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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If Mark Teixeira Doesn’t Change His HItting Approach, His Career As We Know It Could Be Over

April 14, 2012

After their 0-3 start to the 2012 season, the New York Yankees have now won four straight and are tied for first place in the AL East. These wins happened even without the expected quality pitching of ace CC Sabathia (he of the new five-year, $122 million extension), and without any production from middle of the order hitters Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira.

Robbie will come around soon as he adjusts his pull now/roll his wrists over approach, but it is Teixeira’s lack of production which should be very worrisome to Yankee fans. I will get it out quickly:

If Teixeira does not change his approach to hitting, his career is finished.

Oh, he will still be playing first base for the Yankees, but his usually offensive production will significantly decline. And that massive contract won’t be looking so good anymore. His playing time will be based upon his contract and defense, and less upon his ability to hit.

And this is not some random “small sample size” garbage either. Teixeira has been on the down slope since he signed with the Yankees, especially in the areas of batting average* (ooh, that terrible stat), and on base percentage* (the really good stat, right?).

*It’s funny how many sabermetric guys discount batting average and how it is “meaningless.” But doesn’t batting average compose the largest portion of hitters’ on base percentage? Usually, when formerly productive hitters OBP declines, it is usually due to a lower batting average, rather than walk rates, which are pretty consistent for established major leaguers. But if players become LESS FEARED by the opposition, then pitchers will attack these hitters and his avearge and walks will both decline.

Teixeira’s decline actually began during the World Series title year of 2009, a title which Teixeira was a big part. His batting average has declined from .292 in 2009 to .256 in 2010 and .249 last season. Subsequently, his OBP have been .383 (2009), .365 (2010) and .343 last season. He hit over .300 with a .400 OBP the prior two years, so the decline did start in 2009. Teixeira’s walk average** is consistently around .090. His slugging percentage shave also dropped, with his last two seasons being the only years since his rookie campaign where Teixeira has not slugged over .500.

**This is calculated by subtracting batting average from OBP.

Currently, Tex is hitting a meager .179, with a Yuniesky Betancourt like .303 OBP and ONE RBI!

It is unbelievable that the Yankees No. 5 hitter, who hits behind Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter, has ZERO home runs, one RBI.  That one RBI, though, is the key to his future.

Everybody is saying “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine. At the end, the numbers will be the same.”

No they won’t. Not if Teixeira doesn’t change his approach.

Teixeira has always been an upper body hitter. He collapses his back side and opens his hips early, but rarely uses his legs to generate power, relying on his bat speed and upper body strength. The result is an off balance swing using only his arms. That upper body strength allows Tex to overpower balls, even if he tries to pull outside pitches. I have viewed dozens of Teixeira home runs over his career where he pulled a pitch on the outside corner into the seats.

That is not easy to do.

But now that Teixeira is 32 years old (didn’t think he was that old, did you?), his bat speed has slightly declined and those pitches his used to be able to “rip” over the fence are now harmless fly balls to the outfield. That is if he actually gets under the ball.

See, most times when a hitters tries to pull an outside pitch, whether the hitter is fooled by an off speed pitch or, like Teixeira, they try and pull everything, seven times out of ten the hitter will roll his wrists over and generate a harmless ground ball to the pull side. If they do get under it somewhat, the result usually is a harmless fly ball or popup.

It’s an easy out.

Also, when a hitter attempts to pull an outside pitch, the hitter’s arms fly away from the body, limiting the chance for the legs to come into play. Remember when you used to hear, “The hitter wants to extend his arms?” and “the pitcher is throwing inside so the hitter can’t extend his arms.” That is a misnomer.

A good hitter DOESN’T want to extend his arms away from the body, at least not until well after impact. Good hitters want to keep his elbows tight to the body, which helps allow them to use their legs to help generate power. The extension of arms actually comes after the ball is struck and the bat comes through the hitting zone, and is extended towards the pitcher, not by pulling off the ball.

For an analogy, think in terms of power while lifiting weights. If you are doing dumbbell or barbell curls, can you left more wight when your elbows are tight to your body or when they are extended away by 6-12 inches?

Perfect example of this is Robinson Cano, who keeps his elbows tight to his body. This is how Cano can hit lefties so well, especially pitches inside. Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols also keep their hands in tight to the body, and all three use the strength in their legs to complete the swing and generate power.

