Data, Efficiency and Asymmetries

BTG20 Recap Part III

At Bridge the Gap we heard from an elite panel of MLB players, coaches and directors. With decades of combined player development experience, here is a roundup of the most impactful realizations from speakers Cesar Ramos, Tyson Ross, Marc Rzepczynski, Jerry Weinstein, Ken Crenshaw, and Darin Everson.

 

For Cesar Ramos, one of his biggest unlocks was realizing he needed to throw his slider more. Ramos featured a four-pitch mix as a player and used his slider the least out of all four. When Ramos played for the Rays, the coaches explained to him how the metrics on his slider profiled out as one of the best pitches in his arsenal. While it took time to adjust, Ramos eventually found a significant improvement in game performance. This spurred on a huge turning point in his career and helped him solidify a spot at the big league level.

In order to have more positive interventions like these, coaches must be able to share the same information in different ways. This is something Tyson Ross felt was very important when it came to great coaching. The best coaches don’t just describe how to do something one way, they find a multitude of ways to teach a concept with a deep understanding that the interpretation of information is just as important as the information itself. 

For example, Tyson is an athlete that feels very comfortable absorbing a lot of information and learns well from video. Marc Rzepczynski, however, discovered he needs a different approach. From his experience, looking at too much video or trying to juggle too much information became a barrier as he started to overanalyze his movements on the mound. As a result, he’s learned to focus on one or two things at a time and use what he feels to guide his throwing. When Marc finds a feel that resonates with him, he tries to recreate it and keep things simple without getting too cerebral. 

 

“When contact is made, pitchers are in the driver’s seat.” Jerry Weinstein, Colorado Rockies

 

Jerry Weinstein shared wisdom from his 60 plus years as a baseball coach. He kicked off his presentation by running the audience through a simulated inning breaking down each pitch thrown, the result, and what he would have done differently in certain situations. To start, Jerry shared his rules for building out game plans for pitchers and catchers. One is the rule of 68: At the MLB level, 68% of balls put in play are outs. Because of this, Jerry doesn’t want his pitchers to nibble around the strike zone, he wants them to aggressively attack it with confidence that the odds for success are in their favor. Pitchers shouldn’t be afraid of contact. Instead, they should be afraid of falling behind in the count because they’re trying to avoid contact.

During the inning, Jerry brought up a specific pitch during a game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and St. Louis Cardinals. Reliever Archie Bradley was defending a 9-5 Arizona lead in the top of the ninth with runners on first and third and Rangel Ravelo at the plate for St. Louis. With a 1-1 count, Bradley decided to throw a curveball in the dirt that Ravelo took for ball two. In Weinstein’s opinion, this pitch was a mistake because 1-1 is a big count to win (MLB BA swings around .200 based on result of pitch). Pitchers need to throw their highest percentage strike pitch to their highest percentage strike location. Instead of throwing his best pitch (fastball), Bradley threw his curveball which typically lands in the zone 23% of the time for him. This became an easy take for Ravelo and set him up in a hitters count with runners in scoring position. If Weinstein was calling pitches, he would have had Bradley challenge Ravelo with his best fastball considering Bradley’s strengths, weaknesses, and the four run lead situation.

 

“I’m here to tell you asymmetries are okay until you can’t function or reciprocate.” Ken Crenshaw, Director of Sports Medicine & Performance Arizona Diamondbacks

 

Ken Crenshaw, Director of Sports Medicine and Performance for the Arizona Diamondbacks, delivered a presentation on his thoughts around training the core. One of his greatest points was the myth around asymmetries. While we typically think of asymmetries as a barrier to performance, Ken argued that asymmetries are actually very normal because internally, our bodies are not symmetrical at all. Our liver, colon and appendix are all on the right side of our body and our stomach, heart, and spleen are on the left. This internal imbalance causes us to naturally fall into asymmetrical patterns as seen below. These patterns are completely okay and shouldn’t raise red flags –as long as we can check a couple of boxes.

Instead of looking at symmetry, Ken looks to see if his athletes are able to function. If they can execute basic motor tasks and swing or throw without pain, he doesn’t place too much stock in the asymmetries they present with. After all, baseball is largely an asymmetrical sport. The majority of us only swing or throw from one side. 

This doesn’t mean we should completely negate asymmetries and the role they play in influencing movement, but it does mean we need to look at them through a different lens. Asymmetries by themselves are not a problem. How those asymmetries influence motor function is what we really need to look at.

 

Lastly, Darin Everson, Hitting Coordinator for the Colorado Rockies, gave us his thoughts on developing efficiency in hitters. For him, three things stand out:

  1. Are they anchored into the ground?
Hitters who move really well are able to use their feet as “anchor points” to create stability for the pelvis. This gives the trunk the platform it needs to rotate around and reciprocate against the lower body. If hitters aren’t able to create a stable connection to the ground, their pelvis becomes unstable and energy leaks are created. A big part of hitting is being able to move a weight through space as efficiently as possible by moving to and through strong positions. Paying close attention to how guys interact with the ground gives you a lot of information on their ability to do this.

  1. Can they stop and produce force in small windows?

Hitters have a small window of time and space to produce force given the constraint of the incoming pitch. As a result, producing a lot of force isn’t as important as how quickly it can be transferred and applied up the chain. Whether we can do this or not depends on our ability to put on the brakes. The next segment cannot accelerate until the previous one has decelerated. Thus, an inability to stop hurts your ability to go.

  1. Do they have space to work? Are they compensating to create this space?

All hitters need space and room to work so they can get their best swing off consistently. Some common ways hitters do this include hinging, staying closed, or clearing the lead arm as the hands make moves to the ball. However, all space is not created equal. There are numerous compensatory patterns hitters will pull off to make up for the space they lost earlier in the sequence. An example of this would be a hitter who opens up with their pelvis too soon and has to pin their hands up against their body to prevent them from peeling off the baseball. They might be able to create enough space so their swing can work, but how they create it isn’t optimal.

It’s like TCU strength coach Zach Dechant talked about in Part II of our Bridge the Gap blog series: “The best athletes are often the best compensators.” The solutions players come up with may work, but they might not be the best solutions.

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