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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Cliff Lee, World Series 2010: How San Francisco Giants Took Lee in Game 1

October 28, 2010

Last night’s game was not the total shock many people think. I figured the San Francisco Giants would score a couple runs early against Lee, but was surprised the way they knocked him around.

The Giants pitchers also neutralized Mickey Mantle Jr, I mean, Josh Hamilton.

The Giants game plan with those two players were the key to winning Game 1. 

1) Cliff Lee vs. Giants Hitters

The key in getting to Cliff Lee is to be aggressive in the batters box. I have long discussed that on this site. Hitters cannot continue to take early strikes, get behind in the count and then have to react to any on of four different pitches he throws with two strikes.

Lee starts most hitters off with a fastball. He then mixes in cutters, curves and an occasional change up. He is also more likely to throw his curve ball with two strikes.  

And why not? It is harder to control that either the fastball or cutter and you do not have to throw it over the plate with two strikes, just get in low in the zone and you can be successful.

But the Giants are a very aggressive group of free swingers. They like to hack at lots of pitches early in the count, both in and out of the strike zone.

Against Lee, the Giants were aggressive, but mostly on pitches inside the strike zone, more specifically right over the middle of the plate.

They did not chase the high fastball. One of Lee’s important pitching traits is that he moves the ball around, changing the eye level of the hitters.

He works low and away, then up and in. He will throw the two-seamer or curve low, then throw a normal 91 MPH fastball up, many times out of the zone.  

But unlike the Yankees hitters, the Giants lineup did not chase the pitch up and out of the zone. The right-handed hitters also did not offer at the many pitches Lee threw just off the outside corner. That is why Lee probably threw very few changeups.

This forced Lee to work from behind in the count, and then have to come over the plate with his pedestrian fastball.

And that usually gets hit…and hit hard. While there were many hard hit balls, especially in that fifth inning, there were even more fat pitches which the Giants aggressively attacked yet fouled back.

Andres Torres, Juan Uribe and Cody Ross all missed fat fastballs over the middle. Lee threw too many pitches over the middle of the plate. The Giants hitters were also looking to hit the ball the other way, with right handed hitters hitting the ball to the right side.

That allows the ball to travel deeper and the hitter can see the ball longer. Going to right field hurts Lee’s pitching game plan. He thrives on teams like the Yankees who are looking to pull the ball, but the pesky Giants hurt him. Another reason why Lee likely threw very few changeups.

The Giants aggressive nature works well with pitchers who throw lots of strikes. That is why the Giants have beaten Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and now Cliff Lee in this postseason.

Watch for the Giants to continue to be aggressive on pitches in the zone, and their key to winning is to stay off the pitches out of the strike zone. Even Uribe took two pitches before hammering his three-run home run.

Credit the Giants hitting coach, Hensley Muelens, for putting together a good game plan for the hitters last night and will likely have another good one for tonight.

Tonight’s starter, C.J. Wilson, has one of the highest walk rates in the American League. The Giants will continue to be selectively aggressive.

2) Josh Hamilton vs. Giants pitchers

Right now Josh Hamilton has a long swing. He doesn’t have very quick hands and mostly swings with his arms. Does it have something to do with his rib injury from a month ago?

Since most teams pitch him away (like the Yankees always did in the ALCS), Hamilton continuously looks (and leans) out over the plate.

But the Giants pitches have worked Hamilton differently. They have thrown lots of off speed pitches away, but they also challenged Hamilton. 

And they challenged him inside where his long swing can not catch up even with a normal major league fastball.

In Hamilton’s first at bat, Tim Lincecum had to pitch to him with men on first and second.

But Lincecum got Hamilton to meekly ground out on pitches away.

Next time up, Lincecum jammed Hamilton on an 89 MPH fastball up and in.

Third time up, Hamilton was worked outside again and weakly grounded out back to Lincecum.

Fourth time up, Casilla blew an up and in fastball right by Hamilton then got him to fly out again on a fastball in.

The Giants pitchers got Hamilton out twice away and twice in, moving the ball around and not just trying to keep the ball away all the time.

Like the Yankees did, Joe Girardi worked scared against Hamilton. Most of the hard hit balls Hamilton had were on pitches out over the plate when the pitchers were constantly working away.

