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  1. Polanco takes the majority of his plate appearances from the left side and that’s where he put up most of his power numbers in 2019 -- including 16 of his home runs, 30 of his doubles and six of his triples -- so this analysis will focus on that batter’s box. Now, admittedly, we are still in the early-to-mid stages of players getting their feet underneath them. Polanco has yet to have 100 plate appearances as a left-handed hitter this season. Still, in those appearances, the 26-year-old has only collected three extra base hits (one double and a pair of home runs). In 2019 he slugged 519 from the left side while he is posting a 354 mark in 2020. It would be easy to dismiss this as a sample-size issue and say, just wait, he’ll get hot. Except there are some data points that suggests there is something more to this stretch of offense. First, let’s be clear that Polanco has not changed anything about his approach from the left-side. If you look at all of his plate discipline and swing decision metrics -- chase rates, miss rates, swing rates, etc -- they are almost identical to the year before. Second, this year has been a really, really messed up. There was spring training. Then there was nothing. Then there was like a long weekend to be ready to face live pitching again. It is hard to say how a hitter would respond to that. But also the year has been messed up in general. All around. There’s a raging pandemic. An economic crisis. The government more or less said UFOs exist and we didn’t even flinch. Hell, the Timberwolves just received the number one overall draft pick. The globe is probably off its axis and we’re all sliding into an invisible black hole so spending time worrying how one human swings a stick at a thrown projectile should be the least of our concerns. The most notable difference in the two performance sets is Polanco’s hit types and his hit locations: His ground ball rate has jumped from 31% in 2019 to 44% in 2020. His line drive rate is down to 21% from 31% in 2019. He is not pulling the ball in the air as much as he did a year ago. In 2019 he would pull the ball in the air 34% of the time while this season it’s down to 23%. Finally, his exit velocity is down from 89 to 84 on average. What stands out the most to me among that data soup is the decline in the rate of aerial pulls. That’s not actually a term anyone uses but aerial pulls sounds like it has gravitas. Frankly, he is not pulling the ball in the air with authority this season. While I’m certain the spouting of random numbers is compelling as hell, you should also take a gander at his spray chart here to see how different it looks...in dot form. Last year he collected 47 hits including nine home runs, 15 doubles and two triples when pulling the ball in the air (or aerial pulling, if you will). This year Polanco has amassed just three hits (two home runs and a double) when pulling the ball in the air from the left side. To summarize the situation: As a left-handed hitter, Polanco is attacking pitches the same as last year but he’s just not able to elevate them with any power to his pull side. It is obvious that something is off and I’m not so sure it has anything to do with the UFOs. When you look at a side-by-side of Polanco’s swing from last year versus this year you will start to see where things are getting a little loose for the former All Star in 2020. There are three key differences: The first is where he starts his hands. In 2019, his hands were below his shoulder level. This year the hands are at or above his shoulders. Next is the position of the bat. In 2019 he held it much more vertical (upright) while he holds the bat more with more tilt now. The last piece is how much the barrel wraps behind his head now compared to a year ago as he moves into the launch position. https://twitter.com/HagemanParker/status/1296503293720637442 What this means is a longer swing path. It is especially apparent when you watch just his hands work. https://twitter.com/HagemanParker/status/1296503295507345410 This year the hands are much further back in the launch position (toward the catcher) and have to travel further forward to the contact point. The barrel turns wider behind him instead of the tighter turn you see in 2019. Similarly, with the bat now more prone instead of vertical, his swing plane is also slightly altered. What ensues are armsier swings with timing issues that lack the same punch as a year ago. This would result in less power and more grounders. The interesting part of this development is that Polanco has been a vocal proponent of using video to break down his swing. “I’m a guy who used a lot of video last year,” he told The Athletic’s Dan Hayes. “I think everything at-bat, I used to watch me to see what I’m doing good and what I’m doing bad, to make an adjustment from there.” As someone who is used to dissecting his swing on video, he would surely notice this difference. Clearly if he had a side-by-side of these last two seasons he could see the strengths and weaknesses. So it begs the question, is he doing this intentionally? Does he feel more comfortable with the new swing? There is no question of his ability to make contact. Since the start of 2019 Polanco has maintained an 82.9% contact rate (21st among all qualified hitters). He can put the bat on the ball at an elite level. But what is lacking is his ability to drive it with luster like he did last year. It is fairly evident that if Polanco needs to review the two swings and decide if he wants to make the necessary adjustments to regain the pop he had in 2019.
