Every hitter throughout the history of baseball could benefit from making better contact more often. In this blog, we’re going to talk about ways to train and improve your smash factor, or, in other words, we’re going to talk about ways to improve your bat to ball skills and your ability to consistently make flush contact with the baseball.
What is Smash Factor?
Here’s an example of what very flush contact looks like. Notice little to no vibration in the bat at contact. This is a sign of an extremely efficient bat to ball collision—high smash factor.
A wise man once said to me: “A hitter’s bat speed sets their ceiling and their floor, and their smash factor and swing decisions determine where they live in between the two.” – Noah Thurm
At this point, (almost) everyone knows that moving the bat fast and hitting the ball hard are good things and lead to productive outcomes for hitters. With that being said, the best hitters possess a knack for hitting the baseball on the sweet spot of the bat. This should go without saying, but if you can consistently move the bat fast AND hit the ball on the barrel, you are going to be very, very productive at the plate.
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Baseball is filled with pitchers who are throwing harder and harder with inconceivably nasty stuff, just like this:
I hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but I don’t see this changing any time soon. So, whoever you are, you’re going to want to improve your ability to hit the ball hard and on the barrel as often as possible.
Training to improve bat speed and in turn “raise your ceiling” will always be king. However, a hitter’s ability to consistently hit a round ball on the sweet spot of a round bat also plays a significant role in how productive they will be.
To produce a high smash factor, you want to hit the ball as flush as possible on the barrel. This will maximize the trampoline effect of the bat to ball collision and ensure the highest energy transfer from bat speed to exit velocity. It is worth noting that batted balls with higher smash factor are typically going to be hit at lower launch angles where a hitter’s attack angle closely mirrors the descent angle of the incoming pitch.
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Training Smash Factor
Okay, now we’re going to talk about ways to train and improve your smash factor.
Ultimately, you’re looking to optimize your swing plane to make flush contact as often as possible. This will allow you to optimize your mis-hits, a trait all elite hitters possess. Hitting is hard and pitchers are getting better, so getting production from your mis-hit balls is certainly in your best interest.
Hitting plyos, and more specifically mini hitting plyos, which are smaller and more difficult to “square up,” are the most effective tools we have to improve smash factor. Training with them is truly the easiest way to see and develop a “feel” for making high quality contact.
Here’s an example of poor contact with a mini hitting plyo:
And here’s an example of flush contact with a mini hitting plyo:
It’s easy to see how hitting plyos provide immediate feedback on contact quality. To take it a step further and make things even more challenging, we like to use skinny bats for smash factor training. Here’s an example from Andrew Aydt:
With the skinny bat, you have to be much more precise to make flush contact. A great cue when using plyos to train smash factor—especially with a skinny bat—is to think about “wrapping the plyo ball around the barrel of the bat.” You can clearly see the difference in these pictures taken from the video above:
With hitting plyos and skinny bats, the focus is improving a hitter’s kinesthetic awareness; more specifically, improving a hitter’s “feel” for how the barrel of the bat is moving through space. Which will only lead to more flush contact.
The best hitters can all control the barrel. Here are some of the implements and training tools we like to use when teaching hitters how to control the barrel:
- Axe Short Trainer
- Axe Long Trainer
- Axe Bat Speed Trainers
- As mentioned above:
As for specific drills, we lean towards training that is bat path or precision oriented. Some examples include:
- Any variation of offset open, offset closed or offset rotation
- Offset angled toss
- Depth ladder
- Height/launch angle ladder
- High, middle, low
- Around the world
- Inside/outside tee constraints
- Hit small wiffle balls, BBs, or beans like Robinson Cano
You can take any combination of these drills or implements to create environments focused on training smash factor and barrel control. What we’re really focusing on here is awareness of how the barrel is moving through space, so it’s encouraged to get a little weird with how you are training. Don’t be afraid to make it challenging on your hitters.
Try switching bats after each swing, alternate hitting plyos and baseballs, change drill variations, change speeds, mix pitches, and always remember that real time feedback from technology such as launch monitors and bat sensors is fantastic for tightening the feedback loop and expediting the skill acquisition process.
Train with Driveline
If you’re interested in structured guidance for your training, our hitting coaches here at Driveline are experts at developing plans to help you become a well-rounded hitter who does DAMAGE in the box. Come train with us and improve your bat speed, exit velocity, bat to ball skills and swing decisions, and design an approach tailored to your strengths as a hitter.
Interested in training with us but don’t think you can make it into our gym? Driveline’s online hitting trainers are fantastic as well. You can get more information about our online hitting program here,
Soon enough you’ll be crushing baseballs all around the yard.
Interested in training with us? In-gym and remote options are both available.