Hitting for More Power to Your Pull Side: A Minor League Case Study
Wyatt Young showed up to train at Driveline after his first professional season, where he hit .370 (tied for 1st in the FCL for hitters with at least 100 ABs) with a wRC+ of 145. Not a bad start to a professional career, but Wyatt Young was not interested in settling on that success and was looking to improve his baseball swing.
He knew if he wanted to move up the system, he needed to improve the areas that were average or below. Those were: bat speed, top 8th Exit Velocity (EV), extra base hits (ISO), and everything vs LHPs. His goal was simply to do more damage and get more comfortable off lefties. Training started with bat speed.
Bat Speed. Hitters these days are in a similar situation to cowboys in the Wild West. That is, they need a quick draw to get through a high noon duel. Speed to react and pull the pistol or swing the barrel—the one-on-one battle between pitcher and hitter sounds a lot like a duel. Word gets around town about who’s got it and who might move to the next town to test their mettle. In the Wild West, they might not have had leader boards of trigger times like today’s scouting companies keep of hitters’ bat speeds and exit velocities, but speed with the weapon seems just as valuable.
It’s often the first thing that comes up in a scouting conversation about amateur or professional hitters, and it’s usually the number that gets displayed next to your name after a showcase event. It’s often one of the first things teams will measure (or should measure) once you are on campus or have signed. In a game or game-like setting, it becomes a valuable measurement that gives us a good idea of your potential skill floor and ceiling. When Dan Aucoin and Alex Caravan paired in-gym Blast and HitTrax data, bat speed was the highest correlating metric to woBACON. Simply put, hitting the ball harder increases your chance of success. And moving the bat faster will help you hit the ball harder. Look here for more on what we measure and why bat speed matters.
Bat sensors like Blast and Diamond Kinetics, even Garmin, allow you to measure bat speed along with different hitting metrics to show you how the bat is moving through the swing. If you follow Driveline, you know that we use Blast Motion sensors everyday in the cage. If you’re looking to learn about how to train bat speed, I assume you’re already tracking it. We track every swing with Blast and every batted ball with HitTrax. This allows us to see how those numbers are changing through the drill work in the athlete’s programming and the organized cage environments, and make adjustments along the way. Test-Train-Retest.
But What Is Good Bat Speed?
First off, the environment matters. Tee speed or bat speed in flips is not the same as bat speed in a game. We see it often and it makes sense that in more controlled environments, bat speeds will trend higher. That’s why we track swings from game-like settings with Blast and HitTrax, as they give us a much more realistic look at the hitter. Here’s a look at the numbers we want our hitters at when they train with us. If you are a freshman in high school, you will probably be much lower than this. On the other end, if you’re a developed high level college athlete, we’d likely be looking for higher averages (especially with a metal bat). Bat speed is an important KPI for us and something all hitters should be aware of in their training.
Let’s take a look at how this works with a real hitter. I will touch on a flagged issue from this athlete’s assessment. There will be a report or video, and then a drill and/or implement we used to combat the flagged swing flaw. Let’s get to it.
A Look at Wyatt Young’s Baseball Swing Profile
Let’s start with the Swing Profile report that was pulled from Wyatt Young’s first week, looking closer at his baseball swing. You will notice that most of the areas flagged in red are regarding metrics we’d associate with power and “doing damage.”
After walking through the numbers from Blast on this Swing Profile Report, we confirmed the areas he wanted to address:
- Bat Speed
- Exit Velocity (EV)
- Higher Launch Angles to the Pull Side
Each training day had a broad focus of bat speed or bat to ball, and would continue with reps off the machine or live arm/short box after working through the drills. We also addressed the left-on-left matchups by setting up angled flips, angled machine, and LHP profiles from the Spinball iPitch machine. Here’s a look at a scheduled week in TRAQ and one of the daily drill workouts.
Drill – Hitting Pivot Pick Offs
We saw Wyatt quickly increase his bat speed during drill work. The drill that helped unlock some of this speed was the Hitting Pivot Pick with the Axe Bat Speed Trainers. When it comes to training bats and implementing the Speed Trainers, we usually see a spread of about 5-7 mph of bat speed between each bat. Bat speed with the Handle Load Overload usually sits close to regular bat speed; the End Load Overload bat is about 5-6 mph slower, and the Underload is about 6-7 mph faster.
Wyatt was ripping high 70s bat speed in flips with his game bat, but we needed more time transferring that to more challenging environments. We started working in short machine and smash factor balls to see if we could bridge the gap between his bat speed during flips and during game-like machine or live arm.
Adding bat speed and hitting the ball harder were Wyatt’s main goals, and he did just that. His batted balls were also doing more damage, as the xwOBACON went up, and he had 20% more hits with a LA between 10-30 in his top 8th EV.
BAT SPEED: 65.64 -> 72.38 = +6.74mph INCREASE
Bat speed for the lower levels of pro ball hover around 69-70 with Top 8th EV sitting at 97-98. . Wyatt established himself above those markers.
After looking at how Wyatt Young’s baseball swing profile changed, let’s take a look at how his movement changed. The K-Vest report shows us how fast each major segment is moving, and the timing of that movement. It’s a good way to determine what may be preventing the creation of speed, or where the hitter is losing speed. Some of those metrics are listed below.
A big one that stood out was hip/shoulder separation, or as K-Vest categorizes it, X-Factor. This is the degree of separation between the hips and shoulders. K-Vest grabs measurements at heel plant, first move, and contact, so those are the three numbers you see in the chart. We want to see coil of the pelvis and torso during the gather or Load Phase of the swing. With both of those coiled up, separation should be small. During the Stride Phase and into the heel plant, not much will change.
