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The Downfall of Swinging to Hit Groundballs in Baseball: A Deeper Dive

Baseball, America's pastime, has seen its fair share of shifts in strategy and philosophy over the years. While certain tactics and techniques might be prevalent in one era, they could be frowned upon in the next. One of the recent coaching trends at the high school level is advocating for players to swing with the intent of hitting groundballs. But is this philosophy truly beneficial for players' success at the plate? Let's delve deeper into the statistics and issues related to this approach.


The Appeal of Groundballs


The primary reason some coaches advocate for hitting groundballs is the potential for errors in the field, especially at the high school level. A groundball can lead to bobbled balls, misfields, or poor throws, which can give the hitter a chance to safely reach base. Another reason is the perceived difficulty in defending against speed on the basepaths. A fast player hitting a groundball could potentially beat out an infield hit.


The Statistics: Groundball vs. Line Drive vs. In the Air


However, when you compare the outcomes of different types of batted balls, a clear picture emerges:


Groundballs (balls hit with a launch angle of 0 or less): According to Statcast data, groundballs in the MLB have a batting average around .240, but they rarely result in extra-base hits.

Line Drives (balls hit with a launch angle between 10 and 26 degrees): These have the highest batting average, often exceeding .650 in the MLB. Line drives are hard-hit balls that can find gaps and frequently lead to extra-base hits.

The Real Issue with Prioritizing Groundballs


Limiting Power: By focusing on hitting groundballs, players are effectively limiting their power potential. In a game where extra-base hits and home runs can be game-changers, teaching players to hit grounders might be doing them a disservice. In 2023, less than 2% of batted balls with a launch angle of 0 degrees or less resulted in an extra base hit.

Predictability: If opponents know a team is predominantly trying to hit groundballs, they can adjust their defense accordingly. This makes the offense predictable and easier to defend against.

Developmental Concerns: By the time players reach college or professional levels, hitting groundballs won't be as effective. If players are conditioned to only hit this way, they may struggle to adapt to higher levels of play where power and driving the ball become crucial.


The Value of a Balanced Approach


Rather than pigeonholing players into one style of hitting, it's more advantageous to teach them a balanced approach. Players should be taught to recognize pitches and situations, adjusting their swing to produce line drives and fly balls when appropriate.


Conclusion


While there's no one-size-fits-all strategy in baseball, the recent trend of advocating for high school players to hit groundballs seems to have more drawbacks than benefits. By understanding the statistics and potential issues, coaches can better guide their players to develop a more versatile and effective approach at the plate.

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