Dan Kopitzke is owner and founder or K-Zone Baseball SBA, in Raleigh North Carolina. VISIT WEBSITE >
March 3rd, 2020 at approximately 1:20pm at K-Zone Baseball SBA, Zach Vennaro threw the first fastball of his final bullpen before heading off to Spring training - 97.0mph. Off to a good start. His previous best was 97.5mph. On his third fastball of the session, he had his first 98 @ 98.3mph! How much more was in there we wondered? He proceeded to fire fastball after fastball and we anxiously awaited the Rapsodo results with each pitch. 98.3, 98.2, 98.4, 97.9, 98.5.
Zach toed the rubber, came set, took a deep breath and delivered his next fateful fastball. A loud pound of the glove at the other end with all of us huddled around the iPad watching the spinning wheel awaiting the results…
Rewind 18 months to August 26th, 2018 when Zach reported for his internship and training at K-Zone SBA Baseball which thanks to a referral by teammate Brighton Hudson, was secured back in May preceding the June Amateur Baseball Draft. Zach expected to complete his internship during the offseason following his first season of professional baseball. However, that’s not how it played out.
Despite being informed by several sources that he was going to be drafted (as early as rounds 5-8), Zach went undrafted. He was in shock. A great senior season at Mt. Olive that earned him Division II Second Team All-American honors was not enough.
Zach threw his first bullpen for us on Friday August 30th, 2018. His fastball averaged 87.0mph topping out at 87.6mph.
Here’s a sample of Zach’s movement screen.
He wasn’t exactly what I would describe as a great mover. He had some work to do. Zach was ready to do whatever was required because what he had done to this point clearly hadn't been enough to give him that opportunity. So it began.
Zach threw 91-93mph at a professional league tryout at the end of January and was offered a contract by the Ottawa affiliate in the Canam league. Needless to say, Zach was excited to have an opportunity in professional baseball. The changes and improvements he was undergoing with us were paying dividends.
Once in Ottawa, Zach did not squander his opportunity. His velocity had taken another tic up by the start of the season in May. He was routinely 93-95mph with a floor of 92mph. This was very different from his college days when he threw several fastballs that started with an 8. This increase in velocity did not go unnoticed. He was garnering the attention of several scouts, some that had seen him pitch in college and they couldn’t believe the jump in velocity.
Shortly after the June Amatuer Draft, Zach signed a free agent contract with the Milwaukee Brewers! He had done it. 12 months after the disappointment of being passed over in the draft, he was receiving his opportunity to play affiliated baseball.
During his off-season entry pen on September 6th, 2019 he sat at 93.5mph and topped 94.9mph confirming his in-season numbers. We had our baseline established for his off-season gains.
Making a significant velocity increase for an athlete topping 95mph that just made a 6mph increase over the past year is a very tall order. Since Zach wasn’t taking any time off, we had a solid 6 months of training to make it happen. Back to work he went.
Week by week, Zach saw his velocity increase and just as importantly the effort it took to throw hard became easier. He used to throw an easy 90 before his pull-downs, now he was throwing an easy 94 before starting his bullpens.
Most days in his bullpens, he would dedicate a few fastballs for max intent development before working on his other pitches. He built his confidence and ability through this process. This really helped him compete when we began the live at bats. In his final live at bat session, he was sitting 96-97mph. He had a pretty good changeup that day too.
Originally Zach had planned to head home to New York Friday, the day after the final live at bat session. He decided to delay his trip home to get in one more bullpen and try to throw a 98mph fastball which brings up back to the spinning wheel.
The spinning wheel disappeared and the results were finally displayed - 100.3mph! An eerie sense of excitement, shock and awe with a little “did that read right?” took over. We all looked to Zach for his reaction; “That felt different than the 98’s, everything felt in sync when I drove down the mound and I really got behind the baseball." Check Zach out on K-ZONE Instagram
Zach is the first pitcher to throw a 100mph fastball at our facility and I’m sure it’s the first of many he will throw in his career. His increase in his second off-season was even more impressive than the giant leap made in his first.
He's No average Joe
K-Zone Baseball SBA, Raleigh North Carolina
The main focus of K-Zone is to develop Superior Baseball Athletes with respect to skills, abilities, health, resilience and mental toughness. We believe we are human first which means in order to excel in baseball we must possess and enhance basic human movement skills. Without even these basic skills, we are risking health or performance or both. Our model is ever evolving as we expand our knowledge and understanding while maintaining a solid grounding in first principles.
We work with amateur and professional athletes that have the desire to play at a high level and are interested increasing their capabilities, skills and capacity to work and perform. We find ways to make the training fun and interesting and teach athletes how to make lifestyle changes that align with their goals.
