Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Seeing the Truth Behind It (Part Four)

A Learning Moment in Oakland! 

In 1994, Ted Williams would name Steve Ferroli, the number one teacher of his world famous hitting theory.  Click Here to Watch

I am going to put Josh Donaldson's trip to the blackboard on hold and here is why.  Teaching for years and years, I have noticed times during camps, clinics, games or practices where there is an occurrence that creates what I call a learning moment.  That is to say, something happens that very obviously proves a point or raises an important question. 

We just had a learning moment in Oakland California...

I’m watching the Red Sox / A’s pregame and I’m hearing about how all of baseball is watching the Boston Red Sox offense.  They are talking about how this is unprecedented amazing - and so on.  And it has been smoking from the starters right to the bench.   

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, Oakland A’s lefty, Sean Manaea, throws a no hitter against them with a 90 mile an hour fastball and an 80 mile an hour slider.  Then the next day Dan Mengden was equally impressive with three different pitches.  The A’s held this unprecedented and amazing lineup to 1 run in 18 innings… 1 run!  The Red Sox had just swept the Angels aside like they were a minor league team.

How is this possible?     

It does not seem possible. I mean, all that hitting, all those home runs, brought to a sudden stop.  They in fact, were damn near stopped completely from scoring.  And it was not 40 degrees in Boston, it was nice baseball weather - 70 degrees.  How can this happen?   

Well we certainly can conclude that there is much more to hitting than launch angle.       

And as I said in part three:
To execute and maintain a slight up swing the hitter will require;
1) A decent full body swing
2) Proper thinking at the plate
3) The timing of his balance
4) An understanding of lighting effect
5) An understanding of strike zone depth 
6) A professional’s level of awareness in regard to the sweet spot of his bat.  

Unfortunately, I only see about half these skills on TV.  (You can’t fool me.)  Again, I’ll give MLB hitters a 5 on a 1-10 in the execution of Ted’s theory. 

While there is more to it than just this, for our purpose here, I would like to specifically focus on number 2 “proper thinking at the plate”.   Ted said; “Hitting a baseball is 50 percent from the neck up”. To Ted this was called proper thinking.

As Ted’s chosen successor, I will tell you that proper thinking can be broken down into three sub categories or skills: 1) Watching the pitcher pitch 2) Reading and seeing and  3) Two strike hitting. 

On an average, if I was grading MLB’s hitting test papers the section on "proper thinking" would say "SEE ME" in red marker beside the big, red X.

It is here, “proper thinking” where the Red Sox failed in Oakland.  As a matter of fact, it is  also where the A’s failed in Oakland...  But where the Red Sox were on fire going into these games the learning moment is more obvious when the focus is on them.  

“Proper thinking at the plate” is the very heart of timing any pitch.  It is the very heart of being on plane or creating the line drive plane. You cannot take consistent well timed full body swings without it - not possible. 

Ever drive a car that needed a tune up?  Pop, bang, shake, sputter - maybe die - same idea.  And this is a good analogy because proper thinking in hitting is complicated.  Proper thinking in hitting has its own spark plugs, wires and distributor.  When these parts are operating as designed your engine (your swing) will purr like a kitten.  When one or more are off… #$%^@&* !     

On an average, Mengden and Manaea don’t really have any better stuff than most other pitchers on any given day.  ( I could make a case for less.) But they sure used the stuff they had in such a way to attack the parts of hitting where most MLB’s hitters are weak and/or don’t understand.  It worked. 

Simply put there is still a lot of work to be done - many things to be learned and understood.  It is not really all that hard.

So if you’re a player, an agent, a team owner, a general manager or a team manager you could grab Ted’s book and my book (you will need both) and start digging and interpreting.  

Or you can help kid’s baseball by hiring me to show you quickly.  There is value in technique - lots of it.  

Earlier in this blog, I stated that while hitting seemed to be lost in space I headed to children’s baseball and started redesigning some obvious flaws at various levels of play.  While all the above is fun to talk about, I really don’t have a lot interest in MLB.  
I am more interested in the game of baseball than the business of baseball.   I do think MLB baseball has its place.  It is still many a kids dream and is copied and looked up to by all the leagues below.  Here is my main interest and concern.            

