During the 2006 season, our Junior American Legion team decided to stop using aluminum bats and swing with wood bats during all drills and batting practice outside of game competition. From last year, our team had a majority of returning players, with above average offensive numbers. In 2005, our team focused on producing a linear swing. All our coaching energy was used trying to change the swing techniques of each player. During last season, many of the players caught on to the linear approach and started using their energy and momentum in their swing.
Since the linear swing model was already being practice by our players in 2006, our team decided we needed another tool to help expand our offensive production. In the winter of 2005, I read an article written by Jim Cassalino entitled "Training with Woods Builds Bat Speed". He experimented with wood bats by letting his Kean College team use them during their fall season. By the spring, their power numbers had almost doubled from the previous year, with all his returning players posting an improvement in batting average. Many of our players had extreme difficulty producing extra base hits and expressed an interest to improve their skills in that area. In fact, looking at the 2005 statistics, our team only produced 34 extra base hits in 50 games, with one player producing almost 50% of that number. Not being able to generate extra base hits had a direct impact on our team’s record and we finished with a 16-34 record.
Even though our team had problems hitting for extra bases, we did have some offensive strengths. First, our team did not strike out very much. Even if the ball was not hit hard, our hitters could make consistent contact with the pitch, no matter what style of pitcher was throwing. Also, our 2005 team batting average was .281, with 5 hitters batting over .300. Many of these players would return for the next Junior American Legion Baseball season.
So going into 2006, our team’s offensive strengths were ball contact and generating singles, based on last season’s statistical breakdown. Our Junior American Legion Baseball season lasted approximately three months, starting in May and ending in August. Players participated in batting practice 6 days a week; taking approximately 50 swings during each practice or pre-game session. Each hitting session consisted of traditional batting practice, tee work, and soft toss drills. At first, this was a difficult adjustment for the players. Many of the players felt uncomfortable with the alteration. Also, line drive production and flyball distance decreased during batting practice with the woods. During their batting practice rounds, many our player’s body language reflected frustration and discouragement. After splitting a few bats in practice, some players even asked to switch back to the metal bats. Fortunately, our team did not give up. In the middle of June, our players started to get comfortable with swinging wood bats. A huge increase in our team’s power production helped eased the transition. Also, players started seeing gains in their personal batting averages. With these results, the wood bat approach started to gain a lot of momentum in our program. Below, there is a statistic comparison between the 2005 and 2006 season.
Increase 54 Points
Increase 75 Doubles
Increase 2 Triples
Increase 3 Homeruns
2005 16-34 .320%
2006 35-19 .648%
While analyzing these statistics; it is easy to see the drastic improvement in our offensive production. Besides using wood bats, there are three variables that also could have contributed to our team’s offensive increase. First, many of the players started to mature physically. In 2005, our team consisted of 10 freshman and 5 sophomores. This year, many of last season’s players had turned 16 years old. Their bodies had gained a lot of strength and mass, compared to their appearance last season.
Not only was each player older, but also many of them completed our baseball weight training off-season program. In the weight room, players met three times during the week from November through February. They focused on improving leg, upper body, and core strength. Finally, our team started a winter bat speed program. This program allowed each player to swing weighted and light bats, while applying the over/under weight training principle. Many of the players found gains in forearm and tricep strength after these workouts were completed. All of these variables may have affected each player’s batting average. I would conclude, however, that the use of wood bats as a training tool changed our entire season and greatly effected our offensive production.
Jerry Kreber is the former assistant baseball coach at Omaha (Neb.) central high school, where he coached from 2000 to 2006. From 2004-2007, Kreber served as an associate scout for the Cleveland Indians baseball club. Last year seeking new challenges, Kreber was hired as an assistant baseball coach at Council Bluffs (IA) Abraham Lincoln HS. He can be reached through his baseball ideas blog at: www.baseballideas.blogspot.com