The simple answer is just that; because it seems impossible.
I’ve already completed 275 reps with 275lb in one day, and I want the accomplishment of hitting 300lb to be something much bigger. The more complete answer requires a dive into how I got here.
How I got here
Building strength in our baseball athletes is a major element of our training and deadlifting is the primary mechanism we use for developing overall strength. It’s called the big lift for a reason. Most people can lift more weight with a deadlift than any other method. What is a deadlift? It’s simply lifting a weight off the ground, from a “dead” position on the earth.
We track not only the weight an athlete lifts but also his tonnage (weight x reps). We don’t just want our athletes to lift a heavier weight, we want them to lift more weight, do more work. We’ve found that most athletes will drop reps just to increase the weight they can lift because that is the typical measure of strength. “What’s your one rep max or your three rep max?”
While that’s all well and good, in our experience athletes experience injury or become misdirected when focused on an absolute maximum. We’ve found that a focus on total weight or tonnage lifted is more effective for building lasting strength safely. It also provides a very specific, methodical approach to building strength which is easy to measure and track.
Back to the crazy lift
I was dealing with severe elbow tendonitis and a torn common tendon. Unable to do all the hanging, swinging and climbing that I love, I began exploring things I could do that wouldn’t aggravate my injuries. Deadlifting.
We had recently acquired a 75lb trap bar which when loaded with 55lb bumper plates totals 185lbs (which was roughly my body weight). We store the plates on the bar so the default 185lbs is always there ready to be lifted.
I made a plan to do two sets of Trap Bar Deadlifts for 50 reps with 185lb; a total of 100 reps. I would do it Monday-Friday and take the weekends off. So, it began.
As the end of the first week was approaching, Will Gilbert, an NCSU grad and Oakland Athletics’ pitcher, asked where I was going to go from here. I hadn’t really given it much thought. After a little back and forth, we realized that I was lifting nearly 10 tons each day. That was it. I was going to lift 10 tons a day, 5 days a week until…forever or something like that.
The 10 Ton Lift: 10 tons in 2 sets
I’ve done a variety of workouts and training programs in my life but I didn’t stick with any of them for more than a couple of months. Life always seemed to get in the way. I didn’t want to repeat that. I wanted something that didn’t take prioritization or willpower to be successful. Something like brushing your teeth but with a growth factor involved.
How did my plan stack up?
The idea of lifting something heavy every day was appealing. I viewed it more as hard work… manual labor. Do it every day and your body will adjust and accommodate the workload. That was the thinking. No real end goal in mind. More of a mindset of a lifestyle of doing hard work every day. I guess I’ve always respected the idea of putting in a hard day of manual labor. I admire the practical nature of it. This would be my manual labor. Anything else I chose to do would be for enjoyment.
I engage in natural movement everyday. I’ve been a follower of MovNat for years and have incorporated it into our training programs. I believe in order to be a great athlete, you need to move like a human was designed to move. Humans have tremendous movement skill capability and I’m constantly trying to improve the movement skills of our athletes as well as my own. This wouldn’t change with my new plan but I wouldn’t program anything specific except the deadlift - the 10 ton lift.
The next week I increased the weight to 200lb so that my 100 reps would give me the 10 tons. The 10 ton lift was born. Surprisingly, it didn’t feel any different than the 185lb from the week before. Still, I knew I couldn’t maintain an increase of 15lb per week for very long. I settled on 5-10lb per week increase. I also wanted to keep the workload at 10 tons, so with the increase in weight on the bar I would decrease the reps accordingly to equal 10 tons. These small increments seemed more sustainable long term and I felt would allow me to keep building the strength to accommodate the new weight and rep scheme without warming up with lighter weight first. I also needed to maintain my current movement abilities and even continue to increase them to keep me injury resistant. This was already a part of my lifestyle so no additional commitment was required.
Never more excited about a strategy to get stronger and more fit in my life, I was energized. One week went by, then two, three. No missed lifts. It was going great. Then in week 4 I was in bed at home and realized that I had only done one set that day. Damn!
I contemplated for a moment driving back to K-Zone for the other set. No need to panic, I had another lift tomorrow. I would do a 3rd set. I got after it right away the next day and completed my 3 sets fairly early in the day and still felt pretty good. I decided I was going to do my Friday sets as well and give myself a 3 day weekend. 5 sets and just over 26 tons in one day and I had my long weekend of recovery. This demonstrated the beauty and flexibility of this workout. Since each set only took about 5 minutes it was easy to make up for any missed lifts or combine days when necessary. Awesome stuff!