  2. Among the many breakout talents in the Minnesota Twins’ 2019 lineup, Jorge Polanco’s emergence as a top of the order bat who could not only make contact but put a charge into the ball was refreshing. That season his .355 weighted on-base average was the seventh-highest among qualified shortstops -- even outperforming division rival Francisco Lindor. But so far in 2020 that power source just hasn’t been there.Polanco takes the majority of his plate appearances from the left side and that’s where he put up most of his power numbers in 2019 -- including 16 of his home runs, 30 of his doubles and six of his triples -- so this analysis will focus on that batter’s box. Now, admittedly, we are still in the early-to-mid stages of players getting their feet underneath them. Polanco has yet to have 100 plate appearances as a left-handed hitter this season. Still, in those appearances, the 26-year-old has only collected three extra base hits (one double and a pair of home runs). In 2019 he slugged 519 from the left side while he is posting a 354 mark in 2020. It would be easy to dismiss this as a sample-size issue and say, just wait, he’ll get hot. Except there are some data points that suggests there is something more to this stretch of offense. First, let’s be clear that Polanco has not changed anything about his approach from the left-side. If you look at all of his plate discipline and swing decision metrics -- chase rates, miss rates, swing rates, etc -- they are almost identical to the year before. Second, this year has been a really, really messed up. There was spring training. Then there was nothing. Then there was like a long weekend to be ready to face live pitching again. It is hard to say how a hitter would respond to that. But also the year has been messed up in general. All around. There’s a raging pandemic. An economic crisis. The government more or less said UFOs exist and we didn’t even flinch. Hell, the Timberwolves just received the number one overall draft pick. The globe is probably off its axis and we’re all sliding into an invisible black hole so spending time worrying how one human swings a stick at a thrown projectile should be the least of our concerns. The most notable difference in the two performance sets is Polanco’s hit types and his hit locations: His ground ball rate has jumped from 31% in 2019 to 44% in 2020. His line drive rate is down to 21% from 31% in 2019. He is not pulling the ball in the air as much as he did a year ago. In 2019 he would pull the ball in the air 34% of the time while this season it’s down to 23%. Finally, his exit velocity is down from 89 to 84 on average. What stands out the most to me among that data soup is the decline in the rate of aerial pulls. That’s not actually a term anyone uses but aerial pulls sounds like it has gravitas. Frankly, he is not pulling the ball in the air with authority this season. While I’m certain the spouting of random numbers is compelling as hell, you should also take a gander at his spray chart here to see how different it looks...in dot form. Download attachment: Polanco Spray Charts.png Last year he collected 47 hits including nine home runs, 15 doubles and two triples when pulling the ball in the air (or aerial pulling, if you will). This year Polanco has amassed just three hits (two home runs and a double) when pulling the ball in the air from the left side. To summarize the situation: As a left-handed hitter, Polanco is attacking pitches the same as last year but he’s just not able to elevate them with any power to his pull side. It is obvious that something is off and I’m not so sure it has anything to do with the UFOs. When you look at a side-by-side of Polanco’s swing from last year versus this year you will start to see where things are getting a little loose for the former All Star in 2020. There are three key differences: The first is where he starts his hands. In 2019, his hands were below his shoulder level. This year the hands are at or above his shoulders. Next is the position of the bat. In 2019 he held it much more vertical (upright) while he holds the bat more with more tilt now. The last piece is how much the barrel wraps behind his head now compared to a year ago as he moves into the launch position. This year the hands are much further back in the launch position (toward the catcher) and have to travel further forward to the contact point. The barrel turns wider behind him instead of the tighter turn you see in 2019. Similarly, with the bat now more prone instead of vertical, his swing plane is also slightly altered. What ensues are armsier swings with timing issues that lack the same punch as a year ago. This would result in less power and more grounders. The interesting part of this development is that Polanco has been a vocal proponent of using video to break down his swing. “I’m a guy who used a lot of video last year,” he told The Athletic’s Dan Hayes. “I think everything at-bat, I used to watch me to see what I’m doing good and what I’m doing bad, to make an adjustment from there.” As someone who is used to dissecting his swing on video, he would surely notice this difference. Clearly if he had a side-by-side of these last two seasons he could see the strengths and weaknesses. So it begs the question, is he doing this intentionally? Does he feel more comfortable with the new swing? There is no question of his ability to make contact. Since the start of 2019 Polanco has maintained an 82.9% contact rate (21st among all qualified hitters). He can put the bat on the ball at an elite level. But what is lacking is his ability to drive it with luster like he did last year. It is fairly evident that if Polanco needs to review the two swings and decide if he wants to make the necessary adjustments to regain the pop he had in 2019. Click here to view the article
  3. In late June, Miguel Sano’s 2019 season felt like it was on the brink of collapse. From his delayed start in May through the end of June, the Minnesota Twins’ third baseman led baseball with a grotesque 42 percent strikeout rate. He had been strikeout prone but now in nearly half of his trips to the plate, he headed back to the bench without putting a ball in play, often looking a fool in the process. While the game was trending toward more whiffs, the average hitter still managed to strike out in only 20 percent of his plate appearances. Pitchers had him eating out of their hands. The Twins staff finally intervened, retooled, and rewired his swing. The results have been no short of outstanding. Since the end of June, Sano’s 627 slugging percentage has been one of the best in the game. His average exit velocity of 95.6 miles per hour has been the third highest among qualified hitters and he has hit 60 percent of his balls in play over 95 miles per hour (third best in MLB). While all the rocket shots and batted ball data is intriguing, perhaps most importantly, Sano no longer leads all hitters in strikeouts. So what changed? Here’s how Miguel Sano became hotter than hard seltzer this summer.Sano’s low point involved a frustrating pitch selection and inexplicable inability to make contact with fastballs. He would swing through low 90s center-cut fastballs or flail at a breaking ball that bounced in the left-handed batter’s box. To repair, the Twins and Sano focused on his hand path, starting with eliminating the extra movement before getting to his launch point. As innocuous as it may seem, with the added bat tip forward Sano would put himself in the position of having to cheat to catch up to fastballs while getting burnt on breaking and offspeed pitches. Refraining from tipping the barrel toward the pitcher (as seen on the left) provided him with the ability to read pitches better. Since reducing the slack, Sano is swinging less, chasing pitches out of the zone less and swinging through fewer pitches. Download attachment: FSFrameGIFImage (10).GIF “The goal is to put his hands in a position to handle balls out over the plate to get to that ball up a little bit better and to be able to stay through the ball so that he can get on top of the ball consistently or to be able to drive through it more consistently,” Twins’ hitting coach James Rowson told The Athletic’s Dan Hayes. That ball