The Dichotomy of Bat Velocity

The game of baseball and softball has been studied extensively, especially in recent years with the boom of tracking devices entering the sports world. Most commonly investigated for hitters has been the measure of bat velocity (also termed swing speed). Anything from how this metric impacts the likelihood of a hit to what athletes can be doing in the weight room to improve bat velocity has been researched. As a former collegiate softball player to a graduate assistant studying the metrics of the softball swing and now as a performance coach, I have had a unique view of hitting from various perspectives. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to explore bat velocity and the contrast of what this metric can mean for a hitter.

What exactly is Bat Velocity?

The word ‘velocity’ scares people because it reminds us of physics class. Without diving into a scientific explanation, simply put velocity is a change in distance divided by a change in time. It is most commonly used when referring to our vehicles (miles per hour, miles being the distance, hour being the time). These values resonate with us as we can easily conceptualize a car going 60 mph vs. 20 mph. However in research, bat velocity is typically reported in meters per second (m/s). Additionally, even if we convert m/s to mph we are not as familiar with the ‘norms’ of bat velocity. Is a 50 mph bat speed impressive? What about for a softball player vs. baseball player? What factor does age play in these norms? The good news is, with the influx of data collection devices that are becoming more readily available to coaches and players alike, normative data based on all these factors will become even more clear and well defined in the years to come.

According to Blast Motion, here is a brief overview of averages for bat velocity:

LEVEL

BAT VELOCITY (MPH)

PRO

63-75

COLLEGE

58-70

TRAVEL BALL 16U – 18U

54-66

HIGH SCHOOL VARSITY

49-63

HIGH SCHOOL JV

42-56

TRAVEL BALL 12U-14U

38-53

RECREATIONAL

32-46

(1)

As mentioned earlier, there has been a plethora of data to report on why an increase in bat velocity will improve at batter’s chances of being successful in the game.

Benefit

Why is this important?

Increase in decision-making time

  • A hitter with a longer period of time to make a decision at the plate will likely have an improved pitch selection.
  • The longer a hitter can wait before swinging, the more likely he or she is to be accurate at contact.

Increase in batted ball velocity

  • High exit velocity has been correlated with power hitters.
  • An improved batted ball velocity can make up for a less than optimal ball trajectory.

(2, 4)

An increase is positive until a point….

So, now for the tricky part. If you ever played the game, hopefully you are thinking to yourself, ‘Wait a second…I have definitely been a situation where I was swinging too hard and wasn’t successful.’ And you would not be wrong. There is such a thing as swinging the bat too hard. As fielders, especially pitchers, we can understand this concept of sub-maximal effort easily. Imagine if you tried to throw the ball as hard as you possibly could every single time. Sure, you would throw it hard but it probably wouldn’t be too accurate. The ball would sail or you’d miss the strike zone more often than you’d like in order to be effective in the game. Same goes for hitting. If we swing the bat too hard, we will decrease our ability to accurately get our barrel to the ball. Coop DeRenne in his book, “The Scientific Approach to Hitting” claimed the two most important factors to successful hitting were accurate contact and having the bat arrive on time (3). With that being said, this tells us that bat velocity does not tell the entire story.

Improved Swing Time?

Previously, research has claimed that improved bat velocity would lead to an increase in decision-making time. This makes sense, the faster you swing, the later you get to start your swing thus the longer you get to wait to interpret a pitch. Not so fast… Let’s take a look at the way we calculate swing velocity.   

Take a look at picture 1: 

This athlete is able to get from the start of her swing to the end of her swing in .22 seconds. This would be her time. She may be able to improve her velocity by starting with her hands further back (increase distance) – see picture #2: 

 

 

She may have improved her distance but if she did so at the cost of her swing time then this could lead to a potential increase in overall swing velocity yet it can be detrimental to the hitters ability to hit faster pitching. Szymanski and colleagues claimed, “If pitchers are going to be throwing harder and harder, then we need to start swinging harder, period” (10). I agree, to a point. As long as our total swing time does not get compromised by the incoming pitch. To conclude this part, a future article explaining swing acceleration (change in velocity over change in time) is in the works as this metric becomes one of the most important factors contributing to on-field success at the higher levels.

Improved Batted Ball Velocity?