“5 sets and just over 26 tons in one day…”
I have a confession to make. I said I was going to implement a 5-10lb per week increase so I should have been looking at 215lb for week 5. Let me preface by saying in my defense, that the 5lb and 10b plates look very similar. I was lifting more than I thought because I put the wrong plates on the bar. I was also tired of using so many small plates and just wanted to put 25lb plates on the bar. That being said my next 10lb jump put me at 235lb for 88 reps in week 5. A little ahead of schedule. I promise I will slow down.
Playing the long game.
Remember, I was playing the long game. If I just put my head down and plugged away imagine where I will be in a year. 52 weeks (let’s call it 50 for a nice round number), 5lb increase each week. That’s a 250lb jump in one year. If we add that to my 200lb week 2 weight we have 450lb for 45 reps (a set of 23 and one of 22). I liked the idea of how strong I would have to be to do that. Is that possible? Or reasonable to expect?
I wondered how long I could maintain this strategy. Could I do it for a year? Longer? Will I need to decrease the number of lift days and increase the number of rest days as the weight gets heavier? Still lift 10 tons a day but not 50 tons a week.
On one hand if I successfully completed the previous weeks lifts and I only increased the weight 5lb I should be able to do it. Right? Forever, right? If I’m lifting 235lb successfully, 5lb is only a 2% increase. Doesn’t even seem like I would notice it. As the weight gets heavier the percent increase is even smaller. Not so fast.
Let’s approach it from a different angle. The world record deadlift is 1,015lb by Benedikt Magnússon (he weighed nearly 400lb) That’s for one rep. I would need to do that 10 times in one set. That’s not going to happen. So the strategy will fail me at some point. I just don’t know where.
However, I don’t need to concern myself with figuring out where I will fail. It will happen when it happens. I’ll deal with it then.
As 2019 came to a close I was at 250lb (an easy number to remember at the end of 2020 for comparison. For Christmas, one of our athletes, Evans Banks, suggested that we do a “12 tons of Christmas” lift. Loved the idea, so on Christmas Eve, a group of us (we even invited friends and family interested) did a 12 ton lift. They got to pick their weight and take as many sets as needed to complete the reps needed. Here's the happy group.
12 Tons of Christmas
To ring in the new year, I did 20 sets of a new method we were piloting - the minute method. 20 sets in 20 minutes or 1 ton a minute. I did 8 reps of 250lb (touch and go) every minute for 20 straight minutes. 20 tons for 2020.
A new strength measure was born out of this experiment if you will. We added a new event to our Superior Baseball Athlete (SBA) Olympics. The 19 rep touch and go deadlift. Here I am performing my lift with 365lb. I did not include this in my workout tracking. I did my 10 tons before this lift that day.
I remained methodical in the new year: 250, 255, 260, 265. Still going strong. I could feel the weight getting heavier but at no point did I feel like I couldn’t or wouldn’t complete the lift. I knew I would be happy with the results if I could just stick to the process. My main thought each day was just lift my 10 tons and not worry about anything else.
At this point, I wanted to know how much total weight I had lifted. It was fortuitous, as I was about to reach the 1,000,000lb mark next week. I did some extra work that Monday to reach the milestone: 146 reps at 275lb. or 20 tons. That’s a milestone that I’m glad I didn’t miss. As you can see below, I was pretty excited about reaching that total. It really helped put things in perspective for me.
I was feeling much stronger, more dense. My clothes were fitting differently, body weight was up, fat was down, energy was up. Everything was great. I had thought, as did my pros, that I wasn’t going to make it this far. 275lb for 73 reps. Since I reached the 1,000,000lb mark I thought it was a good idea to issue myself a challenge. On Wednesday, I decided to also do Thursdays and Fridays lifts. That’s 219 reps. I was pretty fatigued from that. However, I got to thinking. 275 reps of 275lb sounds pretty cool. So, I did another round of 56 reps to give me 275. That made nearly 68 tons in 3 days. Thankfully I had four rest days ahead of me.
That lift took place on January 29th. I was closing in on 300lb and it looked like I was going to make it. Still not sure where the breaking point is going to be. I know I will find it eventually.
The Birth of the Big Lift
With 300lb expected to be reached near the end of February and having done 275 reps with 275lb, I wanted something more profound to celebrate 300. It took nearly 6 hours to complete the 275 reps because I hadn’t planned to do that ahead of time.
I wanted this goal to be something really hard. I wanted anybody who looked at the numbers to say “Holy Cow” or some equivalent. 300 reps with 300 lb sounds impressive, and it is, but if you have all day to do it the awe is diminished. I believe many people could do it. However, if the 45 tons must be completed in 45 minutes, well that’s an entirely different story. I wanted it to be something so crazy that nobody in their right mind would even consider attempting it. I think this is it.
