Why You Never Again Have To Sacrifice Bat Speed For Barrel Control
Bat speed and barrel control are two of the most important factors in hitting the ball hard and far.
The latest installment in our hitting series with Trevor Stocking takes a closer look at both of these metrics and explains why players no longer have to prioritize one over the other.
Stocking, a former Division I college baseball player, reviewed data on millions of swings as one of the first employees of sports sensor startup, Zepp Labs, and now directs product marketing for Axe Bat.
Q: Let’s start with an easy one. What is bat speed?
A: At its simplest, it’s how fast you can swing a bat — usually measured in miles per hour for a fixed point on the bat barrel.
Q: At what point in the swing is bat speed measured?
A: The two most common ways for it to be measured are right at impact, using sensors, or at the bat’s highest speed, which also normally is right around impact. You’ll hear those referred to as “bat speed at impact” or “max bat speed.”
Q: Wouldn’t you want those to be the same?
A: Definitely. You want your max bat speed to be at impact as often as possible. That said, we know how difficult hitting a moving pitch can be! The best pro players like Mookie Betts are very good at it. It should be your goal as a hitter to be on time with your bat speed vs. a live pitch.
Q: There are a lot of variables involved, of course, but what are some ranges of bat speeds you’ve seen for different levels of players?
A: Pro players are usually anywhere between 75-100 mph. For the most part, younger players are going to be anywhere between 40-60 mph. If you get to the point where you can swing 70 mph against a moving pitch, you’re doing very well. Anything above that would be icing on the cake.
Q: Do you see a difference in bat speed when measured against moving pitches?
A: Oh yeah. Most everybody has decent bat speed off the tee. But when the ball starts moving, the numbers are all over the place. The best big league players generate high bat speeds off both a tee and a moving pitch. That’s not the case for most players, though.
Q: What impact does the size of your bat have on bat speed?
A: If you think about it, you could use a Wiffle ball bat and swing 110 mph. So the weight, the length, and the forces behind the bat definitely have an impact. Your goal should be to use the longest, heaviest bat you can swing fastest with control.
Q: What do you mean by control?
A: When I say control, I’m talking about swing plane, or attack angle — i.e., can you direct your barrel on a path that stays consistent to the ball?
Q: What insights have you gleaned about control from analyzing swing data?
A: The data I saw while working at Zepp showed that for young players, the faster they swung, the more likely they were to generate a negative attack angle. So swinging harder and faster actually caused them to lose control of their barrels. That negative attack angle — swinging down — is going to cause their barrel to only be in the hitting zone for a very short amount of time, making it very difficult to square up balls consistently. A hitter who can maintain a slightly positive attack angle has a longer hitting zone when trying to match the barrel with the incoming pitch.
Q: So there’s an optimal balance you’re looking for between speed and control?
A: Right, and that actually gets to one of the biggest advantages of the Axe handle. With the old way — the round knob — you have to choose between swinging fast and being in control. That’s been the dilemma with round-handled bats forever. Only the very best players can do both with a round knob because of how the bottom edge digs into your palm and creates what we call “grip gaps” that cause you to lose contact with the handle. With the Axe handle, all of that goes away. You don’t have to sacrifice control for speed or vice versa. Now, you can focus on swinging as fast as you can, remain in control of your barrel, and make contact on the sweet spot.
Q: Can you improve your bat speed?
A: Absolutely, but like anything, it takes training. You have to teach your body to produce fast movements. You have to train for speed and the programs Driveline Baseball is putting together for our new Axe Bat Speed Trainers give you exactly the tools to do it, whether you’re in-season, out-of-season, a beginner or an advanced player.
Q: How do you train for barrel control?
A: The best way is to swing against moving pitches. A tee is wonderful, but hitting is multi-dimensional. Hitting a moving pitch forces you to adjust to a ball that behaves differently every time. So there’s nothing better for learning barrel control than hitting moving pitches — toss drills, machine pitching, live pitching, etc.
Q: What advice would you give parents or youth coaches on this topic?
A: With younger players, it’s much easier to corral speed than teach speed. So when I’m working with my 5-year-old, or my 3-year-old, I’m encouraging them to just let it rip and let their bodies figure out the right way to work. I want them to feel what it’s like to swing as hard as they can. Then, we can work on control.
The higher the level of competition you get, the more important control becomes because pitchers throw harder with more movement. At the pro level, everybody has high bat speed, so control is ridiculously important.
Q: What role can an Axe Bat have in developing bat speed and control?
A: Like I said earlier, with the Axe handle, you never have to compromise or choose between swinging fast and controlling your barrel. You can do both, and more effectively. That’s because the Axe handle is made for the swing; it fits naturally in your hand and gives you a stronger, more stable grip.