Over the years, however, Teixeira has gotten away with bad hitting mechanics and used his uncanny eye-hand coordination and immense strength to hit for average and power, including 111 home runs in three plus years as a Yankee.

But those days are likely over.

Teixeira has always been a pull hitter. When he collapses his back side like that, there is no other type of hitter to be. You can’t collapse your back side and hit the ball the other way with any authority. Try hitting off a batting tee the other way after you collapse your back leg. It’s virtually impossible.

Really good hitters use the entire field, but at the very minimum, on pitches out over the plate and on the outer third, they try and hit the ball through the middle. They wait a little longer on the pitch, and then drive the ball through the middle. The only time Teixeira did that this season, he generated a line drive RBI single to right center in Baltimore, his only RBI. Tex stayed balanced in his swing, waited and drove the ball the other way.

When Teixeira tries to pull outside pitches, especially as a left-handed hitter, he hits “outside the ball,” where his arms come away from the body and the ball is struck. The hands are not used properly, but go out and around. Good hitting mechanics require the hands to say “inside the ball,” where the hands lead the bat straight and down to (and through) the ball. Wait and be quick.

When the hands go out and around, the hitter is susceptible to “rolling over” his wrists, lessening the time the hitter has the bat head in the hitting zone. As I mentioned earlier, the result is usually a ground ball to the pull side.

And when teams shift on a hitter, the results can be disastrous. The game is different now. Everything is on video and computers, with every team using spray charts and extensive advanced scouting. If you pitch certain hitters a certain way, that hitter will almost always hit the ball in the same spot***.

***I remember a time when I was managing in a college level and above men’s league in North Jersey. I used to go “scout” other teams when we didn’t have a game. There was a right-handed hitter on one team who I noticed always hit rockets into the right center gap when he swung at up and away fastballs. Nothing but line drives to right center. Know what we did? We gave him what he liked. We threw him fastballs up and away, the pitch he looked for and liked. But we also pinched our center and right fielder into the right center gap, and caught all those line drives he hit there. Oh, we would throw him “waste” pitches to change things up, but when we wanted to retire him, we did. He said to me after one game, “Man, I never seem to get any breaks against you guys.” No being lucky, but playing smart baseball. Point is that hitters are creatures of habit, who usually do with certain pitches what they always do.

Hitters need to adapt to how teams play them. Mark Teixeira needs to adapt to how the Tampa Bay Rays and other teams play him. Tex needs to begin to hit the ball the other way, by waiting a little longer on the outside pitch and begin to drive it the other way. That means eliminating the backside collapse, and hitting balls the other way. After a while of that, teams will have to move out of their shifts, which open up the entire field for Tex.

Tex will continue to be pitched outside, and if he doesn’t change his approach, he will continue to hit ground balls and some lines drives into the teeth of the defense. His averages will then continue to decline.

It is tough for major league hitters to adjust, especially if they are as established as Teixeira, but in his case is imperative that it gets done. It is obvious Tex doesn’t put much time into hitting sessions with Kevin Long, as Tex would have already eliminated the back side collapse, begun keep his hands inside the ball and using his legs more.

Recently, I used a drill for a left-handed high school hitter who had the same problem Teixeira has. He hands moved away from his body and he hit around the ball. I can’t even tell you how many times he grounded out to second base. We set up an L-screen about 15 -20 feet away and I quick flipped balls underhand to him on the inside half of the plate. But I had him hit the ball right back at me or the other way. No pulling of any pitches. This forced the hitter to bring his hands and elbows inside closer to his body in order to try and hit the ball the other way. It begins to help you get quicker to the ball on inside pitches.

After some time with this drill, the next game saw the kid line a shot right at the first baseman, then triple over the left fielders head in his next at bat. Both at bats prior his drill work would have likely ended up with a weak pop up and a weak ground ball to the second baseman.

This (and other drills) would work for Teixeira, too, but only if he wishes to change his approach.  

There have been many hitters who have been successful without using good hitting mechanics. I can’t even believe all the major league hitters who fail to use their lower half when hitting. Lance Berkman had a HOF caliber career, but never used his lower half until he came to the Yankees in 2010. George Brett was very successful using another formerly popular hitting method. It is a testament to these players overwhelming ability to hit at that level doing what they did.

