Private Baseball Lessons in St. Louis - Rick Strickland Baseball

Distinguishing pitchers’ styles can be quite amusing. There’s an assortment of expressive terms for hurlers’ methods, such as “fireballer” or “knuckleballer”; for their mechanics, like “sidewinder” or “submariner”; and for their tendencies, including “fly ball pitcher” and “ground ball pitcher.”

The terminology used for describing methods and mechanics may be more colorful, but it’s probably not as helpful as knowing tendencies -- from pitch-to-pitch, inning-to-inning, game-to-game -- when it comes to predicting outcomes.

Take ground ball pitchers, so labeled not because they pitch the ball on the ground, of course, but because their pitches tend to get hit on the ground. Around the water cooler, this is generally considered to be “better” than throwing pitches that get hit in the air for line drives and, of course, home runs.

And while Sabermetrics certainly has a few things to say about the success rates of ground ball pitchers vs. fly ball pitchers, it involves some pretty sophisticated statistics that even the most ardent rotisserie league managers don’t fully comprehend. And besides, this isn’t math class.

So let’s do our own analysis on the things hitters can do to combat ground ball pitchers, to avoid hitting ground balls, and to start driving the ball, instead.

Are ground balls really bad?
Studies have shown no direct correlation between ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio and runs scored, but that hasn’t stopped hitters and hitting coaches from having some fairly disparate opinions when it comes to ground balls.

Some recommend them, saying ground balls in play put pressure on the defense because they require fielders to pick them up cleanly and throw them to the right place quickly where a teammate must catch the ball again for an out. Fly balls, they argue, must simply be caught for an out.

But most baseball people, including us here at RSB, disapprove of ground ball hitting. We believe ground balls don’t actually put much pressure on a defense and rarely inflict much damage. They’re obviously never going to be as effective as home runs, for example, or even line drives, which are almost always bad news for pitchers.

So if some experts support hitting ground balls, but others do not, what percentage of the time should batters be trying to hit them? According to data from MLB’s Statcast, the best success comes when hitters “barrel” the ball -- which results from the right combination of exit velocity and launch angle -- and which definitely doesn’t include ground balls.

The Arms
But whether or not there’s clear science to say hitting grounders is bad -- and we think there is -- it would be a serious boon for batters to know what causes them. And the first thing hitting instructors mention when it comes to the causes of ground balls is “rollover.”

This is when a hitter’s wrists roll slightly forward as their swing goes through the hitting zone, causing the barrel of the bat to rise right before contact. More often than not, rolling over on a swing results in topping the ball -- which is usually an easy out -- or swinging and missing, which is the easiest of outs.

One way to stop rolling over during your swing is to “keep your hands inside.” The swing works inside out with the hands working outwards at the end of the swing. But hitters can get into trouble by forcing the hands to move ahead of the body's rotation and it’s extremely advantageous for pitchers to get hitters to move their hands early in the swing process.

Instead of extending your arms away from your body early in your swing, keep your hands close to your body for a more compact swing. This will also result in your top hand facing upwards at contact instead of rolled over facing the ground.

The Hands
Every good swing starts with a good grip, yet many players take for granted just how crucial the placement of hands upon bat really is. It’s something which, when done incorrectly, contributes to rollover quite a bit, especially when hitters grip the bat too tightly.

A tight grip makes the hand, wrist, and forearm muscles tense, which isn’t an ideal state for springing to action as tight muscles are slow muscles. To get the right “looseness” in your grip, the bat handle should be held in your upper palms and fingers, as opposed to deep in your palms.

In addition, most hitting instructors will tell you to keep the “door-knocking knuckles” of your top hand and bottom hand aligned. With your hands in this position at the start of the swing, they are more likely to end up with your top palm facing up when you make contact which, as we know, helps cut way down on rollover swings and the resulting ground balls.

Driving the Ball
What all hitters should really strive for is to make solid contact and drive the ball. And in order to do this consistently, one of the most important things is to avoid the dreaded rollover swing.

But avoiding topping the ball and pulling weak grounders to corner infielders requires quite a bit of instruction, practice, and strength and fitness training. It involves not only your arms and hands, but also a proper stance, opening your hips at the right time, and keeping your front shoulder closed so you don’t fall away from home plate after swinging.

And for the burgeoning Bambinos of the world, Rick Strickland Baseball can help. We know it takes more than traditional coaching to become an elite player who barrels balls like it’s going out of style. It takes expert tutelage and new technologies which, thankfully, our Swing Rehab program delivers. Call for more information today!

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