Case Study, Part II

Case Study On MLB Hitter Development

Part II of III

 Dec 12, 2023

How uHIT Works in Minor League Baseball After 5 Years

Part II of case study on MLB hitter development. We continue our look at all hitters using uHIT Custom in one pro organization.

What you need to know:

20 minutes monthly in uHIT Custom. +419 OPS Points and a Promotion

We Track with XP. They Track with OPS.

As a top-line summary, all players who regularly used uHIT Custom showed substantial gains in on-field hitting. In part II of this case study on MLB hitter development, we look at the second group of hitters within the top-5 usage of uHIT Custom (see here for first group study). As before, we will use OPS (and its components, OBP and SLG) from publicly available sources. We continue here to tie growths in uHIT performance to on-field via this metric and uHIT’s XP / Pitch (see more here about XP / Pitch). The uHIT XP / Pitch is a measure of how accurately and quickly hitters are learning to recognize pitches and strikes/balls.

As a recap, below are the section summaries tying together the three parts of this case study:

Parts I and II: Top-5 Users of uHIT Custom

We gauge uHIT effects by looking at regular users of the training. From top-5 in usage (measured by Pitches Completed on the uHIT Dashboard), we found hitters who were regular uHIT Custom users. We looked at top-5 usage for each of the skills worked in uHIT in-season (Pitch, Sub-Zone and Whole-Zone Recognition). The top-5 threshold ensured that the players had done at least 1000 pitches on uHIT in the 11 months of in- and off-season usage. Although usage fluctuated by the demands of the year, this amounted to a usage of ~90 pitches per month (about 20 minutes of uHIT usage monthly).

Even with this small investment of time, the gains in OPS in some cases were tremendous, netting a substantial return on our client’s investment.

Part III: Bottom-2 Users of uHIT Custom

As a set of counterexamples. we also looked at players who did not use uHIT regularly. Within the organization, these players provide the best means of being a counterexample that might be generalized to other players who did not use uHIT Custom this season. It’s not a perfect comparison. But considering the many factors of the real-world, this is a great way to gauge what added value (above status quo) uHIT Custom adds. Overall, the bottom-2 hitters’ on-field hitting showed either a downward trend, or clear warning signs about performance.For a fuller explanation of why this makes sense as a comparison, please see part I of this case study here.

A Note on Hitter’s Names

Getting back to the top 5 players, these hitters averaged at least 90 pitches monthly (1000 pitches all year) across either Pitch or Zone Recognition Training. In this three-part case study on MLB hitter development, we will refer to them anonymously (as we do with the bottom-2). We do this both to protect their non-public data and to illustrate deCervo’s commitment to helping its clients excel (see other MLB studies here). The hitters will be known as:

  • Hitter #1
  • Hitter #2
  • Hitter #3
  • Hitter #4
  • Hitter #5
  • Hitter #6
  • Hitter #7

Three of these players hit this usage minimum in both Pitch and Zone Recognition Training (e.g., Player #1). That’s why there are not 10 hitters total (two sets of 5 hitters for each skill). And this is a common observation with our training: the hitters that are serious about part of it are usually serious about all of it.

With that in mind, it’s time to continue with part II of how these hitters’ performance evolved in uHIT and on-field this year (see here for Part I). As before, we welcome your feedback and analysis on these players in the comments below. You can also ask questions on our social media (here or here).

Hitter #5

Hitter #5: Modest Gains and Clear Path for 2024 Value

The 5th hitter in uHIT Custom usage was a top-5 user in both Pitch and Zone Recognition Training on uHIT. By season-end, his changes on uHIT were moderate. And these modest changes reflected on-field too. As a case study on MLB hitter development, Hitter #5 showed how uHIT changes can effect decisions to get on base. These changes can happen even though power is not yet affected.

Hitter #5: uHIT Custom Modest Gains

In Zone Recognition, he averaged 74% Accuracy at the end of the season, having started his 2022 fall training at 77%. Yes, his Accuracy went down slightly. But he gained decision speed for this small sacrifice in Accuracy. We know this because his XP / Pitch were up from where he began the season. He finished the season at 84.0 XP / Pitch, having initially assessed at 70.7 XP / Pitch. This shows us he’s getting faster while sacrificing a little bit on his ability to call pitches in/out of the zone.

In Pitch Recognition, he closed the season averaging 55.1 XP / Pitch, having assessed at 29.0 XP / Pitch. So while this shows a gain in XP / Pitch, all the gains are in decision speed. We know this because, like in his zone skills, his Accuracy dropped since initial Assessment.

Hitter #5: On-field Performance

As a comparison, in 2022 he hit a 0.639 OPS with 0.291 SLG. In 2023, he’s increased his performance, hitting 0.667 OPS with 0.294 SLG. His OBP is the big driver here, going up by +25 points. It is not simple with this case to determine if Accuracy or Reaction Time is the main driver here. But with the gains in XP / Pitch, we are certain that he is getting more confidence in deciding accurately on pitches, and doing so in the time he has before the ball arrives.

Hitter #5: Connecting On-field to uHIT Custom

If we compare his uHIT / on-field changes to Hitter #3 (see here), we see a different on-field effect for raising XP / Points with slightly changed Accuracy. Recall, Hitter #3 brought his XP / Points from -25.3 to 50+ via his training (57% to 63% Accuracy). Hitter #3 saw gains in SLG more than OBP.