I know Teixeira has had a pretty darn good career thus far, with 314 home runs and 1,108 RBI. But if he doesn’t begin to change, he will not be adding to these totals like he has in the past. Batting average, OBP, slugging percentage, home runs and RBI will all decline. Do you realize that Tex only had 26 doubles last year, the lowest of his career?

If he doesn’t work to change things, Tex will still get his big hits, and will likely hit 20 homers solely based upon his strength. He will do this when pitchers make mistakes with their location and get the ball over the middle of the plate. But when they stay outside, Tex will continue to watch his BABIP erode.

I predicted demise for another New York corner infielder two years ago, when I wrote this piece about David Wright and how he shied away from inside pitches after getting hit in the head by a Matt Cain fastball. I said that if Wright was forever shying away, then his career would be over as pitchers would bust him in early then get him out away. But Wright improved his ability to stay in the box and once again he became fearless at the plate.

I just hope for Yankee fans that Teixeira can adjust his approach like Wright did and stay productive long term.


Derek Jeter to Get Off Season Tutorials From Kevin Long…As I Predicted

December 12, 2010

As was written here by New York Post columnist Joel Sherman, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter will work with Yankees hitting guru Kevin Long sometime after the New Year.

This is the first time in Jeter’s 15 year career he has worked with any hitting coach during the off-season.

I had predicted this would happen in this article.

This is an excerpt:

Jeter is too much out of control when he swings as he brings his upper body forward and too far over the plate. That is causing all the weakly hit ground balls.

What you do not want to do is lean forward when you begin the swing process as this brings the hands forward with the upper body. A hitter can jam himself on inside pitches by doing this. When hitters “can’t catch up with the fastball,” bringing the hands forward with the upper body is one of the faults which contribute to that.”

….BREAK….

Jeter needs to begin to alter his swing and keep his upper body back more. That will help him become a better hitter by using his legs more to get around on that inside pitch. Early in the count, Jeter might want to begin to become a “location hitter.” When he is looking for an inside pitch, Jeter usually gets around on it and makes better contact.” 

….BREAK….

There have been stories that Jeter still wants to hit his way, and does not seek much guidance from Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long. Guys like Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano eat up all the info from Long, but Jeter goes about things on his own.

That will change.

Seeing the effect that Long has had on all the above guys, and with the recent quick results with Curtis Granderson, I bet Jeter works with Long over the off-season and comes back strong again next year.

Just like he got better two seasons ago with his defense by getting in better playing shape. Jeter’s pride to become better and not fall off will be too much not to seek Long’s help. Jeter has his pride, but is too smart to continue to let that get in the way of improving.”

According to Sherman, Long will likely travel to the Yankee facility in Tampa and begin working with Jeter. They will continue the work that Long and Jeter did in August (a few days after I wrote the original piece), where Long worked with Jeter to straighten his stride to go more directly to the pitcher rather than towards home plate.

That little switch will help Jeter from cutting himself off on inside pitches, which he clearly showed he could not handle last season.

As I said in my piece, Jeter needed to keep his upper body on top of his legs, and that he should look to pull the ball more.

Here is what Long said from the Sherman piece: “Might he pull the ball more, especially get it to center and left-center, yeah, if we do this right.”

Sounds familiar, right?

Long will get Jeter to keep better balanced and to drive the ball more to the pull side. When Jeter stays on top of his legs and uses his lower body he hits the inside pitch very well. But when he leans over the plate (and cuts himself off), making contact ends up with pop ups and infield dribblers.

That will kill your BABIP.


Derek Jeter: Why All The Concern Over His Current Play?

September 6, 2010

A recent article by John Harper of the New York Daily News quoted two former players saying that Derek Jeter will play hardball with the Yankees over his next contract.

I am asking why would Derek Jeter need to play hardball?

Is he going anywhere else?   No.

Will he ever wear another uniform?   Of course not.

Jeter has said he eventually wants to be a part owner of the Yankees. Do you think that will ever happen if he ever play for another organization? I have said countless times that he is today’s Joe DiMaggio. Great on the field, a multiple World Series winner and quiet icon off the field.

So what is the worry? Is it that Jeter has been in a 5 for 47 slump over the last dozen games? If so, what have the Yankees done in those 12 games? They have won eight of those 12, and now have a 2.5 game lead over the sturdy Tampa Bay Rays.

The idea is to win games, and the Yankees are winning games. In fact, they have won more games than any other team in baseball – even with a slumping Jeter and little consistency in the rotation after CC Sabathia.

