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Article: Game Thread: Twins @ Yankees, 4/23@6:10pm CT

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 10:15 PM
It’s big, four-game series that kicks off tonight in the Bronx as the Twins and Yankees go to battle in a series that could really help t...
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T-Wolves 2018 Postseason Thread

Minnesota Timberwolves Talk Today, 10:15 PM
It has been my great privilege to initiate a thread with this title. Fleeting as it may be.
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Time to shuffle the deck

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 10:15 PM
This could be a very bad week. I'd like to see them shuffle the roster/batting order and bullpen.   Release Grossman. DFA Kinley and...
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Nick Gordon - 2018

Adopt A Prospect 2018 Today, 10:06 PM
  Nick Gordon is a 22-year old lefty-hitting shortstop drafted fifth overall in the first round of the 2014 June amateur draft out...
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Article: Twins Minor League Report (4/23): Hunters Star I...

Twins Minor League Talk Today, 10:15 PM
Uffdah! After missing a lot of baseball due to postponements, Monday night was the first really busy night in the Twins farm system. Roch...
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The Wall Of Ground Ball Prevention

What follows is not a Twins article -- more on that topic at a later date -- but rather a story about how the game is changing below the surface. This is a story about a bunch of screens set up around a baseball diamond. It is a story about how, just as the number crunchers influenced the front office changes over the last decade, a new wave of coaches are making significant changes in the player development systems.

Unless you are a real Baseball America stan, you may have missed this trend happening across baseball right now. More and more, teams have increased in the number of college coaches hired to help with player development. The Minnesota Twins added several coaches this offseason from that rank including, but not limited to, Tanner Swanson, Pete Maki and Dan Ramsey among others. In some cases, the Twins hired for a newly created position (catching instructor) and others they replaced long-time coaches with someone with newer ideas.
In some ways, major league baseball grew stale in the sense that development people continued to trot out the same methods in spite of a game that was changing around them. Those who failed to adapt were not retained, and younger coaches from the amateur ranks replaced the lifers.Offensively, new data was telling people that hitting the ball in the air was a much more successful means of achieving positive impact yet old school training methods were still implemented. As Derek Falvey told me this winter, he had contact with numerous college coaches from attending various conferences that were rife with new ideas and new methods to training players. These sharp individuals were seen as an untapped competitive advantage.

In 2016, while working as an assistant coach for the University of Iowa, Pete Lauritson unveiled what he called "The Wall of Ground Ball Prevention" -- a system of setting up screens around the infield to encourage hitters to increase lift during batting practice. This was well received among the coaching and hitting ranks.


The beauty is in its simplicity.

If the goal is to increase launch angle, a coach needs to establish practices that would make players adjust their swing patterns to achieve that goal. It is one thing to say “hit the ball in the air” but it is much better when a player adapts on their own through repetition and instant feedback. It may be uncomfortable at first but after several days, weeks, months, it should become second nature to find the right swing pattern and optimal contact point. After all, the body organizes itself to achieve a desired goal.

Lauritson did not spend his time inside pro ball. He spent his time trying to understand what made college players better.

“My evolution into this is a little uncommon,” Lauritson said in 2017. “I didn’t play professionally and wasn’t even a good player – I was just OK. I made some sacrifices to try to figure out what really happens within a swing and what doesn’t. I wanted guys to learn this information. It wasn’t just studying baseball, it was studying golf, anatomy, psychology. How are going guys going to memorize this over and over?”

Committing the act to muscle memory is wildly important for an athlete. How will you get a hitter to “memorize” the act of hitting a ball above a 10 degree launch angle? Build a wall.

Lauritson was eventually hired by the Cleveland Indians -- a forward-thinking organization when it came to player development having already pulled multiple coaches out from amatuer baseball -- and brought his ideas to the Mohaning Valley Scrappers of the New York-Penn League as a hitting coach.

Yet there were still those who scoffed at the practice. Dragging screens all over the infield? Pfft. All you will accomplish is increasing the number of pop-ups, critics said. Or, worse, there’s nothing wrong with hitting ground balls.

Baseball, it is said, pivots with the efficiency of an oil tanker. It typically takes years before new ideas move past the old guard of players and coaches who are frequently resistant to change. The rise of the elevation nation, in comparison, caught on quickly. Less than two seasons ago, launch angle was not a part of the common fan’s lexicon. Now you cannot make it through a broadcast without it mentioned.

