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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New York Mets GM Sandy Alderson Should Build Around David Wright

December 12, 2011

Pretty much all major sports, but especially, baseball, are copycat sports. If something works for one organization, then others follow the lead. However, due to the long history of baseball and the ingrained ideas and traits, it often takes longer for new ideas to be implemented.

Billy Beane began using low cost players who had high value qualities, but after MoneyBall came out, every team followed suit. And because Beane doesn’t know much about on field talent, the Oakland A’s stink once again.

Since the Yankees were always in the playoffs, they have not had many top of the draft picks. Brian Cashman began taking high upside talent in later rounds, then offering them bigger bonuses to sign. David Robertson was one such pick in 2006, and Dellin Betances was plucked away from a Vanderbilt scholarship using that same method in the same ’06 draft. Teams then began following suit with higher bonuses for top talent taken in later rounds.

The Texas Rangers have made the World Series for two consecutive seasons, with a potent offense and a good bullpen, but without a true ace pitcher who can be the proverbial shutdown guy, thus helping to avoid long losing streaks. Most of the best teams in baseball have an ace, but Texas won the past two seasons without one. C.J. Wilson was not an ace and the Rangers pounded their opponents into submission quite often.

Many people believe the 2012 New York Mets will not contend for a playoff spot, and include me as one of them. Not because they are devoid of talent, because some of their young guys are pretty good, but primarily due to the strength of the other teams within their division.

The Phillies have a great rotation and despite some aging, no current shortstop, and injury issues to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard (likely out for the 2012 season), they still have enough talent to earn a postseason spot. Plus, GM Ruben Amaro appears to make moves which improve their team, like signing their homegrown talent, trading for three top pitchers, and then signing Lee again last year.

The Atlanta Braves have good young talent, and except for a late season collapse, would have made the postseason. And they have good young pitching in the minors, and are willing to give them ample chances to pitch. They are good like that. Maybe Fredi Gonzalez shouldn’t overwork his top three bullpen guys as much, though.

The Washington Nationals are improving, have a good young mound duo in Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, both of who came back very strong from Tommy John surgery. They also have an owner with a ton of money and an itch to win before his D-Day. They could use a young, lefty power bat…

The Miami Marlins are also better with the three big free agent splashes in Heath Bell, Jose Reyes* and Mark Buehrle joining a young core of Hanley Ramirez, Logan Morrison, Gaby Sanchez, Chris Coghlan, and Mike Stanton.

*It is amazing that the Mets lost one of their franchise players and are not even getting a first round pick back in return. Since the Marlins have the 9th pick in the 2012 draft, that pick is protected. The Mets will get the Marlins 2nd round pick plus the supplemental pick. Biggest problem with not trading Reyes at last year’s trade deadline was Sandy Alderson not seeing the variable of a bad team with a top pick signing Reyes. Tough thing to predict, but doesn’t a GM and his people have to look for every possibility?

Since the Mets were not so good last season, lost Reyes, and are unsure whether Johan Santana (a huge Minaya mistake) will pitch in 2012, they are not supposed to be good this year either. With those factors and with every other team in the division having better rosters, it is a perfect time to stick with the kids who began to produce last year and made the 2011 Mets somewhat fun to watch.

Since the team might be a last place squad, many Mets fans and pundits want the last bastion of their quality teams from 2006-2008, David Wright, to be traded. They want more trades like the Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler deal; to get younger, cheaper talent to try and win in 2014 and beyond. The Mets GM is actively looking to make trades but has indicated David Wright is not getting dealt.

And that is a very smart move.

Sandy Alderson has seen what has recently helped teams win. In 2010, it was a very strong top three in the rotation (and dominant bullpen) which propelled the San Francisco Giants, and then he saw the Arizona Diamondbacks use good, young starters (and a dominant bullpen) to win the NL West in 2011.

And he also saw the aforementioned Texas Rangers win with a solid, but not great rotation, great power lineup (and dominant bullpen) to win the AL Pennant the past two years. He also saw the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Rangers in the 2011 World Series with a mediocre rotation and a dominant bullpen.

As I mentioned earlier, MLB is a copycat league. Without a solid top three in the 2012 rotation, Alderson has smartly used his limited resources to secure a solid bullpen. He signed former closer Jon Rauch and current closer Frank Francisco and traded for Ramon Ramirez, who was a big part of that 2010 Giants World Series bullpen.

The Mets 2011 bullpen had a 4.33 ERA, ranked 28th of the 30 major league teams. These bullpen additions should help improve those numbers. With holdovers Bobby Parnell and Pedro Beato, who will not be pressured to get key outs late, the Mets now have a nice stable of power arms.

And despite Reyes’ departure, Alderson also sees a pretty good power offense. With Ike Davis (ankle), Lucas Duda (concussion) and David Wright (back) healthy again, and Jason Bay (another Minaya mistake) still in the fold, the Mets have four sluggers who might combine for 80-100 HRs. Add in a healthy Daniel Murphy, who is a solid hitter, and there are five guys who can drive in runs.

The key is health as none of the above players, except Bay, had 450 plate appearances in 2011.