I was finding that setting a well defined goal with a specific date altered my training and not necessarily in a positive way. Prior to setting the goal, my training was very methodical as previously mentioned: 10 tons a day, every day for 5 consecutive days, rest on the weekends and start all over again. Most days were done with the original 2 set method where each rep is an individual rep - pick it up and put it back down. This is more challenging than doing touch and go reps. If you ask any of our athletes, they all prefer the minute method over the 2 set method.
With a specific goal, I found myself wanting and trying to optimize my training toward that goal. This meant more big lifts, more rest days and a certain type of lift that best matched the end goal - the minute method. I even considered, and tried, some supplementation: creatine. I quickly abandoned the creatine (after just 2 days) because I decided with a diet containing 200-350g of protein daily I didn’t need it. I ate mostly meat during the 15 weeks of lifting and that last 6 weeks or so was mostly beef.
Another negative aspect of having a defined goal was added stress. I now had something I had to accomplish in a specific time frame. There was pressure. I had to consider rest, recovery, nutrition, etc. and its potential impact on my ability to complete the lift. I also had no idea if it was even possible. I don’t like to commit to things that I’m not confident I can do. This was stress I didn’t want.
Every other challenge I’ve embarked on to this point was one I knew I could do or was done as an afterthought to just see if I could: no pressure, in the moment call. This Big Lift was a whole other thing. I had no idea if I could do it when I came up with it. It truly seemed impossible.
As I’m writing this, I feel like I’m talking in the past tense about the Big Lift as if it’s already done and I completed it successfully. I haven’t. These are just the thoughts I had when I came up with the challenge.
At the time of the decision to do it, the most consecutive lifts I had done were 20 minutes and those were with much less weight. Had I committed myself to an impossible lift? I really had no idea. I needed a plan, some sort of test run or build up to know. I approached it like someone training for a marathon would with increasing volume/distance each week. Problem was I only had 4 weeks to train.
I scheduled a 25 minute lift for the next week with 285lb. That would be a decent test but still a long way from the finish line: 20 minutes and 15lb shy. If I couldn’t do that then 45 minutes with 300lb was out of the question. I successfully completed that lift but was wiped out and wondering how I was going to go for another 20 minutes. It didn’t seem possible.
Next test was 300lb for 20 minutes - Game weight but shorter duration. Before that I needed to “graduate” to 300lb. I wasn’t comfortable making a 15lb jump in one week. I compromised and did 2 days at 295lb before loading up 300lb for a 10 ton lift. With that done, it was time to give 20 minutes a go. Thursday arrived with 30 tons already in the books for the week and I was nervous. I’ve noticed that as the weight has increased each week so has my anxiety about whether or not I will be able to complete the lift.
A few sets into the lift and I was already battling my inner demons. As I approached the 10 minute mark, I regained control and committed to finish the 20 minutes. Everything was good until the 20th set. As soon as it began, I felt fatigue in my quads. This was very concerning. I knew it wasn’t going to stop me from finishing the set today but how was I going to continue for another 25 minutes if I was experiencing noticeable muscle fatigue already?
Serious doubt was now sinking its teeth in and growing like a tick on an unaware host. I had a few days of rest/recovery for this doubt to continue to fester. Next week was the real test with a 30 minute lift scheduled for mid-week.
300lb for 30 minutes
I had a “light” week planned in total volume and number of lift days but a big test was inching closer. Monday was a scheduled off day; the fourth day in a row until Zach Vennaro, Milwaukee Brewers pitcher and self-proclaimed best intern in the history of K-Zone, helped me realize that I hadn’t missed a single Monday lift in 14 weeks. I couldn’t allow that streak to end, so I did my normal 10 ton lift. It wasn’t as easy as I had hoped; my tick of doubt got bigger. Tuesday rolled in like any other and I did my scheduled 10 ton lift. It went very similar to Monday. Doubting Tick filled up some more.
In addition to the less than stellar lifts I was having I was struggling getting a good night’s sleep. I had trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. I couldn’t get comfortable.
Wednesday the lift was weighing heavily (haha) on my mind. I was inefficient with my normal morning work because I was anxious about the lift. When should I do it? In the morning before the athletes arrive, once they arrive or after they are done? I had to get it done soon, I couldn’t deal with the not knowing. After the last two days of lifts I wasn’t even wanting to do it.
