HitTrax batting program helps develop ASU softball's hitting

Powerful hitting has been a staple for the Jeff Harger-led Sun Devil offense

Through 12 games, ASU softball leads the Pac-12 Conference in home runs with 28. Fifth year catcher Maddi Hackbarth leads the Pac-12 in RBIs. Of the 12 players with two or more starts, only three have batting averages under .353. Simply put, the Sun Devils know how to hit. 

What makes them stand out? Assistant coach Jeff Harger and HitTrax, a computer program that runs like a video game, tracking which pitches work best for players and the statistics of their hits. 

Head coach Trisha Ford and Harger are no strangers to HitTrax; the two used it at Fresno State, where they both coached before coming to ASU. 

In fact, Harger and Ford's Fresno State team was the first softball program to utilize HitTrax in the country, said Elena Bowman, HitTrax's director of softball operations, who knows Harger well.

The program looks and acts like a video game. The players can hit the ball and find out useful stats on their swing, their ball placement, the ball's exit velocity and much more.

"(HitTrax) is going to tell you post-contact feedback," Bowman said. "We're taking measurements of the ball coming in, the ball going out, different metrics associated with ball flight; so things like exit velocity, launch angle, distance, the hit direction, outcomes, if it was a hit or an out."

Coaches and players can use this data to track player progress.

"From a development perspective, you get a lot of tools like situational breakdowns, video analysis and point of impact reporting," Bowman said. "You're going to see on the screen the measurables associated with (the hit) and then a graphic of where the ball is traveling to on the field."

The Sun Devils have Alberta B. Farrington Stadium and its dimensions put into the program, so the players get a feel for the dimensions of the stadium without having to actually be there in person. Hackbarth takes advantage of practicing hitting at the stadium without having to waste time picking up her home run balls.

"I would love to hit on the field 24/7, but that's not realistic," Hackbarth said. "But we use our field on HitTrax, so when I'm in the (batting) cage and I hit the ball, it shows me directly where I hit it and how far I hit it."

The coaches can watch the players and give adjustments during practice sessions.

Hackbarth, a fan of video games such as NBA 2K and MLB The Show, said she loves the video game aspect of HitTrax. She closely follows her exit velocity and tries to break her own record.

"I just like having fun, I like playing video games, so if I can tie that into softball it is fun," Hackbarth said. "I really think the exit velocity and where balls are going and where they're placed on the field are helping me as a hitter." 

Sophomore right fielder Jazmine Hill uses HitTrax to get a better look at what pitches work for her.

"My personal favorite is it (can) track someone's pitching, if the ball was a strike and it has a strike zone," Hill said. "Then it'll give a count of how many times I ate each one of those strikes."

Hill has utilized this aspect of the program to improve her pitch selection, which in turn helps improve her batting average and on-base percentage. Hill has improved her batting average from .358 as a freshman to .389 in her second year. She is also getting on base at a .450 clip.

ASU is one of 35 softball teams that use HitTrax, giving the team and Harger an advantage in teaching hitting.

"I really like to use it for point of impact, where we're hitting the ball, we're trying to elevate the ball," Harger said. "We need to catch the ball a little further out in our swing. We don't want to dip our shoulder and swing up."

When speaking to ASU softball players, it doesn't take long before someone mentions Harger's name and his impact on the team.

"Harger definitely sleeps and breathes hitting," Hill said. "He'll come up with drills I've never seen or heard of. He takes it very seriously, so as a player I want to grow for him and myself."

Harger makes his priorities straightforward: make the players better people first, make them better hitters second.

"The team itself very important to me," Harger said. "I retired from a career in agriculture to follow this dream. I want to help make these girls better, stronger women."


Reach the reporter at drodish@asu.edu and follow @david_rodish on Twitter.

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