Hutton: Andrean baseball team gets down to swing of things with HitTrax – Chicago Tribune
For years, Andrean has weathered the baseball offseason by mindlessly taking batting practice inside.
It’s a form of coping with the winter blues.
Those days are behind them after 59ers coach Dave Pishkur found a deal for a HitTrax batting simulator.
The machine is baseball’s version of TrackMan, the computer equipment used for measuring variables in the golf swing.
Andrean junior Joe Rycerz was the HitTrax king. He has reached 96 mph on his exit speed. Kevin McCune just broke that team record, making 98.
What’s exit speed? That’s the speed that the ball leaves the bat.
There are a thousand elements of the swing that HitTrax can analyze and document, but exit speed is perhaps the biggest.
The reason why is pretty simple. More bat speed means the ball is likely to travel farther.
Rycerz loves the new technology.
“It’s great,” Rycerz said. “It shows you everything. It helps tremendously.”
It’s been a reawakening for Pishkur, who has coached five state championship teams.
Through donations earmarked for baseball, the school bought the equipment for $14,000 from Mike Donfrancesco. He’s the owner and manager of InMotion Systems, which manufactures HitTrax.
Donfrancesco was surprised when Pishkur called. Donfrancesco sells mostly to hitting schools, colleges and Major League Baseball teams.
Pishkur said Donfrancesco was interested in breaking into the high school market, so he offered a $10,000 discount.
Pishkur, who purchased it last summer, said he believes Andrean is the only high school in Indiana with HitTrax. Notre Dame was one of the first universities to use it.
HitTrax is a staple for major league teams. The equipment is a hit with Pishkur’s players.
“We can’t keep them off it,” he said.
Until last year, the team hit tennis balls that were randomly shot out of a machine called the “Flame Thrower.”
Ryne Pishkur, an assistant coach, now questions the value of that kind of training.
“It was such a flawed way to practice,” he said. “The ball would come from nowhere and it would mess up your timing.”
“Data overload” is the appropriate phrase for HitTrax. Soon, it might be able to analyze the contents of your last meal.
It measures distance the ball travels, launch angle (swinging up or down at impact) and tendencies. Players can choose the rendering of a ball park, like Wrigley Field, to display on the screen and swing away.
The biggest, immediate impact HitTrax is having now is proving a player’s intuition about hitting isn’t always correct.
For instance, Rycerz thought he preferred the ball inside. HitTrax showed him he doesn’t hit that pitch consistently well. He also learned if he stands upright a little more, his results are better.
Despite Rycerz’s high exit speed, he has work to do. Pishkur said Rycerz’s average exit speed is around 79 mph. That means he’s not making the solid contact he should be.
The goal is to get the team average above 80. Pishkur also plans to use it for strategy.
Major league players try to avoid hitting ground balls. They want fly balls, preferably hard hit ones that travel out of the park.
The home-run ratio for high school players is lower, and Pishkur believes ground balls may be a good option for his team.
“We play on bad fields,” he said. “The ball just doesn’t fly out of the park like it does in the majors.”
Pishkur plans on using HitTrax to work on special hitting situations. He also will use it in-season to correct specific problems hitters might be having. Eventually, he’ll figure out how to use the equipment for pitching.
If this column sounds like an ad for HitTrax through Pishkur’s eyes, it is. He has coached the 59ers for 38 years. And at 63, he sounds like a guy who found a secret.
Which it will be until it isn’t anymore.
At least, though, he’ll never have to talk about the “Flame Thrower” again.