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#41 Parker Hageman

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Posted 09 September 2016 - 10:14 AM

WHAT'S REALLY BEHIND BRIAN DOZIER'S INCREDIBLE TURNAROUND.

 

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A few weeks ago I stumbled across a post at Fangraphs.com that tried to explain why Brian Dozier was suddenly hitting every pitch 600 feet.

 

It is something that sites like Fangraphs does all the time. If there is a change in a player’s performance guys like Eno Sarris, Jeff Sullivan and August Fagerstrom do an excellent and thorough job of breaking down the ins-and-outs through stats and video. Occasionally when the are forced to write about a Twins player and miss out on the clicks from a fan base of a more popular team, they miss or overlook something that the local followers are aware of. It comes with the territory of trying to cover all 30 teams.

 

This Dozier write-up was more geared for the roto reader -- those into fantasy baseball -- but the post dove headlong into a mechanical breakdown of Dozier swing. That grabbed my attention.

 

The differences aren’t too tough to spot. The tentative, bunny-hop step Dozier was using early on in the season now seems to have a purpose. His weight is more evenly distributed, his timing is smoother, and he’s incorporating his core strength more effectively. For a closer look, I freeze-framed each video at the exact moment just before Dozier starts his swing.

 

 

Dozier Fangraphs.PNG

 

The big change is where he’s starting his hands. He’s brought them in tight to his body, with the bat held up straight, as opposed to keeping his hands back. This allows Dozier to get the barrel through the zone quicker, which goes a long way toward explaining the spike in hard contact, and his increased power on inside pitches.

 

 

Based on this assessment, Sport Illustrated’s Jay Jaffe picked it up and used it as a part of his analysis in explaining why Dozier has been Baseball Jesus over the last few months. Since many readers here also read a lot of Fangraphs and writers like Jaffe, I figured I would take the time to make it clear what is and is not happening.

 

I will preface this by saying the author of the post is not wrong, per se. Fangraphs.com’s Scott Strandberg recognized that Brian Dozier is indeed doing something different at the plate. It’s just that the conclusion on his analysis is off. I’ve added the bold to his statements that need to be discussed.

 

Strandberg observed that Dozier has indeed altered his pre-swing movements, adding a much more exaggerated bat tip prior to getting his hands back. You can see the differences in motion:

 

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That’s creating a rhythm to help with timing his movements with the pitcher. He's loose and oozing with confidence. In the screengrab from the Fangraphs article, the author notes that these are the two positions right before Dozier starts his swing and that because of it, he has brought his hands closer to his body and his bat upright.

 

That’s not wholly accurate.

 

If we back out of the shot to see where Dozier actually readies himself for the pitch, his hands and barrel are in a very similar position. The newer model is slightly more upright than the previous version but in no way is it at the point that makes a significant difference to the overall swing. Certainly not to the extent that the screengrab would lead someone to believe.

 

DozierPreSwing.PNG

 

When he gathers himself into the pre-launch position, with the front foot making contact with the ground, his barrel and hands are back to the exact same spot.

 

DozierPreLaunch.png

 

That’s a small quibble, yes. Dozier is doing something different prior to starting his swing that could be helping his timing which, in turn, may help him get to the pitch at the right moment. However, at all the critical portions of the swing, his hands and barrel are in the same spot.

 

It is the second statement -- “This allows Dozier to get the barrel through the zone quicker, which goes a long way toward explaining the spike in hard contact, and his increased power on inside pitches” -- that I have a bigger issue with. In regards to hitting the inside pitch, instead of focusing on the hand position, notice that Dozier is further off of the plate, allowing him to barrel up more inside pitches. More important, getting the barrel through the zone quicker has never been Dozier’s problem. As Tom Brunansky told me this spring, Dozier’s biggest problem was that his barrel was not in the zone long enough. He was too quick with his barrel in the zone, the exact opposite of what the author believes is happening.

 

The major difference between the two style of swings is a bit more complicated and harder to see in video than what was present. Dozier has been getting behind the ball more -- meaning his barrel has stayed in the zone longer than it did at the beginning of the year.

