Attack angle is a valuable metric that indicates the trajectory of the hitter’s barrel path as it impacts the baseball. At RPP, rather than striving for a specific number, we like to see our hitters achieve an optimal attack angle range that will maximize their opportunity to make flush contact with the incoming pitch; the ideal range is between 5-15 degrees. There can be several contributors to an excessive attack angle. When the attack angle is too high (swinging too uphill), we first want to figure out what is causing it and then determine a plan of action to improve it. The following disconnects could potentially lead to an excessive attack angle:
- Poor Linear Momentum
- Poor Frontside Blocking
- Contact Point too Far out in Front
- Arm Dominant Swing (uppercut)
Now, attack angle can be a deceiving metric. We want to collect data on at least 80-100 swings. The reason for that is that different pitch types and pitch locations will affect attack angle to various degrees. Pitches high in the zone or inside will usually reflect a higher attack angle because the hitter is making contact more out front, whereas pitches down or away in the zone are typically contacted deeper in the zone, so the bat has not been traveling uphill for quite as long and will therefore show a lower attack angle.
It is also critical to take into consideration the type of feed the athlete is facing in the training environment. Depending on the level, a hitter will mostly face pitches in a game with a descent angle anywhere from 4 to 14 degrees (from fastball to breaking pitches). In front toss, depending on distance and velocity, the incoming feed could be as high as 20 to 25 degrees. Therefore, we want to make sure we’re evaluating attack angle in as close to a game-like environment as possible (ideally machine pitch). If this is not an option, firm BP on flat ground (no platform) should do. So, let’s take a deeper look into potential sources of an excessive uphill swing and explain how we attempt to improve each one.
Poor Linear Momentum
Poor linear momentum occurs when the hitter does not transfer enough energy off the backside during the stride phase. The hitter is essentially leaning back as he/she begins rotation instead of getting to a balanced position at foot strike; this will usually result in a bat path that is too uphill and a reduction in bat speed.
One of the drills that we would recommend for a hitter with this deficiency is Feet Together, Step & Hit. By landing more balanced with the weight close to evenly distributed at toe touch, the hitter’s upper half will be in a better position to rotate on plane with the incoming pitch rather than having the torso leaning too far back at contact or spinning on the backside.
While carefully selected drill work is critical for development, we generally believe that addressing the body is first and foremost. Key biomechanical deficiencies that can lead to poor linear momentum include limited front hip mobility/stability, limited ankle mobility, limited lower body strength/stability, and/or limited hip abductor strength.
Feet Together, Step & Hit
Poor Frontside Blocking
Poor frontside blocking is another swing flaw that can cause a high attack angle. Instead of posting up against a firm front leg as the back hip fires and the hitter begins rotation, the hitter’s weight continues to leak forward over the frontside or the front knee collapses, losing power and space. The only way for this hitter to achieve hard contact is to create space in front of them, thus leading to a higher attack angle.
We can work to improve frontside blocking with the anchor drill. By working against the front leg rather than over top of it, the hitter can efficiently transition from stride to rotation and create depth behind them instead of forcing the barrel out front. Regarding movement deficiencies, this athlete may have limited front hip mobility/stability, limited ankle mobility, and/or limited hip abductor strength.
Contact Point too Far Out in Front
As you may have picked up from the section on frontside blocking, contact point is a byproduct of several factors. Nonetheless, let’s say we have an athlete who does not have any of the above movement deficiencies, yet still displays a high attack angle range. This athlete’s average point of contact may simply be too far out front. Now, don’t get it twisted… damage happens out front! The barrel is working slightly uphill, the bat has picked up more and more bat speed, and the hitter has fully converted kinetic energy through the bat and into the baseball. However, if the batter is cheating to achieve contact out front, he/she will be susceptible to off-speed pitches and may have to make swing decisions earlier than a hitter who can function in a contact window that begins deeper in the zone.
We also typically see young hitters with a smaller contact window, as they do not possess the core strength or kinematic sequencing to hit outside pitches deeper in the zone and drive them to the opposite field; they can only survive by picking up sufficient bat speed later in their swing path and, for that reason, may display an excessive attack angle range. These players likely have a lot of rollovers to the pull-side on outside pitches. Notice the difference in contact point windows between these two players, both right-handed; the contact chart on the left demonstrates a “flat” window of contact, while the one on the right displays a gradual angle from inside to outside with good depth of coverage.
For these individuals, strength and mobility training is imperative. In conjunction with addressing the physical demands of hitting a ball deeper in the zone, the Coil Drill is an excellent drill we will use to improve rotational acceleration and promote earlier bat speed.
Arm Dominant Swing (uppercut)
If a hitter does not show any of the disconnects listed above, they may possess a bat path that is simply too uphill as a result of trying to manipulate the barrel with their arms. This may not be a physical deficiency and can probably be re-patterned with carefully selected drill work and an improved understanding of how the swing works. The athlete should first understand that the most efficient swing works around a clean rotational axis initiated by the pelvis, up through the torso, then the shoulders, and finally through the bat. The hitter simply tilts that axis during rotation based on pitch location.
For example, a pitch in the top of the zone may require a torso tilt of 20-25 degrees (depending on player height) while a pitch in the bottom of the zone may require 40-45 degrees; this is also known as “getting on plane” which will allow the hitter to have a larger contact window. When the hitter manipulates the barrel with their arms or hands, they are losing valuable bat speed, swing decision-making time, and opportunities for flush contact.
Ideally, a hitter will land at foot strike with their torso tilted to cover the highest possible pitch that they would swing at and work “top-down” to get to a pitch lower in the zone by increasing torso side bend. If a hitter lands with too much forward bend at foot strike, he/she must break posture during rotation (which can show some funky connection scores) or manipulate the hands to get the barrel to the incoming pitch, which could register a high attack angle. If the hitter is still “firing from the top,” then there may be an underlying biomechanical deficiency, as the upper body will make compensating moves to make up for weaker areas lower in the chain, which in this case is likely poor lower body strength or poor core control.
Along with the drills prescribed above for a contact point that is too far out front, Connection Ball swings are a great option for getting the hitter to feel him/herself executing a level swing and creating side bend to get on plane with the incoming pitch, rather than forcing a bat path that is too uphill.
Attack angle is an important yet deceptive metric. We need to make sure we have a holistic understanding of the individual athlete’s swing and physical makeup before we begin prescribing drills to address a flaw that may not actually be present. It is also important to gather data in a training environment that is as close to a game-like feed as possible. The best part about evaluating these aspects of the swing is that a majority of them can be analyzed through video.
For a deeper look into how we analyze the swing, check out previous article titled “How to Analyze Baseball Swing Mechanics in 15 Steps“. And once again, the importance of improving the body and movement capabilities cannot be overstated. So, when you see a high attack angle range, make sure you figure out why first, then get to work!
By Ethan Newton (Director of Hitting at RPP Baseball)
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