BTG: Cage to Field
If you're like most high school coaches, or parents, you don't have a hittrax, or a rapsodo to provide feedback in the cage. Those tools are great for getting quality swings out of your athletes, and also for showing them the results of their swings based off of the rep taken, but they're also between 5 and 25 thousand dollars, which is definitely out of my price range. This guide will be added to, and changed when new ideas present themselves, but to me it's a fiscally responsible way to get that feedback without those machines.
Outfitting the cage to represent the field can be an effective way to see the results of certain swings, and promote instant feedback for your players. If you are using a radar gun, or blast motion sensors in your cage you will be able to pair those readings with other feedback like fair/foul, line drive/fly ball, and which gap the ball was hit. To understand why these will be good feedback you have to think of your current system for tracking balls hit. Is there anything that you use specifically? Maybe a certain pole is the foul lines, and the top of the L screen is line drive territory. While these are most likely understood by you, and your team there is a more effective way to preach these readings without spending much money, or resources in order to close the gap, and provide clear more descriptive feedback for your athletes.
LAUNCH ANGLE STRINGS
I've written about this before, in implementing the "launch angle" idea in your program here. This is for evaluating where the ball was hit, and at what angle off the bat. In order to understand the effective angles check out these Launch Angle Charts. I really like to use those in order to evaluate the ball that was hit, but also hang them up for the athletes to see so they can understand what the ball they hit was (line drive, ground ball, fly ball). These strings paired with Exit Velo, which I talk about in the next section help hitters understand results for batted balls, both distance and hang time. If you want a walk-through this video from Diamond Kinetics walks you through each part of the steps for hanging strings. Or if you already have a general idea you can use the chart I have posted to measure off depending on the height of the cage you're using.
You can use exit velo to diagnose and evaluate a number of different things in terms of what the underlying cause is for certain results. When coming up with our "swing profile" hitters will have many different exit velo's taken, in different spots and with different bats, in order to start to create a picture of the batted balls. Using a radar gun behind the hitter slightly offset to their pull side gap you should be able to collect some data that paired with the Launch angle strings can tell you distance and hang time of the balls hit. Or you can invest in Blast Motion's "Blast Vision" which covers both the launch angle, and the exit velocity of the ball hit.
The bottom half of home plate is a right triangle, which makes drawing foul lines extremely easy to define as they'll be 45 degree angles from the middle of the plate. By placing some tape on the ground, a pole, or even some flagging tape from amazon, you can label where the fair and foul lines on a baseball field are. Very often when laying down bunts in the cage, or swinging off the machine we aren't truly getting an idea if something was fair or foul, we're just guessing. This will provide feedback for if it was a successful bunt, or if they were on time with a down the line hit. Paired with EV and LA you'd be surprised what a homerun down the left field line looks like in the cage. (It doesn't look like a homerun).
This is a start to field locations, and creates a more exact tunnel that hitters can see for results. If you'd like to dig deeper you can start to divide the field. Driveline posted a great article on how they create their batted ball profile, but they have the luxuries of being able to use a hittrax, rapsodo, and blast. But without those tools I still chose their method on dividing the field. Since it is a right triangle you can say that 0 degrees is dead center, and +45 is right field line, and -45 is the left field line. Hoping that you've already labeled the foul lines you can start to cut the field to whatever dimensions you like. I have put up vertical lines inside of the launch angle strings to divide into LF line, left center, right center, and RF line. This creates the "gaps" philosophy most people utilize of being a "gap to gap" hitter. Pairing these with LA and EV data can really give you a picture of what the ball hit is looking like. Since you can find the distance and hang time with LA and EV you can put a plot on exactly where the ball would land on your field.
I don't know how many times I've been working a 2 strike drill to have the athlete say "that wasn't a strike" when I know down to the core of every bone in my body that it was a strike, and now I have to subjectively say my fairly objective opinion. There have been many drills I've seen coaches use, from a catcher, and an "umpire" (other athlete) to standing a bucket lid inside a bucket and saying "protect the lid". These drills are good, but not also the most time, or resource effective. Placing some sort of tarp, or piece of tape to outline the zone and making it an objective part of your cage can help kids understand what pitches look like to them, and the true result of a pitch. This is not only effective for 2 strike drills, but also any type of simulated game, or drill for your pitchers to see if it is a strike.
This data sheet is huge for taking those measurements and finding out what needs to be fixed quickly. It color codes, and gives you the charts that are needed in order to see trends. I've included the download for this template, and an instructional video for how to use it. This is something I've used with my hitters, and plan on continuing to use with them. It's been a great way to see and understand the data instantly. Check out the Tools and Equipment page for links to some of those products I utilize every day, including Blast Motion.
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