But, as you start to make your first move (when pelvis speed gets over 400 degrees/sec) and initiate rotation, the pelvis should open up, while the shoulders stay closed. This creates separation and gets us into the proper position to really drive rotation. During the Swing Phase, this separation will close some when the hips decelerate and the torso accelerates into further rotation off the hips. You can see from the numbers that Wyatt cleaned up his load and separation (x-factor) immensely. Also, his torso and front arm speeds (defined by K-Vest) improved from well below in gym average to just above.
Drill – Offset Open
One drill that we used a lot during Wyatt’s training was the Offset Open drill. While this drill is great for barrel depth and direction, we focused on proper load and bat path. You can preset proper separation by setting and keeping the hips open while the shoulders load to a closed, coiled position. From there, the goal is to quickly get the barrel behind the ball, deep in the swing.
Wyatt struggled to get this pitch in the air for the first few weeks, which we then progressed to the pull side. Wyatt was challenged with different implements (Long/Short, Speed Trainers, Smash Bat) and in different environments. We started with baseballs, moved to Plyos, and then to a short machine. The goal was always to be quick and to control ball flight, whether we did the drill with a middle or pull focus.
Fixing the Push Sequence
One thing that stood out on video was the disconnection or “push” from the arms into contact. We’d like to see the athlete rotate into contact with the hands still connected, in other words with the trail shoulder holding the same position as when the bat entered the hitting zone. This allows the hitter to adjust their arm extension if their timing is early. When the hitter pushes or gets disconnected, the torso will stop rotating and the arms will extend, pushing the hands towards the ball. When coaches talk about hitting in a phone booth, they are talking about this connection and the ability to have tight turns, or rotate in a tight window of space.
Wyatt had heard this from coaches in his past, but we were set on creating measurable change.. In his post training motion capture assessment, we saw his torso rotation increase from regularly 800-900 rpms to regularly 1100-1200 rpms. This peak speed increase happened over the exact same time length (36 frames), produced avg/max bat speeds 3.5 mph faster, and exit velocities 3 mph faster, while keeping point of contact the same or slightly less.
Torso Rotation Speeds +300 rpms
Avg/Max Bat Speed +3 mph
Exit Velocity +3 mph
Point of Contact (slightly deeper)
The gif on the left displays the torso slowing down and the left arm extending into contact. You can see on the right, how the flexion in the left elbow doesn’t change much until right at contact. Torso speeds on the swing on the right were about 300 rpms higher and the batted ball was 4 mph harder, even though both were hit on the barrel.
One important point about the push pattern is that if you extend early to the fastball regularly, but the pitch moves or is slower than anticipated, it will be really hard to adjust, since your extension is all but spent. This was important for Wyatt as he looked to improve off left-handed pitching.
Drill – Long Trainer
One tool I really like using to combat the push pattern is the Long Trainer. Because it is long, you can’t easily get your barrel to the ball if you’re pushing the hands away from the body. Additionally, the weight is hard to rotate around the spine, so athletes tend to keep their hands closer to their body.
Wyatt Young’s baseball swing progressed to using the Long Trainer in some angled machine work. This is where we offset the machine to the first base side to increase the challenge of turning the barrel to the pitch (you could also use offset closed to achieve a similar effect). Like many other drills, Wyatt focused on ball flight in the air to the pull side.
Training Notes on Wyatt Young’s Baseball Swing
Improvement in bat speed is not going to be linear. Neither will EV. Athletes must continue to tap on the upper end of those thresholds. Bat speed training is best done with a sensor so you can get immediate feedback right after each swing. You can bet that if you have a Blast or DK sensor, it will automatically sync to your Driveline TRAQ account, too. Even when Wyatt was working in controlled environments, he was usually wearing a sensor. That way we could see which drill and what bat was guiding him to faster movements. Most of the time, harder is not better—faster is. We did a lot of exploring early on with different drills to find what was difficult to execute and what really got him moving well. Both are valuable.
Some training days, when he “had it,” or when his bat speed was on the upper ends of his normal range early in the session, that would become priority. Even if it was on a day that was programmed to be more bat to ball/smash factor (smash focus, as we call it), where he might be facing mixed pitches on the pitch machine in simulated ABs, the focus was still producing swings with higher than his average bat speeds before two strikes. Normally, that environment would warrant more of an emphasis on approach, swing decisions, and batted ball results. Wyatt’s goal was often to execute swings with higher bat speeds in a game-like environment.
Wyatt was aware of the significance of hitting metrics within professional baseball, on field success, and future promotion. He was willing to dedicate his offseason to finding out if he could produce more power in the swing. We all know the work is really just getting started. What Wyatt does have is the experience of trial and error from working through controlled, to challenging, to simulated games in live at-bat environments. He will also approach the season with confidence hung on the hard work he put in.
Attack Your Goals at Driveline
You don’t often get an athlete who is willing to do everything you put in front of them. It’s even less often that the athlete goes about those things with preparation and tenacity to get the most from each and every one. Wyatt was a savage and always came ready to train, even if it meant early AM hacks before departing flights. That’s the type of athlete coaches and trainers hope to get to work with—someone who comes in having spent some time thinking about their goals and what they want to get out of training, and is actually ready to put in the work. If that sounds like you or an athlete you know, you can get in touch with us here.
Wyatt Young with a booming double for his first MLB Spring Training hit.— Jacob Resnick (@Jacob_Resnick) April 1, 2022
Young hit .370 with a .904 OPS in the FCL after the #Mets took him in the 15th round out of @PeppBaseball last year. pic.twitter.com/8bbRh5E3AH
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By Maxx Garrett – Hitting Trainer