Study: Hitters Make Harder, More Optimal Contact When Swinging Axe Handle Bats
Posted by AxeBat US Admin on
During a 12-week internal study, BBCOR hitters performed better on average when swinging bats with Axe Handles than with traditional round knobs.
- Gained 36 points in hard-hit average
- Increased launch angle by 4 degrees
- Gained 0.6 mph of exit velocity
- Added 22 feet of distance
- Made contact 1.5 inches farther in front of home plate
One of the most common pieces of feedback we get from hitters trying the Axe Handle for the first time is that it just feels better.
In fact, it's almost always the first thing mentioned. The feel.
And that makes sense because unlike the round knob the Axe Handle was designed to fit your hand and to support your swing.
But how does the shape of the handle -- that feel -- translate to performance? And can that benefit be quantified in the cage?
Those were some of the questions we set out to explore in a 12-week internal study comparing batted-ball metrics from hitters using bats with Axe Handles and bats with traditional round knobs.
The Axe Handle has been contrasted with the round knob for years using everything from in-game performance data to the results of controlled experiments.
The first in-depth analysis of those differences came in a biomechanical study conducted by Vijay Gupta, Ph.D., that evaluated both handle types across a range of performance attributes, including comfort, injury risk, power transfer, and swing consistency.
Read: Biomechanical Study of the New Axe Handle Baseball Bats and Comparison with Standard Round Knob Bats
That study, which used high-speed video to assess the handles' effects on the swings of Division I college baseball players, found the Axe Handle improved grip stability and power transfer, increased barrel control, and enabled maximum bat speed while also reducing the risk of hand and wrist injuries commonly associated with the baseball swing.
More recently, Baseball Prospectus put some of those same claims to the test in a controlled study that used a HitTrax data capture and measurement system to evaluate hitters' batted-ball metrics with both an Axe Handle and a round knob. Again, the Axe Handle outperformed. Results showed a majority of players recorded higher average exit velocities, distances, and hard-hit velocities (the average speed of all balls hit at or above 90 percent of a player's max exit velo) when swinging the same bat with an Axe Handle.
Read: Baseball Prospectus: Tools of the Trade: Testing the Axe Bat's Claims
Add to this the multiple years of in-game performance data we've collected from pro players showing many of these same benefits, and the mountain of anecdotal evidence shared with us by hitters who have switched, and it's pretty clear the Axe Handle has a measurable effect on player performance.
Eight hitters between the ages of 16-22 were selected for this study. Each possessed what would be considered an above-average skill set for his age group, and was a member of either a varsity high-school or college baseball team.
Hitters participated in twice-weekly batting sessions over the course of the study. Each session included swings off a batting tee and swings against a pitching machine. Players followed the below progression during each session and rotated bats to limit the effect of fatigue on the data.
- 5 warm-up swings with Bat A*
- 10 swings with Bat A
- 10 swings with Bat B
- 5 warm-up swings with Bat B
- 25 swings with Bat B
- 25 swings with Bat A
*Hitters started each session with a different bat, so a hitter following the above plan in Week 1, Session 1, would start with Bat B in Week 1, Session 2.
At the end of the study, all hitters had logged 550 swings with each handle type.
All hitters used the same one-piece alloy bats outfitted with our standard Axe Handle and a traditional round knob. To isolate the handle variable, we controlled all other aspects of the bats' design and manufacture, so that all had the same length (33"), weight (30 oz.), swing weight (MOI), and barrel-wall thickness. All of the bats also were tested with our in-house, bat-performance cannon, which is calibrated to industry specifications, to ensure standardized BBCOR barrel performance.
We used new Baden Perfection Collegiate 3B-PPROF-CL baseballs for the study and replaced them every two weeks to maintain consistent performance.
Hitters faced the same Hack Attack Baseball Pitching Machine, set to 70-72 mph, throughout the study.
A HitTrax data capture and measurement system was used to record batted-ball data for all hitters in the study. Warm-up swings were not recorded.
All hitting sessions took place in the batting cage at our corporate headquarters in Renton, Washington.
One of the simplest measurements of ball flight and thus, quality of contact, is exit velocity. This is the speed, measured in miles per hour, that the ball leaves the bat. Our study showed hitters swinging an Axe Handle saw a gain in median exit velocity of 0.6 mph.
They achieved a more significant jump in "hard-hit average," or HHA.
HHA is the metric HitTrax defines as the percentage of balls hit at or above 90% of a hitter's maximum exit velocity. It can be a better indicator of consistency than average or median exit velocity because it reports how often a hitter is able to make hard contact, which is one of the most important things a player can do to increase his productivity and offensive value over time.
Five of the eight hitters in our study posted a higher HHA with an Axe Handle; the average gain was 36 points, or a 12% improvement.
These findings are similar to what Baseball Prospectus found in its study of nine hitters of similar age and ability. In that study, hitters gained 0.39 mph in average exit velocity and seven had better hard-hit exit velocities with an Axe Handle.
More performance differences showed up when looking at how the handles impacted the hitters' launch angles and contact points.
All eight hitters in our study posted higher launch angles with an Axe Handle. The median Axe Handle launch of 18 degrees -- a typical line-drive trajectory is between 10-25 degrees -- was 4 degrees higher than with a round knob.
This increase likely was influenced by a related metric: contact point. This is the spot during the swing, expressed in inches and measured from the back tip of home plate, where contact with the baseball is made.
Like launch angle, it's another metric that moved positively for all eight hitters in our study based solely on the players switching to an Axe Handle and making no other changes to their swings.
In our study, the median point of contact with an Axe Handle was 23.7 inches -- or 6.7 inches in front of home plate -- compared to 22.2 inches (5.2 inches in front) with a round knob.
Read: FanGraphs: Power Hitters Should Make Contact Out in Front
This is significant because pull-side line drives and fly balls have been shown to produce the best opportunities for extra-base hits and run creation. Hitters who are able to consistently contact the ball out front -- during the upward part of their swings -- are more likely to generate those optimal batted-ball outcomes and become a more valuable contributor to the lineup.
This finding also helps quantify the biomechanical benefits of the Axe Handle that Gupta described in his initial study. Specifically, how the angle of the Axe Handle helps players achieve a greater range of barrel motion with the same amount of wrist movement (figures 33 & 34).
"The Axe Handle bat puts the wrist in a more neutral position at the onset of the swing. Also, by eliminating the impingement caused by the back protrusion of the round knob, the same amount of wrist flexion moves the barrel a greater distance.
These two factors combine to provide the hitter with 15-20 degrees of additional bat whip and a larger window of opportunity to accelerate the bat."
Predictably, hitting the ball farther out front, harder, and with a higher launch angle, translated into more distance. Indeed, seven of the eight hitters in our study also achieved more distance with the Axe Handle, with the median gain being 22 feet.
This study builds on many of the key findings that already have been made public about how the Axe Handle positively impacts player performance through the baseball swing.
In our study, hitters achieved more consistent hard contact -- as measured by HitTrax's hard-hit average -- and were able to contact the ball farther in front of home plate, resulting in higher launch angles and increased distances when swinging an Axe Handle.
That hitters were able to extend their contact points with the Axe Handle also means they potentially have more time to see the pitch before committing to a swing. This derivative benefit is significant at all levels, but especially important for higher-level players facing velocity. Quantifying this benefit in terms of time to impact was beyond the scope of this study, but warrants further investigation with tools such as handle-mounted swing sensors.
While the round knob continues to be entrenched at all levels of the game, evidence continues to mount that it is not an optimal shape for the baseball swing and can be replaced by better-performing alternatives like the Axe Handle.