 

 

 

As Dozier told the Star Tribune’s LaVelle Neal recently, his approach at the plate is now “trying to knock down the center field wall” which is a cue to stay behind the ball and not necessarily an attempt to drive the ball to the middle of the field. In his recent home run swing, you can see that in his barrel turn behind him:

 

 

 

This is the mechanical adjustment where the rubber meets the road for Brian Dozier. The pre-swing hand placement is eye wash. This is the catalyst for his power. 


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"You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time." -- Jim Bouton, "Ball Four"


#42 Parker Hageman

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Posted 12 September 2016 - 10:52 PM

Twins Have New Minor League Hitting Instructor

 

When the Twins let Bill Springman go after his contract expired in 2014, they did not hire a replacement to fill his vacated minor league hitting instructor role. At that time Brad Steil, the team's director of minor league operations, said that the organization felt like the hitting coaches at various levels would adequately serve the hitters.

 

“We’re not going to hire a hitting coordinator,” Steil told the Pioneer Press's Mike Berardino in February 2015. “We just thought we’d try it this way. We have a lot of confidence in the minor-league (hitting) coaches we have. They all have great relationships with each other. There’s good rapport throughout the system.”

 

Fast forward to this past July, the Twins quietly hired Rick Eckstein (first reported by Patrick Reusse in July), brother of former Major League shortstop David Eckstein as well as the Nationals hitting coach from 2009-2013, to work with players throughout the system and coordinate the organization’s hitting philosophy.

 

By all published accounts about Eckstein's time as the Nationals' hitting coach, he had solid skills for relating to players, was well liked, and able to communicate the tricks of the trade well. "I've had good hitting coaches in the past," Adam Dunn told the Washington Post in 2010. "He takes it to another level. His life is hitting. Not baseball. It's hitting."

 

In 2012, Eckstein shared his overall hitting philosophy with Fangraphs.com’s David Laurila:

 

 

“From a physical standpoint in the box, we want to be as direct to the ball as possible. We want to be able to recognize the pitch and be in a strong hitting position. The shorter the swing, the longer you can wait to recognize the pitch and ultimately deliver more of a gap-to-gap line-drive swing.

 

“We preach trying to swing at about 80 percent. Typically, what happens when you over-swing is that you screw up your timing. Your swing gets longer and you miss pitches. What I tell our hitters is to stay at 80 percent and your timing will stay at 100 percent. We try to get the guys to understand that when your timing is good, you’re not missing your pitch. When you try to hit the ball hard enough to get a double, you see the ball and it will still carry out of the park.

 

“We like to be more gap-to-gap oriented and hit the ball where it’s pitched. If the ball is in, you pull it. If the ball is away, you go with it. We try to have balance in our approach that way.”

 

 

To be honest, I’m not thrilled by that philosophy. Still, being a hitting coach means being one-part instructor and one-part psychologist and, for the most part, Eckstein’s hitters in Washington did well. Until 2013, that is.

 

He was made a scapegoat and fired in 2013 during a prolonged offensive drought by Washington but he was quickly hired by the Los Angeles Angels where he accepted a position as a "player information coach" -- a hybrid uniformed coaching position created to help players and coaches digest scouting reports and data better. Helping players make sense of the data is a critical element to the modern game. As Tom Brunansky told me, there’s enough information out there to choke a cow, part of being a good coach means understanding what types of info to feed them and when.

 

He left the Angels in August 2014 when he was hired by the University of Kentucky (a program the Twins are intimately familiar with, drafting six players from the school dating back to 2010) as an assistant coach, but Eckstein’s contract with the school was not renewed when it expired this past June.

 

The Wildcats’ head coach Gary Henderson was dismissed at the beginning of that month and there was some speculation that Eckstein could be a potential suitor however, under Eckstein’s guidance, the Wildcats’ offense slipped from the best in the SEC in runs scored (1st in OPS) to 9th in 2015 (7th in OPS) to 11th in 2016 (11th in OPS) and saw strikeouts grow and walks fall. Part of the reason for the decline is likely due to UK graduating key players after the 2014 season -- including one of the Astros’ top prospects A.J. Reed who hit 23 home runs for the Wildcats that year. Nevertheless, those stats did play a factor when Kentucky decided not to offer Eckstein the next head coach’s job. 

