The Shifting Swings of A-Rod and Andruw: Part 2
I started posting these comparisons of Major League hitters on my blog, and they usually show how a player's swing has changed or how player A might be better off if he could swing like player B, but with the opportunity to write a guest article here, I wanted to take a different approach. Coincidentally, after JC Bradbury of Sabernomics kindly posted a link of my Jeff Francoeur analysis, he (Bradbury) emailed me a question about Andruw Jones. It became clear that Jones' adjustment affected his swing in a way contrary to what can be seen in A-Rod's, so now we can not only look at the impact of an adjustment on one player, but we can see how a general concept applies in a specific way to completely different hitters.
What happened to Andruw Jones after 2004?
This article went straight to the source to find out:
Thus, Andruw began widening his stance in September last year. It was a stance that had provided him much success in the Minors and one that he abandoned early in his career..."When I got to the big leagues, I wish that thing wouldn't have gotten in my mind to change my stance."
With the widening of his stance, this was the new look at the beginning of Jones' swing:
The result was a significant increase in power output, most notably an increase of 22 home runs, that produced the 2005 NL Home Run leader:
Before you start thinking that all players will have similar success if they just widen their stances, we have to take a look at cause and effect. We have a cause (changed stance) and a result (more HRs, fewer Ks) and now we'll try to identify the effect of the changed stance on the swing.
Here is a look at Jones' full swing:
The clip shows a 2004 swing on the left and 2005 swing on the right, synchronized to contact. Each swing from its corresponding year is the same swing shown from different angles - front and side. The pitch is similar speed, similar location and the result is the same - home run to right-center. (I want to make a small editorial note, in that the side shot from 2004 appeared choppy, as it was missing some frames. The view from the front matched up well, so I added duplicate frames in the 2004 side view to fill in for the missing frames to match up to the front view. Each duplicate frame on the 2004 side view is noted with an asterisk* and there are no duplicate frames in the sections of the clip that will be used below.)
The segment of A-Rod's swing that I stated to be the most significant was his move into footplant and the same holds true for Jones:
Due the different camera in a different stadium, I left the number measurements off of this one. If you do want to see them, click here, but after spending time explaining what to look for in A-Rod's swing, seeing a difference becomes clearer here.
First thing I thought when I saw the difference in Jones' stance was that he would have less lateral movement forward (weight shift) since his feet are spread out so much more to begin with. This does not appear to be the case, however, when looking at this video. The overall forward movement of the hips shown in the full swing above is actually very similar, as it is in the segment of his movement into footplant. Spreading his stance did not necessarily cut down Jones' lateral movement, but what it did do is allow him to use his hips much more effectively. If Jones' wider stance did not have much impact on his actual movement forward, how does it help him use his hips better?
We see in the side view that his weight and upper body are distributed more toward his front leg which will provide a more stable base (as described in part 1). The description of spinning hips in part 1 also asserted that good movement into the front leg will help keep the front hip from "pulling off" (remember the pen example?). Judging by the stripe on his pant leg in the front view, this is the case for Jones. I do not imagine that Jones hit 22 more HRs because he had became significantly stronger over the off season, but he did figure out a way to get more out of what he already had. Strength is relatively useless if it is not applied through an efficient swing.
We now have an idea about the new position he was in that enabled him to hit with more power, but there has to be a reason why his position in 2005 is better than 2004. This is another area where the front view is helpful because it shows Jones with a little more flex in the knees and more loading in the area of his hips and upper legs. If you want to get a feel for it, stand straight up with your feet directly under you. You can stand there all day because your muscles are basically doing nothing. Now spread your feet out and squat slightly and there will be much more tension created by active muscles that are now working to support your stance. When you do a squat in the gym, this is why it is much more difficult to get up from the bottom of the squat than it is to just stand straight up with the bar across your shoulders. It's the difference between your muscles being eccentrically stretched/loaded as opposed to doing nothing.
So if A-Rod's weight shift and Jones' stance are the major visible changes in their swings, how is that related? The answer is in the effect the change has on their swings - how the change enables (or disables) them to maximize their swing efficiency. With A-Rod's more upright stance, a leg kick allows him to first load the hips and the weight shift is an indicator that his hips are being loaded until it is time to unload the swing. For Jones, a wider stance is what gets the hips loaded. This is the general effect we're trying to identify that is caused by individually specific adjustments which result in a more productive hitter.
Slowing things down with video and making different comparisons can be very useful. Then again, the information is only as good as what you are able to do with it. Go tell A-Rod he needs to shift his hips 6 more units forward like he did in '05 and please record his response because I would love to hear it. I did not play in the big leagues, but I played enough to know that a hitter does not want to hear all that analysis much less think about it. To quote Manny Ramirez, "the more you think, the slower your bat gets." A hitter wants to hear something insanely simple like "spread your stance a little more" and then he will think about all of the home runs that it will help him hit.
A coach does not have to avoid showing this type of video and analysis to a player, but the player just has to understand what is going on. Which cause will create what effect to produce what result? Things like weight shift, leg kick and stance can be merely cosmetic in that they are all things that can change - more like a band-aid than a cure. A band-aid is useless if it does not help heal the wound. The real significance for A-Rod's and Jones' adjustments has much less to do with how far they are moving forward or how wide their stance is and much more to do with how those things allow them to initiate the swing. A-Rod and Jones can change their stance, stride, or anything else they want as long as they are prepared to launch their swings like they did in 2005. Once this is established, the right phrase or thought can bridge the gap between graphic details and actual on-field adjustments that produce major league results.
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.