Velocity is Over Rated
“EV+INTENT = DREAMS” – Drew Thomas – Pitching Coach for Coastal Carolina
Settle down Twitterville, I know you think I’ve gone off the deep end because Effective Velocity is my life’s study and velocity is half the name. Well, it is the other half of the name that is crucial to understand because it is the half that truly defines pitching. ‘Effective’ velocity teaches pitching, velocity is impressive but only ‘effective’ when used correctly.
Case in point, the average velocity has gone up each year and this year is no exception. However, the home run total is up to 2.28 HRs per game in 2016, versus 2015 at just about 2.02 per game and 1.72 per game in 2014, which is a huge (about 25%) increase from 2014 to present (source – ESPN Homerun Tracker). The homerun is not the end all measurement but it certainly goes a long way to prove my point.
The importance of knowing the difference between velocity and ‘Effective’ Velocity is so crucial in fact, that from now on, I will use Ev as the new abbreviation for this science, downplaying the velocity portion and paying tribute to the part that is truly about learning to pitch. Velocity will make you Nasty, but learning to pitch is what makes you Downright Filthy and wins you national championships.
Granted, velocity is a major factor in getting the big time collegiate scholarships and getting drafted in the top rounds. Even in this supposed ‘enlightened’ era of the game, big, tall, mid 90’s throwing pitchers are still ‘what they look like’ according to the scouting and professional baseball world. To the baseball world, Velocity is King……………but don’t tell that to last year’s AL Cy Young winner, Dallas Keuchel or this year’s NCAA National Champs, Coastal Carolina. They both had some things in common, a top velocity in the low 90’s and a knowledge of Ev.
I received a great email note from Drew Thomas, Coastal Carolina’s pitching coach after their team’s historic run (see the Chanticleers article for note). Drew had been following along with Ev for many years now and took the advanced online course before the season. I spoke with Drew a couple of times this last week and he told me that taking the course brought new meaning to Ev. Hearing the descriptions and seeing the examples on video added to his understanding as well as some ways to help introduce it to his pitchers and get them to buy in. Getting buy in is not easy when you have pitchers from multiple backgrounds and programs teaching something that is almost certainly not Ev centric.
Ironic right, that the latest NCAA champions, Coastal Carolina, only had a few guys touching 90-91 MPH on the radar gun when the whole baseball world is enamored with velocity. There were 32 other Division I teams ranked ahead of them in the preseason poll by Collegiate Baseball. I have no doubt that the higher ranked teams had many guys that matched ‘that look’ and threw mid 90s fastballs ‘at that great downhill angle’, but they are listed behind Coastal Carolina now and a part of that is due, not to ‘Velocity’ but to ‘Effective Velocity’. Ev is the science of how to ‘use the speed you have’. Coastal Carolina used the speed they had very well, in other words Drew taught his guys to pitch.
Not only did they use their speed well, they used deception on multiple levels. In the days I was introducing Ev, multiple MLB coaches told me that deception was something that you had or not. It wasn’t something they knew how to measure and certainly not be able to enhance. Ev changed that on many, many fronts.
What does deception mean?
- Using Ev Tunnels makes it harder to identify pitches
- Pressure Pitches that induce chases and swing and misses outside the zone
- Strike Pitches that were disguised in an Ev Tunnel with the right Ev speed between them creates swings and misses in the zone and weaker contact
- Off speed pitches with spin mimicking their fastball as well as their use of Freeze Pitches
In other words, they worked to make their pitches more difficult to identify and therefore, harder to square up. They created their own unique ways to accomplish each Ev element as they worked at the craft of pitching.
Obviousness is the opposite of deception. To be a power pitcher, there seems to be a ‘good ole boys’ set of rules that goes with that. Many of those rules like keeping the ball down, throwing downhill, establishing fastball ……… etc……….etc………. the list is long and leads to ‘Obviousness’ and hitters thrive on ‘The Known’. When hitters can hang their hat on something, anything, you will see swings get a whole lot more aggressive and a whole lot more ‘On Time’, hence the HR increase referenced earlier. When you flip the switch using deception and the ‘Effective’ half of the Ev term, the swings are much more defensive and you become Filthy.
I think we can all agree, given the choice of a pitcher that features 88 MPH versus a guy throwing 96 MPH, with all other things being equal, everyone chooses the 96 MPH fastball guy all day. But that’s just it, all things are never equal are they?
- Pitch sequencing
- Pitch design
- Understanding hitters
- Reading hitters
- Understanding and controlling contact
- Adding and subtracting speed to multiple pitches
- Deception (multiple levels of deception)
- Learning movement
- Spin disguises
There are many other aspects of pitching that the radar gun can’t quite measure………………….. but Effective Velocity can explain these things and Coastal Carolina employed many of them. Becoming Ev efficient is a lot like becoming a Jedi. There are so many levels to master and very few pitchers have ever reached the level of mastery in every element. Usually mastering just a few can elevate a pitcher to a whole new level.