 

As pointed out by Seth Stohs in a Twins Daily forum thread, Eckstein will be involved in the fall instructs. Eckstein cut his teeth in the Twins' organization, first as the team's bullpen catcher in 2000 and then the minor league strength and conditioning instructor in 2001. 

"You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time." -- Jim Bouton, "Ball Four"


#43 Seth Stohs

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Posted 12 September 2016 - 11:14 PM

He'll be coaching at the Instructional League as well, per the Twins roster mentioned here last week:

 

 http://twinsdaily.co...-league-roster/

 

I think that this came out in July but it wasn't publicized too much. 

 

 

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#44 Parker Hageman

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 12:23 PM

SARRIS: WHAT CAN HITTERS ACTUALLY SEE OUT OF THE PITCHER'S HAND?

 

Fantastic and deep post from Fangraphs' Eno Sarris on what hitter's see when they are up to bat. Must read: http://www.fangraphs...-pitchers-hand/

 

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#45 Mike Sixel

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Posted 16 September 2016 - 10:16 AM

That was a fascinating read. I hope he gets to follow up with like a few dozen more players.

I don't know, it is a site to discuss sports, not airline safety.....maybe we should take it less seriously?


#46 Parker Hageman

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 11:26 AM

Major League Baseball And Wearable Technology

 

If you've read Jeff Passan's "The Arm", you may be familiar with the growing industry revolving around keeping pitchers’ arms safe at all levels.

 

The wearable technology industry got a significant boost this year when Major League Baseball approved the use of certain devices that will allow the collection of data on a pitcher’s arm in-game. In April, MLB approved the use of two of these technologies -- Zephyr Bioharness and Motus Baseball Sleeves -- as the first of their kind for on-field purposes. The agreement stipulated that the data cannot be downloaded during the game, but must be collected afterward but the team would be allowed to study such data as well as the player. The information would not be disseminated to the broadcast or media.

 

So far the Yankees’ Dellin Betances has been only pitcher to use the technology during a live game. At this year’s All Star Game, Betances wore a Motus Baseball Sleeve, gathering information on his arm angles and force on the UCL by measuring the valgus force. Not surprising, Betances has a sponsorship deal in place with Motus.  

 

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According to the USA Today article, only Betances, his agency and Motus will be privy to the information -- the Yankees will not be able to see the data. More players sound interested in the devices, however, teammate Andrew Miller raised higher level concerns about the technology and data -- could the data be used against the pitcher come contract time?

 

“There’s concerns with that in the sense that you don’t want a team to treat you differently in some sort of contractual thing because they don’t think you’re not getting enough sleep or you sleep poorly,” Miller told USA Today reporters.

 

In regards to off-field metrics -- such as sleep patterns or diet -- teams collecting that information could be privacy invasion adjacent to some degree, but the pitching metrics captured by wearable technologies seems more similar to gauging a player’s performance by radar gun readings or Pitch F/X release points. After all, in today’s game, teams do make contractual decisions based on a pitcher’s velocity decline or their release point dropping and raising concerns for injury.

 

On their website, the motusBASEBALL product is described as “the first tool aimed specifically at combating UCL tears that lead to Tommy John Surgery.” Does Motus’ products (and similar products) actually accomplish what it says it set out to do?

 

In February 2015, Dr James Buffi, then with Driveline Baseball and now with the Los Angeles Dodgers, highlighted why the monitor devices like Motus will not save pitchers from snapping their UCL. He details in-depth how the data is captured and calculated but points out that there is little ability to accurately calculate just how much stress is placed on the UCL over other components of the arm.

 

“The UCL is basically a tiny band that connects the humerus to the ulna, and as far as I know, it is actually impossible with existing methodologies to accurately determine UCL loading when only the total elbow load is considered,” Buffi wrote. Additionally, Buffi pointed to a study he conducted which showed how drastically the force on the elbow could change based on the muscle and bone structure.   

 

When a technology like PitchF/X was first introduced, the primary objective was to capture velocity and location better. The end results have been numerous studies on release point, movement and other insight not previously foreseen when the cameras were affixed to the stadium walls. Along those lines, Motus might not be able to save the pitcher’s UCL as it markets but the data is definitely invaluable information for the industry in the future.   

