Mark Lebedew once wrote on the subject of when hitters make the decision as to their angle of attack. That is whether they go line or cross with their swing. The post was a follow-up to a poll he ran asking when people thought hitters made their choice. Before the set? When they see the block starting position? When they see the set? Perhaps when they see the blockers’ hands? Or at some other point? Basically half of respondents said when they see the hands.
Mark’s view is that mechanically there’s not much chance of a hitter truly being able to set themselves up to hit with power both line and cross such that they could decide between the two in the last instant. I would contend that when the decision is made depends a great deal on the talent level of the hitter (leaving aside the question of the set for the moment). At the low end, hitters probably make the decision before the play even starts. I know this first-hand from working with them! At the upper end, vision and experience tends to allow for later decision-making.
At the 2015 HP Coaches Clinic there was a session which nominally was about scouting, but ended up being focused on training hitters to be able to hit multiple angles. Hitter attack angles were defined as:
Straight: In line with approach
Hard-Cross: Attack with a cross-body arm swing
Straight-Cross: Midway between Straight and Hard-Cross
Hard-Away: Aggressive wrist-away attack
Straight-Away: Midway between Straight and Hard-Away
It is important to note that these attack angles are all relative to the approach of the hitter. If, for example, we’re talking about an OH with about a 45-degree approach, then the straight attack would be on that 45-degree line. Hard-Cross would be the line swing. Hard-Away would be a sharp cross-court attack. The two mixed attacks would be in between, as shown here:
Here’s what it would look like for an OPP with a straight approach. Notice how the hard away shot is actually out of bounds. Clearly, that shot isn’t available. The straight-away shot might not be either.
Obviously, the exact angles of these swings are going to vary from hitter to hitter. Some attackers will be able to hit more radical “cross” or “away” shots than others (you can find hitter training ideas here and here).
Returning to Mark’s view, we had a conversation about it once when I visited him in Berlin. I personally, as a hitter, was a late decider in that I looked for the block, but I was very much a straight to hard away hitter, at least as an OH. Didn’t really have much of a cross-body swing from that side. I could mix one in from the right on occasion.
The point I made with Mark was that in theory a hitter can leave the decision right up to the point of elbow extension. That’s when they decide where on the ball to strike. But at what point do you start calling those angle shifts shots rather than full attacks, and can those angles really provide the same full range as going cross-body?
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