Unfortunately, in my opinion, kid’s baseball is a dying game.  It is a train wreck of poor design and presentation. And it just continues to pile up.  I can't wait to do a blog on the new kid's bat rule.  I don't have enough Mad Magazine for this one...   

The Ted Williams League a non -profit organization (and the best baseball work of my life) it has every answer to these problems.  It needs help.  It needs MLB help.      

Here is my mini business plan; you hire me as a consultant and all money goes to the Ted Williams League.  I help you. You help kid's baseball. 

Also, interested Ted Williams League sponsors that may happen to this blog please contact me as well.  

Here is the link to my summer camp for contact information. Click here to visit Camp

Josh Donaldson be ready next class... 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Seeing The Truth Behind It (Part 3)

Again, this is in response to an article written by Alex Speier in the Boston Globe on March 27th, entitled; “A New Launching Point.”  The thick of the article talks about three different concepts: 1) Matching the plane of the pitch 2) The degree or angle of the ball coming off the bat and 3) Exit velocity 

The article in general is very interesting and sheds some light on the dysfunctional history of learning how to hit along with where we are within it today.  It does not do a real good job separating the concepts mentioned above or explaining their relationship and I think I can help. 

I do think there is something to be learned for all hitters from the mental picture you get when you hear the term launch angle.  But, we need to be clear as to what it is and how it is created. 

Matching the Plane of the Pitch

One main reason for the success you are seeing today is that the hitters are doing a better job getting the bat within the “average plane” of the pitch.  

This is not an exact plane or angle, nor will it ever be.  I mean, is the pitch high or low in the zone? How tall is the pitcher?  How tall is the batter? Where is the pitcher’s release point?  All these factors create the exact pitch angle or plane on any given pitch.

I believe the best swing for all hitters is a slight up swing, on an average, somewhere between 4-8 degrees from ground level. 

Both batting instructors, Tim Hyers and Craig Wallenbrock are both quoted in the article as proponents of this basic concept and it is refreshing to finally hear it as this is a major element of the Ted Williams Hitting Theory.  Here is a link where Ted and I explain it together.

While this basic idea of meeting the plane of the pitch with a slight up swing is fairly easy to follow when the pitch is a fast ball, it is not so easy to understand or digest when the pitch is not within the equal and opposite plane.

When the pitch is a curve or slider, for example, the hitter must create the line drive angle and hopefully the line drive by intersecting the pitch’s plane with a slightly up line drive swing.  Very different idea, are you with me?  

I watched Andrew Benintendi and JD Martinez do a great job of it today against Baltimore both on curve balls.  This action, (which is equally as important as matching or getting on the plane with the fastball) is much more abstract. It does not come up in the article at all and needs to be said.  

In this instance, the hitter hopes to create a line drive, by intersecting a pitch that may be dropping down and away from him at a 45 degree angle.  He attempts to create a line drive with a slightly up, line drive producing swing.    

While we are on the swing plane,  the article also mentions the Charlie Lau / Walt Hriniak approach to hitting, claiming that this approach went down to the ball and then up in a “check mark” type of pattern.

This claim sounds even more ridiculous now, than it used to back then.  If that theory had any sort of an upswing objective, it was top secret - classified!  On an average, it did not have that effect or result at all, but rather, had every playing level of baseball on its front foot, with restricted hips, swinging down in relation to the pitch plane. 

The article talks about current hitters and coaches describing their hitting upbringings with tips like: “Straight to the Ball”, “Stay on Top of the Ball”, ”Swing Down”’ and “Hammer Down.”  “When I was a player, you were taught to hit down on the ball to create backspin,” said Phillies batting coach John Malle. “To actually create backspin, you had to undercut the center of the ball.” 

These comments above all came as a result of the Lau Theory.  I feel bad for the professional players that lessened or surrendered their careers to such nonsense and still cringe for the leagues below that were looking up.

