After a stellar 2004 season, Seattle 3B Adrian Beltre has somehow lost his belt. Unfortunately, the belt I am referring to has to do with producing long hits instead of holding up long pants. What's intriguing is not that Beltre's production fell off after a career year, but the degree to which his numbers have declined. After what seemed to be an MVP-type season where Beltre put it all together showing his tremendous ability, it seems that 2005 resulted in a return right back to square one - do not pass go, do not collect your $200 (uh, rather collect your $64 million, but I suppose that
is another story).
Age is often a reason for decreased production, but Beltre will turn 28 next month as he enters his ninth full season. With his experience and youth, Beltre should be primed to enter the most productive stretch of his career, so what gives?
Here is a look at Beltre in 2004 and 2006:
2004 uber-Beltre is on the left and a more human 2006 Beltre is on the right. I picked the two clips with the most similarity in regard to camera angle, pitch type/location and result. Again, these are synchronized to contact.
There are a lot of similarities when looking at setup and body position throughout the swings, but there is one major difference that caught my attention. Here is a more directed look:
Beltre's 2006 swing clearly shows that his hands are more visible behind his head as he prepares to unload his swing. The significance of this deals with Beltre's "swing time" - the time it takes him to unload once he has decided to go ahead with his swing.
In all honesty, I could argue that I like his 2006 swing better. If I had to guess which swing would produce more raw power, I would pick the one on the right. The reason is because the actual swing quickness between the two looks very similar, so if the 2006 swing shows the hands traveling a longer distance in the same time, it stands that the 2006 swing should be creating more bat speed.
The 2004 swing, however, shows that Beltre was initiating his shoulder rotation slightly earlier. This coincides with his hands and bat moving sooner to the ball, which indicates a quicker swing. Additionally, Beltre's arms look slightly more extended at contact on the left, which supports the concept that he is starting his swing earlier because the extra time from the quicker swing happens to be filled by the extra extension. If contact was made with the arms in exactly the same position, the difference in quickness would be more apparent.
Here is the best side view I could manage:
This angle also makes it clear that Beltre has to move his barrel a longer distance in 2006. If he could pull this off with all else remaining equal, I do think it could be a big plus, but that does not appear to be the case.
More bat speed does not always equal more power. The small matter of making consistent, hard contact comes into play. Looking at the stride foot of each swing, 2004 Beltre looks to begin his swing slightly later, which may mean that he is getting a better, longer look at the ball. This would allow him to process more information about the oncoming pitch, and the stats say he was producing enough bat speed to put up great power numbers.
Mariners hitting coach Jeff Pentland also seems to agree that a shorter swing correlates to better results from Beltre:
"Instead of swinging harder, we pulled him back and concentrated more on squaring the ball up and hitting it solid," Pentland said.
I have heard some arguments about players performing well in their "walk" year only to see performance decline after signing a lucrative contract, but is this the case with Beltre?
Considering these video clips, it appears that Beltre may actually be trying to do too much after signing that 5-year, $64 million free agent deal with Seattle. Perhaps the departure from his successful ways of 2004 results from dealing with higher expectations by attempting to do more, more, more. If so, Beltre might just need to realize how talented he is, stay within himself and just go about his business.
This realization may have begun during the second half of last season, when Beltre's batting average jumped 31 points and he hit 18 of his 25 home runs.
Referencing that stretch, Beltre said:
"You get frustrated (through the struggles)," Beltre said. "You know you can do better. It gets to be too much. Finally I got to the point where you say, 'whatever.' Then you just go out, see the ball and hit the ball."
Sometimes a slight change in mentality, mechanics (like changing the position of the hands in order to shorten the swing) or a good combination of the two is all it takes to recreate a comfort level of past success. Beltre is a good, young athlete with loads of experience which leads me to believe an explanation is out there and that there is hope that he can produce more closely to what his ability suggests.