Jeter is now hitting .264 on the season, a full 70 points lower than he did last season, and his OBP is 75 points lower. People are now claiming Jeter is on the downside, because he is older and most other non-steroid hitters have all suffered the same fate.

It is one season. Infact, it is really only a couple months. Besides not having his share of home runs and opposite field singles this season, everything else is pretty much the same offensively. Jeter is on pace for the same amount of runs scored, doubles, RBI, and almost as many walks.

It is mainly his lack of his trademark singles, that liner into right field or the hard ground ball which gets through the infield. Those extra hits have wreaked havoc with Jeter’s OBP and SLG. Yes, singles hurt slugging percentages. 

Jeter is second among active players with 2,139 singles, and has been first of second in the AL insingles eight times in his 15 full seasons.

I have seen the articles and heard the talking heads discussing Jeter’s demise, how is on the downside and how the Yankees can not give him a long-term deal and big money after a “terrible” season like this*.

*No matter what Jeter’s season ends up as, and he could still have a great September and postseason, I give Jeter what ever he wants money wise. As I wrote earlier this year, I give Jeter a 10 year deal for $180-$200 million.

As I have said many times, Jeter is a prideful guy and would want Jeter-type money, even if he is continues to hit like he has so far this season. But, Jeter is also like DiMaggio, in that he will leave this game on top and not with his skills clearly eroding for everyone to see, even if millions of dollars are still on the table. 

Guys like Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays suffered at the end of their careers. Mantle stuck around for a  year too long trying to help the Yankees fill seats at the Stadium. Mickey stayed on a year plus after he hit his 500th HR and eventually saw his career average fall below .300. Letting that average fall below that magic .300 number was always one of Mantle’s big regrets after his career ended.

Mays was a shell of himself when he played in New York for the Mets. Yes, he did play in one more World Series, but the last thoughts of many baseball fans was Mays floundering around in that 1973 Series, showing his true age. For all intents and purposes, Willie’s last season should have been 1971. Lucky for him his career average stayed above .300 after his final seasons.

Jeter will leave the game well before he is toast. It could be two years or could be five years, but either way he will not stay around just for the money. And playing baseball for a living is not like other occupations.  People in most other occupations do not have their skills erode to the detriment of millions of fans.

If YOU were guaranteed a 10-year deal with your company, you would definitely stay on the job because you DO need the money and have no pride to stay around if you couldn’t do the work anymore. You would be George Costanza staying on at the playground ball company Play Now

Jeter is not like that, he does not need the money and will not stay around just to collect a check.

And when Jeter does leave the game, the Yankees will not be liable for the balance of his contract. (Although I believe the Yankees will have Jeter on a personal services deal immediately after he retires) It is the only time a MLB players contract is NOT guaranteed. Salomon Torres retired two years ago from the Milwaukee Brewers and left $3.75 million on the table.

What I haven’t seen or heard (especially from sabermetric guys) is how Jeter might be UNLUCKY this season. You know that thing saber guys use when they can’t explain why things happen on the field of play?

Why isn’t Jeter just plain unlucky? I showed above how all his other stats (besides HRs) are the same.

You see, Jeter’s BABIP has always been over .300 and last year it was an incredible .368, but this season it is only .298, below the norm of .300 and well below last season. His career BABIP is .356!

That means he is unlucky compared to last year and pretty much his entire career. So this year it will “even out,” to what Jeter’s norm is, right? LOL.

So why I haven’t read or heard about how Jeter is unlucky? Is it because since Jeter’s BABIP this season is around the norm, this is what Jeter really is, a .265ish type hitter with little power? In fact, the Jeter detractors would probably argue that Jeter might considered extremely lucky for his career!

Yeah, most guys who have 15 plus year Hall of Fame careers are always lucky when their BABIP’s are higher than .300, the major league average on balls in play. But it is only an average and many guys do have higher BABIP’s and some have lower ones.

But what I have seen that for the most part, guys who are really good hitters usually have higher BABIP’s. They have better approaches and hit the ball harder more often.

 Sure, hard hit balls are sometimes right at fielders and little bloop hits fall in and “find grass.”

But good hitters do not get themselves out on the hard inside pitch by getting jammed all the time, they don’t swing at too many pitches outside the zone on the inner half and don’t flail-swing at many bad pitches on the outside part of the zone trying to compensate for a slower bat.

