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  • Looking at Byron Buxton's Swing

    Byron Buxton, says ESPN.com’s Keith Law, is a prospect with more tools than Home Depot.

    OK, now that the requisite pun is out of the way, let’s delve into the nitty-gritty. After MLB.com anointed Buxton the number one prospect in all the land, Law’s Top 100 list concurred. As a 19-year-old, the center fielder smacked pitching around in the Midwest and Florida State Leagues to the tune of .334/.424/.520 with 12 home runs and 109 runs scored.

    An on-base menace, Buxton scampered around the bases with blinding speed and, defensively, he covered more real estate than is in the Alaskan wilderness. But it is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the game -- hitting -- that separates the elite prospects from the flamed-out Brandon Woods of the world.

    The game is organic and climbing the ladder involves making changes in approach and mechanics to ensure the stud high school/college player not only reaches but succeeds at the highest level of professional baseball. When it comes to Buxton, those changes are in process.

    As Law writes about Buxton:

    “[The] Twins have done a great job of smoothing out Buxton’s swing; he’s more balanced through contact and already has more power because he keeps his back foot in contact with the ground so he gets more loft in his swing.”
    The bold section of his analysis is what jumped out at me.

    At midseason, I reviewed Buxton’s mechanics from the available video at the time, compared the changes made from his high school showcase days and concluded that he and the Twins had made some significant changes to his swing. To summarize, Buxton had eliminated his open stance and leg kick in favor of an in-line approach with a toe-touch stride. In theory this provides improved timing and greater contact ability with less body movement -- the “balanced through contact” part that Law referenced.


    What was prominent but not mentioned was the fact that his back leg left the ground at contact. At that time, I did not see this as a flaw, per se. After all, there are some hitters who do quite well for themselves with this in their swing. Albert Pujols’ swing pulls his back foot off the ground and forward after contact. More pronounced, however, is the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper who displays this very trait in his swing perhaps more than anybody.



    As you see at the point of contact, Harper’s back foot has left the ground by an inch or two. Though somewhat unorthodox, in an article published by
    Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post last year, biomechanics expect Glenn Fleisig explained why this move is beneficial for Harper:

    [Fleisig] said the majority of hitters he’s studied transferred 90 percent of their weight to their front foot and kept 10 percent on their back leg at contact. Harper, of course, would move 100 percent of his weight forward at contact when his back leg lifts. That, Fleisig said, would enable him to generate a ground rotational force equal to 150 percent of his body weight.

    “He would probably have towards the peak of his value,” Fleisig said. “It’s not about maximizing your ground force. It’s about how much you pass through your system.”

    So, biomechanically speaking, the move in and of itself does not reduce power.


    The main difference between Harper and Buxton’s leg lifts was the weight transfer. In Harper’s case, you see that his front side has absorbed essentially all his weight. Buxton, on the other hand, lacks the max effort transfer and has a more balanced weight distribution making the leg lift something that could diminish his power. What’s more is that from the front view, it is noticeable that Buxton’s back leg slides out a bit, too.

    Over the course of last season, video of Buxton in Cedar Rapids and then Fort Myers showed the game’s top prospect demonstrating this back-leg lift in his swing, but there was evidence of it beginning to tone down in the Florida State League. It was not until clips of his performance in the Arizona Fall League that Buxton’s swing seemed different than that of his Midwest League.



    From the Twins’ perspective, you can see why they would want to try to streamline Buxton’s mechanics. Any reduction of unnecessary movement will streamline the swing and provide Buxton -- who is graced with countless tools -- the opportunity to succeed at the major league level for a long time.
    This article was originally published in blog: Looking at Byron Buxton's Swing started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 11 Comments
    1. twinsfan34's Avatar
      twinsfan34 -
      Good stuff Parker.

      Yeah, when I heard Law say that about his foot, I was like "whaaaaa?" as I saw Buxton highlights from Ft. Myers and 2 games in the AFL, and he still seemed to pull the back leg off the ground before contact.

      Harper's swing shows a great 'coil' and weight transfer, as you eluded to, he's not loosing power. Watch his BP and you'll see 430-480 ft shots with regularity. But his weight is fully uncoiling.