It always reminded me of hitting that may take place in a coed pickup game put together by Christopher Robins after a picnic.  You can make a check mark beside this theory in the column that reads; out of the game.    

Launch Angle

The launch angle is the degree or angle that the ball is coming off the bat at contact. The article displays an example of two different hitters both hitting the ball equally as hard measured by their exit velocity. Exit velocity is the speed of the ball coming off the bat.

In this example, one hitter (JD Martinez) is swinging up and the other (Xander Bogearts) is swinging down. On similar pitch locations, Xander swinging down, grounds out and JD swinging up, launches a home run.  The example and article suggests that the up swinger will have a better launch angle and therefore a better result. 

This is not necessarily true!  The truth is, on the very next pitch, Xander swinging down may hit one off the wall and JD swinging up may hit a grounder with the same exit velocity.  Did I surprise you?

Also in the article, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington basically warns that he has seen hitters struggle while trying to incorporate the upward swing plane.  I agree with Neal Huntington as well.  Surprise you again?

Remember Mad Magazine when they wanted to swear it looked like this @#$%^%&. Well that is how most feel when they try to make sense of hitting.  It is so complicated and overwhelming that most just walk away with whatever pieces of it they feel comfortable in believing.

Ted Williams said; “Hitting a baseball is the hardest single act in all of sports.”  If you are going to hang... you have to be able to do what is hard.  He also said:  “Steve Ferroli can give you my answer to a question about hitting”.   Once while 1500 miles apart we were each asked the same question about Red Sox slugger, Jim Rice and answered it almost identically.  

I guess Alex’s Speier's Launch Angle article motivated me to create this blog because the article does a great job putting decades of frustration, question and truth all on the same table at a good time in baseball history to discuss it. 

OK then here we go! 

The problem is that the plane of the swing is far from the only determining factor in launch angle and it is a mistake to look at it that way.  Do I think the slight up swing is the best swing in baseball and will in fact, on an average, yield the best results for all types of hitters?  You better believe I do.  But you need to understand how to execute the slight up swing and here is where the problem lies.   

Hitting is not in a cage or in batting practice it is in “live at bats” with different pitchers and pitches.  Real good pitchers and pitches...  Every night you can watch guys on both teams struggle miserably to get their bat on the ball period.  There are still plenty of swings and misses and there always will be. 

To execute and maintain a slight up swing the hitter will require; a decent full body swing, proper thinking at the plate, the timing of his balance, an understanding of lighting effect, an understanding of strike zone depth and a professionals level of awareness in regard to the sweet spot of his bat.   

Unfortunately, I only see about half these requirements on TV.  You can’t fool me.  On an average,  I would only give MLB hitters a 5 on a 1-10 in the execution of Ted’s theory. 

I think launch angle is a subject to be considered after a controlled slight up swing is in place.  We are just not there yet. (This is what Neal Huntington is talking about.)

For example: If Hanley Ramirez and Brock Holt are confident in a well controlled and applied slight up swing, then it is time to begin thinking about different launch angles.  I used these two hitters for example because they are very different types of hitters with different objectives within the team’s offense. 

In closing, I really enjoyed the part of this article where JD Martinez was talking about fighting through the changes in his swing.  Especially when he became a professional with another swing, he deserves a lot of credit for that. 

I loved how he weighed and measured his talent and technique against other hitters in the league.  There is a lesson there for any athlete.  I’m sure Altuve and Mookie got some players talking to themselves in the mirror.

For some perspective and simple baseball fun, let’s go back to the Martinez and Bogaerts comparison but let’s shift the comparison to what I call “Talent vs Technique”.  Click Here to Watch

On a 1-10, I would give JD’s baseball talent a 7.5 and his hitting technique a 5.5.  I would give Xanders’ baseball talent a 9 and his hitting technique a 3.5.

The fun is to think about what happens when Bogaerts' technique becomes is a 5.5?  

See you next time, when I bring Toronto, Blue Jay's, Josh Donaldson to the black board to help us solve a another hitting problem...

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