Three things Jeter is doing this season, more often than he has before.

Good hitters, however, adjust their swings according to how they are performing and how they are being pitched, but Jeter does NOT do that and it is causing him problems.

I have seen him all season. He still hits the same way he has his entire career, and has not changed a thing**. He leans over the plate too much with his upper body. He is out on his front foot much more this season, and when your bat slows down (and Jeter’s has), leaning over the plate and being out on your front foot is not a good combination.

**Unbelievably, Jeter even uses the exact same model bat, same length and weight, that he did his first year in the majors.

The swing is two distinct parts, working in tandem. First you step and then you swing. When I mean step, it could be an actual step, a toe tap or just an inward rotation of the front foot. When this happens, the hands move back to gain some separation. Then the hips turn, the hands bring the bat forward and through. 

The back side and front side are working together, but the bottom and top also need to work together. Think of your stance as a building with the waist as the midpoint, with the legs being the foundation and the upper body the steeple. The steeple needs to stay directly on top of the foundation for control and power.

Jeter is too much out of control when he swings as he brings his upper body forward and too far over the plate. That is causing all the weakly hit ground balls.

What you do not want to do is lean forward when you begin the swing process as this brings the hands forward with the upper body. A hitter can jam himself on inside pitches by doing this. When hitters “can’t catch up with the fastball,” bringing the hands forward with the upper body is one of the faults which contribute to that.

When pitchers are pounding you inside early in your career, your quick hands can guide the bat through the zone and you will get those extra hits to right field and up the middle. But when your hands and bat slow down, those extra hits become dribbling ground balls and weak pop ups.

When I played in my late 30’s – early 40’s, my bat became slower and I had to compensate for my slowness by being more of a location hitter and starting my swing early. Since these college pitchers (and catchers) were throwing me inside, I had to “cheat” by looking inside and committing earlier than normal.

In college and up into my mid 30’s, I was a gap-to-gap guy, but ended up more of a pull hitter later in my career.

While it will not happen this year, Jeter needs to change his hitting approach after this season.

Jeter needs to begin to alter his swing and keep his upper body back more. That will help him become a better hitter by using his legs more to get around on that inside pitch. Early in the count, Jeter might want to begin to become a “location hitter.” When he is looking for an inside pitch, Jeter usually gets around on it and makes better contact.

And Jeter will not be dropped in the batting order, either. Joe Girardi is NOT like Joe Torre. If Girardi did not drop Mark Teixeira in the lineup earlier this season, there is no way he drops Jeter. You play with the guys who have gotten you here (best record in baseball) and you let them play.

There have been stories that Jeter still wants to hit his way, and does not seek much guidance from Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long. Guys like Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano eat up all the info from Long, but Jeter goes about things on his own.

That will change.

Seeing the effect that Long has had on all the above guys, and with the recent quick results with Curtis Granderson, I bet Jeter works with Long over the off-season and comes back strong again next year.

Just like he got better two seasons ago with his defense by getting in better playing shape. Jeter’s pride to become better and not fall off will be too much not to seek Long’s help. Jeter has his pride, but is too smart to continue to let that get in the way of improving.

He will improve his game over the winter, the same way he has done it over the years. He is the perfect player, not doing much anything incorrectly.

He is so good at being a professional that the media took to having to rip him for not showing up to Bob Sheppard’s funeral. There was nothing else…until now with this late season hitting slump.

I believe it is that many people really want Jeter to fail, to have his skills erode so they can write him off. Jeter is the perfect player who has succeeded at most everything his entire life. He is a winner, a guy you can’t quantify via “advanced” statistical analysis.

Derek Jeter is a guy who has many big hits and great moments in his career, but according to his critics might have been nothing more than a singles hitter with limited range on defense.

Overrated they say. But overrated players do not help their organization win five World Series titles, get to two others and compile over 3,000 career hits over a 15 plus year HOF career.

As Yankee fans our BABIP has been high because we are “lucky” Jeter played in pinstripes all these years.

He will continue to do so in the future, for as many years as he wants.

Just let him play, finally adjust, and do his thing.


New York Yankee Nick Swisher Becoming a More Complete Offensive Force

May 7, 2010

Early Wednesday afternoon, while many people were celebrating Cinco De Mayo by pounding down Corona’s, New York Yankee outfielder Nick Swisher was pounding this second inning pitch for a solo home run.

