Minor Leaguer Case Study

Minor Leaguer Case Study


OPS, SO / BB Ratio and XP / Pitch

A Hitting Journey Through MiLB

 Feb 14, 2024

Minor Leaguer Case Study Summary - 15-30 Mins. Monthly and +86 OPS

The Minor Leaguer Case Study is a look at how one MiLB hitter took a new hitting approach

What you need to know:

Steady work yielded +49 XP / Pitch in uHIT Custom and +86 OPS Points On-field

From 2018 uHIT Plus to 2023 uHIT Custom

This Minor Leaguer case study covers use of uHIT over 5 seasons. This hitter first encountered deCervo’s uHIT training as a new draft pick in 2017. In 2018, we began to evaluate his performance as uHIT became increasingly individualized to each hitter. In those days, only uHIT Plus was available and he navigated his reps on his own before we had the uHIT Assessment as the basis for uHIT Custom training. Starting in 2022, we switched him to uHIT Custom and that training continued after his move to a new org in 2023.

A Note on Names

We will not identify the hitter in this Minor Leaguer case study by anything more than a made up first name, “Jackson.” We do this to protect the player’s identity as a customer of ours and to help you evaluate the data dispassionately. Players and coaches both tell us that taking the name off the analysis helps to keep the focus on the results at hand, rather than biases about whether one likes or dislikes the player in question.

Early Use in High A – Bradenton Marauders

We will examine the frequency of Jackson’s use during this season and analyze this together with a +77 OPS point gain from Low A (2017) to High A (2018).

2022 Launch with uHIT Custom in AAA – Indianapolis Indians

After a tough 2021, Jackson returned to uHIT – now with uHIT Custom – to work on his pitch and zone recognition. He made a +68 OPS point advance that season. As opposed to earlier use, we could now see his baseline from the uHIT Assessment and evaluate what skills he improved during that season simultaneously.

2023 Continuation in AAA – Salt Lake Bees

Coming into 2023, we continued uHIT Custom with Jackson. His OPS climbed again (+18 points). We saw how this modest gain coincided with comparable gains in his zone recognition skills.

Early Use in High A – Bradenton Marauders

uHIT Plus – Zone Recognition Reps

We begin the Minor Leaguer case study here by looking at where it all began. Jackson did 4559 pitches of Zone Recognition during the 2018 season. He did this work on a subscription of uHIT we refer to as “uHIT Plus” now (see here for the comparison between uHIT Custom and uHIT Plus). In this version, hitters choose whichever pitchers or speeds they like. They are not guided with pitches that gradually challenge their strengths and weaknesses. Still, by sheer volume of tracking and repetition, Jackson got numerous looks at Major League pitching during this season (from Tom Koehler in May to Max Scherzer in August).

Changes On-Field

On-field, Jackson saw positive changes in his hitting. As a baseline, his 2017 hitting at Low A (West Virginia) is well summarized by a .701 OPS and a SO / BB of 3.4. Fast-forwarding to the end of 2018, one level higher at High A (Bradenton Marauders), Jackson hit a .778 OPS with a SO / BB of 2.3. Although it is tough without the clear baseline the uHIT Assessment gives, we see a noticeable change in how Jackson saw pitches and zones from 2017 to 2018.

Comparing him to others in his org at the time, Jackson did 10 times more training in uHIT than the next hitter. Of all hitters on this High A team, he is the only hitter still competing in pro ball, as of 2023. All others had been released within the following year.

You can see a screenshot of his data from milb.com below (for a more detailed look, please contact us here):

Career Hitting Stats On-Field for Jackson

Jackson Career MiLB Hitting - Minor Leaguer Case Study
Lessons Learned

In 2018, we saw a general trend with Jackson and other hitters in MLB orgs. The more reps they got in uHIT Plus, the better they tended to hit in games (see here for results in the Cardinals org that year). But we saw an opportunity to make the training more efficient. Over the next two years we crafted uHIT Custom to fulfill this goal.

2022 Launch with uHIT Custom in AAA – Indianapolis Indians

Coming Back from COVID

Like many MiLB players, Jackson lost a full year in 2020 due to COVID. And keeping the momentum from 2019 proved difficult after the 2021 season came to a close. Even at AA Altoona (2019), Jackson hit .750 OPS, but still carried a high SO / BB ratio (2.5). After the gap year, Jackson moved up to AAA Indianapolis. But his hitting did not excel that year. He hit a .685 OPS and his SO / BB ratio skyrocketed to 3.2.

As things got going with 2022, we got back in touch with Jackson and found an opening to structure his training with uHIT Custom. Our primary goal was to address pitch and zone recognition skills we could improve with uHIT Custom. The outcomes this goal would most likely affect were his OPS and his SO / BB ratio.

Assessment Baseline

In July 2022, we gave Jackson a full uHIT Assessment in pitch and zone recognition. One thing jumped out to us right away when we looked at Jackson’s zone recognition results. He swung at nearly all pitches out-of-zone across both left-handed and right-handed pitchers (first plot below). And he swung at every pitch out of the zone from right-handers (second plot below). Both plots are from catcher’s view. Overall, he scored 51% Accuracy (i.e., almost guessing each pitch), averaging 17.3 XP / Pitch.

