Author Topic: Batting Practice?  (Read 197 times)

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Offline imref

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Batting Practice?
« Topic Start: July 24, 2023, 01:59:59 PM »
Dougherty article talks about the evolution of batting practice, noting that the Cardinals programmed a machine to pitch like Josiah Gray before facing him recently:

After their infielders took groundballs, they wheeled a pitching machine to the mound and plugged in the characteristics of Gray’s slider, a plus pitch he throws about 28 percent of the time. For close to an hour, the Cardinals cycled through the batter’s box, spraying sliders around Nationals Park or watching how one looked when it bounced in the dirt. A coach never threw a ball.

“You’re seeing less and less guys actually hit regular coach BP on the field,” Cardinals Manager Oliver Marmol said, noting his team’s batting practice methods depend on the opponent. “Just because the game is very different than hitting a 50-mile-an-hour fastball from a middle-aged man.”

‘It’s mental reps’

As he walked into the University of Maryland’s stadium, taking one look, and then a double take, at the home team’s batting practice, a Nebraska player asked a question on behalf of everyone: “What the f--- are they doing?”

Matt Swope, then the Terrapins’ hitting coach, now their head coach as of last month, has heard this before. He considers himself a disrupter when it comes to training and hitting. He is unapologetic about it. So for the past few seasons, he has created an on-field batting practice that tests his players mentally and drills their swing decisions. That’s what Nebraska’s players and staff saw when they arrived in College Park in late May.

The crux of Swope’s BP is a V-Flex screen he puts in front of an L screen and throws each pitch through. The circular screen has two tabs near the top that start to form a “V.” But because the letter is not fully formed, the hitters have to complete it with their imaginations while choosing whether to swing. If the pitch is traveling in the imagined V, it is almost certainly a strike (Swope has measured this out with excruciating care). And if the pitch is outside the imagined V, it will be a ball that the hitter should lay off.
The L screen Swope throws behind, placed in front of the mound, has its bottom half covered with a black tarp. That’s to focus hitters’ attention on the pitcher’s release point instead of anything happening below his waist.

“With the V Flex I am adding in an extra constraint to the brain, so I’m trying to keep them engaged and excited,” Swope explained. “If they have to work harder to complete the V in their head and assess if the pitch is a ball or strike, they are seeing space better and everything will feel a bit easier in the game. We do skill acquisition on the side, bunting and whatnot. And inside I use little foam balls for them to hit and see high-spin breaking pitches over and over. But this is how we maximize time on the field, at home and on the road. It’s mental reps.”
Swope’s thoughts on traditional batting practice, then?

“I think for years, it’s largely been coaches checking a box,” he said, speaking a month before the Terrapins finished their season as one of the best offenses in the country (third in team OPS, fourth in home runs and fourth in walks). “Maybe to feel like they are doing something. But when it comes to preparation, from a mental standpoint, BP is probably more eyewash than anything.”