Ike Davis’ Small Adjustments at the Plate Has Led to His Improved Results

June 18, 2012

With the New York Mets surprising most people around the game by playing solid baseball and using mostly young kids who are making minimum salaries, one hitter who wasn’t up to the standards of Mets fans was first baseman Ike Davis.

All the frustration on the talk radio shows and in the online media was that Davis should be sent down. The biggest reason was that the Mets were competing for first place, and after Davis slumped through a 1-18 stretch (8 Ks) which lowered his slash line to .158/.234/.273/.507 OPS, fans wanted Ike sent down to the minor leagues.

New York fans usually smell blood in the water towards a player after an 0-4 game in spring training, so this Davis futility was like a True Blood movie premiere.

The talk of sending Davis down had been around for a couple of weeks, but the Mets brass insisted Davis was staying with the parent club.

Since that 1 for 18 slide, Davis has gone on an eight game hitting streak, going 11-23 with two doubles, a home run and 7 RBI. He has had big hits within this span, including the double in the final game of the series against the Yankees and last Thursday’s RBI single against Tampa Bay which gave the Mets a 4-3 lead.

Hitting takes talent, but all hitters can improve if they do the correct things necessary for hitting. These include not drifting, keeping the hands “quiet,” having a short/quick swing and staying balanced. What Ike was doing for the majority of the early season was exactly the opposite. He was moving to the ball, excessively hitching his hands and pressing forward with his upper body.

During his hitting streak Ike just didn’t “start hitting.” He changed his approach to what he was originally doing, one that gives him a greater chance for success. This proper approach makes hitters successful at every level, from the major leagues all the way down to the Little Leagues.

When the ball is about to be released by the pitcher, the hitter begins his “load” to begin his swing. You have to go back in order to go forward. This is similar to having to bend your legs and squat down before you jump up in the air. The load could be a very slight weight shift to the back leg and small movement of the hands back, or it can be just a small toe tap and slight inward turn. An example of a near perfect load is what Curtis Granderson does or what Albert Pujols does.

DRIFTING

The hitter then takes his stride forward, gets his foot down (hands must stay back), recognizes the pitch and if he likes it, takes his swing. This process is so fast (less than a half-second), that all the movements must be in synch to make it work. If any part of the timing is off, hitting the ball hard will almost never happen.

The front leg must be solid, giving a sturdy base and the hitter’s weight must be against the front leg, not on top or over the front leg.

What Ike was doing was moving his body too far forward over his front foot, with his upper body pushing forward over his front leg. When the hitter moves forward towards the ball onto the front leg, it is known as drifting.

When many hitters get into a slump, drifting to the ball is one of the main reasons.

The more a hitter stands tall and almost upright in the batter’s box, the more susceptible he is to drifting. Ike used to be really tall in his stance, with no flex or bending of his knees. Now his knees are more flexed and his stance is slightly wider.

Just as important is that a hitter needs to wait on the ball and not move towards the pitch. I tell young hitters all the time to “wait for the pitch to get to you” and don’t go out to hit it. The ball will eventually get to your hitting zone. Ike was going out to get the ball and was not waiting for the ball to get to him.

Moving towards the ball forces the head to move, in essence making the ball appear faster.

Ike began to wait on the ball and hit against his front leg, not on it over it. Drifting to the ball curtails a hitters power.  Since the hitters weight is already forward, his legs are taken out of the swing. A hitter can’t rotate his hips as much, and power is derived primarily from hip rotation and lower body force. The force won’t be with you if the hitters weight is already forward.

With Ike drifting forward and not waiting on the ball, it led to a very weak swing, using mostly his arms, and not using his hands and legs. Good hitters hit with their hands, not their arms. With Ike not staying back and him having to reach for the ball (especially the ball away), Ike’s hands were extended away from his body and he began to roll over the ball.

That is why so many pitches turned into harmless ground balls to the right side. Robinson Cano did the same “rolling over” early in the season, too, when he was slumping.

A hitter needs his hands tight to the body to generate more power. Think about the last time you performed dumbbell curls for your biceps. Did you have your elbows away from your body or close to your body? They were close to the body, allowing you more strength to lift more weight. A hitter who keeps his hands tight to the body (think Cano and Granderson), generally have more bat speed, use their legs more and have more power. This is the hitting process incorporated by Kevin Long.

This is a video of Granderson’s home run against the Washington Nationals this past weekend. Contact is made at the four-second mark of that video on MLB.com. Pause it there. Check out how tight the hands (and back elbow) are to his body, allowing the Grandy Man (who also uses great lower body torque) to get on top of and drive a high fastball. His balance is perfect and there is no drift of the weight forward.

