I hope you share my excitement when you learn that in the next few months I will write three articles about batting; the topics will be line drives, homers, and a book review.
First, let’s look at a few top-level guiding principles that will set the table for deeper articles. Second, let’s look at a few top-level statistics that reflect the general skill of the Diamondback batters.
Top Level Principles.
It takes homers and non-homers to win games.
“We need to be, I think, a little more adept one through nine at creating offense even on those days we’re not hitting the ball out of the ballpark.” — Mike Hazen, 2020
“One thing for sure, Joe Mather [new Diamondbacks hitting coach] is a detail guy. … he wants a shared terminology, and a shared definition of things like line drives, which will make communications quicker and more effective, especially when in-game adjustments are needed.” — Makakilo, 28 October 2021
Line drives matter.
“After he [Joe Mather] said, “Line drives are good. Hard line drives are even better,” he expanded to say his personal hitting philosophy (mentally) was he is just going to get in the box and compete and hit hard line drives.” — Makakilo, 28 October 2021
Torey’ Lovullo points after Diamondbacks scored 11 runs against the Rockies
- It [our batting success] was [because we were ] ready to play in the first inning.
- Jumping on mistakes.
- Getting on via the walk.
- Timely hitting with men in scoring position.
- I just thought the lineup complemented one another.
- It was eight hitters that were linked together.
- We’ve seen it at times and in spirts. We scored our 11th run by not shutting down.
Middle of the Diamond Approach
Of all Torey Lovullo’s points, one stuck in my mind because I did not understand it. It was “Middle of the diamond approach.” I asked a friend what that meant but he did have not answer. The following may or may not be related to that approach.
One way to keep the bat in the strike zone for a long time is for the swing to stay toward the middle of the field. This means swinging the bat towards the pitcher without pulling the ball off center and without upward motion.
“The bat path of all great hitters gets in the zone and stays through the zone for a long time. The direction of the swing must stay through the middle of the field.” — Garrett Gordon
“The bat gets in the zone early and stays through the zone all the way through contact.” Gordon Garrett
A good swing uses many muscle groups.
My observation is that good swings look like the batter is doing a pushup while he swings. That observation is despite hearing an on-line batting instructor warn not to push through the swing because then the batter is only using his upper body. My view is that a good swing uses energy from as many muscle groups as possible – back leg pushes off ground, torso turns into the swing, arms and hands make solid connection between the body and ball.
Don’t swing outside your abilities.
Relative to the batter, where the ball is hit is important. During the swing the arms extend. Contact before full extension allows more powerful contact with the baseball.
A good swing focuses more on solid contact than swinging with maximum power.
“So by swinging as hard as I could on every pitch I was swinging outside of my abilities. Had I dialed it back just a bit, then I definitely would have had more success by making more solid contact, and in turn, potentially hitting more home runs.” — Benji Johnson
Consistency between at-bats and consistency over an entire season are important.
“On the individual level, we have one guy with an over 800 OPS. That’s not going to get it done in terms of trying to win over the course of a 162 games from an offensive perspective.” — Mike Hazen, October 4, 2021
“Some of the younger guys that came up did perform pretty well in spirts. But those were just spirts - we need to turn that into consistency.” —Mike Hazen, October 4th, 2020
Just like good pitchers deliver each pitch in a consistent way, good batters know their barrel-to-wrist-to-arm-shoulder relationship so they can have a consistent & accurate swing no matter the pitch location.
“So barrel-to-wrist-to-arm-to-shoulder relationship should feel just about the same no matter pitch location.” — Dan Zlotnick
“Yes, player needs to understand their relationship to keep path to ball consistent & accurate.” — Jeff Leach
Just like 2020, the Diamondbacks needs to hit more homers. In 2021, their 144 homers ranked 29th in the Majors. Average was 198 homers. Let’s look at the Diamondbacks’ homers compared to league median homers. For homers, the trend is not our friend.
Two Basic Skills.
In 2019, An AZ Snake Pit article, Desired Traits for Diamondback Hitters, emphasized the importance of two basic skills:
- How well does the batter swing the bat? To address that question, the article looked at line drive % and BABIP.
- How well does the batter see pitches? To address that question, the article looked at contact % and BB/SO.
To see trends, if any, let’s look at those stats. The Diamondbacks’ line drive % was consistently better than the median. For that reason, line drives is a team strength. Nevertheless, next season the Diamondbacks aim to increase that team strength.
What happened in 2021 - I suspect either the measurement system changed or the definition of line drives changed. In either case, the Diamondbacks remained better than the median.
The graph of BABIP seems to show random variation. Perhaps the Diamondbacks were unlucky in 2020.
The next graph shows contact % and the ratio of BB/SS. Prior to 2021, the Diamondbacks had an edge over the median in both statistics. In 2021, that edge disappeared.
It is unclear whether the Diamondbacks swing the bat well. Their homers fell to the bottom of the league, while their line drive % have stayed slightly above the median. There is room for improvement in homers and line drives.
The Diamondbacks are about average in seeing pitches. The Diamondbacks’ contact % and ratio of BB/SO fell slightly to near the league median. Perhaps as the many young players get more experience, those statistics will bounce back to above the league median.
The Diamondbacks have identified principles that make batters great. Applying those principles could result in the improvements they seek.