Sparks Fly With Old School, New School Hitting

Editor/Collegiate Baseball

TUCSON, Ariz. — A fascinating metamorphosis has taken place in hitting philosophies.

Science and technology have brought to the table the past few years bat sensors and sophisticated devices that track bat, ball and body hitting movements by hitters.

With this technology, there has been an explosion of hitting coaches in the game who are now teaching their players the ideal launch angle for balls, ideal attack angle and other mechanics dictated by numbers.

In short, hitters are being taught to have a slight upward swing.

Yet only a few decades ago, many hitting coaches were adamant that the best way to hit for production on the college level was to hit line drives and produce hard-hit ground balls with fly balls being the worst option.

There remain plenty of hitting coaches who subscribe to this time-honored philosophy.

Retired Hall of Fame Head Coach Jerry Kindall at the University of Arizona led the Wildcats to three national championships in 1976, 1980 and 1986.

At the core of the Wildcats’ hitting system was to hit hard ground balls and line drives rather than deep fly balls.

In Kindall’s book Sports Illustrated Baseball: Play The Winning Way, he explained why this hitting philosophy is proven in college baseball.

“Consider that a ground ball requires that the defense execute three distinct and sometimes difficult acts: (1) fielding the ball cleanly, (2) throwing the ball, and (3) catching the ball. Since a pop fly need only be caught for the defense to register an out, when you hit a ball in the air, in a way you’re doing the defense a favor.”

During the 1974 season when the Wildcats led the nation with a .348 team batting average, Kindall asked his coaching staff to chart every fair ball hit by Arizona and its opponents at both the varsity and junior varsity levels for an entire season.

The charts were revealing.

“Of the 1,759 fair balls hit, 377 were line drives, 869 ground balls, and 513 fly balls. The line drives resulted in the best on-base percentage average for the hitters: 84 percent.

“The 869 ground balls resulted in a 42 percent on-base average, while the 513 fly balls got the hitters on base 29 percent of the time.

“Thus, as a batter, you have a 13 percent better chance to reach base by hitting a ground ball than by hitting a fly ball.

“The other, more dramatic conclusion is that clearly you can raise your batting average if you concentrate on hitting hard ground balls.

“Of the 513 fly balls charted, 146 fell safely, including home runs and long extra-base hits. The fly ball batting average was .285.

“Of the 869 ground balls charted, 276 were base hits for a .318 batting average, or a difference of 33 points! You are far better off, then, trying to hit a hard grounder than you are upper cutting and trying to hit the ball out of the park.”

Hitting Coach John Mallee of the World Champion Chicago Cubs explained why embracing new technology is important in the quest for better offensive numbers.

Mallee has 21 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 including why a slight upward stroke might be better.

To read more of this article, purchase the Feb. 24, 2017 edition of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE. Mallee delves into the metrics of his amazing system which explain why his system works so well and why the ideal attack angles and launch angles with different hitters are crucial to strive for.