It’s Not (All) About Bat Speed

not-bat-speedDr. William Clark is the co-founder of Diamond Kinetics and has been an active researcher and innovator in the field of dynamic systems and control for over 25 years. He is currently Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at the University of Pittsburgh,

His research has focused on sensors and actuators, smart materials and structures, energy harvesting and mechatronics, and he has written over 100 technical papers on these subjects."

Generally speaking, when a hitter steps up to the plate, his or her goal is to hit the ball as “hard” as possible (with a few exceptions, such as a sacrifice fly or a ground ball behind the runner).

Technically speaking, this means that the goal is to make the ball leave the bat with the highest velocity possible. High exit speed means that a fly ball at the proper angle will clear the outfield fence, or a line drive or ground ball will get through to the outfield before an infielder can stop it.

So what is required to hit the ball “hard”?

In a nutshell, a well-hit ball means that the hitter swung the bat such that the best part of the bat made the truest contact with the ball while moving as fast as possible. That’s a lot of variables.

While bat speed has received a great deal of attention related to its importance in hitting, it is but one of many pieces to the puzzle. There is no doubt that bat speed is important – ball exit speed is directly proportional to the relative speed between ball and bat - but getting the other variables right can produce beautiful results with less than home run derby bat speed.

Making contact with the ball away from the “sweet spot” – which is defined many different ways, but generally considered to be the optimal segment of the bat for impact to occur based on vibration characteristics, barrel mechanics, and mass distribution – can result in a notable drop-off in ball exit speed. Likewise, hitting the ball “squarely” involves alignment of multiple axes, two trajectories, two round surfaces, and proper timing with the pitch, so a minor misalignment can also greatly affect ball exit speed and path.

This means that a lot of things must happen correctly in the batter’s box to “square up the ball” and hit it hard, with or without high bat speed. In addition to those things, one can’t neglect the importance of making the right decision in the dugout by selecting the proper bat. A player can swing a very light bat very fast, but that won’t provide as much momentum to generate high exit speed after impact than a heavier bat swung at the same speed. Conversely, at some point a bat becomes too heavy to swing fast and control well.

So bat speed is important in hitting, and very high bat speed can go a long way toward masking deficiencies in contact, but there are many other factors - both in and out of the batter’s box - that warrant a great deal of attention as one works to become a good hitter.

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