EXCESS HAND MOVEMENT

Ike had a pretty severe hitch in his swing, a pre-swing up and down movement with his hands, exacerbated by a circular motion. While hitches are mostly bad, all hitches aren’t necessarily problematic. Barry Bonds had a hitch, but he ended up getting his hands in the power position when the ball was on its way. Granderson has some excess movement, too, but like Bonds he has his hands set when the pitch is released.  

Davis rarely got his hands set before the ball arrived.

Slight hand movement is good as it helps ease tension in the upper body, but excess movement is often not good. Ike’s hitch led to a timing issue where his hands were still moving when the ball was released and he wasn’t able to get the bat to the ball quickly enough.

Combined with his drifting, Ike was in no position to drive the ball.

With these hitting issues, the only pitch you can hit is the pitch over the plate, as hard stuff inside “gets in your kitchen,” and the result is a swinging strike or jam shot. Hitters then tend to look for only pitches over the plate and take those inside pitches.

At the beginning of his career, Ike had movement but not the severe hitch he had earlier this year. Now, while some up and down movement is still there, Ike has lessened his hitch and his hands are mostly finished moving when the ball is released. I would still rather have Davis eliminate the hitch completely (its one of the easier “faults” to fix), and like Granderson does, having only a slight movement back. This would allow his hands to be even quicker on fastballs up and on the inside part of the plate.

BALANCE

When Ike was drifting out forward and had his arms move out over the plate, many times his upper body bent forward at the waist, leaving Davis is an unbalanced position. Hitting coaches call this “a forward press with torso.”

This forward movement, which is different from drifting, further deceased his ability to hit for power. When a hitter takes his stride, whether it be an actual movement forward of a couple of inches or a lifting of his front foot up and down (like Granderson and Pujols), the upper body must be on top of the lower body. This allows the hitter to be balanced before, during and after the swing.

Balance, in addition to not drifting, is important to help generate power with the legs.

In proper balance, think of the hitter as a building with a steeple (upper body) on top of the foundation (the legs). The midpoint is the waist. Throughout the swing, the steeple always needs to stay on top of its foundation. If it doesn’t, the foundation cannot support the steeple, and the building becomes weak.

If the hitter doesn’t stay balanced, the body is not strong throughout the swing.

As mentioned earlier, Ike is more flexed in his knees to help stop his drifting. Staying balanced is also easier if the knees are flexed. Ike now has a slightly wider stance with his knees flexed (like Granderson and Pujols) which helps control drift and balance, leading to better contact and more power.

See how precise hitting a baseball is? One hitting fault can create more faults, which creates havoc with the chain of events a hitter needs to have success.

I remember when I was in the last years of playing baseball ( I was 42). I found myself always drifting to the ball and getting chewed up inside and had to “cheat” with my swing to hit the good fastball. With the help of Lenny Webster, former major leaguer and hitting instructor, he helped me widen my stance, sit down more (like Pujols does), which eliminated my drift. I could then wait on the ball more, and I began to hit for more power.

Just like Ike Davis has done, I made adjustments to be a better hitter.

Good hitters really don’t change anything major to their swings; they just make little adjustments along the way.

Look at Ike earlier this season against Tim Lincecum. (He is shown at the 15 and 25 second marks.) Remember this game of two Ks and the big double play? Ike was taller, drifted forward and although he was balanced, he took inside fastballs for both Ks which he couldn’t handle with the excess hand movement. He was looking for pitches over the plate he could handle.

Now look at Davis last week against Tampa Bay: The adjustments are slight, but the knee flex is there, as is a slightly wider stance, improving his balance and helping eliminate the drifting.

How about this game-tying double against the Yankees?  The hand movement is there, but the hands get set in time, he doesn’t drift forward and his swing balance is perfect.

I am surprised the Mets hitting coach, Dave Hudgens, didn’t change these faults with Davis earlier, but it is very difficult to change hitters from their lifelong habits. Especially major league hitters who have had success doing what they “have always done.” Hudgens is a well-respected hitting coach. In addition, as the old saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

The reason why Long has had success with guys like Granderson, Cano, Nick Swisher and Raul Ibanez is they were likely willing students receptive to making changes. These changes do not happen overnight.

It might be that these slight adjustments made by Davis were weeks in the making, which would be a credit to both he and Hudgens. I still would like to see Davis eliminate more hand movements and get his hands tighter to his body to generate a shorter bat path to the ball. But right now, Davis is moving in the right direction, which will help him produce more in the Mets lineup.

And keep him out of Buffalo.

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