PRIME TIME HITTING
THE MISSION OF PRIME TIME HITTING (PTH)
What's the goal of practice and training? The long and short of it -- improve performance in competition. So, at Prime Time Hitting, our goal is to teach our amateur hitters how prioritizing strength and mobility with our progression of swing development phases leads to optimizing movement patterns to inflict maximum damage at impact. Along the way, athletes will learn how the value of a constraints-led approach, swing and batted-ball metrics and a game-like training environment.
So, what does this program look like? Overall, Prime Time Hitting (PTH), creates a training environment conducive to accomplishing specific goals within an athlete's swing or batted ball results. This environment is essential to the training process -- as it provides context to all our athletes and an effective feedback loop to back up the drills we prescribe. A tight feedback loop gives hitters objective feedback instantly after performing each task. In other words, it takes out the guess work and allows our hitters to make instant connection between FEEL -- and RESULTS.
While measuring and tracking qualitative data is an integral part of our program -- no two swing patterns are exactly alike, just as no two body types are the same. So, variation and customization are essential in order to maximize the damage potential of each hitter. To put it all together, we compile data on each hitter and discuss what, why -- and then move on to the how. We call this our Observe -- Decide -- Act model.
Through this model, we observe the strengths and weakness of each athletes swing and body type, set internal and external goals for improving performance, design a specialized training program -- then we get to work!
ASSESSMENT & PROGRAMMING
The program begins with a 1-week 360º physical screen and hitting assessment. Why do we assess each each? Well, we firmly believe that any successful training program is built on collecting qualitative data to establish a baseline for athlete performance and determine target areas for improvement -- or an athlete's "lowest hanging fruit."
Why a whole week to assess? Establishing a hitter's swing profile is a process -- and we follow a Test-Retest Model during the course of PTH. The process follows a specific order of collecting data, analyzing that data, targeting areas for improvement, designing training programs based on athlete movement deficiencies, setting objective goals -- and finally re-testing this assessment data.
Once we've established an athlete's baseline of performance and compiled data on their swing and batted-ball metrics -- we design a training program to target their swing deficiencies and body limitations. While each hitter needs variations in program design in order to improve their specific needs -- we use a constraint-led approach to swing development. These constraint drills target specific swing flaws that include: the loading phase, stride phase, and swing phase. In addition, we're looking to increase certain swing and batted-ball metrics through programming such as: bat speed, exit velocity, swing quickness, attack angle and launch angle.
After we've put everything together and designed each athlete's specialized program, we input their daily routine into TRAQ software. This software is readily accessible 24/7 via mobile devices and allows athletes to view and track their daily performance.
The bottom line is -- every swing is different and requires variations in their development regiment, but by creating the right training environment -- we give all our hitters the tools they need to optimize their swing and succeed at any level.
ATHLETE SWING DEVELOPMENT
It's just part of the game we all love -- endless ways to train and achieve the results we are all looking for. Ultimately, hitting poses an even greater number of metrics that predict future success in competition. So, at Prime Time Hitting, we believe in an all-encompassing approach to training hitters that teaches our athletes efficient swing patterns, increases specific swing and batted-ball metrics and promotes successful in-game approaches for optimizing results. But all of it starts by understanding "Intent" and "Self-Organization."
INTENT & SELF-ORGANIZATION
Intent can be defined by the focus and effort of performing a task. In baseball terms, we use intent to describe the damage we inflict on the ball at impact. We've found that there is a direct correlation between swinging with the intent to cause utter destruction and the development of more efficient movement patterns -- leading to increases in metrics like exit velocity and bat speed.
With a stronger emphasis on external cues such as "inflict damage on the ball," athletes are afforded the ability to self-organize their movement. Self-organization describes movements that emerge from the interaction of the body, environment and task. Athletes with an internal focus ("rotate hips earlier") often end up paralyzing efficient movement and create undesired patterns in their swing. Contrastingly, an external focus ("hit the ball hard, on a line") allows the body to in a desired path and sequence to accomplish the task -- leading to desired adaptations in an athlete's swing.