Alderson performed magic when he shortened the Citi Field dimensions, likely adding power numbers to each of the hitters, but especially Wright, who has acknowledged the previously larger dimensions have hurt his numbers. By stating that Wright was not available in a trade and moving the fences in, Alderson clearly has indicated he wants Wright to remain a Met. Look for Alderson to try and extend Wright early next year.

And like the Texas Rangers have with Elvis Andrus, the 2012 will have a young shortstop, known for his glove, but has improved on the other side of the ball. His on base skills have clearly improved and he showed a knack for getting key hits.

Ruben Tejada should not be forced to win the shortstop job in spring training. He should be given the job prior to spring training. Let him have the knowledge that he will be the glue of a solid infield, which will give him immense confidence. Keith Hernandez always said the key to his 1979 NL MVP season was that his manager, Ken Boyer, told him no matter what happened early in the season, he was still going to be the Cardinal first baseman.

The overall key to the Mets future is definitely the young starters still in the minors, guys like Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jeurys Familia, Jenrry Mejia and possible Michael Fulmer, last year’s second round pick.

But to win now and stay competitive in 2012 and 2013, the Mets need to punish opponents on offense, keep the game close and win it late with a solid bullpen. That formula will not work every time in Citi Field, but it has shown to consistently win games for teams around the league.

But the offense needs to stay healthy, too, and Wright needs to wipe away his past demons and know he has a pretty good supporting cast, and need not do it alone.

The time to trade Wright was a few years ago, when the Boston Red Sox desperately needed a third baseman and actually had quality young talent to trade. Here is a Wright trade proposal I made two seasons ago.

Not moving Wright is just another sickly feather in Omar Minaya’s cap, probably the worst GM in the history of baseball.

Since Wright can void the last year of his current deal if he is traded, if the Mets tried to trade Wright they would not get a Beltran-type return, let alone a Dan Haren or Mark Teixeira type return. While, those types of trades could occur as recently as two years ago, those deals are never going to happen anymore as teams are over-valuing their young players. Wright is best served to stay in New York.

Alderson knows this and is making the smart move, for the team this season and for the Mets future.


New York Mets: It’s About Time The Youngsters Are Getting Their Shot

April 25, 2010

Since becoming the New York Mets General Manager in 2004, Omar Minaya signed free agents Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez, Billy Wagner, Luis Castillo, Francisco Rodriguez, Oliver Perez and Jason Bay.

In addition, Omar signed veterans Elmer Dessens, Livan Hernandez, Tim Redding, Cory Sullivan, Mike Lamb, Angel Berroa and other assorted has-been players.

Those in the second group were all signed in an effort to find “lightning in a bottle.” And all of the second group of guys stink as major league players.

Some of those players in the first category (usually multi-year deal guys) stink as well. Why?

Because they did not help the Mets team get to a World Series, let alone win one. Wait, they almost did in 2006, but the veteran free agent Beltran took a called third strike from St. Louis Cardinals rookie-closer (at the time) Adam Wainwright made Beltran look silly.

Carlos also took the first pitch fastball right down the middle for strike one, immediately getting himself in the hole. I wonder if the “work the pitcher” guys out there in the blogosphere would like to have that pitch back.

At that time, Wainwright was a young pitcher with all of 77 major league innings under his belt. Tony LaRussa was not afraid of using his young players.

Omar Minaya and the New York Mets are. Or should I say were.

With the promotion of Ike Davis to play first base, during his first major league game, the Mets had five players (David Wright, Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan, Jonathan Niese and Davis) as homegrown Mets starters, plus the final relief pitcher Jenrry Mejia.

A game which  saw the Mets win 6-1.

If you wanted, you could also include Jeff Francoeur as “homegrown” since the Mets traded Lastings Milledge to the Washington Nationals for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider, then spun Church off to get Frenchy from the Atlanta Braves. Francoeur has provided a stabilizing influence in right field, has played great defensively, and despite a recent 0-24 slump, has now shown moderate signs of being more selective at the plate.

He has a big run-scoring double today, a big 3-1 Mets victory.

His biggest contribution is the presence he has brought to a clubhouse desperately in need of a strong personality. Wright and the Latin contigent have not provided that since the Minaya regime began.

Francoeur is still only 26 and was a former first round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves.

Minaya, who is on the hot seat as GM and NEEDS to make the playoffs this year or at least have his team show vast improvement over last season.

And that insurgence has been helped by the play of Met young players promoted from their won system. I have consistently gotten on Minaya for his free agent signings, losing first round draft picks, and still not getting anywhere with other teams forgotten players.

And then Minaya signed Bay to a four-year, $66 million contract this off season.

Would Minaya have been better served by not thinking of saving his ownshort-term neck by signing Bay, and looking instead to improve the Mets over the long-term? With that I mean letting all the young guys play.

Instead of Niese trying to make the team as a fifth starter, give the job to him. Let him get a full season of major league ball under his belt. Thus far in 2010, Niese, despite walking too many hitters on occasion, has pitched pretty well. Then let young Jenrry Mejia develop in the minors as another homegrown starting pitcher.

With Mike Pelfrey those three could be 60% of a current rotation.

Minaya might have been better served letting the Wilpon’s keep their $66 million they gave Bay and, similar to what good teams do, invest it in signing some of this young talent (Pelfrey, Niese, Davis) in two to three years on a longer term basis.

It’s all about the Mets future, except in Minaya’s mind.