The Batter's EyeDecember 26, 2006
Selection by Swing
By Jeff Albert

The draft is a crapshoot, right? Maybe so. Honestly, I don't know, because I've never been in position to make decisions on drafting players. There are countless things to consider, all with the purpose of determining which players are most likely to make it to the big leagues.

Looking at the draft videos from 2006, I took a pair of contrasting swings: one which looks fairly advanced already, and another which looks like more significant adjustments will be necessary. Emphasis goes on the word swings because the swing is just one factor in determining the overall value of a player. Who is the better player? I don't know and that is not the point. The point is trying to find out what the player's swing might be able to tell us about future performance.

My choices were Hank Conger (left) and Cody Johnson (right), who is mirrored to appear right-handed. David Wright is in the middle for comparison purposes because he is one of the best young hitters at the major league level. Although I do not have any amateur video of him, I am going on the assumption that he had a pretty good swing which allowed him to quickly reach the majors.

With apologies to Chris Parmalee, who appears to also have developed a high-level swing, Conger just jumped right out in terms of comparison to a guy like David Wright. In any case, the issue is how the player uses his body to swing the bat. Conger looks quick and efficient, producing both bat speed and quickness, similar to Wright. In order to demonstrate the red-flags of Johnson's swing, I thought it best to make a couple more comparisons. Stephen Drew is a guy who progressed rapidly to Arizona, and his swing is remarkably similar to when he was at Florida State.

Here is Johnson along with a shot from Stephen Drew's draft video:

Very specifically, this is the area that would concern me about Johnson's swing:

What I am trying to show here is how they move into footplant. Johnson is the definition of "opening up" the hips too early (at least on this swing). Drew is starting to rotate, but the segments of his hips, shoulders and hands/bat are moving together. Look again at Drew's hands and check how they progress towards contact. The situation with Johnson is quite different, which may allow for great bat speed and power but is a big problem when it comes to quickness. Successful big leaguers have both, finding a way to use the large muscles of the body to produce power in a short period of time.

Trying to go one step further, I came across Ryan Harvey's draft video. This seems to be an interesting comparison because both had been 6'5", athletic, power-hitting outfielders. Might Harvey's first few seasons in the minors give an indication of what is to come for Johnson? Time will tell.

Here is the comparison (Johnson again mirrored to be right-handed):

The Harvey video is not great (missing frames, etc.) but it serves the purpose. From what I gather reading prospect reviews, both of these players opened eyes with their towering home run power. Again, the issue is how this power is generated and how will it transfer to higher levels. Were Johnson and Harvey lighting it up in batting practice and preying on inferior pitching during games?

Suppose, however, that they did have success against other top high school pitchers - why are those pitchers dominant in high school? Likely because they throw fastballs that most high school players can't catch up to. Even with a "long" swing, players like Johnson and Harvey could catch up to mid-90s fastballs, assuming they are looking for the pitch (see Jeff Francoeur). Of course, this would make their power look even more impressive.

But are they really showing signs of a high-level swing? I will leave with one more picture that tells much of the story:

Conger - Wright - Johnson - Harvey all at 2 frames before contact. The angle shows their back elbow, which can often identify bat drag or other forms of disconnection from the arms and the body. In this case, with the elbow leading at a point so close to contact, it appears that Johnson and Harvey relied most on the arms to create a long powerful swing, which may be impressive on the surface, but probably won't provide for smooth progress toward the majors. Conger and Wright are more indicative of swings with quickness and power.

While the bright side of Johnson and Harvey may be their athletic ability, the question becomes the skill of their swing. Skills depend on practice and experience, and while not impossible, it will be quite a challenge for young players to progress through pro baseball while at the same time skillfully developing better swing patterns.


What a great comparison.
If you're into golf, I think you can make a striking (pun intended) comparison between these baseball swings and a solid golf swing. The still pictures do a great job of illustrating the point. Conger and Wright have all their power stored prior to release, (and have created near perfect angles with arm, elbow and bat head) while Johnson and Harvey have already started to release the bat head.
Similar to casting a golf club from the top, considerably more effort is needed to create bat-head speed this way.
The video is a more graphic illustration, and shows the power in Johnson's swing is 'late' and flippy.
The video of Conger, and more particularly Wright, shows the bat staying on-plane throughout the swing and the release (in golf terms) is down-the-line.
Thank you for the comparisons. This is one of the more interesting articles I have come across this off season (golf and baseball).
I'm curious if you have done any work on Adam Lind's swing. He reminds me a lille of John Olerud, but with what might develop into more power.
Thanks again, great stuff.


Another great analysis using video clips by Jeff. I agree with Kyle about the similarities between the baseball swing and the golf swing. I remember when Golf Digest or Sports Illustrated showed a comparison of George Brett's swing side-by-side with Tom Watson's swing about 20-25 years ago. (The main difference was that Watson finished his swing with both hands still on the club.) :)

I currently have one close-up shot of Lind and first impression looks pretty good. Not too many moving parts (fairly simple looking swing) and he is making a good adjustment to an off speed pitch (a la Jeter in the "Consistent adjustments" article) that he crushed to left-center. Off-speed, oppo HR's are a nice sign for a young player.

Would it be possible to compare swings of players of differet eras. Williams, Mays, Mantle, Aaron?

I would be really interested in seeing Aaron's and Mantle's swings.
If I remember correctly, Aaron's power came from his wrists. My memory is foggy, but the first time I saw Soriano, I thought he reminded me of Aaron. I think it would be an interesting look. I would be particularly interested in seeing swings of bygone eras.

I can't quite remember where/when I heard this, but there was some kind of interview ehre Aaron himself did not attribute his power to 'quick wrists'. Wish I remembered exaclty where I heard this...

I found the following quote from Aaron comparing Soriano to himself while doing a google search:

"If his wrists and forearms are the key to his swing, then those are the same two things that were key for me. I didn't have much power in my upper body, but my forearms were big and that allowed me to use a big bat."

It was from a NYT article but it was reprinted here. The operative word seems to be *strong* or *powerful* wrists rather than *quick* wrists.

Aaron's comments: Most successful do not really know why they are successful. Take his quotes with the properly-sized grain of salt.

Conger: He looks like an animal at the plate. I've never seen him before, but I like it!

You want to look at another "huge power, bad swing" guy, get some video of Henry Sanchez, who the Twins drafted in 2005.

But it seems you already know more than the Cubs' organization, Harvey was a bad choice from Day 1. His swing isn't the only problem, he also has a horrendous BB/K ratio.

you can view clips of most MLB players here. Williams, Mays, Mantle, Aaron, PUJOLS and many more

geez, some of those clips look very familar! Wonder where they came from...

I do have quite a few 'old timers' so that may be a future possibility. Which former HOF swing would be most productive in today's game??


I checked out Henry Sanchez. Swing actually looks pretty good to me, however I have not compared it to anyone else yet, which usually helps a lot. I will be interested to keep an eye on him.


I would love to build up some more clips of the old timers? Any other places to look?

Also I am interested in looking at 2 strike stats, anyone know if someone has what pitches throw with 2 strikes?