One of the four components SwingTracker measures is Control. Within that component lies the metric known as ‘hand cast’ distance.
We define this as the, “maximum distance your hand move away from your body as you swing (inches). A high ‘hand cast’ early in the swing can lead to a swing that is too long and/or rolling the hands over in an attempt to pull the bat through the zone. Ideally hitters want to ‘stay inside the ball’ and not extend their arms too early in the swing.”
The picture below of the Royals’ Salvador Perez is a great example of what we mean by hand cast distance. As we can see, he is chasing a pitch low and away; outside of the strike zone, and is casting his hands way out in front in an effort to hit the ball.
As it turned out, Perez made contact with this pitch, ultimately lining the ball down the third base line to bring home the winning run and help Kansas City defeat Oakland 9-8 in extra innings.
While Perez was one of the many heroes in the Wild Card play-in game for the Royals, he was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts prior to the game-winning at bat – due in large part to swinging at pitches like this.
While this pitch was out of the strike one, maybe Perez thought it was in the strike zone, or that home plate umpire Bill Miller was going to call it a strike.
Below is a graph, courtesy of Fangraphs, of every ball and strike Miller has called so far in the 2014 MLB Postseason.
Furthermore, here is a graph of just Miller’s strike calls.
As we can see, Miller has a tendency to call pitches that are too low strikes. On the reverse side, he hasn’t called any pitches that are too high strikes. Perhaps Perez factored this into his at-bat, knowing if he didn’t swing at that 2-2 pitch, he could been been called out on strikes with Miller’s low strike zone.
This is important to note because not every strike zone is the same for every umpire. Sometimes, even the same umpire changes his strike zone!
As it applies to SwingTracker, being able to track hand cast distance allows a player to make adjustments relative to the umpire’s strike zone. During batting practice, one could “change” the strike zone and designate pitches low and outside as strikes, like the ones we see above in the graph. As those pitches are being delivered, you can measure your hand cast distance and see how much of an adjustment you would need to make in order to hit those pitches.
Obviously, the more one casts their hands during the swing, the less chance for solid contact. However, in Perez’s situation, putting the ball in play was all that mattered. SwingTracker allows you to see exactly how far (or little) you can cast your hands in order to make contact and create enough power in order to produce a solid at-bat.
Because of this, you aren’t left shaking your head in the batter’s box with the bat on your shoulder after a called third strike that you (and your coach) didn’t think was a strike.