“” How to be a Complete Hitter: Three Key Areas to Improve

How to be a Complete Hitter: Three Key Areas to Improve

| Blog Article, Hitting
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Written by John Soteropulos, Hitting Trainer

Bat speed is king, but deep down, we all know there’s a lot more that goes into successful hitting. At Driveline, we’ve spent the last three years searching for these answers, and this fall we’re ready to unveil our method for training the complete hitter:

The Big 3

  1. Bat Speed
  2. Bat-to-Ball Skills (Smash Factor)
  3. Swing Decisions

What are each of these metrics and how do we use the Big 3 system at Driveline? This blog will answer these questions as well as provide insight into how we are currently integrating the Big 3 with our in-gym hitters. Onward! 

Foundations of Hitting

30 modules teaching you everything we know about hitting and hitting mechanics.

Bat Speed

PlayerTop 8th
EV
Bat Speed
Giancarlo Stanton115.281.3
Vladimir Guerrero
Jr.
112.579.1
Shohei Ohtani110.779
Aaron Judge111.779
Ronald Acuna111.478.6
Nelson Cruz110.678.4
Fernando Tatis Jr.110.378.1
Pete Alonso110.278.1
Mike Zunino110.478
Franmil Reyes109.677.8
2021 Bat Speed Leaderboard
(MLB Average = 74.5mph)

When discussing the Big 3, we have to remember that bat speed is weighted more heavily than bat-to-ball skills or smash factor. Our Hitting Analyst, Noah Thurm, said it best:

“A hitter’s bat speed sets their ceiling and their floor. Their smash factor and swing decisions will determine where they live between these two.”

The ability to swing the bat fast cannot be understated. Bat speed is to hitters as velocity is to pitchers. Throw the ball harder and you improve your chances for positive outcomes; swing the bat faster and you improve your chances for positive outcomes (all things being equal, which they rarely are).

Think of bat speed as the foundation for your career. Without it, there is nothing to build off of. I’ve found that this very relatable pitching analogy, “the best command in the world won’t matter if you throw 83 mph” drives the point home. The same goes for bat speed—elite bat-to-ball and swing decisions will only take you so far if you’re swinging the bat 59 mph. 

Bat-to-Ball (Smash Factor)

Evaluating bat-to-ball skills isn’t anything new to baseball; scouts have been doing it for decades. While their way of evaluating bat-to-ball skills isn’t necessarily bad, it desperately needs improvement. Enter smash factor. We use smash factor as a way to quantify a hitter’s bat-to-ball skills. Smash factor measures two things: 

  1. Quality of contact – How well do you square the ball up when you swing?
  2. How good are you at making contact? Essentially, how often do you put the ball in play, whiff, or hit a foul ball? 

Quality of contact measures how well you square the ball up. It answers the questions, can you hit it on the sweet spot, and can you do that often? In technical terms, we are measuring your collision efficiency, or how well you transferred bat speed into exit velocity. Swings where you hit a ball like this get assigned a high smash factor value: 

Ball-Bat Collision with High Smash Factor
Ball-Bat Collision with High Smash Factor

Swings where you miss the sweet spot and hit a ball like this, get assigned a low smash factor value:

Ball-Bat Collision with Low Smash Factor
Ball-Bat Collision with Low Smash Factor

Now that we’ve accounted for quality of contact, it’s time to measure how good you are at actually making contact. To accomplish this, smash factor assigns a value of 0 to any swing that results in a whiff or foul ball. By penalizing whiffs and foul balls, smash is able to determine how skilled a hitter is at putting the bat on the ball. 

To calculate a player’s average smash factor, we simply add up the smash factor on every swing and then divide by the total number of swings. 

Smash Factor Formula

By combining quality of contact and the skill of making contact, smash factor allows us to rate and evaluate a hitter’s bat-to-ball skills. Still having trouble conceptualizing smash factor? Yeah, me too.

Check out the 2021 leaderboard and laggard board to get a feel for what good and bad bat-to-ball players look like. 

PlayerSmash FactorAttack AngleTop 8th
EV
Bat Speed
Nick Madrigal0.9482.398.970.5
David Fletcher0.9291.497.569.8
Willians Astudillo0.9156103.473.3
Luis Arraez0.91410.499.470.8
Michael Brantley0.9097.810473.7
Kevin Newman0.9020.3101.872.1
Austin Nola0.8926103.874
Tommy La Stella0.88811.2101.672.1
Eric Sogard0.8798.296.969.4
Adam Frazier0.8677.798.770.7
2021 Smash Factor Leaders
PlayerSmash FactorAttack AngleTop 8th
EV
Bat Speed
Keston Hiura0.36911.9105.175.2
Patrick Wisdom0.40611.7107.275.4
J.D. Davis0.417.6105.875.8
Sam Hilliard0.42510.7106.874.7
Javier Baez0.43211.310776.2
Andrew Knapp0.43210.5101.674.5
Joey Gallo0.44413.8109.577.2
Mike Zunino0.44516110.478
Luke Voit 0.45113.1105.775.7
Aristides Aquino0.45410.7106.774.6
2021 Smash Factor Laggards

Swing Decisions

Lars Nootbar HR
Lars Nootbaar Homerun (Video from MLB Filmroom, Visual from Baseball Savant)

Rounding out our Big 3 is swing decisions. Generally speaking, the belief has been that players who exhibit good swing decisions “swing at strikes” and “take balls”. While this isn’t a bad strategy (it’s a really good one, actually), quantifying a player’s swing decisions has proven to be a lot more nuanced than this.

Simply breaking down pitches by whether they are balls or strikes inevitably ignores valuable context when measuring swing decisions, unfairly debiting or crediting certain hitters over others depending on style, approach, and talent level. At Driveline, we quantify hitters’ swing decisions taking all of this into account, and our trainers implement this framework into the daily training environment.   

Training and Tracking Improvements 

Connor Hickey’s Assessment Week Big 3 Grades
Connor Hickey’s Assessment Week Big 3 Grades (Screenshot is from Driveline’s Internal Dashboard)
Big three gains
Connor’s Big 3 Grades After Training at Driveline for 6 Weeks

So there you have it, the Big 3. Taking this holistic view towards evaluating hitters is revolutionizing the way we train baseball players. Once you start coaching under the framework of the Big 3, it’s hard to go back. A lot of times when I’m coaching a player I’ll find myself asking questions like: 

  • Is what we are doing working on bat speed? 
  • How will this drill improve his/her smash factor?
  • What’s the best way to coach swing decisions in this drill? Do swing decisions even need to be coached in this drill? 
  • If this training isn’t related to the Big 3, then how am I making this hitter better? 

Number 4 is the money question. If you don’t have a good answer to that, you should rethink your practice plan. The beauty of the Big 3 is that it provides a structure for training and tracking tangible results. The proof is in the pudding, and as always…don’t forget to swing fast! 

Train at Driveline

Big 3 got you fired up? Come train with us 💪 In-gym and remote options are both available.

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