If Velocity is everything as the world would have us believe, then how does a team that has only a few guys touching 90 MPH win it all? How does a ‘not so big’, ‘not so downhill’ MLB pitcher throw 90 MPH and win a Cy Young? In an email note from Drew Thomas, he wrote this equation to help answer that………
EV + INTENT = DREAMS.
After a couple of great conversations with Drew, I was very excited to hear some of the innovative ways he used Ev to help Coastal Carolina reach their dreams. We won’t go into all of them but I wanted to share one of them today; using Hitter’s Attention to control contact.
Hitter’s Attention is the heart of Effective Velocity and my conversations with Drew were encouraging because he not only recognized that, but had his guys studying it and more importantly, using it against their opponents. The basic definition is that hitters are prepared for a pitch at a certain speed in a basic area and they can react within a range of about 6 EvMPH on pitches in a tunnel and still be 100/100 (100% on time with 100% swing efficiency). Outside that speed range, offense goes down dramatically as the quality of contact goes down or in MLB ease, the Exit Velocity goes down.
Hitter’s Attention is very real and Drew’s staff was very aware of it. They charted batted ball results to judge how well their guys had pitched around that Hitter’s Attention. By understanding where the Hitter’s Attention is, you can best pitch around it. You can also pitch to the end of that Attention that gets you the groundball or the weak infield pop up when needed. No, of course you can’t control every contact, but you can throw the very best pitch to get the desired result based on where you suspect the hitter is at, which in turn is based on studying the evidence at hand. The hitter shows you where he is at most at bats, or as Drew put it, “sometimes they yell at you where they are at.” Make no mistake, good hitters are ready to attack something. They are ultra prepared to hit one speed range, but they can’t cover it all and it is there for you to heed, if you believe in that sort of stuff.
The Sabermetric world does not subscribe to this notion, saying basically that hitters just see it and hit any pitch, regardless of the previous pitch. Even though every study to date, there is the same breakdown of percentage of hard hit balls that directly relates to the previous pitch. When it is the first pitch of the at bat, the previous pitch is an imaginary outside fastball, about 3 EvMPH less than the pitchers normal fastball. In other words, the hitter has a strong tendency to be on time to the slower minus fastball of the pitcher, or at least his idea of the pitcher and so he walks to the plate with that speed implanted. (The video above shows this idea)
In the case of MLB level hitters, you know every pitch the guy has thrown so this data is everywhere. In college, there is enough data available to know the top velocity of the pitcher (much more at times as they are advancing quickly in this area) and that is what the hitter takes to the plate with him. He is prepared to hit that outside fastball and anything within 6 EvMPH of that speed (based on decades of physical testing of hitters, MLB data and observations of countless thousands of at bats). If you don’t believe this, just listen to the hitting coach of virtually any team. “Hands inside the ball” – “hit the ball the other way” – “let the ball get deep” – “foot down early and let the ball travel.” These are all code for ‘we are hunting outside fastball’……………. Drew’s staff was listening………………….
Drew devised a system for charting contact based off a hitting measurement that he learned about in another of our online courses. Like most life learners, Drew took a hitting course to see what he could reverse engineer to make his staff better. In the Hitting Is A Guess video, I didn’t have a way to test live BP for exit speed, so I devised a trajectory rating, called Trajectangles. Having done massive tee exit speed tests, I knew that trajectory was directly related, in most cases, with exit velocity. The highest exit velocity happened within 10 degrees of the perfect line drive and dropped predictably as the Trajectangle changed. Drew took this and added in his own twist. He combined trajectory along with a quality contact rating to come up with their measurement for quality of contact.
Above is the Trajectangle from the Hitting Is A Guess video that I used in the later Time Training programs to help us judge live simulated at bats as to the quality of contact as well as the trajectories. We will get into the details of this in the next post but it is very simple, yet worked perfectly to give his pitchers the measurement of well hitters were making contact versus each of them.
Back to Hitter’s Attention…………… If ever there was a Sabermetric hero, it is Mike Trout, not that he isn’t everyone’s hero but especially the Saber world, due to Mike having no weaknesses, seemingly. They would say he has no Hitter’s Attention, in fact, they might use him as an example as to why Hitter’s Attention does not exist. If you wish to learn how hard hit ball stats or quality of contact shows how Hitter’s Attention works. Check out the Mike Trout Videos, they explain how even the best in the business are limited to what they can and can’t react to. 2014 & 2015 – this is a great example of the simple fact that no hitter can hit every speed pitch at 100% efficiciency with 100% timing, when they are in an Ev Tunnel. Pitchers that understand this, have the best chance to avoid that 100/100 contact.
While the tag line of this piece may be a bit shocking, velocity on its own, is not nearly enough to make a pitcher ‘Filthy’. Velocity makes a pitcher ‘Nasty’, as does great movement, but to graduate from Nasty to Filthy is about learning to be ‘Effective’ with that velocity. Thanks to Drew for his time to answer some questions for us and we’ll try to highlight a few of the things he used to make his guys ‘Downright Filthy’.
I wonder what would happen if the ‘good ole boys club’ wised up and taught the 96 MPH guys to be pitchers………………? Hitting will get a whole lot more difficult.