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Case Study: How a college hitter dedicated an offseason to training to ensure a “lucky” 2021

| Blog Article, Hitting
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Introduction

The majority of baseball players had an unlucky year in 2020 with their season being cut short by COVID. The same goes for college hitter Thomas Rudinsky. He was only afforded 35 at-bats before the season was shut down, and it wasn’t a start to the season that you want to hang your hat on.

Thomas’s favorite quote is from Thomas Jefferson: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” That is why he committed to a full offseason at Driveline, to make sure his next season was a “lucky” one, unlike his previous season. 

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Assessment

Thomas rolled into Driveline the first week of October 2020 and stayed through December 2020. He then went straight to school for the upcoming 2021 season. This is what we saw after his assessment week. 

Thomas had well-above-average bat speed, and was above average for nearly all swing metrics as a college hitter. 

He hits the ball very hard for his level of play and also hits it consistently in the air.

He came to Driveline in a very good place and checked many of the boxes that we typically need checked to work with hitters when they first arrive. After going through his video, Batted Ball Report, Swing Profile Report, K-Vest Report, and meeting with Thomas, this is the plan we created for the off-season:

A bat-speed focus, followed by a contact-quality focus, and then an approach focus just prior to leaving for school. Below, we get into why we took this route.

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Bat Speed Phase

If you look at his bat speed above, you are probably wondering why we would go into a bat speed phase to start. In our meeting, Thomas’ goal wasn’t to just have a good college season. He wanted to walk out the door as an elite hitter and earn the chance to play professionally. So we needed to raise his ceiling.

“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 

We accomplished this by implementing a bat-speed focus in the cage and also pairing this in the weight room with a power phase. This was easy to do because our high performance staff was in our athlete meeting during the assessment week, as they are for all Driveline athlete meetings. This is what a typical bat-speed workout looked like for him:

This is a simple but effective program, with intent and focus as the key. We were very clear on how Thomas should execute this program.

“Every swing on these days is full intent to move the bat as fast as possible. Machine work is rounds of 6 to 8. If you feel fatigue at any point, that round is over.”

Bat-speed days were performed three times a week on the same day as his lifts. His movement-focused hitting days occurred on the other three days of the week that he trained.

Contact Quality Phase

In the assessment we identified some contact quality issues. Visually, I noticed balls being hooked and top spun to the pull side, which was confirmed with batted ball spin measurements on Rapsodo. Also, in Thomas’ Hittrax batted ball report we noticed a drop in exit velocity on inside pitches.

The culprit for this was Thomas’ out-to-in bat path, so you are probably thinking that is what we worked on. But, that was not the case. The out-to-in path was actually the result of posture issues that were occurring in Rudi’s swing. Using K-Vest, we noticed that he was not “maintaining spine angle” or maintaining posture. Ideally, we want the hitter to replace forward bend with side bend, throughout rotation or during the swing phase. 

Thomas struggled to do this correctly on inside pitches. Instead of adding side bend or tilt to effectively rotate to the inside pitch, he would stand up out of his swing. This was his compensation to try and create space when pitches came inside. Seeing the head rise or move up/back during the swing is an easy way to identify this on video. Notice how Thomas’ head moves up and over the red line while he rotates.

Here is an example of maintaining posture correctly looks like:

We targeted this issue with constraint drills, the short bat, and hitting plyos. The reasoning behind this combo is that the constraint drills isolate the swing phase, the specific part of the swing when/where he was losing posture. The short bat is much smaller in length and forces hitters to adjust to pitch height with their body rather than with their hands. Last but certainly not least, the hitting plyos gave him immediate feedback on contact quality to show when he was or wasn’t hooking/top spinning balls. We often see that the most effective way to adjust to pitch height is with posture; staying taller on high pitches and adding more side bend or tilt as the pitch gets lower. Hit the ball with your body, not your hands. 

Approach Design

Two weeks before he left the facility, we had a 1-on-1 session where we talked and worked on his approach for the upcoming season. The plan was to hunt fastballs/pitches at low to middle height. The quick reasoning for this was:

  • Really high bat speed for a college hitter
  • Too much forward bend and posterior pelvic tilt 
    • Only way to get to high pitches was to lose posture and have a high attack angle. 
  • Average attack angle typically 12° to 15°
  • With him playing at an NAIA, we were unsure of how good scouting reports would be, but predicted a higher fastball usage

These swing characteristics set him up to hit middle to low pitches the best. So we advised him to be aggressive early in counts with his bat-to-ball skills and play to his strengths (lay off pitches up). Also, prior to leaving he began to over-coil a little in his swing. This is how the 1-on-1 session went:

During the first half, we worked on his swing. He had a little preset coil and then would add more during his load. We cut out the preset coil which allowed him to load into the range that we wanted. 

The second half was all approach focused. We worked on developing and practicing specific intents/focuses in certain counts or situations. We worked on using different postures in certain counts. Basically using his current posture in early/ahead counts, hunting middle down. Then with two strikes, having a taller posture with a focus of a lower ball flight. This allowed him to play to his strengths in advantage counts, and give him more adjustability in two-strike counts.

Training Results

Through these different phases, focuses, and training environments we saw good results. His last week at the facility:

Overall results:

  • Bat Speed: +3.66mph
  • Time to contact: The same (created bat speed with correct movement instead of adding length to swing)
  • Attack Angle Range: +11.06% (% of swings between 4° & 16°)
  • Max EV: 109.2mph
  • Peak EV: +4.73mph (essentially average EV of barrels)
  • Average EV: +2.98mph
  • EV on different pitches
    • Inside: +2.79mph
    • Middle: +3.09mph
    • Outside:+0.34mph
    • High: +3.00mph
    • Middle: +5.11mph
    • Low: +2.09mph

Season Results

After committing to a full offseason, with the intent of having a “lucky” year, he had just that. Thomas just wrapped up the regular season and these were the results.

2020 vs 2021:

  • AVG: +0.124
  • SLG%: +0.337
  • OB%: +0.125
  • OPS: +0.462

He was able to achieve these results not only by working incredibly hard and smart this off-season, but also by constantly learning from others. He was always asking myself, Tanner Stokey, and our in-gym pros like Robbie Tenerowicz (Byrd) questions to get more information or gain an edge. He not only does this at Driveline but does a great job in utilizing his coaching staff at school by constantly picking the brain of his head coach, Robert Ruiz about approach and other aspects of the game.

“I don’t know if I’ve had many guys with as much of a dialed-in plan as he does every time he steps to the plate. He is just a baseball guy through and through. He loves the game and he studies it and he’s proven to have a wonderful mind for hitting. Of course mechanically he has the tools, but it’s been his mental approach that’s impressed me the most,” Ruiz said.

Written by Andrew Aydt, Hitting Manager

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