Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Video Analysis of Baseball Hitting

The only way to win in Baseball is to get some hits. Looking at the statistics of Major League Baseball, where most of the best players and hitters in the world play, we can see that hitting is more difficult than it looks. Babe Ruth for example had a career hitting average of .342, while this 2009 season Albert Pujols leads the MLB on hitting average of .333.

This means that Babe Ruth only hit a base hit or home run 34.2% of the times he was up for bat, while the best hitter in the MLB this season, Pujols has only hit 33.3% of the times he has been at bat. These hitting averages for the best players seem low, but we should also consider the challenges of hitting a baseball pitch and understand that hitting averages over 30% are in truth very good.

Here are some of the challenges:
  1. The pitcher can throw a fast ball, slider, curve ball and many other variation. The hitter needs to read the pitch correctly to get a good hit.
  2. As a strike will only be called if the ball is pitched in the strike zone, this is the best zone to swing the bat through. However the pitcher can try to fool the batter by pitching a ball that looks like it will go through the strike zone but then fades away or drops out of the zone.
  3. Once the batter is able to make contact with the ball, he still needs to find a gap in the outfield so that he can run to first base and score his hit. This requires timing and control to get the ball into the gap.
  4. Of course the ultimate is to hit a home run. This requires timing and power to hit the ball far enough and high enough to clear the outfielders and the fence.

Improving hitting mechanics can help a player improve his hitting average. Here we will take a look at some video of a young hitter at practice and discuss some of the important aspects of hitting.
Our hitter here is practising by hitting balls that are tossed up to him and therefore may not be falling in the strike zone but we can still examine his hitting technique.

The video camera in this instance has been set up so that we get a side on view of the hitter, this allows us to examine his stance, hips and shoulder rotation as well as take a look at his bat swing plane. Another aspect of this video that we like is that it is high definition. Unfortunately because the capture rate was around 30 frames per second it can be difficult to see the bat swinging through to track the swing plane but we have made our best effort to track this.

Taking a look at the swing itself, we can break it down as follows.
  1. Our hitter loads up on energy for his swing by rocking back onto his back foot. This allows him to get ready to swing his bat at the ball.
  2. He steps forward a little with his front foot. He does this to get good position on the pitch (or in this case toss) and to open up his stance and allow his hips to rotate through.
  3. He rotates his hips and shoulders through to make contact with the ball.

Steps 1 and 2 in this case look good. Our hitter has setup well to hit, and he has moved his front leg toward the ball to open up his stance to get a good hit.

In order to create power though, we want to remind you about the kinematic sequence. We discussed the kinematic sequence when we talked about Tiger Woods' golf swing. The kinematic sequence is the sequence of events that creates the bat speed. To create good bat speed the hitter needs to rotate his hips, shoulders, hands and bat in that order, with each following segment moving faster than the previous segment.

Here is how it works. The hitter loads up to hit as can be seen in step 1. He then steps forward to open his stance. His hips now need to rotate through toward the ball, but his shoulders should remain behind. By rotating his hips and leaving his shoulders behind he creates potential energy. The shoulders then follow the hips, as the hands and bat are now left slightly behind and with potential energy. Finally with perfect timing the hands follow and then the bat, to hit the ball in the strike zone and with power and control.

In golf, the ball is not moving and so it is easier to practice the kinematic sequence. In baseball hitting the ball can be pitched with much variation and it can be much harder to get this timing correct. However in baseball we once again have a smallish strike zone as well as a a hitting angle of only 90 degrees (between 1st and 4th base), therefore the kinematic sequence must be employed in the same way.

We took some snap shots of our hitter at key moments to examine his hip and shoulder rotation more closely.In the first image we can see our player setup correctly. His weight has been moved to the back foot and his bat is nicely positioned

His pelvis alignment can be seen with the blue line, while his shoulder alignment is represented by the red line. At this point, prior to loading and before the actual swing starts, his pelvis and shoulders are aligned.

In this second image, we can see that our player has now rotated through and is ready to make contact with the ball. In this case we can see that his hips (blue line), shoulders (red line) and bat (white dot on yellow trajectory) are all already lined up. The timing of his kinematic sequence is a little too fast, his shoulders, hands and bat have caught up with his hips too early. To create optimal power, his shoulder rotation should be following his hips, his hands should be following his shoulders and his bat following his hands. The result of this mistiming is that our hitter will strike the ball early and with less power.

Our player though does swing through a nice arc with his bat (yellow trajectory). We can see that he keeps his arms extended through the swing. This allows him to increase his bat speed and follow through with the hit.

In a final thought, our player has a good swing. He loads up nicely, steps toward the pitch and swings his bat through well. His sequence timing may be a little too quick, but this may also be because the ball is being tossed up to him rather than pitched and he has to reach for it outside the strike zone.

Baseball hitting and pitching lends itself well to video analysis, because the athlete is standing in one spot and hitting or throwing. So get your cameras out and make sure to follow the rules for setting up to capture good video for analysis and you will be able to analyze your hitting or pitching in much the same way as we have done here.

We would like to thank Mike and Aaron Kocourek for this video.


Anonymous said...

I wanted to comment on a statement made in the 2nd paragraph. Batting average is not the percentage of pitched balls hit, it is the ratio of base hits to at bats.

For example, if Ruth faces 6 pitches in one at bat and hits a home run on the 6th pitch, his average as stated in the article would be .167 (1 hit/6 pitches= 16.7%), when in reality it would be 1.000 (1 base hit/1 at bat= 100.0%).

The way the paragraph is worded, it sounds like Babe Ruth hit 34.2% of all pitches thrown to him. Instead, his .342 average indicates that 34.2% of his at bats resulted in base hits.


Dudley Tabakin said...

Of course you are correct that is how Batting Average is measured. Thanks for clearing that up. I have updated the text so as not to confuse anyone. Thanks for your comment.

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