"You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time." -- Jim Bouton, "Ball Four"


#47 Mike Sixel

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 11:48 AM

Privacy and those types of issues are HUGE for this type of technology. We offer a rather large rebate on insurance costs if you do biometric screening, I know a lot of people pass on that money because they don't want our employer to have access to such data....

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I don't know, it is a site to discuss sports, not airline safety.....maybe we should take it less seriously?


#48 Parker Hageman

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 12:08 PM

 

Privacy and those types of issues are HUGE for this type of technology. We offer a rather large rebate on insurance costs if you do biometric screening, I know a lot of people pass on that money because they don't want our employer to have access to such data....

 

No question that the population has been subjected to more requests for that type of information in order for a company or organization to "improve" it's services. 

 

I went to the mall the other day to buy shoes and they asked for every piece of information possible from me outside of my blood type. This was going to go to their analytics team so they could market toward me and people like me better. In some way, that's what MLB is doing now -- gathering as much information possible so they can fix the injury issues (and save money). 

 

The Twins had a company in the spring training complex this year -- http://www.1500espn....ng-sports-bras/.

 

JT Chargois sounded indifferent:

 

“Our perception of the work we do is kind of off from reality,” reliever J.T. Chargois said, after wearing the tracker during workouts. “You don’t know the extent of what you’re doing, how many pitches you’re throwing in the ‘pen, the workload you’re doing in the weight room, so it’s a good way to monitor that and stay healthier.”

 

 

With the CBA set to expire in December, this will definitely be a topic of conversation. 

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#49 Parker Hageman

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Posted 28 September 2016 - 09:49 AM

GOING UP AND IN

 

There were some interesting quotes from Blue Jays reliever Joaquin Benoit after the bench-clearing brawl versus the Yankees in which Benoit wound up injured. The fireworks were prompted by a bean-ball war, but Benoit said that hitters, including his own teammate Josh Donaldson, are taking too much of an exception with pitchers throwing inside:

 

“I believe as pitchers we’re entitled to use the whole plate and pitch in if that’s the way we’re going to succeed,” Benoit said. “I believe that right now baseball is taking things so far that in some situations most hitters believe that they can’t be brushed out. Some teams take it personally.”

 

{snip}

 

“I believe baseball is taking things too far,” Benoit said, holding court in a chair outside the Jays clubhouse with a walking boot on his injured foot and calf. “Basically, media is helping too, because once a situation comes in and if they want that to continue, they just keep throwing wood on the fire. It’s basically a situation they need to address instead of instigate, try to resolve it right at the time.”

 

 

What do you think? Should hitters relax on getting their towers buzzed?

"You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time." -- Jim Bouton, "Ball Four"


#50 rghrbek

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Posted 28 September 2016 - 10:00 AM

It's definitely an interesting point, and great to hear honesty like that coming from a pitcher's perspective.

 

I guess I lean toward, if it's in a bit and it's at your lower half, I don't have a problem with it.  I guess you have to define what is "in a bit", but a pitcher should be allowed to make a batter who is crowding the plate, move his feet or feel uncomfortable.

 

Head hunting, there is no place for that.


#51 Willihammer

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Posted 28 September 2016 - 10:25 AM

Gladden has been going on about pitching up and in a lot lately. In his opinion Twins pitchers have been too focused on the outside corner, because they can't pitch inside "effectively." I don't know if there's anything to it but its an interesting take.

Well, there's that.

-Dark Star, RIP


#52 Parker Hageman

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Posted 28 September 2016 - 01:13 PM

 

Gladden has been going on about pitching up and in a lot lately. In his opinion Twins pitchers have been too focused on the outside corner, because they can't pitch inside "effectively." I don't know if there's anything to it but its an interesting take.

 

This is no means and accurate portray of "pitching hard inside" but according to Statcast, the Twins have thrown fastballs at 94MPH+ inside off the plate to right-handed hitters 1.8% of their mix (26th) and 1.1% of the time to left-handed hitters (24th). 

 

In both cases, the Cubs (best ERA, best xFIP) were lower than the Twins at throwing fastball in off the plate. 

 

That's obvious a blanket stat. Throwing inside to Miguel Cabrera is different than throwing inside to Jarrod Dyson but it is something to look closer at.