      The shoulder facing the pitcher tucks towards the back hip, and then the straightening of that leg and uncoiling (opening up) that shoulder away from that back hip, and the hands following through uncoils the power and lift.

      I don't quite see that for Buxton yet, what he has is tremendously quick hands/wrists. If (when?) he gets his base...and, in my humble and unprofessional opinion, that front leg straightens to allow the weight transfer to go through the ball - he'l add a lot more power.

      The only problem with Harper's swing (weight transfer is fine)...is I see it more limiting in that it commits his power to a 'shorter range' of pitch timing. Once he's committed, the stars have to align so to speak...and when they do, he hits it a ton. If he can keep a longer (better?) balance...would seem he would increase the likelihood of his power impacting more balls through the zone as the power trigger of his swing can 'wait' longer.

      The 'great hitters' seem to have the barrel of their bat in the swing zone for longer than others...and are able to still keep some 'weight transfer' back for almost any ball they hit even if they're 'late' on the ball...and it just flies over the opposite field wall.

      I think this was more of an emphasis in hitters pre 1990's. Better contact ratios...perhaps more line drives (don't have the stats to prove that). But the difference is in the Vlad Guerrero and Henry Aaron types to the more prominent fly ball (lift/pull) hitters we see today.

      Another curiosity, and there's likely a great many factors affecting this (pitch velocity, fence distance on the LF/RF porches on classic stadiums, etc), but on home runs...is there a trend towards more pull home runs vs opposite field home runs?

      Here's Hank Aaron bringing his foot up just after contact.
      http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/Hank%20Aaron%20Batting%20Practice.jpg

      You can also see Ted Williams lifting his back foot a little as well (swing starts at 1:05), but, much like Harper, you can also see that leg straight and torque through the contact of the ball. But he's able to stay back much longer than Harper

      So...again...not a professional batting instructor...I'd say that front leg is maybe a little bit more indicative of the power transferred or lost on a swing than the back leg.

      Frank Thomas is a lot like Bryce Harper, but his weight isn't shifting forward as quick, and then he straightens out that leg/quad and the torque/whips through the hips.
    1. gunnarthor's Avatar
      gunnarthor -
      Nice article
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      The only problem with Harper's swing (weight transfer is fine)...is I see it more limiting in that it commits his power to a 'shorter range' of pitch timing. Once he's committed, the stars have to align so to speak
      Great thoughts overall.

      One thing I will point out is that Harper has a different approach in certain counts. Hitting instructor Bobby Tewksbary did an excellent breakdown on Harper and showed that during a two-strike approach, Harper switches to a toe-tap.
    1. twinsfan34's Avatar
      twinsfan34 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      Great thoughts overall.

      One thing I will point out is that Harper has a different approach in certain counts. Hitting instructor Bobby Tewksbary did an excellent breakdown on Harper and showed that during a two-strike approach, Harper switches to a toe-tap.
      I didn't know that! Good stuff. Guess I need to watch more Nationals games vs. Harper's ESPN highlights
    1. Pburg34's Avatar
      Pburg34 -
      The swing from the AFL appears to be a hit and run, which might explain a more conservative swing. Do other swings from that short stint to confirm this new approach?
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      The swing from the AFL appears to be a hit and run, which might explain a more conservative swing.
      No, I do not thing the swing was change just because of the potential for a hit-and-run. If anything, the pitch selection may have been influenced but it does not appear to be a bad pitch to swing at (from this angle any way). You can review his other swings from that game here:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=va5A2ECNBTU
    1. 70charger's Avatar
      70charger -
      The only problem with your articles is that I have nothing to add to the discussion.

      Great reads, though.
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      I am curious about how much torque is on the front knee--or does the foot "slip" in the dirt on the follow-through?
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Harper's swing is far more powerful than Buxton's. His hip turn brings the inside of his back knee much closer to the inside of his front knee. If you look at powerful hitters, from Ruth to Williams, the power transfer flows from the back foot, then in sequence up the body, like a twisted spring uncoiling around the axis of the front leg, whose foot must be closed to make the bat head flip through the zone. The most powerful swings appear to start with the bat head pointing almost at the pitcher.
    1. h2oface's Avatar
      h2oface -
      Very interesting! Thanks for the great work and gifs.
    1. big dog's Avatar
      big dog -
      Thanks, really nice work.
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