It was Swisher’s fifth home run of the year and his 17th RBI.

Nick is slashing .295 BA/.380 OBP/.547 SLG/.927 OPS right now.

You may be saying what is the big deal. Swisher was slashing .312/.430/.714/1.144 OPS at the end of April last season, but went into a big funk and ended up with a .249/.371/.498/.869 OPS.

They were all good numbers and the best overall season of his career. But Swisher is a more complete hitter at this point of the season and his career.

Why? He is swinging at more pitches in the strike zone. But not just any pitches in the zone, but high quality pitches to hit.

Last season, Swisher swung at 56.7 percent of strikes thrown to him, but is swinging at 68.9 percent thus far this season. While that has lowered his pitches per at bat (4.27 in 2009, 4.06 in 2010) and his walk rate (16 percent in 2009, 10% in 2010), his line drive percentage has improved from 16 percent to 24 percent. 

His contact rate has improved to 83 percent and, consequently, his strike out percentage has fallen (25 percent to 19 percent).

Swisher, as well as Nick Johnson and other “walk machines” often take pitches just for the sake of taking them, mostly to run up pitch counts. Many times when you “work the pitcher,” you end up working yourself back to the bench.

It is very tough to take pitches, get to a two-strike count and still have a productive at bat. Many hitters are not comfortable hitting with two strikes. They tend to swing at more bad pitches in two-strike counts, getting themselves out.

But while Swisher hits better than most with two-strike counts, he still took too many good pitches earlier in the count which he should have attacked.

And that is the key. Swisher is attacking the ball this season. His approach has changed to attack the ball, but he still has that good eye to not swing at pitches which would cause him to have bad at bats.

One aspect of hitting that does not get any attention in over-zealous statistical analysis is the mental approach. When hitters get in their mind to be aggressive at the plate and they get a good pitch to hit, fireworks are inevitable. Success at being aggressive gives way to long hot streaks at the plate.

However, slumps usually cause the hitter to be indecisive in his swing selection, often causing mini-slumps to further spiral downward.

When I was playing in college and afterwards in semi-pro summer leagues, and slumping a bit, I suggested to be the hitting part of a hit-and-run, which always forced me to swing the bat at the pitch.

That aggressive approach is great for the mental aspect of hitting.

So are mechanical aspects and the hard work needed to implement them.

I was talking with Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long in mid-January, and he said Swisher was working out all winter in Arizona with him to stay balanced throughout the swing, helping his ability to more consistently hit the ball harder.

The picture accompanying this piece shows Swisher with perfect power-hitting mechanics.

Long also worked with Swisher on the mental approach, not to avoid walking to get on base, but to attack hittable pitches in the strike zone, especially earlier in the count with men on base.

The point is when men are on base, the job of a power hitter is to go after pitches they can drive in order to knock in those runs. Swisher has done that, slashing with men on base at a rate of .340/.415/.596/1.011 OPS so far in 2010.

Long said Swisher would hit “at least .280 this season, with more run production” due to improving his hitting mechanics and with his more aggressive approach.

The “book” on Swisher is that he takes pitches, many of them hittable strikes. But Swisher is changing the cover of that book, going after pitches earlier and more often.

That approach has helped his current season batting average (.295) and slugging percentage (.547), but has not hindered his on base percentage, which, at .380, is higher than what he was at last season (.371) and in his career (.358). 

Not bad for a guy who always known as a Moneyball walk machine.

However, the key for the rest of 2010 and beyond is when Major League pitchers (and the advance scouts who follow the Yankees) adjust to Swisher’s more aggressive approach. They will begin to pitch him differently than they have been this first five weeks of the 2010 season.

Does Swisher then begin to swing at less than ideal pitches, or does he remain patient and continue to aggressively attack pitches in his hitting zone.

My money is on Swisher to continue his patiently, aggressive approach, and to keep producing runs for the Yankees.

When that happens, they can save a fortune by not needing to sign free agent Jayson Werth.


2010 Prediction: Yankees Curtis Granderson Will Have More Power than New York Mets Jason Bay

April 4, 2010

Both New York teams have played their exhibition games and, except for Jose Reyes, Daniel Murphy and Carlos Beltran, all seems to healthy on the Mets front. With those guys on the DL, no other players had to see one of the Mets team doctors, and that is good.

History has shown that seeing the Mets doctors is one of the worst places a Mets player can probably be sent.

