With the rise of analytics in baseball, teams across all levels have gained the ability to make data driven decisions in player development and evaluation. Data tools such as TrackMan, Rapsodo, and Blast Motion are widely recognized as the best tools to helping players gain a competitive edge in their development. I had the chance to work with the Notre Dame Baseball team with some of this stuff, and trust me, it’s pretty cool.
To make these sorts of data decisions, there have to be people on the staff well versed in the equipment, and just as importantly, well versed in teaching the game. One of these people on the current White Sox staff is Ryan Johansen. Hired before the 2019 season, Johansen currently works on the White Sox Player Development Staff as the Assistant Hitting Coordinator. Before being hired by the White Sox, Ryan founded Johansen Baseball Inc, a training facility that specializes in individual and team assessment. Currently, Johansen serves as a College and Professional Bio-Mechanics Consultant for his facility.
Ryan does some fascinating work and had some very interesting things to say in response to the questions I got to ask him. Take a look below.
Tell us a little about yourself – where you grew up, how you got into the game of baseball and anything else you think helps tell your story about who you are today?
I grew up in St. Charles, IL; we had a ton of baseball opportunities around, and my parents did everything they could to expose me to more of this game. I was lucky enough to play with some really good players – much more talented than I was – and continue to fall in love with and become obsessed with the game. I’ve been really blessed to be able to “do baseball” for work, and I have way too many people to thank to do it justice, but both of my parents played the biggest role. It’s cool to think about how many people they’ve impacted and will continue to impact that they’ve never met, just with their continued support and encouragement.
What can you tell us about the work you’ve done with Johansen Baseball Inc.?
At our facility (Johansen Baseball Inc) we’ve come a long way. We’ve been obsessed with uncovering the cause and effect of outcomes specific to performance and diving deeper and deeper as more and more technology has been released and/or streamlined. Today we have one of the most advanced hitting labs in the country, which has allowed us to look at a lot of single measurable metrics with specific context, as well as understand that not every measurement, specific to numeric value, is created equal, dependent on the other variables that we are able to test for. For example, “ideal” average bat speed is not created equal simply in relation to peak bat speed, but also requires us to take into consideration cognitive response time and accuracy of swing decisions. While it’s certainly “easier” for a machine to tell us what is good and bad, we have to take into account the human element, and how we learn to use and implement the information is ten fold more important than just having the information.
While it’s certainly “easier” for a machine to tell us what is good and bad, we have to take into account the human element, and how we learn to use and implement the information is ten fold more important than just having the information.Ryan Johansen
Working with players across all ages, from all walks of life and broad talent levels has allowed us as a staff to learn when and how much information to share based on each individual athlete. It’s certainly easy to get caught up in “numbers” and whether they are “good” or “bad,” but we have to remember this whole thing is about the athletes performing on the field, and not simply making an app light up.
Do you consider yourself to be more offensive minded or pitching minded? How do you use either of these mindsets to help leverage a player of the opposite mindset? For example, using a pitching mindset to help hitters improve?
I’m definitely more offensive minded. As a business owner and being as competitive as I am, I’m always on the offense and I want players to learn to bet on their strengths, fight through adversity, and always be on the attack. I think this applies to pitchers as well, although I leave that at our facility up to Jordan Bock, who’s our Pitching & Throwing Coordinator. However, I think understanding pitch profiles and tunneling is extremely important when talking approach and pre-game routines for hitters to make sure that they are as prepared for battle that night while also looking to do damage with their strengths. Controlling your convictions pitch to pitch is what keeps you locked in on your approach, whatever it may be.
What are some of the most important tools – whether statistics, or physical technology (Trackman, Rapsodo, etc) – you’ve used for both player evaluation and development?
This one is tough to only pick out a few; everything has value and is a piece of the puzzle, whether it’s Bertec force plates, or a Blast Motion bat sensor. I think the short answer is batted ball TrackMan data, organized effectively. We can reverse engineer and make really good and quick inferences from that to help players. I also think that’s the meat and potatoes of this whole thing – on field performance trumps any number we can record on a development app. For example, if we’re working with a professional hitter, everything has to stem from their on-field performance and what direction we want to go. It wouldn’t make any sense to take a successful hitter at the highest level and try to revamp a swing because it doesn’t fit our current research of “ideal” or “efficient.” But if we’re building hitters from the ground up, then we work forwards from a movement screen, to a Bio-Mechanical assessment of their swing that includes force plate, 3D Motion capture, and Bat Sensors.