SWING MECHANICS & ROTATIONAL POWER
So, with all this talk of movement and swing patterns... what exactly are we talking about? Well, PTH subscribes to what is called the Kinetic Link Principle. The definition of this uses some rather technical language that we try to steer away from with amateur athletes -- so we describe it as the principle of the body generateing force into the ground, to create energy, that is then transferred up the body and into the bat. Swing flaws stem from a lack of force production with the ground or energy leaks from improper sequencing of body segments during the swing.
In training these segmented movements -- like ground force production and proper sequences -- it's difficult for athletes to re-shape how they move while trying to hit a moving object. So, on a daily basis, PTH prescribes athletes with a regiment of PVC Pipe and Medicine Balls drill work that removes the task of hitting a moving ball -- and emphasizes FEEL for efficient, rotational power.
Now, we will briefly examine some of the metrics that we track for all athletes -- with the belief that improvements in each directly correlate to more successful results in competition. The first, and primary focus of PTH, is exit velocity.
As many of you already know, exit velocity is the max speed (mph) of a batted-ball after impact. Whether it's a ground-ball, line drive or fly ball -- the faster a ball moves after impact, the more likely we are for successful results in-game. Throughout the course of this program, we consistently track each athlete's max exit velocity (the single highest speed a ball comes off their bat). This number has become increasingly important in the recruitment process for high-school athletes, so it's focal point for us to improve.
However, we also emphasize average exit velocity -- which more directly correlates to on field success. Average exit velocity illustrates how consistently each athlete hits the ball hard, instead of the overall power potential that max exit velocity shows us. Hitting the ball extremely hard once is great, but we want to do it consistently. In addition, we track swing metrics as well such as, bat speed. Bat speed is a direct correlation with exit velocity. It's pretty self-explanatory, the faster you swing the bat, the harder you'll hit the ball on a consistent basis.
ATTACK & LAUNCH ANGLE
Next, we track both the attack and launch angle of all our hitters. First, we believe it's important for each athlete to understand the importance of these metrics in relation to overall success at the plate. All pitches have a downward trajectory toward the plate, so to properly "square up" the ball and maximize exit velocity, hitters need to mirror the slope of the ball. In other words, as the pitch is moving downward, a hitter's barrel should be attacking upward to meet the ball at and through impact.
So, we begin training hitter's attack angle. Attack angle is often confused as launch angle, but in fact is defined by the vertical angle the barrel is moving (upward or downward) at impact, in relation to ground. In order to mirror the slope of a pitch, hitter's must understand how to create an upward attack angle at impact and adjust depending on pitch location and pitch type. The far more frequently mentioned metric is Launch Angle. While it has become somewhat divisive, launch angle depicts the angle of the ball coming off the bat. To train this, we use variables in our swing development to teach our hitters how to manipulate launch angle depending on our task and goal. This provides hitter's the ability to hit the ball flush more consistently, leading to desired launch angles in competition.
OVERLOAD & UNDERLOAD TRAINING
Now that we've gone over what swing flaws and metrics we're trying to improve -- and why -- how do we train it? A big part of our training revolves around Overload/Underload training. Overload/Underload training is the use of implements that are "overloaded" (heavier) and "underloaded" (lighter). At PTH, our Overload/Underload training incoporates the use of bats with an overloaded barrel and handle, and an underloaded barrel -- as well as hitting weighted plyo balls heavier than a regulation baseball. While using overload and underload training is relatively new to training hitters, the variations in weight distribution aids in re-shaping swing patterns, developing variability and adjustability and improving exit velocity, attack angle, launch angle -- and more.
