Fine-tuning the Swing Based Upon Statcast Data

In this article I have researched the relationship between Batted ball direction and production. I found out that air balls are more effective if they are pulled than hit to center but especially hit the other way. That can be already seen on liners a little bit but especially on fly balls which are very dependent on batted ball direction.

However the downside is that pulling actually suppresses LA, especially low in the zone because you will roll over and topspin more balls when you try to pull them. I broke this down in this table LA by hit direction and zone

This shows that you can only pull certain pitches consistently unless you have a special talent. Generally the more down and away the harder to pull it off the ground and the more up and in the easier.

In this article I showed that most top hitters average around 12-18 degrees. That is interesting because the most productive LAs are around 25 degrees if struck perfectly. However this is only true if you strike the ball perfectly and also while batted balls are distributed more like a bell curve (looks different because it is a cumulative curve) around the median as Tom Tango shows here batted ball distribution the production really isn’t as production increases on a slower slope towards 30 degrees than it drops off after it. That means you want to shift more batted balls into that good 10-30 window even if this means losing some of the great 25-30 balls.

And also ideal production in relation to LA is not the same depending on batted ball direction.
production based on direction . You can see that pulled balls have the highest wOBA at 20-35 degrees, balls to center are best at 10-25 and oppo best at 5-20. Unfortunately the batted ball trend is exactly vice versa, as the LA on pulled balls is only around 5 degrees for the league vs 20 for oppo. That means you don’t need to spend much effort on lifting oppo balls as well as high pitches

The goal of a hitter should be finding pitch locations that he can pull in the air which is also highlighted in the above linked article. Also the hitter should avoid rolling over into grounders by not pulling balls that he can’t pull (by either taking them or hitting them to other fields) and lastly he should try to avoid too high LAs on balls hit the other way.

But priority is clearly first to avoid the grounder, especially to the pull side as this ist he worst batted ball type, then secondly to try to pull the air ball (but this comes clearly second to avoiding the grounder) and lastly there is avoiding high LAs on oppo balls.

For this I suggested this chart in my prior article optimized batted ball direction by zone. It suggests to pull inside pitches and also high middle pitches which are easy to lift. It also suggests that low middle pitches are hit up the middle to get them off the ground and unsurprisingly low and away pitches hit the other way. This is pretty much conventional wisdom except turning on the high middle pitch. Where my optimized approach differs from „hitting where it is pitched“ is that it suggests hitting higher (and middle high) outside balls more up the middle or maybe very slightly to oppo than really to the outer third of the field. This is to push the LA down a little from the 25 degrees that high outside pitches hit to oppo yield.

To summarize this so far we have:

*Hit the ball where it is pitched except for the high middle pitch that should be hooked to pull field and the high outside pitch which should be hit more middle to oppo gap rather than straight oppo.

*Try to shrink the zone a little on the low outside (bad launch angle and absolutely not pull-able) and very up and in pitches (suppresses EV and could cause pop ups and whiffs).

*Ff you are a pull/FB hitter try to polarize your swinging a little toward the zones in which you can elevate to pull field.

Of course there is more to it. Some guys like Bautista made a living out of pulling balls in the air and other guys like Trout or JD Martinez are able to pull the ball but actually have slightly below average pull rates and have mentioned that their default approach is fastball center to oppo gap and then react in on inside pitches and some off-speed stuff. This has advantages too since the little deeper FB contact means you have a little more room out front if you are fooled on the breaking stuff. This approach sacrifices a little bit of power but maybe prevents more rolled over grounders, helps BABIP a little and of course Trout and JDM are strong enough to hit it out to the middle oft he field.

In contrast to that hitters like Brian Dozier need to pull the ball to do damage in the air. Dozier with his extreme pull/FB approach thus gets more out of his raw power than Trout and JDM but he does pay a BABIP price because he does polarize his z-swing Dozier heat map but still will pull some non pull-able pitches leading to pulled grounders despite his overall low GB rate.

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