Due to our ability to hit an incoming pitch relying so heavily on the accuracy of our barrel to the ball, it would be naive of us to assume that the only factor contributing to batted ball velocity is bat velocity. The accuracy of our barrel is heavily dependent on the kinematic sequencing of the movement as a whole (5). Alterations to our swing sequencing in an attempt to obtain increased bat velocity will more times than not lead to a negative impact on the swing. For example, we may increase our stride length in order to improve velocity yet by increasing too much we end up altering our vertical displacement of our head height and missing underneath the ball. Or, perhaps we over coil in the loading phase and end up missing directional extension thus spinning off the ball too soon. Or the added coiling ends up leading to a swing that is too long thus getting jammed. Although increased in bat velocity with proper accuracy undoubtedly leads to a greater batted ball velocity, it is important for coaches and athletes to understand the balance and work to feel where optimal bat velocity is for each athlete.

Ways to Improve Bat Velocity

Alright, we are sold on bat velocity when managed the proper way will without a doubt aid in hitting performance. Now, what are the best ways to do so? Although there are several factors argued in the literature (grip strength, weighted bats, certain hitting techniques, etc (9, 8, 6, 5) it is indisputable that when you incorporate an increase muscular development, you are giving that athlete a system capable of producing a higher bat velocity. Having athletes work with trained professionals that can determine the needs of the athlete from a sports skill perspective as well as a human movement system is imperative to reaching each hitter’s potential in the batter’s box. Moving forward, I challenge our entire softball and baseball community to work toward finding smarter ways to evaluate the optimal bat velocity for each hitter. By doing so, we can work to have the athlete.

*It is important to note that this graph is not always a perfect bell curve. There are many athletes that operate best at a swing velocity 75% of their maximal swing whereas other athletes may operate best at 95% of their swing velocity. With that being said, I leave you with this: It is better to improve maximum swing velocity so that an athlete can operate at a higher bat velocity that is lower percentage of their maximum or is it best to get athletes better and more comfortable at swinging at higher percentages and instead ignore improving maximum bat velocity?

Comment below to let us know your thoughts!

References:

(1) Bentley, M., & Bose, B. (2015). U.S. Patent No. 8,941,723. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

(2) DeRenne, C., Hetzler, R. K., Buxton, B. P., & Ho, K. W. (1996). Effects of training frequency on strength maintenance in pubescent baseball players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research10(1), 8-14.

(3) DeRenne, C. The Scientific Approach to Hitting. San Diego: University Readers Custom Publishing, 2007

(4) Escamilla, R. F., Fleisig, G. S., DeRenne, C., Taylor, M. K., Moorman III, C. T., Imamura, R., & Andrews, J. R. (2009b). A comparison of age level on baseball hitting kinematics. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 25, 210-218.

(5) Flyger, N., Button, C., & Rishiraj, N. (2006). The science of softball. Sports Medicine, 36, 797- 816.

(6) Fry, A. C., Honnold, D., Hudy, A., Roberts, C., Gallagher, P. M., Vardiman, P. J., & Dellasega, C. (2011). Relationships Between Muscular Strength and Batting Performances in Collegiate Baseball Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25, S19- S20

(7) Hoffman, J. R., Vazquez, J., Pichardo, N., & Tenenbaum, G. (2009). Anthropometric and performance comparisons in professional baseball players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23, 2173-2178.

(8) Miller, R. M. (2017). The Relationship of Maximal Leg Power and Swing Velocity in Collegiate Athletes (Doctoral dissertation).

(9) Szymanski, D. J., DeRenne, C., & Spaniol, F. J. (2009). Contributing factors for increased bat swing velocity. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research23(4), 1338-1352.

(10) Szymanski, D. J., Bassett, K. E., Beiser, E. J., Till, M. E., Medlin, G. L., Beam, J. R., & Derenne, C. (2012). Effect of various warm-up devices on bat velocity of intercollegiate softball players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26, 199-205

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Cassie comes to Athletes Warehouse after winning a National Championship for the University of Alabama Crimson Tide Softball team and completing her Masters where she focused on the biomechanics of the female athlete softball swing. She serves as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Softball Coach, and Director of Research and Development ensuring that she is pouring her passion for knowledge and overall athletic development into those she has the opportunity to work with. She is a published author of the book, Finished It - A Team's Journey to Winning it All; where she highlights the triumphs and tribulations of the 2012 Women's College World Series.

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About the author

Cassie comes to Athletes Warehouse after winning a National Championship for the University of Alabama Crimson Tide Softball team and completing her Masters where she focused on the biomechanics of the female athlete softball swing. She serves as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Softball Coach, and Director of Research and Development ensuring that she is pouring her passion for knowledge and overall athletic development into those she has the opportunity to work with. She is a published author of the book, Finished It - A Team's Journey to Winning it All; where she highlights the triumphs and tribulations of the 2012 Women's College World Series.

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