Often, I prefer to take an ancestral perspective or plan of attack. This was no different. I was about 16 hours fasted before the lift. I was like a lion who’s hunger drove them to hunt for their next meal. After the lift/hunt I would feast. I had done this several times during the past 14 weeks and preferred it.
I strapped on my heart rate monitor, loaded up the bar, setup my interval timer and stepped inside the trap bar. 10 sets, 15 sets, 19 sets no issues to report. I was closing in on some new territory. Set 21 marked a record length for 300lb. Set 26 marked a record for consecutive sets. I knew I had 30.
Here’s my heart rate readings from the lift. Not a lot of recovery at the end - stays elevated.
After I completed the 30 sets, I felt the tick of doubt release it’s hold on me. I may not complete the 45 sets next week but at least now I feel like it’s possible. Just two more routine 10 ton lifts Monday and Tuesday before the Big Lift on Friday, February 28th.
Now you know where the idea of 300 reps with 300lb in 45 minutes was born. I did not set out to do it back in November. If I had been able to come up with such a crazy goal then I believe I would have failed. It would have been too abstract and too long of a timeframe. I just wanted to lift something heavy everyday. I knew that if I did that I would be very happy with the outcome in a year. Turns out I’m already very happy with the results. I am able to draw strength from what I’ve accomplished.
“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”
Even if I can’t complete the 300 reps of 300lb in 45 minutes, I have become stronger, more fit, more resilient, confident and driven from the process. I can only imagine what I will be in a year or more.RSS Feed
We have been beta testing the Rapsodo unit for several months. Following is our evaluation of the location accuracy - using the most recent hardware, firmware and software releases. (same version tested at Driveline).
How accurate is it?
We used our Hack Attack Pitching Machine and HitTrax system to provide the input and comparison measurements for Rapsodo. HitTrax has 3 hi-speed cameras to track the flight of the baseball on the way in (pitch) and way out (hit) using the triangulation method to determine where the baseball is.
Hi-Speed Video analysis has proven HitTrax to be accurate in reporting the location of the pitch. We will use this knowledge in our testing here and not re-confirm with video. Ten 77mph fastballs from the Hack Attack pitching machine were thrown and measured by each system. We have measured several hundred pitches of various types and spot checked the location on many which indicated the unit was in the ballpark but the focus was on determining if the other aspects of the unit were viable (spin rate, spin axis, true spin and movement). This small sample was used to put concrete numbers on location accuracy.
We have a couple of issues with the data that need to be discussed before looking at the results.
First: the strike zone itself and dimensions/location. We have no way to align both systems to have the exact same center point location of the strike zone for vertical and horizontal directions or size of the zone. Therefore, pictorial representations may be off.
Second: each system reports the location as above/below and left/right of a reference point. This reference point is not the same for each system. For HitTrax it’s from the middle/middle location of the strike zone. For Rapsodo, it’s the middle of the strike zone horizontally and appears to be from the bottom of the strike zone vertically (vertical reference point couldn’t be confirmed as of publication).
To address these issues, we used the first pitch as our primary reference point and then measured how far away each pitch was from that reference point. By doing this we are measuring how much each pitch is different from the original pitch for location as measured by each system. We can then compare the two systems to each other as we are looking at the relative relationship of one pitch to the next.
The first 4 columns of data show the difference in location from the first pitch for both systems in the vertical and horizontal directions.
The last 2 columns show the systems compared to each other.
The Rapsodo differed from HitTrax on average 1.3” horizontally and 1.8” vertically. The diameter of a baseball is just under 3” so the difference in location is roughly half of a baseball. However, a couple of the pitches differed by more than a baseball vertically.
Only using one camera as compared to three, we didn’t expect the Rapsodo to be as accurate as HitTrax. It turns out to be more accurate
than we expected. Having the catcher’s view with the camera certainly proves to be helpful in this regard.
Here are a couple of pictures from the two systems showing the location of the ten pitches. As you can see, visually they are very similar.
The differences of exact location with respect to the strike zone can be attributed to calibration (user dependent) and the actual dimensions of the different strike zones. The HitTrax strike zone dimensions in this case are 18” wide by 16.4” tall (varies by hitter). I don’t have the Rapsodo dimensions as of this posting.
HitTrax (shows hit speed, since we didn’t swing it all values are zero)
Is half a baseball close enough? Well, that’s really up to you. An error of 1.5" in this environment is reasonable in both a training or game situation; most umpires are not this good.
I would just like to reiterate some of the statements that Kyle made in his post. Rapsodo has been extremely responsive during all of our testing and very appreciative of the feedback. They are a pleasure to work with are very much interested in providing a product that is accurate and reliable. It’s not without it’s issues but I’m confident that not only will they be resolved but new enhancements and features will be added.