up, as Rowson noted, was Sano’s kryptonite. Pitchers who threw even the softest of gas could tie him in knots when elevating in the upper third. Before the correction, Sano swung through 66% of fastballs up in the zone and had just one hit. After Rowson and Rudy Hernandez performed their magic — working on drills that reduced hand movement from his start to his launch point — Sano improved his swing-and-miss rate on fastballs up from 66% to 28% and has three home runs on fastballs in that area of the zone. Before the adjustment, Sano’s swing was powerful but one-dimensional. He mashed fastballs in one spot in the zone (outer-third, waist high) yet, because of his delayed swing process, his barrel would struggle to find anything middle-in. As long as opponents stayed away from that zone with their fastball, Sano’s power was muted. Again, speeding up his timing mechanism paid dividends. Over those first 30 games, Sano hit just .120/.267/.280 on fastballs middle-in but has since hit .395/.469/.907 with 7 home runs. Download attachment: Sano Average.png And that has been the key to Sano’s turnaround: hammering the heat. Former player and manager Matt Williams used to say that the best way to hit a curveball was to not miss the fastball. In Sano’s case he would miss the fastball and would be reduced to rubble on various breaking balls. Even with the new approach, Sano has not handled non-fastballs well when swinging. However, he has greatly reduced the number of hacks at them. Download attachment: Sano Approach.PNG Sano also points to another factor in his offensive uptick. He told Fox Sports North that Rowson had recommended adjusting his grip on the bat, aligning his middle knuckles rather than having his top hand bottom (proximal) knuckles aligning with his bottom hand bottom (proximal) knuckles. This is a similar effect to how Axe Bat-type handles naturally align knuckles, a feature that some hitters have raved about, which the Cubs’ Kris Bryant credited with turning his 2019 season around. It stands to reason that once he was able to decipher good from bad pitches, he would be able to drive them better with a new grip and more efficient hand path. His load adjustment provided him with the ability to separate pitch types earlier while his grip allows him to drive through the ball. Needless to say, Sano’s in-season turnaround is a testament to the Twins’ coaching process as well as his ability to implement changes on the fly. Click here to view the article
  4. Sano’s low point involved a frustrating pitch selection and inexplicable inability to make contact with fastballs. He would swing through low 90s center-cut fastballs or flail at a breaking ball that bounced in the left-handed batter’s box. To repair, the Twins and Sano focused on his hand path, starting with eliminating the extra movement before getting to his launch point. As innocuous as it may seem, with the added bat tip forward Sano would put himself in the position of having to cheat to catch up to fastballs while getting burnt on breaking and offspeed pitches. Refraining from tipping the barrel toward the pitcher (as seen on the left) provided him with the ability to read pitches better. Since reducing the slack, Sano is swinging less, chasing pitches out of the zone less and swinging through fewer pitches. “The goal is to put his hands in a position to handle balls out over the plate to get to that ball up a little bit better and to be able to stay through the ball so that he can get on top of the ball consistently or to be able to drive through it more consistently,” Twins’ hitting coach James Rowson told The Athletic’s Dan Hayes. That ball up, as Rowson noted, was Sano’s kryptonite. Pitchers who threw even the softest of gas could tie him in knots when elevating in the upper third. Before the correction, Sano swung through 66% of fastballs up in the zone and had just one hit. After Rowson and Rudy Hernandez performed their magic — working on drills that reduced hand movement from his start to his launch point — Sano improved his swing-and-miss rate on fastballs up from 66% to 28% and has three home runs on fastballs in that area of the zone. Before the adjustment, Sano’s swing was powerful but one-dimensional. He mashed fastballs in one spot in the zone (outer-third, waist high) yet, because of his delayed swing process, his barrel would struggle to find anything middle-in. As long as opponents stayed away from that zone with their fastball, Sano’s power was muted. Again, speeding up his timing mechanism paid dividends. Over those first 30 games, Sano hit just .120/.267/.280 on fastballs middle-in but has since hit .395/.469/.907 with 7 home runs. And that has been the key to Sano’s turnaround: hammering the heat. Former player and manager Matt Williams used to say that the best way to hit a curveball was to not miss the fastball. In Sano’s case he would miss the fastball and would be reduced to rubble on various breaking balls. Even with the new approach, Sano has not handled non-fastballs well when swinging. However, he has greatly reduced the number of hacks at them. Sano also points to another factor in his offensive uptick. He told Fox Sports North that Rowson had recommended adjusting his grip on the bat, aligning his middle knuckles rather than having his top hand bottom (proximal) knuckles aligning with his bottom hand bottom (proximal) knuckles. This is a similar effect to how Axe Bat-type handles naturally align knuckles, a feature that some hitters have raved about, which the Cubs’ Kris Bryant credited with turning his 2019 season around. It stands to reason that once he was able to decipher good from bad pitches, he would be able to drive them better with a new grip and more efficient hand path. His load adjustment provided him with the ability to separate pitch types earlier while his grip allows him to drive through the ball. Needless to say, Sano’s in-season turnaround is a testament to the Twins’ coaching process as well as his ability to implement changes on the fly.
  5. Several weeks ago in this space we discussed how Rapsodo technology can help pitchers and coaches establish a baseline with their breaking balls. Now it is time to look at what data says about the heater.This past March, the Chanhassen High School baseball program visited Starters Sports Training in Shakopee to put all of our arms under the Rapsodo microscope. One of the first things we got the data back from Starters was convert all fastballs into Bauer Units. For those unfamiliar, Driveline Baseball champions Bauer Units as a good measuring stick to tell if a player’s fastball is better suited for a 4-seam or 2-seam based on the spin rate divided by the velocity. If the fastball had a high Bauer Unit -- 27 BUs or higher -- a pitcher’s fastball would play better with a 4-seam grip. A lower Bauer Unit -- says 21 or lower -- and it would be better to use a 2-seam fastball. This would give us a fastball roadmap for each pitcher. Why is knowing fastball spin rate important? After all, for generations players and coaches used their eyes and intuition to figure out how a fastball moves. It’s heavy. It has late-life. It has rise. It has sink. Why should we strive to assign a number to every aspect of the game? As a real world example (and to loosely tie this into a Twins-related subject for Twins-related website) let’s consider Jake Odorizzi and Trevor May. In terms of velocity, Odorizzi (whose 4-seamer comes in at 92.8 mph on average) has a fastball that is 2 clicks below May's (94.9). Factoring in spin rate, May has approximately 100 more rpms on his fastball (2,338 rpm) than Odorizzi (2,239 rpm). Based on those two data points alone one might think May has a superior fastball. However, both share fastball Bauer Units of 24. While that amounts to a decisively average Bauer Unit among all MLB pitchers according to the Baseball Savant database, it is partly the reason why Odorizzi can be so effective at the top of the zone with a little less firepower than May. On the surface, Odorizzi might be considered a softer throwing arm in the modern era — seeing that his fastball “only” averages 93 — but it is with the additional metadata that you can concoct a game plan for him. Prior to the prolIferation