How Science, Analytics Changed Hitting Forever

By LOU PAVLJohn Mallee cubs abca 2016 4CNZ3T7721 4COVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Chicago Cubs’ hitting coach John Mallee is one of the most progressive teachers in the game of baseball.

Last January at the American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Nashville, he gave a remarkable presentation on How Science and Analytics Changed The Swing.

It was one of the most important talks in the history of the ABCA which dates back to 1945.

Mallee is in his second year in the Cubs organization and his sixth as a major league hitting coach.

He has 20 seasons of experience in professional baseball on every level. Along the way, he has tried to uncover every possible clue as to what allows a great hitter to excel.

The numbers supplied by Mallee tell an amazing story on the Major League level:

  • The ideal launch angle for balls exiting greater than 90 mph for a base hit is 7-12 degrees (75% hits).
  • The ideal launch angle for balls exiting less than 90 mph for base hit is 12-15 degrees (90% hits).
  • The ideal launch angle for balls exiting greater than 90 mph for a home run is 23-35 degrees (40% home runs).
  • The average exit velocity for a hard-hit ball is 90 mph.
  • The average exit velocity for a home run in 2015 was 103.5 mph.
  • The ideal attack angle for a line drive is 6-14 degrees.
  • The ideal attack angle for a home run is 20-25 degrees.
  • Average speed of a fastball is 92.5 mph.
  • Average distance pitches thrown to the plate is 54′ 4″.
  • Average height of the release point by the pitcher is 6′ 1″.
  • Reaction time for the hitter is .41 seconds.
  • The fastball crosses home plate at a 6 degree decline.
  • The average fastball pitch height arriving at home plate is 2′ 7″.
  • The average fastball crosses the front of home plate at 85.2 mph.
  • Average speed of a major league curveball is 78 mph.
  • The curveball plane is a minimum 10 degree decline.
  • The curveball pitch height as it arrives to home plate is 1′ 11″.
  • A curve crosses the front of home plate at 72.4 mph.
  • The batting average for ground balls is .245.
  • The batting average for line drives is .640.

“The story of how I arrived at my hitting philosophy is interesting, said Mallee.

“The foundation of what I believe in started in 1996 in Beloit, Wisc. It was my first year coaching in professional baseball, and I was 26 years old. Up until that point, I was teaching lessons and giving information to hitters that I was previously taught as a player.

 “Then I was introduced to Bob Keyes of Bio-Kinetics Research and Development and Ralph Dickinson who was my hitting coordinator with the Brewers. That was my first experience using science to help me understand how the swing works.

“I learned about dynamic balance, controlling the body’s center of mass, the kinetic chain, accelerating and decelerating links, sequential order, muscle torque, along with the pre-stretch that takes place prior to muscle firing.

“All of this vividly showed that the lower half of the body starts the swing. The big debate when I was finishing pro ball was whether the hands go first or the lower half. Where does the swing come into play in regard to the kinetic chain?

“What I learned from Bob Keyes and Ralph Dickinson was that the lower half must start the swing. I still follow those beliefs.”

Mallee said that he has become even more informed about hitting the last three years.

“Three years ago, I was involved with the Astros’ organization and was introduced to analytics. These are the numbers behind the results. I learned the importance of exit velocity, launch angle, OPS (on-base plus slugging), slugging percentage, trajectory with different types of pitches, spin rate, effective velocity, etc.

“Everything started to make sense. I do a lot of my teaching now based on what the numbers say.”

Hit Balls In The Air
Mallee said the numbers vividly show balls must be hit in the air and not on the ground.

“When you look at batting averages and slugging percentages of balls that are hit on the ground compared to line drives or fly balls in Major League baseball, the numbers are revealing.

“When you hit ground balls, the batting average is .245 while the slugging percentage is .266.

“The batting average for line drives is .640 while the slugging percentage is 1.030.

“The batting average for fly balls is .143 while the slugging percentage is .567.

“The numbers show that you should stay away from ground balls and ideally hit line drives. Fly balls are much better to hit than ground balls when you look at the slugging percentage.

“Pitchers are all trying to keep the ball low and sink the ball on the strike zone. So with all this data and common sense, a question begs to be answered.

“Should you swing up, swing down or swing level? The answer is to stay level with the plane of the pitch. It gives you a much better opportunity to hit a hard line drive or fly ball. I’m not talking about a pop up here. I’m talking about getting the ball in the air as opposed to hitting on the ground.”

Launch Angles
Mallee said when you examine launch angles for line drives and home runs, you get a better picture of what hitters must accomplish to be successful.

“The ideal launch angle for a home run is between 23-35 degrees which accounts for 40% of all home runs when balls are hit at a 90 mph exit velocity or greater.

“The ideal launch angle for a hit with balls exiting 90 miles per hour or greater is 7-12 degrees (75% hits). Balls exiting at less than 90 miles per hour, the ideal launch angle for hitters is 12-15 degrees (90% hits).”

To read more about the hitting philosophy of John Mallee, purchase the April 22, 2016 edition of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE.

The rest of the article includes important information such as where the bat makes contact with the ball in regard to ground balls, line drives and home runs.

It also delves into the average exit velocity off bats of Major Leaguers, the bat speed at impact, the time to impact, the attack angle of hitters since typical pitches are coming in at a 6 degree decline, how to practice so that you can simulate a 92 mph fastball at a short distance for hitters and at what height it must be thrown from.

Plus, Mallee talks about the incredible importance of Result Oriented Training which allows hitters to make adjustments to their swing without a coach picking apart their mechanics as hitters thrive.