Before Training - Left- and Right-Handers - Zone Recognition Accuracy by 9-Zone Strike and 4-Zone Ball

Both LHP and RHP Zone Recognition Assessment - Minor Leaguer Case Study

Before Training - Right-Handers Only - Zone Recognition Accuracy by 9-Zone Strike and 4-Zone Ball

RHP Zone Recognition Assessment - Minor Leaguer Case Study
Connecting Baseline to On-field Challenges

Right away, we saw a connection between the high SO / BB ratio and this Zone Accuracy result. Every hitter’s approach is something like “yes-yes-no” as the pitch comes to the plate. He always thinks “yes” to swing, unless it’s a “no” because it’s out of the zone he wants. But in Jackson’s case, there was almost never a “no.” But we knew he had the capability for this by the 22% in the up and away ball zone. Still, we knew it would be a challenge, especially against right-handers because he swung at every pitch in the 30-pitch assessment baseline.

Working the Zone in uHIT Custom

As our first step, we had to give Jackson more time to decide on in-zone vs. out-zone pitches. We also had to make the pitches more obviously in- vs. out-zone. So the tunneling of successive pitches had to be ratcheted down. We do this by starting with one pitch type at 86-88% the assessment speed. Instead of seeing a mix of fastballs, curveballs, changeups and sliders, we limit each inning to 72mph of only one of these pitch types. Once mastered, Jackson continues onto the next inning.

He breezed through the first six innings, only needing one shot to get past. When he hit the 7th inning, he needed two tries. The 8th inning also needed two attempts and the 9th needed three. Once completed, he did his first re-Assessment in zone recognition.

Working in this manner, we stepwise added more difficulty to Jackson’s training via new pitch types and faster speeds with less tunneling. In 2 months, we worked 356 pitches in zone recognition training. That’s about 30 minutes monthly, or about 1 minute per day (compare this usage to other MiLB case studies). By the end of the 2022 season, we saw an Accuracy of 64% and a mean of 63.2 XP / Pitch. With Accuracies climbing above 51%, he is increasingly taking pitches out-of-zone at the end of the 2022 season. When we look at his status at the end of the following season (see plots below), we will see how he filled in the 0% (or near that) accuracies in the ball zones.

Changes On-Field in 2022

At the end of 2022, Jackson wrapped a .753 OPS season with a SO / BB ratio of 3.2. This was a tremendous improvement over the previous 2021 output of .685 OPS and 3.5 SO / BB ratio. Just on OPS alone, we know these changes are valuable in the pro player market (see this study connecting OPS to player value). As a result, Jackson was selected in the 2022 Rule 5 Draft (see more here about the draft and the added value attached to the player when this happens).

2023 Continuation in AAA – Salt Lake Bees

Continued Work in Off-Season and In-Season

Over the course of 2023, Jackson worked 1036 pitches on zone recognition in uHIT Custom. Most of these pitches took place over a 9-month period. So we can say that on average, Jackson did around 115 pitches (~15 minutes) of training at this skill per month. This is about 50% less monthly training in 2023 than he did in the 2 months of 2022. Still, he advanced several more 9-inning rounds and ended the 2023 season with 64% Accuracy and 66.3 XP / Pitch.

Comparing to his 2022 finish, he maintained his decision accuracy (64% both years), but gained a little more decision speed (63.2 up to 66.3 XP / Pitch).

On-Field Advancements Continue

Now at a new org, Jackson stayed at AAA, but moved from the Independent to the Pacific League. Being home at Salt Lake City too, the different elevation (4265′ above sea level) was an adjustment to make on breaking balls (see here for more about this effect). Still, Jackson adjusted well and saw a marked improvement over 2022, while being in a new org structure. He hit .771 OPS with a SO / BB ratio of 2.2 (compare to .753 OPS and SO / BB of 3.2 in 2022). This big drop in SO / BB had a particularly strong impact on his OBP (up +24 points year-over-year). All of this happened too with a midseason injury that put him on the IL for about 10-days.

Where We Are At End of 2023

We can visually see the learning in zone recognition that has happened for Jackson. Now, when we look at the 9-zone and surrounding areas, we don’t just see o% all around the strike zone. Rather, we see increasing accuracy on takes out of the zone (see below):

After Training - Left- and Right-Handers - Zone Recognition Accuracy by 9-Zone Strike and 4-Zone Ball

End of 2023 Zone Recognition - Both LHP and RHP - Minor Leaguer Case Study

After Training - Right-Handers Only - Zone Recognition Accuracy by 9-Zone Strike and 4-Zone Ball

End of 2023 Zone Recognition - RHP - Minor Leaguer Case Study
Looking Ahead to 2024 in Minor Leaguer Case Study

As we look ahead to 2024, we are eager to continue Jackson’s progress through Minor League Baseball, perhaps landing him back in The Show. He was in the MLB for about 45 games over 2020 and 2021. But we unfortunately had lost touch with him during that time. His hitting never cut it at that level and so we picked up his case in 2022, as described above.

Today, we have him hitting +86 OPS points above where he was (in AAA) the last time he hit in the MLB. With a little more gain in his hitting in ’24, we are eager to get “Jackson” back to the MLB for another shot (contact us to learn more about this kind of work).