NAIA I Hitter Case Studies
Multi-Year Ceiling Performance and Freshman Foundations
Central Methodist University (CMU) Softball used uHIT Custom for its third consecutive season in 2023. This year was the year they clinched a berth in the NAIA College World Series, only the 4th time in program history. We have seen successful results with CMU in 2020-21 and 2021-22, which you can read more about here (2021) and here (2022). In this case study, we will look at players who trained with uHIT Custom since the first year and some new players. We will look at one player who exemplified a peak performance ceiling effect we are seeing with many players doing multi-year training on uHIT Custom. We will also look at more traditional changes in one-year training that helped several freshman get off to a good career at CMU in 2023.
Want to run the numbers yourself? Check out Central Methodist’s 2021, 2022 and 2023 numbers on-field here.
Players Returning to uHIT Custom
First, we will look at an example of hitters who used uHIT Custom since the first season (2020-21) and continued through 2023. These players did their assessments in Fall 2020 (see more about uHIT Assessment Baselines here). They did uHIT Custom through the end of May 2021, which was the end of their first season. CMU returned to uHIT Custom the following mid-August 2021 and trained thru mid-December 2022. They picked up again mid-January after winter break and then used uHIT Custom through the end of their 2022 season. They followed the same schedule over 2022-23 as they had in 2021-22.
Below, we will look at one of these players (Kelena Oots, on right above) at key sections of these seasons. From this analysis, we will see a possible ceiling effect and speculate about how that might be happening with other multi-year uHIT Custom hitters. From there, we will also preview a new uHIT service (uHIT Gameday) that will offer these high-achievers another avenue for pitch/zone recognition training.
Kelena had a banner year in 2023. She was Conference Player of the Year (Heart of America Conference). Back in the fall of 2020, she began uHIT Custom with her assessment. In pitch recognition, she assessed at:
- 30.1 XP / Pitch
- 53% Accuracy
- 0.637secs Reaction Time
Pitch recognition immediately stuck out for us as the area she might struggle in. So we made that a priority in her first season of training. Let’s look at her zone recognition assessment here too. She assessed at:
- 73.2 XP / Pitch
- 76% Accuracy
- 0.561secs Reaction Time
Her zone recognition was starting off much better than pitch recognition. So there wouldn’t be as much priority on zone as there would be on pitch recognition. Still, both were areas we wanted to beef up as she headed into the 2021 season.
By the end of the 2021 season, her work in uHIT Custom on pitch recognition (4247 pitches) landed her at:
- 94.5 XP / Pitch
- 80% Accuracy
- 0.433secs Reaction Time
Her work in uHIT Custom on zone recognition (3686 pitches) landed her at
- 89.2 XP / Pitch
- 76% Accuracy
- 0.435secs Reaction Time
Clearly, she let the A.I. of uHIT Custom guide her training and we saw marked improvements in both skills by end of season.
On-field in 2021, Kelena hit with an OPS of 0.883 and SLG of 0.456. We have no on-field baseline for Kelena on-field because this was her freshman year. The season improvements in XP / Pitch, Accuracy and Reaction Time likely helped her begin her CMU hitting career on a solid foundation. As we know from other case studies, the improvements in XP, Accuracy and Reaction Time like this go hand-in-hand with high OPS and, particularly, SLG.
2022 and 2023 on uHIT
Kelena was a consistent user of uHIT both of these seasons. By the end of 2023, she had logged 25k+ pitches on uHIT Custom. CMU followed the same usage schedule in 2021-22 as they did in 2022-23 (mid-Aug to mid-Dec and then mid-Jan to early-May). During these two seasons, Kelena held high numbers in uHIT Custom. But her usage also shows us a possible opportunity for more targeted development with high-achievers. Let’s zoom in on her zone recognition to see why.
After 2021-22 and 2022-23, Kelena’s uHIT Custom numbers averaged as follows:
- 89.1 XP / Pitch
- 77% Accuracy
She maintained her XP / Pitch and her Accuracy. What did this maintenance of recognition skill correspond to on the field?
2022 and 2023 on the Field
In 2022 and 2023, Kelena saw a slight dip in OPS (0.860 average compared to 0.883 in 2021). That change at the plate came most through a slight drop too in extra-base hits (SLG averaged 0.430 compared to 0.456 in 2021). Her OBP stayed fairly constant (0.429 averaged compared to 0.427 in 2021). So what could be happening here? Is this a sign that uHIT Custom has run its course with a high-achiever like Kelena?
Kelena made most of her uHIT Custom progress in the 2020-21 season. During the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons, her use of uHIT Custom helped her basically maintain those skills. But she was at her own ceiling performance already in zone and pitch recognition. So any variations in her XP / Pitch, Accuracy or Reaction Time are difficult to discriminate because of the ceiling effect known in psychology. The same applies for any changes in her OPS, SLG or other on-field metrics. Both in uHIT and on-field, she’s hovering around variations of peak (or ceiling) performance. And slight changes up/down in 2022 or 2023 are difficult to connect because of this effect. We see from this result that Kelena has mastered the pitchers modeled in uHIT Custom for zone and pitch recognition.
We saw this same trend for several other players who mastered uHIT Custom during this time. What could we do differently to challenge Kelena and other players in 2024?
Opportunities for 2024
uHIT Gameday is where we would go next with a high-achiever like Kelena. uHIT Gameday is a way for players do pitch and zone recognition work on the specific pitchers they will face on-field. Previously, uHIT Gameday was a service only offered to professional teams (see here, for a case study). Starting in 2024, this will change (contact us to learn more). The uHIT Specialists will be able to take pitcher scouting report data and program this info directly into the pitcher models used for pitch/zone recognition training. Hitters like Kelena will benefit the most from such a tool, especially in-season. It will keep their reactive skills fresh and not let them get too trained on any one pitcher. We look forward to rolling out this new service in 2024 and helping high-achievers like Kelena – and others – reach even greater heights.