of TrackMan, Rapsodo, et al, pitchers like Odorizzi may have been told to work on keeping his fastball down in the zone — which is exactly what happened to Odor: In fact, both Milwaukee and Kansas City informed Odorizziduring his player development days that if he didn’t adjust and hit the bottom of the zone, he wouldn’t make it in the big leagues. That changed when he arrived in the forward-thinking Tampa Bay organization and he would embrace the high ride heater. This year, 57 of his 70 strikeouts on fastballs have been located in the upper third of the zone or higher. It makes you wonder how many pitchers were jettisoned because they were higher-spin pitchers instructed to throw the ball down in the zone (or else). How can this information be applied to the amateur ranks? With regard to the Chanhassen program, we found that the bulk of the fastballs fell within the average Bauer Units range — leaning toward neither end of the spectrum. As a practice, those with average-ish Bauer Units who had three-quarter deliveries were asked to try 2-seam or cut fastballs and those with higher Bauer Units and more over-the-top deliveries worked on getting behind their 4-seamers in efforts to get better spin direction and carry (like Odorizzi). The high spin Bauer Unit rate guys were interesting to observe. In subsequent bullpen sessions or warmups, some confessed that they were taught to shoot for the knees, a counterproductive concept based on their stuff. It seemed clear that years of being told to hit the bottom of the zone was deeply ingrained whereas intentionally elevating felt foreign. Meanwhile, in game action, you could watch the same pitchers throw fastballs above the belt and hitters swing underneath as they struggled to reconcile the fact that the pitch’s trajectory was not falling the way their brains were suggesting it would. With high spin fastballs being all the rage and 2-seamers the cargo shorts of the pitching world, we needed to consider what to do with two intriguing outliers with super low Bauer Units. The first, Cade Plath (2019), was a genuine athlete. Here was a big, strong young man who is headed to play Division 1 football and had a mid-80s fastball. However, the combination of a low three-quarter slot and 4-seam grip seemed to result in a ton of glove-side carry. He also had a Bauer Unit of 15, a telltale sign that a 4-seam fastball might not be conducive to success for him. Following the Rapsodo session, Cade tried out a fresh new 2-seam grip, trying to capture that laminar flowgoodness. In his first live AB session, teammates who stepped into the box against him were impressed by what they perceived as late movement darting to his arm side. We lacked the funds for a high-speed slow-mo camera but even from the grainy iPhone camera you can still see the difference in movement between the 4-seam grip (from March on the left) and the 2-seam grip (from June on the right): Download attachment: FSFrameGIFImage (8).GIF What was interesting is that those two pitches above — despite having very different movement — spit out virtually the same movement data from the Rapsodo. Download attachment: PLATH FB.PNG This was confounding. We figured he had made the necessary grip change and the feedback from hitters and catchers suggested this pitch was doing something different. Why wasn’t the data saying so? Turns out, Driveline Baseball already studied this very phenomenon. According to their research Rapsodo “detects the ball’s spin rate, spin direction, and velocity and recalculates trajectory based on a physics model – hence why it thinks both pitches shown in the video have nearly identical movement when in reality they are quite different.” In short, there is an issue when using Rapsodo data to try to incorporate a . Armed with his 2-seam action, Cade’s in-season results were impressive. His walk rate dropped significantly from the previous season and he increased his swing-and-miss rate. A lot of his success came because of his steadfast conditioning, overall athleticism, and the fact he threw a “heavy ball” from a three-quarter slot but swapping out fastball grips played a role in his being able to locate that pitch more effectively. The other super low Bauer Units pitcher was junior Kody Dalen (2020). During the initial March session, Kody told us that he threw a 2-seamer, even showing us his grip, yet the Rapsodo data didn’t reflect 2-seam action. If anything, it had the exact opposite movement -- it had cut and a healthy amount of vertical drop. The low spin rate made it difficult to hit — another example of the proverbial “heavy fastball”. In season, Kody’s fastballs averaged approximately 80 mph, but touched 84. His 63 percent ground ball rate was second on the staff only to Cade (65 percent ground ball rate) while allowing just seven hits in 18.2 innings. After one of his outings, an umpire, supposedly impartial referees maintaining law and order, approached a member of our coaching staff and said how impressed he was at his movement. The cases of Cade and Kody raised more questions: Why, if two pitchers who have the same low spin rate, similar arm slots, and used the same 2-seam grip, are they producing two very different movements? It was only later that we came to find out the difference was generated by how the ball came out of their hand -- something that Rapsodo can’t pick up (or the human eye for that matter). In the clip below, you will see a side-by-side of Kody (left) vs Cade’s (right) 2-seam fastball. Download attachment: FSFrameGIFImage (7).GIF For Kody, his 2-seam is punctuated by glove-side run and a late sharp downward break. Cade’s more conventional laminar 2-seamer fights against the glove-side run and moves back toward right-handed batters late in the path. Now watch how the ball comes out of their hands: Download attachment: FSFrameGIFImage (9).GIF If thrown the conventional way, the two black dots should be spinning outward. Cade, on the right, has his fingers stay behind the baseball at release, imparting both the tilt and spin angle necessarily to give the pitch the standard 2-seam run. Meanwhile Kody supinates his hand at release, getting his fingers to the side of the baseball producing the cut action. This action likely costs him some velocity but the added movement appears to make up for it threefold. You often hear of pitchers having natural cut on their pitches and this is one of those in action. Kody’s movement is just that. To revisit the initial question -- why is knowing a fastball’s spin rate important -- it is because that knowledge helps take the guesswork out. If you know that a pitcher has a high-speed, high-carry fastball, you can work with them to develop a more vertical breaking ball. Now you have a solid plan of attack: high fastballs up at the top of the zone and a 12-6 curveball to drop out of that same tunnel. If you have a repertoire like Kody who has a bunch of pitches that run in to a left-handed batter, it was suggested by one of Starters’ instructors to tinker with a slider to give him a variety of pitches that run in (the Dalin Betances model). You absolutely could accomplish the same thing without the use of technology but, to paraphrase the reigning College World Series champions’ director of player development, if you don’t use it, you are behind. Click here to view the article
