How do we typically measure progress? We measure progress with results. Usually they're on field, athletes start hitting the ball harder, or getting more base hits, but with baseball the best swing in the world results in outs, or strikeouts, or even walks, or HBP where your work on the swing doesn't even come into play. We're measuring seable results that we have somewhat control over, but not nearly as much control over as we do the swing itself. That's where measuring the swing itself is important. Don't get me wrong, results are important, and they do play a part in the swing profile we are going to create, but in order to truly see our deficits we have to get as detailed as possible with location, and be able to patch holes in our swing as effectively as our resources allow us to.
What is a Swing Profile
A swing profile is what we will use to identify our weaknesses in our swing. I use this as our first evaluation process, and also as our test to check our programming. We use this information to create a visual picture of what our swing looks like, and be able to measure objectively what the swing dependent on pitch location is. The information you're collecting can help, Define your pitch, decide what constraints to use, arrange hitting groups, and many more details on what your practices need to look like for both a team, but also to individually make hitters more effective. This swing profile is also great information to have when returning from injury, or after making a mechanical change and wanting to see the results. Many results can be subjective, and coaches will often see what they want to see. So this tool will objectively show growth and diagnostics. Sometimes changes aren't always positive, and it will also show regression if it's there. Remember to assess often (I believe every 4-6 weeks) and see what work needs to be done.
By taking certain metrics, and measuring them dependent on pitch location we can see where we're lacking in specific zones. Maybe we can absolutely crush the all 3 levels of an inside pitch, but struggle with that middle away and low and away. By testing certain numbers and getting information dependent on pitch location we can
see exactly what our athletes are lacking. This first chart which you can find here is pretty easy to understand and can be useful for any level of athlete. The zones are divided up into 9 different spots in the strike zone. This is about as detailed as I like to get since most hitters should be able to distinguish these spots and find it very easy to describe them. I don't want to get too technical, but also show some emphasis on detail. I find this to be a decent middle-ground for that information. In the link is also a 4 and 6 zone chart for your program. The idea of a swing profile is important, but having a way to build into your program, and belief system is important as well.
How We Construct our Profile
In order to objectively measure success we have to take our opinions out of it. This is where measurement tools need to be used. If you have a radar gun for Exit Velocity use it. If you have Launch Angle strings hung in a certain cage then use that cage, and if you can use any piece of tech that you own this would be the time. Taking your opinion out of it helps make this a true assessment. If you do not have anything that you can use like the things mentioned then use the field and see distances and angles off the bat. This is best done in a group setting so your athletes can have a break between rounds and not turn this into a cardio workout. If you have multiple coaches around then make use of their eyes also and give them a sheet and have them take numbers down. Take all those numbers and take a more objective approach to what you're doing.
The setup is very important, but next comes the actual doing. If you're taking down these numbers and using one of the charts I have provided then it's important to get in a good enough spot to be able to see pitch locations. The chart uses a different amount of zones depending on which you choose. If you're a inner half/outer half coach then use the 4 zone chart to give feedback. If you liek the 6 choose that one, I personally prefer the 9. I feel I can get very detailed, but stay in easy to describe locations. But this is a perfect time for you to use your philosophy and take this as an opportunity to implement into your program.
Now that you're cage is setup and in a good position have the athlete take 4-5 rounds with 6-8 swings off of front toss flips, machine, or live arm (The last two it's harder to get an EV with a radar gun with) and get readings based off of their locations. While the athlete is waiting for his next round to start you can see what location of pitches you need to have the thrower hit with the next round. I prefer to have at least 3 swings in every location, and use that to create an average for their swing with pitches in that location. This gives a better picture than just one rep that may be a bad swing.
Post Data Collection
Now that you have collected the data it's important to make use of it. While some kids can look at numbers and see the information provided I suggest using the charts you took numbers on and making hot and cold zones, and using as many images as possible to show the information. Most of our athletes understand hot and cold zones better than they will a table of numbers. These numbers are great for baseline and showing growth. Just like you would in the weight room, the swing has many measurable metrics that can lead you to a picture of the overall success.
Why This Is Important
These charts that are made look great on paper, but the most important part of this is the feedback and connection it makes for the athletes. By having a meeting with hitters either individually or in small groups you make this information important, and understandable. You get to put emphasis on the needs of your program, and the best way to try and utilize practices as well as getting your players to their ceilings.
After analyzing the data you can then put the athletes on individual plans in order to address their weaknesses. Hitters all do things differently and this is not a one size fits all sport. It's important to find ways to adjust their swings individually and make the best out of the athlete you have. Over the next couple of months I will be posting the programs that I use for hitters and why they are the drill s or tools we use for our athletes.