According to Royals Authority, the outlook in Kansas City isn't so bad these days. Young hitters like John Buck and Mark Teahen are producing while awaiting help from super-prospects Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. If and when all of these guys get going, the Royals' lineup could be formidable for years to come.
I want to focus particularly on Butler and Gordon since they are fresh out of the 2004 and 2005 drafts, respectively, and we can take a look back at their progress since their amateur days. What kind of adjustments have these guys made and how might it affect their success in the big leagues? Let's see.
The clip above shows one of Butler's swings from high school in 2004 and another swing from AA Wichita, synchronized to contact. It is harder to really compare the two since the shots are different situations (batting practice versus game), but it gives an overall impression of Butler's swing.
Butler is filling out more as he matures and it looks like he has added more leg lift and a bit more weight shift, perhaps to generate more power with a wood bat. Judging by his success in the minors, he has this extra movement under control and it is not causing a longer swing path.
The only cause for concern that I might point out is Butler's contact point. This may be specific to these pitches, which appear to be pulled towards the left field line, but he is making contact well ahead of his front foot at near full extension. While full extension can signify a full transfer of energy, the timing aspect of making consistent contact in this position is very difficult. Miguel Cabrera comes to mind as a player who does this more often than most and he is doing quite well for himself.
This shot shows Butler handling (good for a 2B) a 100 mph fastball from Justin Verlander and makes me believe that Butler is plenty quick enough to handle MLB heaters. The question just comes in his ability to handle a full mix of pitches. When Butler does get his return call, which I'd like to see soon, I think he does have room physically to adjust his swing in the event that he does struggle with pitch variety. Keeping his hands back longer as he begins rotating into the ball would allow him to make contact slightly deeper in the zone, which affords more time for pitch recognition. But of course, with his talent, let him do his thing and see how it goes before suggesting any changes. It's very likely that he could just figure it out in his own way (a la David Wright).
So .191/.307/.309 with 29% K's is not the way Royals fans imagined this pre-season Rookie of the Year candidate would start his career. Gordon seemed to make some progress heading into May, and it should be considered that he has been treated rather poorly by Lady Luck. Thanks to a Hardball Times piece about line-drive percentage, it is evident that a player hitting more than 20% line drives should have a much higher BA/BIP than Gordon does. Could and should may be okay for now, but let's hope for Gordon's and the Royals' sake that things really do even out in the end.
Outside of plain ol' bad luck, Gordon has also turned to a higher leg lift since being drafted:
The angle in the shots is different and I am unsure of the pitch type in the college shot, so I will steer clear of in depth comparisons, but it appears that Gordon is keeping his hands back well and using his body more effectively to generate power. It looks like he has made some nice adjustments since giving up the metal bat.
A change that might be holding Gordon back, however, is the direction of his stride. From the limited number of swings I have seen, Gordon is more closed off these days and this may be preventing him from effectively handling pitches on the inner portion of the plate.
The shot on the left side shows a minor league version of Gordon's stride, which is relatively straight-away. On the right side is a 2007 HR shot that actually shows Gordon stepping on the inside line of the batter's box. Naturally, I wanted something that indicated how Gordon was handling pitches in various locations and this is what I found:
I am not the one to say that this closed stride is essentially eliminating Gordon's chance to handle inside pitches, but it sure is an interesting coincidence. Barry Bonds said a few years ago that he worked on his ability to clear his hips and that it helped him handle more pitches with power. If Gordon can "free" his hips, perhaps he could reach inside pitches more effectively. Combine this with a little change in luck, and there you have the Alex Gordon that Royals fans were expecting as the season began.