  6. This past March, the Chanhassen High School baseball program visited Starters Sports Training in Shakopee to put all of our arms under the Rapsodo microscope. One of the first things we got the data back from Starters was convert all fastballs into Bauer Units. For those unfamiliar, Driveline Baseball champions Bauer Units as a good measuring stick to tell if a player’s fastball is better suited for a 4-seam or 2-seam based on the spin rate divided by the velocity. If the fastball had a high Bauer Unit -- 27 BUs or higher -- a pitcher’s fastball would play better with a 4-seam grip. A lower Bauer Unit -- says 21 or lower -- and it would be better to use a 2-seam fastball. This would give us a fastball roadmap for each pitcher. Why is knowing fastball spin rate important? After all, for generations players and coaches used their eyes and intuition to figure out how a fastball moves. It’s heavy. It has late-life. It has rise. It has sink. Why should we strive to assign a number to every aspect of the game? As a real world example (and to loosely tie this into a Twins-related subject for Twins-related website) let’s consider Jake Odorizzi and Trevor May. In terms of velocity, Odorizzi (whose 4-seamer comes in at 92.8 mph on average) has a fastball that is 2 clicks below May's (94.9). Factoring in spin rate, May has approximately 100 more rpms on his fastball (2,338 rpm) than Odorizzi (2,239 rpm). Based on those two data points alone one might think May has a superior fastball. However, both share fastball Bauer Units of 24. While that amounts to a decisively average Bauer Unit among all MLB pitchers according to the Baseball Savant database, it is partly the reason why Odorizzi can be so effective at the top of the zone with a little less firepower than May. On the surface, Odorizzi might be considered a softer throwing arm in the modern era — seeing that his fastball “only” averages 93 — but it is with the additional metadata that you can concoct a game plan for him. Prior to the prolIferation of TrackMan, Rapsodo, et al, pitchers like Odorizzi may have been told to work on keeping his fastball down in the zone — which is exactly what happened to Odor: In fact, both Milwaukee and Kansas City informed Odorizzi during his player development days that if he didn’t adjust and hit the bottom of the zone, he wouldn’t make it in the big leagues. That changed when he arrived in the forward-thinking Tampa Bay organization and he would embrace the high ride heater. This year, 57 of his 70 strikeouts on fastballs have been located in the upper third of the zone or higher. It makes you wonder how many pitchers were jettisoned because they were higher-spin pitchers instructed to throw the ball down in the zone (or else). How can this information be applied to the amateur ranks? With regard to the Chanhassen program, we found that the bulk of the fastballs fell within the average Bauer Units range — leaning toward neither end of the spectrum. As a practice, those with average-ish Bauer Units who had three-quarter deliveries were asked to try 2-seam or cut fastballs and those with higher Bauer Units and more over-the-top deliveries worked on getting behind their 4-seamers in efforts to get better spin direction and carry (like Odorizzi). The high spin Bauer Unit rate guys were interesting to observe. In subsequent bullpen sessions or warmups, some confessed that they were taught to shoot for the knees, a counterproductive concept based on their stuff. It seemed clear that years of being told to hit the bottom of the zone was deeply ingrained whereas intentionally elevating felt foreign. Meanwhile, in game action, you could watch the same pitchers throw fastballs above the belt and hitters swing underneath as they struggled to reconcile the fact that the pitch’s trajectory was not falling the way their brains were suggesting it would. With high spin fastballs being all the rage and 2-seamers the cargo shorts of the pitching world, we needed to consider what to do with two intriguing outliers with super low Bauer Units. The first, Cade Plath (2019), was a genuine athlete. Here was a big, strong young man who is headed to play Division 1 football and had a mid-80s fastball. However, the combination of a low three-quarter slot and 4-seam grip seemed to result in a ton of glove-side carry. He also had a Bauer Unit of 15, a telltale sign that a 4-seam fastball might not be conducive to success for him. Following the Rapsodo session, Cade tried out a fresh new 2-seam grip, trying to capture that laminar flow goodness. In his first live AB session, teammates who stepped into the box against him were impressed by what they perceived as late movement darting to his arm side. We lacked the funds for a high-speed slow-mo camera but even from the grainy iPhone camera you can still see the difference in movement between the 4-seam grip (from March on the left) and the 2-seam grip (from June on the right): What was interesting is that those two pitches above — despite having very different movement — spit out virtually the same movement data from the Rapsodo. This was confounding. We figured he had made the necessary grip change and the feedback from hitters and catchers suggested this pitch was doing something different. Why wasn’t the data saying so? Turns out, Driveline Baseball already studied this very phenomenon. According to their research Rapsodo “detects the ball’s spin rate, spin direction, and velocity and recalculates trajectory based on a physics model – hence why it thinks both pitches shown in the video have nearly identical movement when in reality they are quite different.” In short, there is an issue when using Rapsodo data to try to incorporate a .Armed with his 2-seam action, Cade’s in-season results were impressive. His walk rate dropped significantly from the previous season and he increased his swing-and-miss rate. A lot of his success came because of his steadfast conditioning, overall athleticism, and the fact he threw a “heavy ball” from a three-quarter slot but swapping out fastball grips played a role in his being able to locate that pitch more effectively. The other super low Bauer Units pitcher was junior Kody Dalen (2020). During the initial March session, Kody told us that he threw a 2-seamer, even showing us his grip, yet the Rapsodo data didn’t reflect 2-seam action. If anything, it had the exact opposite movement -- it had cut and a healthy amount of vertical drop. The low spin rate made it difficult to hit — another example of the proverbial “heavy fastball”. In season, Kody’s fastballs averaged approximately 80 mph, but touched 84. His 63 percent ground ball rate was second on the staff only to Cade (65 percent ground ball rate) while allowing just seven hits in 18.2 innings. After one of his outings, an umpire, supposedly impartial referees maintaining law and order, approached a member of our coaching staff and said how impressed he was at his movement. The cases of Cade and Kody raised more questions: Why, if two pitchers who have the same low spin rate, similar arm slots, and used the same 2-seam grip, are they producing two very different movements? It was only later that we came to find out the difference was generated by how the ball came out of their hand -- something that Rapsodo can’t pick up (or the human eye for that matter). In the clip below, you will see a side-by-side of Kody (left) vs Cade’s (right) 2-seam fastball. For Kody, his 2-seam is punctuated by glove-side run and a late sharp downward break. Cade’s more conventional laminar 2-seamer fights against the glove-side run and moves back toward right-handed batters late in the path. Now watch how the ball comes out of their hands: If thrown the conventional way, the two black dots should be spinning outward. Cade, on the right, has his fingers stay behind the baseball at release, imparting both the tilt and spin angle necessarily to give the pitch the standard 2-seam run. Meanwhile Kody supinates his hand at release, getting his fingers to the side of the baseball producing the cut action. This action likely costs him some velocity but the added movement appears to make up for it threefold. You often hear of pitchers having natural cut on their pitches and this is one of those in action. Kody’s movement is just that. To revisit the initial question -- why is knowing a fastball’s spin rate important -- it is because that knowledge helps take the guesswork out. If you know that a pitcher has a high-speed, high-carry fastball, you can work with them to develop a more vertical breaking ball. Now you have a solid plan of attack: high fastballs up at the top of the zone and a 12-6 curveball to drop out of that same tunnel. If you have a repertoire like Kody who has a bunch of pitches that run in to a left-handed batter, it was suggested by one of Starters’ instructors to tinker with a slider to give him a variety of pitches that run in (the Dalin Betances model). You absolutely could accomplish the same thing without the use of technology but, to paraphrase the reigning College World Series champions’ director of player development, if you don’t use it, you are behind.
