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Is pregame batting practice outdated?

Colorado Rockies news and links for Tuesday, December 14, 2021

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In early, July, it surfaced that Shohei Ohtani had taken on-field pregame batting practice only once to that point in the season. That one day was Opening Day.

The lack of on-field pregame hitting isn’t unusual, as Angels writer Jeff Fletcher reported. He adds that Mike Trout “rarely take[s] batting practice on the field, opting instead to get [his] work done in the indoor batting cages.” Ohtani, a pitcher and hitter by trade, may opt for a more efficient and favorable means to get his swings in.

Ohtani did technically see on-field BP in July, taking hacks before and during the Home Run Derby, so consider yourself lucky if you made it out to Coors Field on July 12. Otherwise, the world could remain deprived of Ohtani moonshots off 60 MPH fastballs from here on out.

If the reigning (unanimous) AL MVP isn’t hitting on the field, and if Trout, the arguable greatest player of the century to date, seldom does, how long until more follow in their footsteps?

How long until it isn’t worth all those pitchers shagging?

It would take more established players to create a no-BP movement; after all, we’re talking Ohtani and Trout here and not some recent call-up to the bigs. A majority of pro hitters will likely be thrown into BP groups without much output under current BP standards, as the game has been based upon this practice for years.

There remains room for innovation, however, and one might argue that if the game was created 10 years ago, pregame BP may not exist.

Coors Field: The last BP frontier?

Here’s the Rockies twist this feature needed: pregame batting practice serves a different purpose one mile above sea level.

Baseballs travel farther at mile-high elevation, which means outfielders can benefit from some extra pregame reads off the bat. This alone can be replicated with something as simple as a pitching machine or a fungo at home plate, but the actual read off some big league swings can be the difference between a double in the gap and a well-tracked flyout. Even if those heaters are only coming in at 60 MPH, there is at least a game-like visual to get comfortable with.

With 162 games packed into a six-month season, new teams are venturing to Coors Field with little opportunity, outside of a few pregame hours, to get adjusted before a series opener. This means taking advantage of as many pregame reads as they can receive.

This also means the Rockies can benefit when they switch from sea level to elevation — and the outfielders could have the most to gain. While called ‘batting practice’, some other facets of the game are best served in this time.

Over the last few seasons, Colorado fans have learned about Charlie Blackmon’s pregame hitting strategy and how his cage work can combat a change in elevation. Blackmon is able to set up a pitching machine to the exact measures of the desired sea-level or mile-high action, and take advantage of some efficient time in a batting cage unlike the standard, slow rigors of pregame BP.

Any swing that Blackmon takes on the field can fatigue him away from this high-output operation — unless the Rockies could take it to the field itself.

What if the cure to the Coors Field hangover could be streamlined, visually optimized and more game-like?

A new frontier?

Let’s face it: standard batting practice isn’t the most effective process out there. One hitter on a 26-man roster can take swings at one time while four or five others wait their turn. A few infielders can take ground balls between BP swings, outfielders can get their reads, but there still remains a full pitching staff where many stand near the warning track, stationed there to roll balls into the beloved bucket guy in shallow center field.

This process can be far more efficient.

Some pro teams in Japan have helped pioneer ‘double-barrel BP’ where two batting practice hoods are placed side by side at home plate. This alone doubles the swing output in a BP session. While it requires everybody to lock it in a little more intently, it can cut the necessary time for batting practice in half.

This means that pitchers can get off their feet quicker and hitters aren’t feeling as much stand-around time. It offers spectators a lightning round of action, and it still features all the luxuries of the standard system.

Some Japan pro teams even have designated BP pitchers and catchers, creating a far more game-like experience. We can’t speak for Trout or Ohtani and whether they would like this system better, but it seems a little more up to the efficiency they pursue in the cages.

A ballpark staple

Before we write off pregame BP entirely, it’s important to recognize that a lot of people enjoy the art itself. Fans can gather as early as when the ballpark gates open to watch live swings, and it stands as one of the most interactive opportunities between fans, players and coaches.

Batting practice before games likely isn’t going anywhere, or at least for the foreseeable future, but the elevation itself could be a fan-friendly difference maker if change is to come. If we live in a world where pregame BP would ever fade out, Coors Field could be the final taste on that fade.

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