Reds minor-league hitting coach teaching with new technology

Reds minor-league hitting coordinator Dave Hansen throws batting practice for the Dragons at Dayair Ballpark on Thursday. Hansen is incorporating new technology into his coaching. CONTRiBUTED/Jeff Gilbert

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Reds minor-league hitting coordinator Dave Hansen throws batting practice for the Dragons at Dayair Ballpark on Thursday. Hansen is incorporating new technology into his coaching. CONTRiBUTED/Jeff Gilbert

Sensor mat helps Dave Hansen show hitters how important their feet are to their swing

Dave Hansen always knew good hitting was accomplished from the ground up because that’s what every hitting coach says. Before, during and after his 15-year major-league career, he heard wisdom like “stay on your legs” and “use the ground.”

“But what is that?” Hansen said. “It’s just another term?”

Hansen retired as a player in 2005 and has been coaching hitters from 10-year-olds up, including eight years as a major-league hitting coach. And he heard himself say those same things. But a coach can’t feel what a player feels and no amount of words from a coach can precisely convey what he wants the player to feel in his feet when he swings.

So after his last baseball job and before he was hired in January by the Cincinnati Reds as a minor-league hitting coordinator, Hansen began to research better ways to teach this part of hitting. He found the V1 Sports Pressure Mat.

“I wanted to keep growing as a coach,” he said. “I was thinking of areas that are really, really important to us as hitters. I started researching how important our feet are in connection with the ground. It’s changed the way that I coach 100 percent.”

Now, instead of just telling hitters what they should feel, Hansen points to video analysis and heatmaps on a screen that provide a hitter instant and visual feedback about weight transfer, balance and stabilization throughout the swing among other data. The goal is to turn that live interaction into enough repetition until a hitter develops the muscle memory needed to improve his footwork in the long term.

“The number one thing that helps these guys is actually seeing it,” Hansen said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re pro or youth. You don’t have to have any understanding of it. If you’re swaying, it’ll show you this way. If I’m losing heel connection, it’ll show you that. It’s saving a lot of time trying to explain the same thing 10 different ways.”

Hansen said he has always taught how important the lower half of the body is to the swing. He talked about “staying behind baseballs” and “impacting baseballs.”

“But as soon as I saw what our feet do on the ground, when we’re churning dirt, when we’re planting to stabilize to impact a ball, or even just to hit the brakes, I learned how the body movement works,” he said. “Most of us don’t use our feet properly on the ground. I studied this, more and more, and that’s where we’ve got to start, It’s changed how I explain the whole lower half just because of the visual.”

Since technology and analytics invaded baseball and began to measure everything, not everyone has easily accepted the new ways. Hansen said he has always explored new technology and gimmicks and anything he thought could help him teach. He says developing players, such as those he was working with in Dayton this past week, are the most eager to learn and apply what the data shows. He said major-leaguers will adapt to this new technology but will take a little longer.

“We have a tough time believing a lot of things,” he said. “We don’t trust a lot of things. We trust our feel, and we trust how that ball came off our bat. Those two things are what we rely on.”

Hansen, who recently entered into a partnership with V1, is using the mat as much as possible with every player he works with from little leaguers to pros. How the feet interact with the ground is the foundation of a good swing. There is a lot more to improving as a hitter, but Hansen is convinced that this part of the process is crucial.

“This is helping us develop the actual movement of the body, or your swing or your mechanics,” he said. “We pay more attention to the ground than anything else we’re doing probably mechanically when we’re developing young kids. It doesn’t discriminate, we’re going to take who you are, and see if we can make you more efficient. That’s what I really like about it as a coach.”

How the feet best work with and stay properly connected with the ground isn’t the same for every player. The goal, however, is to achieve similar results.

“Paying attention to what we’re doing, when we either want to be stable in the box, or we want to drive a baseball, harder, or impact baseball more is really about our relationship with the ground.,” Hansen said. “This technology is allowing us to be able to gauge it and teach it. Because once an athlete sees it and feels it, he’s probably going to be able to repeat.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Whitecaps at Dragons, 1:05 p.m., Dayton CW, 980

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