  7. Max Kepler says his 2018 season was sidetracked when he got caught up in thinking about launch angle. “I’ll be honest,” the Twins outfielder confided this spring, “I bought into it a little bit -- the launch stuff -- and I wanted to see if it would work for me. I wouldn’t say that it didn’t [work] but it certainly opened my eyes to my strengths and what works for me.” The confession was strange considering Kepler had been an advocate of hitting down through the ball. As more hitters sang from the gospel of getting the ball in the air, heading into the 2017 season he went so far as saying he found the idea of elevating the ball to be “completely bogus” as he based his philosophy to advice from Barry Bonds, who told him to focus on hitting “hard ground balls” and “hit the ball through the pitcher’s forehead”. The growing trend was too strong for him to resist.By his own admission, Kepler’s ultimate goal was never to hit ground balls. He wanted a level swing. One, he said, that imparted backspin on the ball to help it carry. While batted balls can certainly travel with different variations of spin (back, top, side) more recent research has found that concepts like chopping or cutting a ball to create that spin is a fool’s errand. In fact, physics show that more spin can even suppress the distance, regardless of spin direction. The end goal, as Twins hitting coach James Rowson so eloquently put it in his instructional video, should be to hit the ball square. In 2018 Kepler would post the highest launch angle average of his career (15.2 degrees) but also learned the lesson that if you hit too many balls into the vast wasteland of the middle of the ballpark, many of those can be tracked down. Target Field was especially unforgiving for him when he wasn’t pulling the ball. “Last year I tried to work on my swing mechanically, and that’s the result I got, popping up a lot of balls,” Kepler said. “One of the lowest batting averages on balls in play, someone brought that up.” He hit .203 on fly balls well below the league’s .283 average on fly balls, so you can see how that can grind. You find the money part of the barrel only to watch another well-struck ball land in a welcoming center fielder’s glove. Kepler acknowledged it was frustrating but resigned himself to concentrate on the process, not the results. The thing the Minnesota Twins evaluators enjoyed about Kepler’s 2018 season was his ability to make consistent solid contact. He finished the year just behind Joe Mauer and Miguel Sano in terms of average exit velocity. They figured it wouldn’t take much to tweak that into improved production. The Twins worked with him on his bat path into the zone (trying not to be as steep into the swing zone), his posture including straightening up in his stance, and had him close his front side up a bit. Download attachment: Kepler Stance Difference.png All the moves have aided in his increased power production but one element has been more of a catalyst for the home run totals. Removing the wider front leg starting point helps keep from cutting himself off and frees him up to pull the ball more. Watch his front leg travel inward a longer distance in 2018: Download attachment: FSFrameGIFImage (6).GIF With momentum carrying toward home plate, this limited his ability to turn and open up on a pitch effectively. This is why he hit more of his hard hit balls to center instead of pulling them. You might also notice is occasional toe tap he implements in 2019 as well. With the shortened stance, this helps him stay back instead of aggressively attacking the pitch and pulling it foul. Even with a vow of returning to his previous methods and avoid getting caught in a launch angle-centric trap, Kepler entered 2019 hitting the ball in a very similar manner that he did the year before -- in the air. The difference was that rather than sending the balls with premium contact into the big part of the field, with adjusting his set-up, Kepler started to pull the ball: Download attachment: Max Kepler 95 Spray Chart.png After pulling all balls in play 48% of the time last year, he’s yanking 64% of balls in play this season. That shift in approach has led to more power and the added home runs has inflated in that average on fly balls to .342. Now, after hitting a career-best 28th home run of the season, Kepler has increased his home run percentage to 6.4 percent -- one of the top 15 home run rates in baseball. It must be far more satisfying watching those balls disappear over the fence instead of into an outfielder's glove. Click here to view the article
  8. By his own admission, Kepler’s ultimate goal was never to hit ground balls. He wanted a level swing. One, he said, that imparted backspin on the ball to help it carry. While batted balls can certainly travel with different variations of spin (back, top, side) more recent research has found that concepts like chopping or cutting a ball to create that spin is a fool’s errand. In fact, physics show that more spin can even suppress the distance, regardless of spin direction. The end goal, as Twins hitting coach James Rowson so eloquently put it in his instructional video, should be to hit the ball square. In 2018 Kepler would post the highest launch angle average of his career (15.2 degrees) but also learned the lesson that if you hit too many balls into the vast wasteland of the middle of the ballpark, many of those can be tracked down. Target Field was especially unforgiving for him when he wasn’t pulling the ball. “Last year I tried to work on my swing mechanically, and that’s the result I got, popping up a lot of balls,” Kepler said. “One of the lowest batting averages on balls in play, someone brought that up.” He hit .203 on fly balls well below the league’s .283 average on fly balls, so you can see how that can grind. You find the money part of the barrel only to watch another well-struck ball land in a welcoming center fielder’s glove. Kepler acknowledged it was frustrating but resigned himself to concentrate on the process, not the results. The thing the Minnesota Twins evaluators enjoyed about Kepler’s 2018 season was his ability to make consistent solid contact. He finished the year just behind Joe Mauer and Miguel Sano in terms of average exit velocity. They figured it wouldn’t take much to tweak that into improved production. The Twins worked with him on his bat path into the zone (trying not to be as steep into the swing zone), his posture including straightening up in his stance, and had him close his front side up a bit. All the moves have aided in his increased power production but one element has been more of a catalyst for the home run totals. Removing the wider front leg starting point helps keep from cutting himself off and frees