“You can’t slug by hitting balls on the ground. You have to get the ball in the air if you want to slug, and guys who slug stick around, and guys who don’t, don’t,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner explained. Even lifer and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was praising loft. “Your OPS is in the air,” he told reporters.

Fast forward to spring training 2018: Tampa Bay Times beat writer Marc Tompkins tweeted out a picture of the Rays using the “Wall of Ground Ball Prevention” in their camp.


It is amazing how ideas from outside pro ball make their way inside.

This won’t be the end of having new and interesting training methods spill over into professional baseball. With the increase in data and the greater understanding of what makes a player better (higher exit velocity, launch angle, spin rate, etc), will come new methods to improve those areas. Right now there are thousands of college coaches, hitting and pitching instructors trying to solve those issues. Finding the right ones for the organization could help produce talent at a rate superior than others.

In many ways this is a new Moneyball era.

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17 Comments

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nicksaviking
Feb 15 2018 01:49 PM

I know many don't agree, but I find this all very exciting. Back in the day I could have recited every member of the 3000 hit club, the 500 HR club and the 300 win club and rank them in order; I have always loved the history of baseball. 

 

But change isn't good or bad, it's just inevitable and I'm thrilled that the Twins are now emphatically and without reluctance jumping on board with the game's evolutions. The next step is to not just get on board but be pioneers of whatever is coming next. You don't have to like the team's on field moves to appreciate the behind the scenes progress this organization is seeing.

    • Parker Hageman, USAFChief, birdwatcher and 5 others like this

Also, guys that slug get paid a LOT more than ground ball hitters. 

    • Parker Hageman, nicksaviking and SF Twins Fan like this
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Parker Hageman
Feb 15 2018 02:54 PM

 

Also, guys that slug get paid a LOT more than ground ball hitters. 

 

It'll be interesting to see how that plays out in regards to Eric Hosmer. Over the last two years, only Dee Gordon has hit a higher percentage of grounders. 

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ashburyjohn
Feb 15 2018 03:13 PM

Also, guys that slug get paid a LOT more than ground ball hitters. 

If THAT'S the new Moneyball, Ralph Kiner's heirs are going to be kind of miffed at missing out on the royalties. "Home run hitters drive Cadillacs, singles hitters drive Fords," dontcha know.

    • Parker Hageman, Yoke, gil4 and 2 others like this

On the other hand, to ensure fattest contact there's nothing quite like hitting a fastball right back where it came from. Fortunately they don't train guys like Sano and Stanton to do that... ;-)

Just keep track of some of the past observations.We all know about pendulums.Stats, and theories are great and can make a difference.Talent, ability, speed, and instinct still count. 

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theBOMisthebomb
Feb 15 2018 09:58 PM

On the other hand, to ensure fattest contact there's nothing quite like hitting a fastball right back where it came from. Fortunately they don't train guys like Sano and Stanton to do that... ;-)

Growing up, we were taught to try to hit a line drive that would hit the pitcher in the forehead.
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ashburyjohn
Feb 16 2018 07:31 AM

Growing up, we were taught to try to hit a line drive that would hit the pitcher in the forehead.

Yeah, but at that age you're just playing for fun. :)

 

Also, guys that slug get paid a LOT more than ground ball hitters. 

Well... usually, Or that's the way it's always seemed. I'm actually a bit confused by this discussion. It seems like this past off-season we are being told that power (home run hitters) is not as hot a commodity as it used to be.All these big home run hitter are not getting signed so quickly. So, what is going on? I realize "launch angle" is the new hot topic, and most of what Parker wrote makes a lot of sense, but I'm still a bit hazy on what's going on. Is it all ONLY about line drives and power, or what else is factoring into this concept?

    • cmoss84 likes this
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ashburyjohn
Feb 16 2018 09:00 AM

Well... usually, Or that's the way it's always seemed. I'm actually a bit confused by this discussion. It seems like this past off-season we are being told that power (home run hitters) is not as hot a commodity as it used to be.All these big home run hitter are not getting signed so quickly. So, what is going on? I realize "launch angle" is the new hot topic, and most of what Parker wrote makes a lot of sense, but I'm still a bit hazy on what's going on. Is it all ONLY about line drives and power, or what else is factoring into this concept?

Maybe teams believe that instead of paying a free agent for proven power, they can teach launch angle to their low-cost hitters and get the same result.