Look for Matt Cain tonight to continue to pound Hamilton inside with fastballs, but also showing him some stuff away for effect.

The Giants neutralized both of Texas‘ main weapons, Lee and Hamilton, and won big in Game 1. If they continue to play smart baseball and do the same things they did in Game 1, they will have an good time in Game 2.

Except for his high walk rate, C.J. Wilson is a similar type pitcher as Lee and can be approached the same way. Wait him out to come over the plate.

And the job of Cain and the able bodied bullpen is to bust Hamilton inside.

He can’t handle that pitch, and the Giants will continue to exploit it.


CC Sabathia vs. Tim Lincecum: Which Pitcher Is More At Risk for Injury?

July 21, 2010

Two pitchers with heavily decorated resumes.

The first, CC Sabathia, has more of a track record and is completing his 10th full season in the Majors.

The second, Tim Lincecum, affectionately known as “The Freak,” is in his fourth season, and has two Cy Young Awards.

However, both are known as workhorses, the proverbial baseball term that gives revered status to those pitchers who miss very few starts to injury and normally throw 200-plus innings per season.

Based upon their sizes, both Sabathia and Lincecum are on the opposite ends of the spectrum of pitchers you would consider workhorses.

CC is a hulky 6’7″ 290-pound behemoth, while Lincecum stands 5’11” and 170 pounds. Yes, even though Tiny Tim appears more slight, he is listed at 170.

Both have thrown a lot of innings in their careers. Sabathia has averaged 31 starts and 210 innings during his first nine full seasons, while Lincecum has averaged 32 starts and 226 innings in his only two full seasons.

In today’s game, those are huge amounts of innings…but somewhere Steve Carlton is laughing.

Both pitchers are headed for similar (if not higher) numbers this year. CC has made 20 starts and Lincecum 19, with both having double-digit wins once again.

Interestingly enough, Sabathia is the only active MLB pitcher who has double-digit wins and a winning record in each season of his career.

But with the similarities between the two pitchers (team workhorse aces) and their differences (body type), which hurler is the more likely pitcher to eventually break down?

I don’t think either one will break down anytime soon. Both have pretty good pitching mechanics. Their arm actions are great, putting less stress on their elbows and shoulders.

But history does provide a glimpse of those types of pitchers who have long careers, and they are not usually the slight of build guys.

There have been 70 pitchers in baseball history who have thrown 3500-plus innings. The leader, of course, is Cy Young, with a ridiculous 7,356 innings. It doesn’t matter what era you are pitching in, that is a preposterous amount of innings.

So, of all these 70 pitchers, only eight are of the recent era. They are Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer, Dennis Martinez, Jack Morris, and Mike Mussina.

All of the other 62 pitchers played the bulk of their careers before the 1980s.

Almost all of these 70 pitchers were six feet tall or bigger. Ten were under six feet tall, and all but one played before the 20th century, when pitchers threw with less velocity but more often during a season.

The only pitcher under six feet tall who pitched in the modern era was Whitey Ford, who tipped the scales at a robust 5’10”, 178 pounds.

But Ford was a soft-tossing left-handed pitcher who would pepper the corners with moderate fastballs, change ups, and cut pitches (literally). Similar to Glavine, minus the cut balls.

There are not many smallish built pitchers who throw many innings, especially hard-throwing slight of build pitchers like Lincecum. Even Pedro Martinez and his lengthy career, has thrown only 2,827 innings, and he is similar in size to Lincecum with the same velocity.

Martinez, who had tremendous pitching mechanics, ended up having rotator cuff surgery in 2006. His rotator cuff issues began back in 2001 (at age 29) when he missed a good chunk of that year to the injured shoulder.

Lincecum is now 26 years old, but at the same age, Pedro had thrown about 300 more innings than Lincecum will throw this season.  

Sabathia, as of this writing, has thrown 2,027 innings. That is good for 404th place all time. At his current rate, CC will move into the 360th-place range.

He has a workhorse frame, and even with the seven postseason series (and 61 more innings), Sabathia looks as strong as the day he broke into the Majors.

With his slight build, Lincecum should not compile as long a Major League career as Sabathia. He may not break down for major arm surgery like Pedro, but I would not bet against it.

History shows us smaller guys do not last as long or throw as many innings as bigger guys.

