The Shifting Swings of A-Rod and Andruw: Part 1
It might be different in New York, but from here in Atlanta, it seems as though the media criticism of Alex Rodriguez has tapered off. Apparently, all is well now that the Yankees have returned to their rightful position at the top of the AL East. So with everything that was said about A-Rod's not being able to handle the pressure and intense scrutiny, he should be fine now that he's just left alone to play, right? Although the degree of denigration may have cooled down, it appears as though his bat has still yet to heat up.
While I do not doubt the increased pressures and expectations that come with playing in New York, I can not help but think that maybe something rather than mental struggles is plaguing A-Rod. Every major leaguer faces pressure every day - fighting for their jobs, living up to giant contracts, and of course winning games. Toss in the fact that A-Rod is just one year removed from an MVP season and there you have a number of reasons why I am quite skeptical that he all of a sudden had a mental collapse.
Since I had not heard much detail about any kind of physical changes relating to A-Rod's swing, I put together an initial analysis where I was able to measure and actually quantify some changes from just a year ago. What I intend to do here is provide an excerpt from that video analysis in order to simply and narrow in on what appears to be the culprit to A-Rod's "off" season. Then, in part 2, we will take a contrasting look at Andruw Jones to see how he made the opposite adjustment, which turned him into the National League's home run champ in 2005.
When a player has a big leg kick, weight shift, or any kind of exaggerated motion, those things are usually more difficult to maintain and changes are more easily noticeable. What I first noticed about A-Rod while watching on TV was a more pronounced lean backward on his follow-through and what appeared to be less of a weight shift forward. I have been watching A-Rod's swing a lot since he was in Texas and I will first show this shot of him just to provide a frame of reference. This shot was from spring training in Texas and I believe resulted in a HR:
This is the link to the full shot of A-Rod in '05 and '06 if you wish to compare, but for the purposes of this article, let's move on to the significance of what can be seen in the comparison of his swing from 2005 to 2006.
The most challenging part of doing this analysis is drawing conclusions and tying in the observations from the video to what implications they might have for a player on the field. Here is what I believe to be the most significant segment in the clip of A-Rod:
To quickly summarize the video clip: left side is from 2005, right side is 2006. Both swings result in HRs that are hit off of fastballs. Both shots come from Yankee Stadium and the angle is virtually identical. The numbers highlighted in black are provided by the coordinates (think X,Y axis from math class) in my video program and measure the center of his hips (I used the belt loop to the right of center as a reference point).
After measuring at the beginning and ending position, the video shows that the center of A-Rod's hips has moved 6 less units in 2006. Why is this important?
In a picture, this is why:
The difference is the position they get to at footplant, which is most commonly the time when a player "launches" his swing (bat begins significant move to the ball). Formerly, A-Rod had been able to use his weight shift to establish his weight against his front leg, preparing him to produce a more efficient and consistent swing. The actual rotation of his hips remains relatively unchanged, but the reduction of his weight shift in 2006 has allowed more of a spinning or opening type of hip rotation that is enabled since he has not moved himself into his solidly planted front leg as seen in 2005. In simplest terms, A-Rod's former weight shift established a more solid base for the swing. In theory, what this should translate to is more power and consistently from his '05 swing.
Follow along with a quick example to illustrate the difference in hip rotation: with a pen on a piece of paper, mark the position of the pen's tip and also the center of the pen. Now place your finger on the center of the pen and spin it around so your pen is moving around in a circle. Return it to the original position, but this time place your finger almost all the way toward the tip. When you hold the pen here and turn it, the back end of the pen should turn up close to being in line with the original marking you made for the tip of the pen. You didn't change the way you held the pen, only the point from which it was rotated around. This is similar to what is happening in this clip of A-Rod.
Here is what it looks like in the swing:
I used the red lines to mark the starting position of the front hip on each side and measured again just after contact when the position of the hips could be clearly seen again. In 2005, A-Rod's hips end up in line with the original position of his front hip, whereas there is a clear space between the original and ending position (yellow line) of A-Rod's hips in 2006...kind of like the pen example.
Usually in my articles I try to provide some kind of instructional value and make generalized comments based on the specific video examples. In this case, the 'spinning' rotation of A-Rod in 2006 would generally be characterized by symptoms of pulled ground balls produced by a player who looks like he is "pulling off the ball." On the contrary, a player who swings like the '05 A-Rod would typically have more ability to hit the ball with more power to all fields because he is able to rotate aggressively without pulling off the ball.
With that in mind, I looked for some kind of insight into what was actually happening on the field. I was noticing that just about all of the video I have of A-Rods HRs this year shows him pulling the ball, so I decided to look at his spray charts from the past few years. Of course there are many factors that contribute to a player's production on the field, but I found these more than interesting:
What jumped off the page to me was the difference in the spray of home runs. I count 14 of 26 (54%) from dead center to right field in 2005 versus 3 of 11 (27%) in 2006. If you go back and look at '04 when he also "struggled," the same thing happens - opposite field HRs disappear.
A-Rod's spray chart from 2005 is the only one since he has been a Yankee to resemble the absolute shotgun spray of HRs he had been blasting in Texas:
Is it the stadium? Is it the media? A-Rod might be the only one who can answer those questions. Dealing with a changing environment may be tough enough as it is, but it only gets tougher when you're trying to do it with a less effective swing. I can not bring myself to believe that A-Rod all of a sudden can't hang in NY or deal with his surroundings, especially coming off his best offensive season. What is much easier to believe is that his swing has slipped a bit, but with a few adjustments, he can get back to being his usual MVP self.
Jeff Albert is owner and operator of swingtraining.net, which is a site dedicated to baseball training and analysis. The focus is not only to identify potential areas of improvement for players, but also to simplify sometimes detailed and complex concepts so the player can do less of the thinking and more of the doing. Jeff draws from his own experience of pursuing a professional playing career, as well as working with players ranging from Little League to elite college softball to minor league levels.
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