Teams and facilities should strongly consider adding this to their programs if they want to provide objective feedback to their players
to aid in their development.
Disclosure: we were provided a unit free of charge in exchange for beta testing and providing feedback to help them bring their product to market.
On August 29th, 2015 Liam Norris, an assuming 6’1”, 175 pound 14 year old, walked into the K-Zone Academy for an evaluation in order to begin our remote training program. His father, James Norris, had driven him in from Virginia some 3.5 hours away. We ran him through a battery of tests and showed him several drills and exercises he would be doing remotely. Liam is a good size (6’1”, 175lb) for his age and is a lefty thrower, lefty hitter to boot.
Below are his baseline numbers and hitting charts from his first couple of visits with us. (HitTrax system) Key statistics are highlighted.
All in all, not bad performance for someone entering the 8th grade. Liam’s goals at the time were to be like Clayton Kershaw (what lefty doesn’t), throw 84-85mph of the bump, hit the ball 90mph/350ft, be more aggressive at the plate and improve his command.
Those are some goals. So, we put together a plan and got to work.
Liam did most of the work at home with the help of his Dad. He trained 5-6 days a week and visited once a month sometimes more. It was challenging for Liam to stick to the training schedule and keep up on his school work, etc.
The visits to the K-Zone energized him each time. Competing against the high school and college athletes here drove him to improve and he developed some strong friendships in the process.
After 5 months of hard work Liam had reached some of his hitting goals.
91.5mph exit speed and 364ft. He was definitely more aggressive and was striking out far less. If you look closely at his early spray chart above, you will notice that he was hitting a lot of baseballs to the opposite field but there was nothing behind them. James liked to refer to his hitting style/profile as “Jeter” in reference to Derek Jeter’s inside/out approach to take the ball the other way. But at this time Liam was pulling the ball with authority. He was making significant progress on the throwing side too; increasing his pull-down to 89.7mph and feeling much stronger/healthier to boot.
By the time Liam’s season was ready to begin in the spring, he was ready to show off his newly developed skills. Unfortunately, his at bats were limited and pitched only 4 innings the entire season. Needless to say he was frustrated.
Being Liam, this fueled him to return to his training with a vengeance.
Liam and his family moved to the Raleigh area at the end of the school year and began to train full-time at the K-Zone. HE THRIVED!
Liam stopped doing specific velocity training in season (orange line) but continued to train in season. As a result, when he joined us in June he broke the 90mph barrier for the first time! His current record is 93.5mph; a 10+mph gain in a year.
Below is his velocity development to date from the beginning of his training.
This fall, Liam took his new skill set to the field entering a PG Showcase event and his life hasn’t been the same since.
He did so well at that event, he was invited to participate in a game with the top Forty 14 year olds in the country. His fastball now tops out at 87mph. He is ranked #5 in the country for the 2020 graduating class. The top collegiate programs are recruiting him aggressively. All this despite not being “good enough” to garner more than 4 innings of work for his HS JV team.
Liam is a great example of how important developing your skills and abilities through training is.
He didn’t play a bunch of games this year or attend several showcase tournaments or take weekly one on one lessons. He trained hard nearly every day for over a year and has turned himself into a top notch ball player.
So, when you see Liam out on the baseball diamond know that you are looking at someone who has worked very hard to be this good; he didn’t just wake up great.
Liam blasting a 387ft HR at 98.8mph
Dan Kopitzke K-Zone Academy
It is commonly accepted that the faster the pitch the harder the hit; the pitcher supplies the power. On the surface this makes sense. If this is indeed true, one would argue that you can hit a fastball further than a curveball since a fastball is coming in with more velocity. However, there are other factors to consider.
Many coaches tell there players to hit the ball with back spin because that will carry the ball further. This is indeed true that backspin creates lift or carry. A curveball has topspin (it’s already spinning in the direction of backspin) and the fastball has backspin (its spin needs to be turned around to create back spin). Because of this curveballs are hit with more backspin than fastballs. So, which one is more important; backspin or velocity?
We decided to conduct a little study using our HitTrax simulator which gives us all the data we need to answer this question. The question of which pitch can be hit further has already been addressed by some of the brightest minds in the field of physics (See this article by Alan Nathan). What we are going to try to answer is “Which pitch is more likely to be hit for a home run?”. After all, it doesn’t really matter which one can be hit further unless it’s by a large margin (it isn’t).
One of the most important factors in hitting a home run that is rarely, if ever, discussed is the launch angle; the angle the ball leaves the bat. I imagine the reason for this is that it’s fairly obvious that you need to hit the ball with a positive launch angle to hit a home run. So, the question that I think we need to answer first is which pitch are hitters more likely to hit with a launch angle that could produce a home run?