Both New York teams also have a new starting outfielder, both upgrades over their 2009 counterparts. The Mets signed free agent Jason Bay while the Yankees pulled off an old-fashioned trade as they acquired Curtis Granderson from the Detroit Tigers in a three-team, seven-player swap.

That trade also involved the Arizona Diamondbacks, and appears to be good for all three teams involved.

New York Mets fans demanded something be done about their lack of starting pitching depth, but General Manager Omar Minaya did nothing. Many fans wanted a new first baseman and a power hitting left fielder.

Well they got their wish in left field, but the most important thing, starting pitching, was dismissed out of hand.

Bay was given a four-year deal for $66 million, and is firmly planted in left field. Seeing him in a few games (live and on TV) far this spring, his OF play is shaky. There is the power in Bay’s bat to make up for his below average defense, but his ability to make consistent contact.

However, will there be enough power in Bay’s bat in new CitiField, the Mets home where deep fly balls go to die in outfielder’s gloves? Ask David Wright how bad the new home park plays. Will Bay’s rumored knee problems hamper him during the season in the field or at bat?

Bay had his best year last season, hitting .267/.384/.537/.921 OPS with 36 home runs and 119 RBI’s. Not that it was his best season statistically, as his 2005 and 2006 seasons were more productive, but that this season came in his final, walk year before his first free agency.

That was good for Bay’s bank account, but bad for the Mets overall.

Meanwhile, Granderson was coming off his most dismal season since becoming a full time player. His line of .249/.327/.453/.780 OPS became steadily worse that his last few seasons. His  best year was in 2007 when he hit .302/.361/.552/ a .913 OPS with 38 doubles, 23 triples, 23 homers and 74 RBI’s. He also walked 52 times.

But his OBP and slugging percentage (SLG) declined over the last two seasons, mainly because his average dropped and, while his homers increased to 30, his other extras base hits declined significantly. C-Grand’s SLG of .552 in 2007 was due to his 38 doubles and 23 triples as much as his HR total.

When those other XBH declined to 23 and 8 last year, and his average declined, too, it made his OBP and SLG (and of course OPS) fall to these extreme lows. His OBP fell despite his walk totals increasing from 52 in 2007 to 72 last year.

Just goes to show that high batting averages are still a key to high OBP’s. A walk is NOT as good as a hit unless the team has other hitters in the lineup.

Granderson has worked hard with hitting Coach Kevin Long to improve his overall hitting, more going the other way to improve is recent number against left handed pitchers. It showed with improved batting average (.286) in spring training this year and boosted his OBP to .375, two stats the Yankees will sign on the dotted line for this season.

He also improved against lefties with a .250 BA this spring.

The one negative for Granderson is that he did not hit a home run at all this spring, and his SLG was only .388. That will improve, though, once Granderson gets to the Stadium with the short right field porch. He will not pull as much as the past, but will hit his share of home runs, probably around 20-25, much less than people expect.

They might not be as high as everyone expects, but Granderson’s SLG will be much higher than last year. While his HR’s will be normal, his other XBH will improve to that of his 2007 season.

Granderson’s work with Long will allow him to love the deep left field gap. With his speed, the doubles and triples will skyrocket, raising his slugging percentage to that of 2007, somewhere around .530 to .550.

Jason Bay will also hit share of home runs, but due to the expansive home park, it will not be the 30+ he hit in four of the last five seasons. His double rate will also decline as those balls off the Green Monster will be caught by the left and center fielders in the more spacious ballpark his plays half his games.

Plus, Bay is expected to hit fourth or fifth in the lineup, one that does not scare many pitchers. Don’t be surprised if teams begin to pitch around Bay to get to the freer swinging Jeff Francoeur. Once again, a walk is not as good as a hit, if there are no other good hitters to produce.

Therefore, Bay’s OBP may be a bit higher, but his SLG rate will decline from last season’s .537.

With the type of player each guy is, and with the dimensions of CitiField, wouldn’t Granderson have been a better fit for the Mets as the left fielder? And he could have been the center fielder while Beltran is out. For Minaya, another boat that left the dock without him doing anything or having a plan and he appeared to settle to the whims of the public in regards to what the team needed.

When all is said and done in 2010, Granderson will more important for the Yankees than Bay will be for the Mets.

In fact, with his new hitting approach, C-Grand will have a higher SLG rate this year than Jason Bay.

You can bank on it.