According to research studies published by Driveline Baseball, "overload and underload training can yield results with implements of ±12.0% and even up to ±100.0%. We decided that ±20% was an ideal and safe variation in load for our program. This is largely due to Soviet research of Olympic rotational-swinging athletes (hammer throw, discus, etc.), which suggests that an overload of more than 20% could yield detrimental movement adaptations." Ultimately, overload bats train our athletes to swing with more intent, while underload bats increase body segment and bat speed.
In addition to Overload/Underload, other implement variants we use are long and short bats. The different lengths help train our athletes use proper intent, maintain proper posture and develop efficient sequencing. The overall goal of all these training variables is to develop consistent, data-driven results at maximum intensity -- so all our athletes are able to successfully transition practice -- into competition.
As we've consistently referred to tracking data-metrics -- we want all athletes to know exactly how we track this information -- and what technologies we use on a daily basis.
Let's begin with Driveline's TRAQ. This software is how we program each of our athletes. It allows us to input daily routines and exercises -- with corresponding video links for visual reference for proper performance of each -- while also tracking athlete progress over time.
PTH creates a user profile for each of our hitters. The software is mobile-friendly, so hitters' daily programs are readily accessible at their fingertips 24/7. It also provides athlete's the ability to input their own data performance, such as daily exit velocity numbers, weigh-ins and which exercises/drills are completed or skipped on any given day. This feedback allows our staff to track progress and make adjustments based on each individual.
TRAQ is also able to track pitch location, ball distance, attack angles -- and sets and reps. The use of this software is integral in keeping a tight feedback loop with our athletes, and holding all our hitters accountable for completion of their entire prescribed program.
As we've discussed, blending swing metrics and batted-ball metrics is key to understanding exactly where the cause of swing deficiencies are for each athlete -- and track progress over time. At Prime Time Hitting, we use Hitting Rapsodo 2.0.
"Rapsodo Inc is a sports analytics company that uses computer vision and advanced radar to help all athletes maximize their performance. Our proprietary technology applications range from helping PGA Tour golfers optimize their launch conditions to allowing MLB pitchers to increase the efficiency on their breaking balls. From the diamond to the court to the tee, Rapsodo gives athletes of all ages the tools to get to the next level."
Rapsodo 2.0 along with our use of PVC drills, Med Ball drills, mobility work three times a week -- and the overload/underload bats are what makes PTH truly unique -- and emphasize QUALITY > QUANTITY.
So much of baseball has come to revolve around an athlete's results. In other words, the outcomes of performing a given task. But, if we're to improve these outcomes, it's important to first improve the performance of respective tasks. For example, as hitters -- to improve exit velocity, it may be more pertinent to first focus on and improve an athlete's bat speed. With a direct correlation between higher bat speeds and higher exit velocity, at PTH, we blend both swing metrics with batted-ball metrics. Improving one, generally suggests an improvement in the other.
And now, Prime Time Hitting is happy to announce that starting in 2020-2021, we will be using Blast Motion Bat Sensors to track swing metrics such as Bat Speed, Attack Angle and Time to Impact. By keeping a consistent training environment, these metrics help us promote and track improvements in swing mechanics such as swing quickness, posture and sequencing.
Finally, we've arrived at the over-arching goal of off-season training -- performing at our highest level during competition. And we don't need to be outside on the ball field, or in-season, to create a game-like environment for our athletes. Using higher velocity batting practice, mixing pitches and live at-bats against pitchers from our Prime Time Velocity program -- all hitters compete to see who can get the most desired outcomes (based on their specialized program).
As research shows, swing mechanics -- and subsequently, swing and batted-ball metrics -- change dramatically between tee work, front toss and game-like intensities. So, Prime Time Hitting was designed with an intention of creating a daily training environment conducive to transferring practice -- into competition. And this competition phase of the program is where rubber meets the road, and our athletes have the opportunity to test their skills against high velocity pitching, adjust to variations in pitching location and pitch types.
In the end, the competition phase of this hitting program takes everything we've discussed above -- to see how our hitters perform when it matters most and the bright lights turn on.