But both smaller and bigger guys end up getting surgery. That is the nature of the beast with pitchers.

They say pitchers’ careers are made with their legs, and the arms are just along for the ride. When the legs get tired, the arm gets tired, and that is when injuries occur.

That is why a Major League pitcher who is throwing around 120 pitches can still throw more if his legs are strong, but a guy can be wiped out after 90 if his legs are weak.

From the looks of both pitchers, it appears Sabathia’s legs have a bunch more strength than Lincecum’s.

For that reason, his size, and the longer history of sustained work with no ill effects, I believe CC Sabathia will have the longer career, logging many more innings than “The Freak.”


Mets Need to Emulate The San Francisco Giants by Using Their Youngsters

July 13, 2009

Congratualtions to Jonathan Sanchez of the San Francisco Giants on throwing the first no-hitter of the 2009 season.

Pulled from the rotation a few weeks agao, Sanchez was pressed into duty when Randy Johnson went on the disabled list. However, reports already have Sanchez heading out of town via a trade.

It led me thinking about how the Giants are currently leading the NL Wild Card race. The are doing it with pitching, pitching and more pitching. They have Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain as a potent 1-2 with Barry Zito, Randy Johnson (now Sanchez) and Ryan Sadowski, who was called up from AAA to replace Sanchez. The best hurlers right now for the Giants are the three younger, homegrown talents.

Similar to the Mets and CitiField, the Giants have a big ball park with a few quirks out in right field. They use their pitching and defense to help them win games.

To coincide with their deep pitching, the Giants young hitters are beginning to shine. Pablo Sandoval is their best young slugger, but other hitters such as first baseman Travis Ishikawa and RF Nate Schierholtz also have begun to hit as well. The hitters aren’t as talented as the young pitchers, but the Giants are on the right track.

Ishikawa and Schierholtz both have been given time to adjust and improve to major league pitching, and each has held their own. And new call up John Bowker (.347 BA, 17 HR’s, 63 RBI’s  in AAA) has already homered for the Giants.

With the taste of the playoffs going on right now for the Giants, they have entrusted their first serious run for October baseball at the hands of many young players. And as the Tampa Bay Rays have shown the last two seasons, major league baseball has turned into a young man’s game.

That is something the Mets need to emulate. They are now 6.5 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies  (another team using their homegrown players), and need to leapfrog both the Atlanta Braves (6.0 games out, more developed players) and the Florida Marlins (4.o games out) to get into second place.

The Mets need to do it the way the other teams are; by getting younger and using better pitching in a bigger ballpark. The Jeff Francoeur trade was a step in the right direction in getting younger. Forget about the other big sluggers, who offer nothing but fly ball outs in spacious CitiField.

Let the young guys have at it, Omar! Bring up Jonathan Niese to replace Livan Hernandez and let Daniel Murphy and Nick Evans more playing time, but Evans was just sent down and replaced by Angel Pagan.

On the various radio shows I appear on as a baseball analyst, I have long documented how Omar Minaya’s moves as GM have always been about winning now, and not for the future.  Omar has systematically let the Mets minor league system fail as there were no top prospects to come up and help now and last season, when the team needed such players.

As a GM you can try and win now and still continue to build the farm system.

Now, if the Mets decide they are going to make a trade to get better players, they will have to further deplete the farm system. That is on Minaya’s head as the Mets did not have anyone to adequately replace Delgado, Beltran, Reyes, Maine and Oliver Perez.

Well…they actually performed better when Perez went down.

But you can’t say that the Mets traded a bunch of prospects for Johan Santana as the reason for their depleted base of ready young players, as only Carlos Gomez from that group would have stepped in for those injured players.

It is time for Minaya to reverse course and go with the youngsters and trade veterans for more young kids, specifically some better pitching. Give the kids time and lets see what they can do for a half season and into next year.

You aren’t catching the Phillies this season or maybe even next year, and that is a tough pill to swallow. Last time Minaya thought he could catch a powerful team ahead of him in the standings, he traded Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore for Bartolo Colon. The Montreal Expos (also 6.0 games back at that time) only ended up 19 games behind the Atlanta Braves that season.

So Minaya needs to improve his current organization for the future…even if Minaya is not here to bask in the glow.