We looked at 3 hitters in this study, all are different types of hitters. In other words, their typical exit velocities and launch angles are not the same. Although capable of hitting home runs, none of them would be classified and long ball hitters. We measured their performance in a game environment, so their goal was simply to score more runs than the other team and win the game. Each player was the sole representative of his team, so he took all of the at bats in a 9 inning game (between 34-49 at bats per game). The pitch did not vary during the game; one game was fastball and the other game was curveball.
Here are the results:
One of the most interesting findings is that the exit speed of the batted ball is not significantly different between the pitches; must less than you might have expected. You can read more about why that is in Dr. Alan Nathan’s article referenced above (hint: it’s the coefficient of restitution; COR).
The data clearly shows that the average LA for the curveball is significantly higher than that of the fastball for all hitters. Consequently, curveballs are more likely to be hit for home runs than fastballs. The fastballs, on average, aren’t even hit at a launch angle that would produce a home run (based on the average distance, they aren’t even leaving the infield in the air). If you can hit either pitch with the same velocity then the one with the better matched launch angle is the winner: curveball.
Next time you are wanting to take one deep, look for the curveball.
Cam Lengyel has been coming to the K-Zone Academy for his training for a long time. He was around last summer when we were developing the concept of the Quality Hit Game. He’s played it many times. We are going to look at his data for the 70 games we have in the database for him dating back to October 2014.
In Cam’s first recorded game, he scored 280 points, 71 points on his best hit, maximum exit velocity (MEV) of 86.3mph, average exit velocity (AEV) of 70.6mph, maximum distance of 295 feet. His last game in the data set he numbers were 723 points, 114 points on best hit, MEV of 93.0mph, AEV of 80.4mph, maximum distance of 349.4 feet. This is quite an improvement. However, single game scores can often be misleading so we are going to look at Cam’s progression in 10 game sets; first 10 games, second 10 games, etc. Doing this we will highlight a few of the key points in Cam’s development.
The chart below shows the average of each 10 game set of Quality Hit Games played. Cam started out with an average of 514 in his first 10 games and increased that to an average of 659 in his last 10 games. Through his first 60 games, Cam shows little to no improvement with his 6th set of ten games yielding a very similar 514 average to his first set of 10 games. At first glance, it doesn’t look like Cam improved at all during that long stretch. Certainly, by this measure that would not be incorrect. However, there are other numbers we can look at to help “predict” the big jump that Cam has seen in his performance in the last 10 games.
These factors have all improved as well which fits with the improvement in his best hit measurements except for the AEV.
These numbers are all visible to Cam during his training, so even though he isn’t making noticeable improvements in his best overall game average, he is improving his exit velocities, distances and hit quality. It keeps him motivated to keep putting in the hard work it takes to get to the next level. It’s a matter of time before he puts it all together.
Sometimes you have to give something up to gain something. In this case, Cam had to be willing to strikeout more in order to increase his exit velocities and distances. Once he did this, he was able to bring his strikeouts down near previous levels while maintaining a higher level of output from his swing.
Another factor that was addressed with Cam, but not covered in this analysis is where he hit the ball. Some of his best hits used to be foul; this is no longer the case. Using K-Zone Academy proprietary training exercises, Cam has been able to redirect his power into the field of play. It’s not just a phenomenon for the cage as Cam lead his team to a state title this past weekend driving a baseball just left of center that carried the center fielder for a go-ahead RBI double in extra innings.
The plateau that Cam experienced lasted almost 5 months. This is where the real work is done. It’s also where most players give up. If you are dedicated and willing to put in the hard work, you too can have success like Cam!
As a matter of routine at the K-Zone Academy, we measure the performance of our players. At all times the players know where they stand. They are acutely aware of their current performance. One of the ways we do this is with our HitTrax simulation system.
The HitTrax is a system developed by InMotion Systems to track the speed and direction of the baseball, both from the pitcher and once it’s hit by the batter. It uses high speed cameras to triangulate the location of the baseball and accurately determine the speed and direction it’s moving.
We have used this system for 2 years now, collecting data, tracking players performance, validating training methods, etc. We are continually learning how to better measure, teach and instruct our players.
Here is a recent case study. Andrew didn’t make his high school team this spring. As you will see from the initial measurements we took, it’s clear why.
Here is a review of Andrew’s current session. In 15 at bats, 100% of his hits were ground balls. His peak batted ball speed was 77mph with an average of 63.5mph. 77mph is not bad for a high school freshman, but the average of 63.5mph is below average. The fact that Andrew hit everything into the ground is an obvious concern and an area that required immediate attention. What is less obvious in the charts below is that Andrew swung at 4 of the 9 balls he saw; that’s a chase percentage of 44.4%. Another area we want to address now.