Here, with Hitter #5, we have the opposite effect because his SLG remained almost flat (0.291 to 0.294). At the same time, his OBP has been the big driver in OPS (+25 points). Looking at these hitters together, we see how uHIT Custom can manifest either in power (SLG) or in discipline (OBP). While sometimes it’s useful to pick apart the underlying drivers, the high-level result remains the same. OPS increased as XP / Points increased. It’s as simple as that.

You can see a screenshot of Hitter #5’s data from below (for a more detailed look, please contact us here):

How uHIT Works in Minor League Baseball After 5 Years
Hitter #5: Looking Ahead to 2024

Going back to his uHIT stats, we think we can do better with Hitter #5 if he continues his XP / Pitch increase by pushing up Accuracy. If we sacrifice a little decision speed (Reaction Time), that is acceptable. As he starts getting more accurate, uHIT Custom will gradually give him less time to make those decisions. As a result, his decision speed will then start going down. The big difference is he will do so while maintaining decision accuracy. That will be a breakthrough in his XP / Points. And we’d expect to see it too in his OPS, all other things being equal.

Hitter #6

Hitter #6: Doubled OPS and SLG

In Pitch Recognition Training, Hitter #6 was second only to Hitter #1 in usage (3932 Pitches). From fall 2022 through the end of summer 2023, he focused on Pitch rather than Zone Recognition Training in uHIT Custom. From the phenomenal on-field results we saw year-over-year, it looks like the skills in identifying pitch types was most lacking in his approach.

In Pitch Recognition on uHIT, he averaged 44.2 XP / Pitch at the end of the season. This is a major improvement from where he began at 16.4 XP / Pitch. From this improvement, we can see that he patched up some problems that could have tanked his season. Let’s now look at what happened on-field for him.

Hitter #6: On-field Performance

On-field we saw an awesome change in his hitting output. In 2022, he hit a 0.613 OPS with 0.286 SLG. In 2023, after and during training with uHIT Custom, he increased his performance, nearly doubling his OPS (to 1.004 OPS) and more-than-doubling his SLG (0.559). Not only was SLG a big driver, his OBP increased year-over-year by +118 OBP points.

Connecting his uHIT and on-field changes, we see a clear driver from his improvements at Pitch Recognition. When we take a deeper dive with a client on these kinds of changes, we look at the hitter’s tendencies (for instance, decisions on pitches that are cued vs. not). We can also examine horizontal vs. vertical movement performance. Hitter #6 is an exceptional case study on MLB hitter development because we can so clearly see the connection between his performance changes in uHIT and on-field. These and other details are examined under our uHIT Analysis service (please contact us to learn more here).

You can see Hitter #6’s on-field hitting performance excerpted from here (for a more detailed look, please contact us here):

How uHIT Works in Minor League Baseball After 5 Years

Hitter #7

Moving Up A Level with Hitter #7

Hitter #7 was 3rd in Pitch Recognition Training (3810 Pitches). As with Hitter #6, he focused on Pitch Recognition Training. Later, we will see why Zone Recognition could have been useful in 2023, but for now we will look at his modest gains in uHIT.

In Pitch Recognition on uHIT, he averaged 64.6 XP / Pitch at the end of the season, having started in fall 2022 at 35.9 XP / Pitch. This almost 100% gain in performance is nearly all attributable to improvements in seeing vertical/horizontal movement. We know that from his Accuracy at Assessment (48% Accuracy) to where he averaged at the end of the season (66% Accuracy).

Hitter #7: Performance On-field

On-field, we expected a slight drop in Hitter #7’s hitting output. He played all of 2023 at ACL, which is one level up from DSL, where he had played in 2022. In 2022, he hit a 0.705 OPS with 0.374 SLG at DSL. In 2023, as we expected, one level higher, he hit 0.655 OPS with 0.339 SLG. Overall, a slight drop while he adjusted to tougher pitching. Interestingly, his OBP did not fall off by as much as his SLG when jumping levels (15 points for OBP vs. 35 points for SLG).

We can think back to the analysis of Hitter #5 and Hitter #3 (see here for more) as a guide here. Specifically, we look at the impact of XP / Points and Accuracy in uHIT, and how they may connect on-field. We see with Hitter #7 that the big change in XP / Points comes from a comparable change in Accuracy. As we have seen for other hitters, this is a more likely effect on OBP than SLG generally. When these more accurate decisions are coupled with faster reaction times, we will also see the impact on SLG. This is a possible goal for 2024.

You can see Hitter #7’s on-field hitting performance excerpted from here (for a more detailed look, please contact us here):

How uHIT Works in Minor League Baseball After 5 Years
Hitter #7: What’s Next?

Like others we’ve examined, Hitter #7 is in a different stage of development than Hitters #1 and #2. Those hitters could transition to our next level of training (uHIT Gameday). But Hitter #7 is starting to gain Accuracy in recognizing pitches. The next step is to make that process more efficient. This is where the Reaction Time improvements while maintaining Accuracy can help. For 2024, he should continue uHIT Custom in Pitch Recognition because the program will start giving him faster pitches to decide on. As a result, his Reaction Time will decrease.

We will also steer his training towards starting Zone Recognition in 2024 too. That way, he will be able to start connecting his pitch-type recognition skills to in-zone / out-of-zone skills. We will evaluate the impact of this strategy by looking at his hitting in ACL, where we hope the org will keep him in 2024 so he doesn’t get challenged too fast by better pitching. Advancements too fast can burn a hitter’s confidence. With a tool like uHIT Custom, we advise our clients on such transitions to help them maintain hitter value as he develops the needed skills for advancement.