through at the point of contact.  This is commonly referred to as an efficient “kinematic sequence”.

Generating and transferring speed throughout the body requires a specific transfer of segmental peak angular velocities that allows players to transfer force more efficiently.  It can be only viewed through motion capture sensors placed on the athlete’s body.

kinematic sequence

Presented differently, in most cases you’re looking for this sequence:

kinematic sequence

By simply reviewing WHEN the lower half begins to rotate in thesequence, it is easy to visualize if an athlete is ready to begin his rotational phase. This puts the athlete in the best position to begin to rotate and clear his hips in order to create optimal acceleration and deceleration rates all the way through to the point of contact. If the athlete initiate his swing with his Torso, say a 2-1-3-3 sequence, where you get  the Torso (green) moving first and his Pelvis (red) is slightly delayed, there is a greater chance that he will be forced to make decisions prematurely and likely have a hard time finding consistency at the plate.

Swing Metrics – We use Blast Motion sensors for analyzing swing metrics.  These sensors help provide additional data on the following metrics (we focus on the ones which are underlined):

    • Attack Angle (degrees) (click here)
    • Early Connection (degrees)
    • Connection at Impact (degrees)
    • Time to Contact (seconds)
    • On Plane Efficiency %
    • Vertical Bat Angle (degrees)
    • Power (kW)
    • Rotational Acceleration (g) (click here)
    • Bat Speed (mph)
    • Peak Hand Speed (mph)

The above metrics can tell a great deal about a player and his abilities at the plate.  Some even can point to issues elsewhere in the chain.  For example, Rotational Acceleration measures how quickly your bat accelerates into the swing plane. It is a good indicator of how you build bat speed by sequencing properly vs. pulling the bat with your hands. The quicker your rotational acceleration, the more power you will have at contact and you will also have more time to decide at the plate.  It is measured during when the bat transitions from the load into the rotation, early in the swing to capture movement patterns of the player.

Rotational Acceleration is hardly ever evaluated in normal settings, yet it could be one of the most important factors in making you successful at the plate.  For example, if your Time to Contact and Attack Angles are lower than they should be at contact, then it could simply be the fact that you just can’t get there fast enough by the time you make a decision to swing the bat.  What’s likely lacking? Your Rotational Acceleration!

If you’d like to read further on Blast Motion and its metrics, please click here.

Batted Ball Results – Sections reviewed above all address pre-contact topics.  Batted Ball results derived from the Rapsodo Hitting camera focus on data after the contact has been made.

This type of information gives you insights into how a player drives the ball.  For example, for an athlete with an Exit Velo approaching 90 mph, he can obviously hit the ball relatively hard.  Yet, if his average Launch Angle is sitting in the high single digits, working with this player to increase his Launch Angle, even by a few degrees, could have significant implications on this ability to drive the ball deeper, more consistently.  The opposite is also true if the athlete’s LA is in the upper teens or twenties.

The following is a summary of post-contact results we review:

    • Average Exit Velo
    • Peak Exit Velo
    • Average EV / Peak EV
    • Average Launch Angle
    • Average LA of Hard-Hit Balls
    • Spin Rate

Assess and Re-Assess Model – At the conclusion of the initial assessment and data collection, we begin to target areas for improvement and prepare a going forward plan.  The plan is highly individualized.  However, the assessment doesn’t end after the initial day.  At various times during the program we re-assess our players to help verify if positive changes have been made. This not only helps validate our training protocol but helps validate its effectiveness as well.

Summary – Being able to make consistent hard contact is the differentiator between good hitters and great hitters.  By digging in deep all the way from the first move to contact, we begin to understand how and why the player performs the way he does at the plate.  Our programming incorporates all the above information to prepare a going forward plan of action.

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