Armed with this information, we put together a plan for Andrew and he got to work. In less than one month, here are Andrew’s improvements. His maximum batted ball speed ticked up to 78.2mph in this session (his new peak is 82.5mph) but his average jumped to 73.4mph, a 10mph improvement! You can also see a very different distribution of his hits on the spray chart. Almost everything he hit is in the outfield and his line drive percentage is 55% up from ZERO! Andrew is hitting the ball harder, more consistently and with a better launch angle (meaning more line drives).
Andrew only swung at one ball out of the strike zone and he even hit that ball well. He also hit his first double.
How did Andrew make such a significant improvement in less than one month? It was through a combination of exercises and training specifically designed to address his issues.
For his early pitch recognition issues, we use a method utilizing a device known as the V-Flex. With the V-Flex, we are training the hitter’s brain to identify and swing at strikes and identify and not swing at balls. We’ve been using this for almost 3 years now with tremendous success in helping our hitters become more disciplined at the plate and smash balls in the strike zone. This was/is part of Andrew’s regular hitting training routine.
Another major contributor to Andrew’s improvements is the HitTrax system and how we use it in our training. We have developed a proprietary method for measuring the quality of every hit. With this measurement, we can better direct the players training and the adjustments he needs to make. Better, more objective, immediate, appropriate feedback equals better results. That’s what our Quality Hit training mode does. For example, Andrew’s first session, where he hit all ground balls, his score was 142 points with his best hit yielding 40 points. In his latest session, he scored 455 points with 6 hits scoring 43 points or more. In that session, Andrew set 3 personal records: most quality hit points for a hit of 67 points, most total quality hit points for a session of 455 and most line drives in a session with 6.
This type of improvement is not unusual for us to see. Players like Andrew train in an environment that provides them immediate, objective, constructive feedback. Their key performance characteristics are tracked so that they know the very moment they set a record and can celebrate it immediately. This is a self-motivating and fun. Two key ingredients to long term success.
Another thought or question arises from Andrew’s past month of work. If he had done this the month before the tryouts, would he have made the team? There is no way of knowing, but his chances would have been dramatically improved. However, Andrew is learning the lessons of hard work, deliberate practice and what it takes to improve your baseball skills. He’s also taking comfort confidently knowing that nobody that made the team has made the amount of progress that he has made in the last month.
Do you have what it takes to be great? Before you answer, let me tell you a story. This story begins about 3 years ago when I started a high school tournament team with players that trained at the K-Zone that summer. There was a player on that team that had some raw ability but very little talent. He could throw the ball 74-75mph but had no idea where it would go. He could hit it 72mph or so, but didn’t connect very often and rarely hit it that hard when he did. That player was Damian Henderson.
He was just coming back into the game after stepping away from it at a young age due to a bad experience he had. He was ready to give it another go. We had 14 players on the team that year and this player was one of the youngest and was clearly the worst of the bunch. This fact never phased him. He always brought a lot of energy to his training, practices and games.
He didn’t play much that season and when he did it wasn’t pretty. It was difficult for his parents to watch him struggle. However, he and they were in it for the long haul. Damian was determined to be great and his parents were ready to support him in that pursuit.
If you saw him play today, you might say something like, “that kid’s a natural”, or “he’s gifted”. He looks nothing like the player he was 3 years ago except for the infectious smile. He now hurls the baseball 96mph (91mph off the bump) and slugs it over 97mph. He outperforms each and every player he played with on that team from 3 years ago and some of them are playing college baseball.
He now has Division 1 college programs coming to watch him play. He didn’t get here by accident. Just this past weekend, Damian was in the parking lot in the early morning waiting for me to arrive and unlock the doors. 12 hours later, after his 2.5 workout, 2 hour team practice and several hours volunteering his time to help the younger players, he was at it again. “Coach, would it be okay if I stayed and hit some more?”
Some of you may know Damian and some of you may know that we have a hitting simulator at the K-Zone. Well, Damian has hit the ball out of all 16 major league parks we have, scaled down to high school size. He decided it’s time to try to hit it out on the Major League sized field. So, this past Saturday night he began his quest. Not only did he hit his first big league homer that night, he called how many pitches it would take him to do it, four. I’m happy to say I was there to see it happen. I didn’t, however, stay for the whole session. Damian outlasted even me that night...
Greatness, you see, is not bestowed upon the lucky few, it is not something you are born with...it is earned.