"You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time." -- Jim Bouton, "Ball Four"


#53 Parker Hageman

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Posted 30 September 2016 - 09:23 AM

How To Throw A Two-Seam Fastball Like Bartolo Colon.

 

Bartolo Colon is often thought of as a circus sideshow because of his body type but the man has pitching well beyond his expiration date. At 43 years old, he still flummoxes hitters in spite of a fastball that averages 87 MPH. 

 

The New York Times did an excellent profile on Colon and how he still gets hitters out long after his triple-digits heat cooled off. The biggest tip? Getting movement on his two-seam fastball from a grip he learned from Greg Maddux:

 

The secret to the movement on Colon’s pitches is a strong right wrist and forearm. They are essential because Colon holds the ball with his index and middle fingers between two seams, and when he releases it, he applies pressure with his middle finger. This causes the movement.

 

“It’s all in the wrist,” Colon said.

 

Colon used to throw his two-seam fastball by holding the seams, but he picked up a tip from Greg Maddux, a Hall of Fame pitcher, when Maddux was with Atlanta and Colon was with Cleveland. One day in spring training, Maddux taught Colon the grip he used.

 

 

That movement. Man. <Fans self>

 

050515_balnym_colon_ks_joseph_med_8nupjp

 

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#54 Willihammer

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Posted 30 September 2016 - 11:46 AM

Pedro Martinez did a really simple presentation on the different fastballs Colon throws on a MLB network bit. The grips were not quite the same but he emphasized how different finger pressures upon release get different ball movements.

 

Edited by Willihammer, 30 September 2016 - 11:47 AM.

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Well, there's that.

-Dark Star, RIP


#55 Parker Hageman

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Posted 30 September 2016 - 12:02 PM

 

Pedro Martinez did a really simple presentation on the different fastballs Colon throws on a MLB network bit. The grips were not quite the same but he emphasized how different finger pressures upon release get different ball movements.

 

 

That is some good stuff. 

 

Along those same lines, Driveline Baseball and guys like Trevor Bauer have done wonders using the laminer force in order to get optimal two-seam fastball movement. 

 

Bauer talked a little bit about it in 2015

 

Callaway joined him on one of those stops, Seattle, where Bauer worked with Kyle Boddy and Driveline Baseball.

 

"One of the main (focuses) was the two seam ... laminar flow, turbulent flow, a lot of physics stuff, trying to get the two-seam to move the correct way," Bauer said Thursday after three innings of work against the Reds. "All the places I go have something very unique to offer."

 

 

And he discussed it again with Fangraphs:

 

 

 

When it comes to Derek Falvey and the Twins, I sincerely hope he brings this type of thinking with him and starts incorporating the idea of spin rates and using Trackman in side sessions for all pitchers at every level to improve their movement. 

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"You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time." -- Jim Bouton, "Ball Four"


#56 Parker Hageman

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Posted 03 October 2016 - 10:30 AM

So You Want To Work In Baseball? 

 

I was recently perusing MLB's TeamWorkOnline.com page because I'm always curious to see which teams are actively expanding their analytics team and what types of positions they have created.

 

Currently, the Angels, Reds and Royals are all hiring for positions -- but it looks like some of you aspiring front office hopefuls will need to learn a bit more than the sort function at Fangraphs.com...

 

 

The core of those qualifications are what most senior developers would be familiar with. While most could command a six-figure income on the open market, it's probably a fraction of that for the honor of working in Major League Baseball. 

 

There are other ways to land a job in a major league front office. Take a few minutes to listen to this podcast with Twins' PR man Dustin Morse on how he got into baseball.

 

http://www.realstoriesmn.com/podcasts/realstoriesmn-baseball-podcast-dustin-morse-minnesota-twins/

"You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time." -- Jim Bouton, "Ball Four"


#57 Willihammer

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Posted 10 March 2017 - 12:05 PM

Bump.

The Kepler/Bonds article reminded me to look at Bonds swing again, and see how level it really was. In this video he brings his hand down but finishes pretty low too. I was a little surprised at how level it was.

https://youtu.be/QaX1iU-fdFA

 

Well, there's that.

