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Hacking the Swing by Perry Husband

If you can’t explain it ‘simply’ then you don’t understand it well enough. – Albert Einstein

This statement holds true in the world of hitting, more today than ever.  New ways to measure virtually every aspect of the art of hitting a round ball with a round bat, squarely, yet it seems more confusing than ever.  There are certain things however, that will never change, which is the intent of this series of articles.  We’ll cut through the confusion to get to the essence of what all the data is actually telling us.  Data, after all, is simply the measurements of what happened.  Data doesn’t tell us ‘How’ it happened, only ‘That’ it happened.  The rest is up to interpretation.

Launch Angle is a great place to start.  Ball flight is crucial to truly getting the most out of your swing.  Batting Averages are typically well over .600 on line drives, around .240 on grounballs and just over .200 for flyballs, so the trajectory off your bat is sort of a big deal.  Analysts speak of Launch Angle as though it’s a verb, like we can turn it on and off or simply “just say no to groundballs”, yet this is a long way from the truth.  Hitters can’t really control how the ball comes off the bat.  Hitting a round ball with a round bat, only has 3 possible outcomes.

  1. Near Perfect Contact (20%) – the ball is hit exactly on the same line as the pitch
  2. Below Center Contact (40%) – the ball is hit below center resulting in some type of flyball
  3. Above Center Contact (40%) – the ball is hit above center resulting in some type of groundball

Perfect contact is where the sweet spot of the bat hits the ball exactly in the center, sending the ball back in the exact line it came in on .  This almost never happens.  Most hitters hit the ball at their absolute maximum Exit Velocity less than 5 times in 500 plus at bats.  In most cases, like Avisail Garcia one year, hit the highest Exit Velocity that year at 126 MPH.  He hit only one other ball that year at 115 MPH or more (only about 91% of his max) and averaged less than 80% of his 126 MPH ‘best bolt’.  Top MLB hitters hover around 20-25% Line Drives, with the average about 20%, although only about 1-2% are actually hit perfectly, the rest are all miss hits.

Below Center contact is when the bat is underneath the center of the ball, causing anywhere from a high line drive to a pop up in the infield (when fair) and this miss hit happens roughly 40% of the time.

Above Center contact is when the bat is above the center of the ball, causing a low line drive to a topped dribbler or something in between.  This also happens about 40% of the time, despite baseball trying to “just say no to grounballs”.  MLB with their efforts to hit the ball in the air, has only managed to change the average from 48% groundballs to 45%.  A great improvement, but yet still a very long ways away from 0 groundballs, which is virtually impossible.

The indisputable fact is that round/round collisions have a set of laws that will produce contact at about 40% flyballs, 40% groundballs and about 20% line drives.  That 40/40/20 breakdown will always be the standard.  The question is what does that mean?

Hitters can’t control Launch Angle, only the things that cause it.  In short, creating a Bat Path that matches the Pitch Path is the bottom line.  When the bat is in line with the pitch, the hitter has the best chance to produce the most solid contact.  When hitters “just swing up” , “swing down on the ball”, or any other swing path choice, they alter the natural ball flight laws.

Just Say No to Groundballs
Warning, this idea gets a bit technical but we will return to simple afterwards.  Also, this is not in any way critical of Josh Donaldson, he is truly one of the elite, it is just a great example of how hard controlling Launch Angle is.

In 3 years of fastballs in the center of the zone:

  • Josh was thrown 394 fastballs in the middle box of the strike zone.
  • He swung at 317 of them with the intent of hitting them all at 25 degrees
  • 37% Groundballs – no one can “just say no to groundballs”
  • 6% Barrels or balls hit in a Launch Angle range of 25 to 30 degrees at 100 MPH
  • His average Exit Velocity was 99 MPH
  • Batting Average just north of .400
  • 36% of those middle pitches were fouled off
  • Swing and Miss rate was just over 11%.

These stats are impressive, but to really understand Launch Angle, you must get precise because perfect contact requires perfect timing in a perfect line and it is quite rare.  We must have a single point to measure all contact from if we are to be exact.  Only 1 degree line is exact for this middle pitch (assuming they are on the same pitch line which they will not be but will be close), every other one is slightly miss hit.  Within a range of 10 degree misses, above or below the exact center, the Exit Velocity will remain close to maximum.  20 degree miss hits start to lose Exit Velocity, a discovery made in the mid 1990’s with my early Exit Velocity testing off the tee.

For the full article on Hacking the Swing: The Cheat Codes of Launch Angle, click here.

Perry Husband is an author, former player, consultant, speaker and one of the nation’s most respected baseball authorities. Husband patented the science of Effective Velocity which has been used by MLB and university coaches, pitchers and hitters in both baseball and softball. He  has worked with countless NCAA champions and has been credited for helping the Astros win the National League Championship in 2005.

More information can be found at hittingisaguess.com.

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