By Bahram Shirazi (Co-owner RPP, BSEE, MBA)
In this multi-part series on hitting, we’re going to break down hitting into several components, perhaps in ways you haven’t seen before. Today we’re going to start with the swing plane and tell you about the two most important things you need to know.
We recently ran a poll on Twitter titled “How important is it for batters to be on plane with the ball”. Before you see the results, please note that Twitter polls aren’t necessary the end all and be all. However, with a somewhat targeted audience they can be relevant markers or indicators. Here are the results:
Over 90% in this poll believe “being on plane” with the ball is “Important or Very Important”. Ok… seems like most agree on this topic.
Now let’s go over what we mean by “swing plane”. It’s basically a side view of a swing. And since we always want to quantify things, we’re talking about the attack angle of the swing (the angle of the direction of contact created just prior to impact vs. the horizontal). So, swing plane basically implies attack angle.
I think just about everyone would agree that a batter has control over how he swings his bat. Whether habitual or not, we choose to swing a certain way, whether it be down, up or neutral. Here is another interesting poll.
Over 70% respondents (in the Twitter poll), said they didn’t know how to train being on plane. This an extremely high % given the results of the prior poll. Over 90% consider this issue to be important or very important, yet over 70% don’t know how to train for it. So, let’s get into it. First, we’re going to quantify the swing plane.
“Being on plane with the ball means matching the descent angle of the pitch, as best as we can .”
Given, all the variations among pitcher heights, batter heights, velocity and spin rates, there are obviously infinite degrees of pitch descent. Obviously, our bodies aren’t capable of matching pitch-by-pitch the actual angle of the incoming pitch. But there is clearly a range which is applicable from a training standpoint. However, with the distance from release point to home plate at generally 55 feet and a strike zone maybe 24 inches tall, we’re talking about a tight range of descent angles. For clarity, we’re talking about a right triangle with a base of 55 ft long and side wall of 2 ft tall!
There are generally 2 different types of pitches that define the high-end and low-end of this range:
- 4-seam fastball, the pitch with the most back spin, defying gravity
- Curveball, the pitch with the most top spin, assisting gravity
One falls less quickly while the other falls quicker than all the others.
A shorter pitcher throwing a 4-seam at the top end of the zone will have the lowest pitch descent angle. While a taller pitcher throwing a curveball to the bottom of the zone will have the steepest pitch descent angle. Let’s go to the videotape for some examples.
- Velo at Release: 79 mph
- True Spin: 1720 rpm
- Break: 11.3″ VB
- Release Height: 5’4″
- Pitch Descent Angle: 5 degrees
(Shorter Pitcher – Fastball)
- Velo at Release: 55 mph
- True Spin: 1453 rpm
- Break: 17.8″ VB
- Release Height: 6’5″
- Pitch Descent Angle: 14 degrees
(Taller Pitcher – Curveball)
There it is. The two most important things to know about your swing plane. They’re actually not even about your swing.
The incoming pitch, depending on its release point, the location it crosses the zone, spin characteristics and velocity, can have a descent angle range of:
- 5-7 degree on the low-end
- 11-14 degree on the high-end
Level of play obviously can have an impact, but those ranges should pretty much cover the low and high end of pitch descent angles. As velos go up both angles will likely trend towards the lower ends and vice versa.
Transferring energy from one object to another is best head-on. The more in line, the more energy transfer occurs. That’s just pure physics. So, being on plane has several advantages:
- More direct contact leads to a more efficient transfer of energy from bat to ball
- More time spent in the pitch descent plane gives you a wider margin for error given the symmetry of planes
- More consistent contact
Having said all this, would depth of contact have an impact on this? Yes! But, that’s a topic for another article.
For now, let’s just say to be a consistent hitter, you need to match the plane as much as possible with an attack angle (swing plane) with a range of 5-7 degrees on the low end and 11-13 on the high end.
Can you train for this? Absolutely.
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