-Dark Star, RIP


#58 Willihammer

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Posted 10 March 2017 - 12:08 PM

Another vid of Bonds talking about chocking up. I liked his comment "I didn't like getting jammed so I was like 'hey man you're gonna jam me, jam this!' So I choked up."

Well, there's that.

-Dark Star, RIP


#59 Parker Hageman

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Posted 14 March 2017 - 11:04 AM

WSJ: The Gurus Behind Baseball’s Search for the Perfect Swing

 

Jared Diamond at the Wall Street Journal tackled one of my favorite growing elements of the game today: the independent hitting coach. These are guys like Doug Latta (who worked with Marlon Byrd and Justin Turner), Bobby Tewksbary (Chris Colabello and Josh Donaldson) and Craig Wallenbrock (JD Martinez) who have gone against the game's more accepted practices and transformed players into 

 

From the article:

 

These hitting mad scientists may use different nomenclature and methods, but their message is nearly identical. In their minds, many long-held assumptions about the proper way to swing—“stay back,” “swing down” and many others—are wrong.

 

“You listen to guys teach that, and it’s almost a crime,” Martinez said. “Organizations almost throw their money away.”

 

 

We've heard a lot about new pitching practices since Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have taken over. There are new programs designed by external pitching coaches that have been embraced by both the front office and coaching staff. Driveline Baseball and Florida Baseball Ranch have influenced multiple members of the pitching staff. You have to wonder if that will also be true about the hitting side of things.

 

So there are plenty of pitchers working with independent pitching coaches and clinics, but there doesn't seem to be a ton of Twins players working with independent hitting coaches, or at least none that are openly chatting about it. Chris Colabello, who was previously with the Twins, did a lot of his reinvention with Bobby Tewksbary before he reached the organization. While here, Colabello was occasionally asked to adjust the approach he worked on with Tewksbary. 

 

A few seasons ago, I was talking to then-hitting coach Tom Brunansky about some of the younger hitters in camp. 

 

"Any young hitter that comes up and has the ability to be here, there's always kind of movement that goes on that they're going to have to clean up a little bit once they get used to the league and the pace of the league and the league shows them as hitters what they need to do," Brunansky told me and then he pivoted specifically to Colabello. "There's a lot going on with that swing."

 

I don't know if the Twins have hitters who have avoided the independent-type coaches or if the organization intentionally veered away from targeting players who have worked with such coaches. What I do know is that the Twins had their previous hitting philosophy and they weren't going to change from it. 

 

In talking with Max Kepler last week, I was genuinely surprised that he had the chop the ball mindset. More and more, hitting coaches are talking launch angles and hitting the ball in the air, which doesn't necessarily jive with the chop down mentality. From conversations with multiple players currently with and outside of the org, I know this was a point of emphasis they made. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to speak with James Rowson during my visit to Fort Myers, but I get the sense he is not an advocate of chopping the ball -- hitting the ball square (Rowson's number one goal) and chopping are conflicting approaches. 

 

 

 

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#60 Willihammer

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Posted 16 March 2017 - 02:06 PM

Interview with Padres hitting coach Alan Zinter up on fangraphs.
http://www.fangraphs...g-young-padres/
Some nuggets:

“As coaches, we have to be careful. For example, it would be difficult to take what Josh Donaldson said on MLB Network and start teaching that without a full understanding of his fundamental swing. I agree with getting on plane, slotting the back elbow, and driving through the ball.
...
“A lot of hitters, when they try to swing down, lead with their hands. They’re too steep into the zone. Other hitters, for whatever reason, think the same thing and do it properly.
..
“But the game is changing. There’s more to a Jankowski, a Margot, or a Carlos Asuaje, than just having them be handsy and trying to put the ball on the ground. First of all, you’re asking a guy to be more perfect if his bat head is going to be in the zone with a smaller window. He has to be more perfect than a Miguel Cabrera or a Mike Trout.

“With guys who use their hands more, the barrel of the bat usually comes in steeper. There are only a few points of contact, because they’re not matching the plane. We want our guys to not have to be as perfect, so we’re working on that.”

Edited by Willihammer, 16 March 2017 - 02:07 PM.

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Well, there's that.

-Dark Star, RIP




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