With that being said, there is a starting point for everybody in development, and having all of the resources is where we can find the lowest hanging fruit to keep it simple for the athletes and the coaches executing the programming. Being a hitting coach today requires you to be competent in many more facets of human development in terms of movement and psychology than ever before, and with that being said we’re better off sharing the LEAST amount of information to the player as possible to accomplish the goal at hand, always remembering this is about transferring to on field performance in the most efficient way possible – which usually doesn’t include clogging the central nervous system with unnecessary context.
You were hired by the Chicago White Sox to work in Player Development. Can you talk about what this opportunity means to you?
Living in Chicago and going to games growing up, the opportunity last year and this year means a ton to me and my family. They’ve been an incredible organization to work for and learn from. The direction player development is going is beyond exciting, and I’m humbled to be a part of it. There are a lot of really smart people on our staff that I continue to learn from everyday while being able to bring my skill set and tools to the table as well. The culture is unbelievable and I’m fired up for 2020 and beyond.
It also means a ton to our staff at JB; it’s created additional jobs and advancement for our new employees in my absence, and it’s allowed our staff personal growth opportunities in management, organization, and leadership. Focusing my attention on the White Sox has been great for everybody, and with the new staff, it’s allowed me to dive even deeper into R&D at our facility rather than run training programs.
With any sort of player development, there will be players who aren’t necessarily as “data-inclined” as others. Since your work with Johansen Baseball covers a wide range of ages, I’m sure you’ve seen some players who don’t necessarily have the same grasp of what the numbers mean. What is your strategy towards breaking down the data for players?
I kind of answered this earlier, but you’re absolutely right, there are some players we need to collect silently, turn all of the screens off, sounds off, and just hit. Talk about what they are specifically feeling, do a lot of mirror work, maybe look at video, etc. Then, on the back end, put together programs with the low hanging fruit we see in a way that they want to learn. This whole wave of technology is certainly about more information, but it’s about using that information to help athletes, not just showing off bells and whistles, and how we get there is different for every athlete. There are some athletes that want to dive into the computer and look through the data themselves, which we give them the freedom to do, and there are some athletes that would complicate things and try to work on too many things at once with that type of information.
This whole wave of technology is certainly about more information, but it’s about using that information to help athletes, not just showing off bells and whistles, and how we get there is different for every athlete.Ryan Johansen
Building relationships and having empathy for the fact we are trying to make their playing experience at whatever level they are at BETTER is a huge factor to knowing how much and when to share. Nate Pearson is unbelievable at this. He’s the most sincere chameleon when it comes to understanding his audience – he connects with everybody in a meaningful way. Super blessed to have him with us and he’s going to do some special things in player development. Somebody sent me this a few weeks ago and it’s absolutely true, “If you can’t help players without tech, you won’t be able to help them with it.” I want to say that was a Coach Jeff Leach tweet but don’t quote me on that.
What is your advice for younger students looking to break into baseball, either as a player or a member of the front office?
I can’t speak to the front office, as I don’t have a role in that capacity, but to accomplish any goal, it all boils down to matching your work ethic to your level of desire to achieve the goal. It doesn’t always pan out, but you’ll always know you gave yourself the best shot. Outside of that, don’t be afraid to publish what you are working on – you don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great. Put your content out there and work extremely hard at making it better. Don’t be afraid to work for free, offer people demos, or go out of your way to test your abilities. The ROI on learning is always high, so don’t take yourself too seriously when it comes to internships and networking opportunities even if the pay is low; social equity can matter in this game.
… you don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.Ryan Johansen
Lastly, remember your “why.” For me, it’s helping players get better everyday and passing on the mentorship to other coaches, because other coaches did that generously for me. It’s about providing freedom and opportunities for my family and kids, and I’m motivated to go to work everyday not only with the Chicago White Sox, but with the families my staff impacts at Johansen Baseball Inc.
On behalf of the entire Sox On 35th team, I’d like to thank Ryan for taking the time out to give some awesome answers to our questions. It’s fascinating to get into the mind of someone who works so deeply in the game with analytics and learn their methodology behind balancing information with player development.
In my opinion, Johansen represents the best of the analytics community: well versed in the numbers, but also able to relay the information in a way that is tailored to his specific audience – which is unique to each player/team. I hope the analytics community continues to humanize the data, rather than spitting out numbers and insulting those who don’t get it. Ryan and his staff have certainly done an excellent job of humanizing the data they work with.
You can find Ryan on Twitter (@RPJ1317) and Johansen Baseball Inc online at https://www.johansenbaseball.com/.
All Photos Taken from johansenbaseball.com