him up to pull the ball more. Watch his front leg travel inward a longer distance in 2018: With momentum carrying toward home plate, this limited his ability to turn and open up on a pitch effectively. This is why he hit more of his hard hit balls to center instead of pulling them. You might also notice is occasional toe tap he implements in 2019 as well. With the shortened stance, this helps him stay back instead of aggressively attacking the pitch and pulling it foul. Even with a vow of returning to his previous methods and avoid getting caught in a launch angle-centric trap, Kepler entered 2019 hitting the ball in a very similar manner that he did the year before -- in the air. The difference was that rather than sending the balls with premium contact into the big part of the field, with adjusting his set-up, Kepler started to pull the ball: After pulling all balls in play 48% of the time last year, he’s yanking 64% of balls in play this season. That shift in approach has led to more power and the added home runs has inflated in that average on fly balls to .342. Now, after hitting a career-best 28th home run of the season, Kepler has increased his home run percentage to 6.4 percent -- one of the top 15 home run rates in baseball. It must be far more satisfying watching those balls disappear over the fence instead of into an outfielder's glove.
  9. There is no denying that Miguel Sano hasn't been clicking on all cylinders.This season, Sano has approximately one portion of the zone in which his swing does damage. See if you can pick that out. On balls that are thrown on the outer-third/middle-third section, Sano is hitting .579 with five home runs. It is absolutely crazy that teams still manage to pour a pitch or two in that area every couple of games -- just like the Royals did twice this past series -- but it happens because Sano’s largest swing holes happen to be a section above or a section below that spot. Let's start by discussing his inefficiencies above that spot. Sano’s swing path is highly susceptible to fastballs up in the zone. With the increasing emphasis on high spin fastballs, it is no surprise that teams have gone upstairs on him. In two-strike counts this year, Sano has swung-and-missed at 90 percent of fastballs. That’s helpless territory. So what can the big man do to fill this swing hole that can be seen from space? The first is simply learn to lay off that pitch. To Sano’s credit, he has actually decreased the amount of swings at fastballs up in the zone over his previous years. Early in the count he spits on those pitches, swinging at only a quarter whereas in the past, there was a 50-50 chance that he would take a hack. Contrary to what you might have heard on the local broadcasts, umpires are actually not calling more strikes on fastballs up in the zone. In 2011, if you took an elevated fastball, there was a 23 percent chance it would be called a strike. So far in 2019 those fastballs have been called a strike 17 percent of the time, which is the lowest rate dating back to 2009. So there isn’t a grand umpire conspiracy to call more elevated fastballs strikes. Laying off more of those pitches is not going to advance the count in a pitcher’s favor. What’s more is that hitters in general have curbed their appetites for high fastballs as well, demonstrating a swing diet three percentage points lower this season than it was in 2017 when the Boston Red Sox pitching staff rode the elevated fastball to the American League’s second best ERA. Teams have started to use spin data to help hitters know when they should adjust their approach, swinging above the baseball when there’s a high spin hurler on the mound. They have also incorporated more high velocity pitching machines in batting practice that attempts to duplicate what they will face that night rather than facing a soft-tossing coach for on-field bee pee. So it is no surprise to see offenses starting to counter the attack. That being said, when hitters do offer at high fastballs, they are missing at a greater rate than ever before and Miguel Sano is no exception. Although he is swinging less frequently than he has in his career, he is swinging through more. Compared to last year, Sano swung and missed at 34 percent of elevated four-seamers. This year that’s at a grotesque 50 percent clip (and you will recall the sheer futility in the aforementioned two-strike situations). So far in 2019 Sano has opted for the path of least resistance -- not swinging at elevated fastballs, at least until it is imperative that he protect the zone. Given what he is currently working with, this is a decent option. Sano has what ill-informed broadcasters like to call a “launch angle swing” but, more accurately, Sano’s swing path is down-to-up trajectory that does a ton of damage on balls down in the zone. In his career, the big man holds a .698 slugging percentage against all fastball types in the lower third of the zone. At the top of the zone, pitchers have turned him into Drew Butera with a .287 slugging percentage. It is no surprise then to see that in a series versus Boston, frontrunners in the high fastball industry, Sano struck out 9 times in 15 plate appearances as the Red Sox pitchers threw 26 of their 41 fastballs in the upper third of the strike zone (he swung through 36 percent of those too). So while we can point to Sano’s swing path as a reason why he has trouble catching high fastballs on the barrel that doesn’t answer the question as to why he swings over breaking balls that actually bounce in a neighboring zip code. For anyone who follows PitchingNinja or Driveline coaches on Twitter knows, pitchers have some absolutely filthy stuff right now and, to make matters worse, they have also found ways to make it even more disgusting. The TrackMan data has helped pitchers tunnel pitches better. The high speed cameras and Rapsodo devices have helped add extra break. Hitters are completely outgunned. At the very least Major League Baseball has seemingly done the hitters a solid by tossing in a juiced ball to help even the playing field but pitchers have the development advantage. So there is an element of that behind Sano’s increased strikeout rate. There is also an element of simply telling Miguel Sano to go up there and be Miguel Sano -- the man who can crush monster second deck tanks. Rip the governor off and open it up. Chuck three pointers and don’t worry about the missed shots. Strikeouts be damned. But that’s not why Sano has trouble with his pitch selection. One issue that appears to be hindering him his timing mechanism in his mechanics. It is a main reason why he keeps getting beat on fastballs up, regardless of velocity. And it’s one of the factors behind his inability to lay off those acid-soaked