Sunday, February 15, 2015

567's and the Great Debate: Should Hitters Hit Ground Balls or Fly Balls?


There are so many mis-teaches in hitting, and coaching players to hit predominantly ground balls is one of them. This is micro-management at its worst. Teaching players to make sure they put the ball in play exhibits a lack of trust in their ability, or in our ability to understand hitting and teach it the proper way.

Let's get this straight.

College baseball statistical programs log all extra base hits as line drives. In programs like Statcrew and Dakstats, fly balls are outs. All hits are categorized in college as only line drives or ground balls. This is absolutely asinine.

MLB gets it right. Their stat programs, due in large part to a financial capacity to have REAL HUMANS track every pitch and evaluate each contact, note that HRs can be both fly balls and line drives (depending on how hard a hitter hits the ball, and at what angle.)

At Lee University, we call these angles "ball flights," and we grade and value each ball flight separately, giving our hitters great perspective on what they hit, and what we want them to hit.

We encourage our hitters to hit 5's, 6's, and 7's. We call them 567's. To hit a ball at this ball flight requires a certain approach, an aggressive swing, and contact to be made at the front of the hitting zone (unless the ball is scorched backside).

A "1" flight is a ball hit sharply into the ground, first bouncing near home plate. A "9" is the equal, but opposite angle, hit straight up into the air.

A "4" flight is a hard contact that bounces in the back infield dirt. A "5" is perfectly squared up and cuts straight through the air. A "6" has backspin and "extra-base energy" (lots of doubles and triples here). Most HR's are "7" flight, though our strongest players can crush an "8" flight and have it sail out of the yard. 567's win. They require aggressiveness in approach and swing.

Truly, the line in assessing the difference between a line drive and fly ball is blurred, and subjective. We consider a "7" flight to be a fly ball, but to be the type of fly ball that we want to hit.

Here's where coaches get hitters jacked up: when you take the improperly sorted college flyball/groundball ratio data and impart those batting averages and out percentages onto your hitters, you communicate to your hitters that hitting ground balls is beneficial to them personally, and to the team. "Ground balls good. Fly balls bad."

As you can see from the table below, the batting average (approximately the 14th most important hitting statistic) on GBs is higher than that on FBs in the big leagues since 2002, but the ISO power (SLG% - AVG: a terrific sabermetric for evaluating a hitter's juice) is SIGNIFICANTLY greater on FBs than GBs.


Our final misstep in the coaching puzzle is the type of linear hand path/lacking separation/pushing the barrel forward to ensure we make contact swing that coaches dis-empower their hitters with.

Hit the ball on the ground is a misnomer. I don't care if you run a 6.5 60. Hitting 567's will result in having an ability to drive in runners from first, create a higher slugging percentage, higher OPS, more runs created, and make a greater impact on the game.

For more statistical data on LDs, GBs, FBs, go here.

At times, we demand our hitters make in-game adjustments. Windy day? Let's focus on 456's. Hitting is all about adjustment making, as is coaching. Teaching our hitters that hitting the right type of fly balls is advantageous is an adjustment that many programs can make.

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