    • nicksaviking likes this
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Parker Hageman
Feb 16 2018 10:18 AM
So, what is going on? I realize "launch angle" is the new hot topic, and most of what Parker wrote makes a lot of sense, but I'm still a bit hazy on what's going on. Is it all ONLY about line drives and power, or what else is factoring into this concept?

 

 

Data has shown that a combination of launch angle (typically over 10 degrees and under 30) and exit velocity (typically 90 MPH+) results in hits more often. The idea isn't new -- hit the ball hard on a line and they usually drop -- but now it can be quantified and getting the ball in the air has that much more value.

 

So then the question became how do we get hitters to live in that range more often?

 

Some have gone through extensive swing retooling (i.e. Justin Turner, JD Martinez, etc) to meet that criteria later in their careers. Baseball is realizing that these methods should be incorporated earlier in a player's development. 

 

The "Wall of Groundball Prevention" is just one means to force hitters into making the necessary adjustments. There are plenty of other simple tricks. For instance, Bobby Tewksbary, the hitting instructor who worked with Josh Donaldson and Chris Colabello, would string up lines around his batting cages to denote where the optimal launch angles is.

 

 

I hope that clarified some of this for you.

 

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Parker Hageman
Feb 16 2018 10:20 AM

 

Just keep track of some of the past observations.We all know about pendulums.Stats, and theories are great and can make a difference.Talent, ability, speed, and instinct still count. 

 

I don't know what this is driving at. Can you explain?

The players are bigger and the modern ballparks are smaller...so, I don't see the trend for trying to hit the ball in the air reversing any time soon.I guess, maybe some type of pitch or delivery will prove to be materially successful in mitigating launch in the future and cause a shift?

 

What is smart, does not necessarily make for more interesting baseball, though.Diversity of swings and styles of play are dying.Everyone has the same swing, and fewer and fewer seem capable of adapting it if the game situation simply calls for putting the ball in play.And the strike-out rates, which this evolution contributes to, are already at absurd levels.

    • USAFChief likes this

 

Maybe teams believe that instead of paying a free agent for proven power, they can teach launch angle to their low-cost hitters and get the same result.

Interesting thought, but changing someone's swing can take a LONG time. I can see this taking more effect to young prospects in the minors. Guys that have been around a while might not adjust well/fast or want to change their swing. 

Just like when some of us who aren't really basketball fans asked why teams didn't shoot more threes..... Seems obvious after the change... This is a cool article about the practical aspects
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Parker Hageman
Feb 16 2018 03:05 PM

What is smart, does not necessarily make for more interesting baseball, though.Diversity of swings and styles of play are dying.

 

To each their own on what constitutes interesting baseball, I guess. 

 

Everyone has the same swing, and fewer and fewer seem capable of adapting it if the game situation simply calls for putting the ball in play.

 

I don't think this is the case at all. No one would mistake Justin Turner's swing for JD Martinez's. There are different components. Their ultimate goal is the same but the methods to reach that goal are different. 

 

And the strike-out rates, which this evolution contributes to, are already at absurd levels.

 

I find it interesting that people frequently blame hitters' approaches for the strikeout rate, as if the pitchers had no influence over this. 

 

Velocity has increased one mile per hour (from 91.2 to 92.8) since 2010. Pitchers are throwing fewer fastballs altogether and more sliders/curveballs than ever before. What's more, we're seeing more and more specialized relievers brought in more frequently. There's more data and video now to game plan a lineup's weakness. 

 

Hitters definitely are trading strikeouts for power but more there are savvy teams like the Cubs and Astros have focused on cutting down strikeouts. Cubs players take B-hacks designed to get the ball in play. Astros have a similar approach that helped them win the World Series a year after posting the highest strikeout rate.

 

Here's more on the Cubs' 'B' hack approach...

 

Maddon did something unusual during spring training of 2016. On the heels of the Cubs striking out a major-league high 1,518 times, he gathered his hitters in an indoor batting cage and stressed the importance of what he calls "the 'B' hack."

 

"The essence of the 'B' hack," he said, "is to choke up, look 'away' first and keep your fastball hack loaded. The mental adaptation with two strikes is where that begins. Choking up can lead to that thought, but it's incredibly difficult to get guys to want to do that.

 

"It has to be nurtured it in the minor leagues or college ball, but lots of times these guys hit third or fourth in college, not (figuring) they will be hitting seventh or eighth in a major-league situation. It's a lost art, in a sense."

 

 

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Parker Hageman
Feb 16 2018 03:08 PM

Here's some more on the MLB mindset:

 

    • nicksaviking likes this

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