breaking balls. Watch this clip of Sano next to teammate Nelson Cruz. Watch for where they get their hands to the launch point (where the bat starts firing forward). If you are stumped, here it is: What you will notice is that Cruz has his hands and bat in a position to fire forward before the 97-mile-per-hour fastball leaves Gerrit Cole’s fingers. It requires no extra travel from this point. This gives him additional time to read and react. Sano, on the other hand, brings his hands back to a spot when Ryan Braiser’s 97-mile-per-hour cheese is quickly approaching the plate. This means he has to make his decision to swing earlier -- before getting the right read on the spin. This is part of the reason why you see Sano swinging over so many breaking balls: out of the hand they look destined for that juicy lower third of the zone before *fart noises* vanishing. Furthermore, Sano has a rolling launch point, almost continually moving his hands which means that he will get beat on fastballs up as well as inside if he starts them late. As another example, consider Mike Trout. Admittedly, it is cheating to take the world’s greatest living hitter and say “do what he’s doing” but there are some existing components in Trout’s swing path that is similar to Sano’s. Both Trout and Sano share that down-to-up swing that decimates balls low in the zone. However, Trout has the ability to get to pitches up in the zone (although, like Sano, this year he’s spitting on more of them). Similar to Cruz, Trout gets his hands to the launch point early, giving him time to recognize the pitch and shut down his swing on things he doesn’t like. It’s difficult to tell hitters change their approach drastically in midseason -- especially when every one out of eleven at bats results in a home run. Still, it is not about a total overhaul, it’s making the right tweaks to improve deficiencies. This is something that just a few years ago, Jorge Polanco cleaned up and has since entered the land of ten thousand rakes. Prior to making that change, he had posted a .245/.296/.351 batting line in 147 games. Since taking the slack out of his drawback, Polanco has hit .308/.368/.502 over his last 204 games. Polanco had been blessed with world class bat-to-ball skills but this modification has allowed him to drive the ball. Another successful Twins convert of the reduced slack swing was Eduardo Escobar. Escobar modified his swing in 2017 which gave him the ability to better differentiate fastballs and breaking balls. From 2014 through 2016, Escobar produced a .626 OPS versus breaking balls with a 30 percent strikeout rate. From 2017 on, he’s posted a .815 OPS against breaking balls and reduced his strikeout rate to 25 percent. And he still hammers fastballs. Sano could be one of them. He could be like Polanco or Escobar. He could be a non-slacker. While the movement may seem minor, it takes a lot of muscle memory to commit that to the body. There are plenty of hitters too, like Sano, who have similar big pre-swing movements (Josh Donaldson comes to mind) but those hitters get their hands to the launch point sooner as well. The solution may not be to swing like Cruz, Polanco or Trout, it maybe simply get your hands moving earlier in the process. There is no question that Sano can hit a ton in his swing plane. His exit velocity on fastballs down in the zone is 98 miles per hour. But more teams are seeing the blueprints to getting him out -- avoid the lower portion of the zone. When or if the adjustments come, then maybe -- just maybe -- we can stop reading about Miguel Sano’s supposed failure as a player.
  10. When Miguel Sano first arrived in Minnesota in 2015, Twins team president Dave St. Peter said that fans “don't want to miss a Miguel Sano at-bat because you just never know what might happen, and at any given moment, he may hit a home run 500-plus feet. That's a trait very few players have.” In August 2015 during the Summer of Sano, the rookie bashed nine home runs, one dinger every 10.78 at bats. He also struck out in 38 percent of his plate appearances. Four seasons later, Sano still has that massive power. He has hit a home run in one out of every 11.67 at bats in 2019. He also has struck out in 42 percent of his plate appearances. From day one it’s an all-or-nothing approach for Sano but the narrative feels like it is trending more to the nothing. It does not have to be this way. Sano doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing hitter. Here's how he can move toward being a complete hitter.There is no denying that Miguel Sano hasn't been clicking on all cylinders.This season, Sano has approximately one portion of the zone in which his swing does damage. See if you can pick that out. Download attachment: trumedia_baseball_grid.png On balls that are thrown on the outer-third/middle-third section, Sano is hitting .579 with five home runs. It is absolutely crazy that teams still manage to pour a pitch or two in that area every couple of games -- just like the Royals did twice this past series -- but it happens because Sano’s largest swing holes happen to be a section above or a section below that spot. Let's start by discussing his inefficiencies above that spot. Sano’s swing path is highly susceptible to fastballs up in the zone. With the increasing emphasis on high spin fastballs, it is no surprise that teams have gone upstairs on him. In two-strike counts this year, Sano has swung-and-missed at 90 percent of fastballs. That’s helpless territory. So what can the big man do to fill this swing hole that can be seen from space? The first is simply learn to lay off that pitch. To Sano’s credit, he has actually decreased the amount of swings at fastballs up in the zone over his previous years. Early in the count he spits on those pitches, swinging at only a quarter whereas in the past, there was a 50-50 chance that he would take a hack. Contrary to what you might have heard on the local broadcasts, umpires are actually not calling more strikes on fastballs up in the zone. In 2011, if you took an elevated fastball, there was a 23 percent chance it would be called a strike. So far in 2019 those fastballs have been called a strike 17 percent of the time, which is the lowest rate dating back to 2009. So there isn’t a grand umpire conspiracy to call more elevated fastballs strikes. Laying off more of those pitches is not going to advance the count in a pitcher’s favor. What’s more is that hitters in general have curbed their appetites for high fastballs as well, demonstrating a swing diet three percentage points lower this season than it was in 2017 when the Boston Red Sox pitching staff rode the elevated fastball to the American League’s second best ERA. Teams have started to use spin data to help hitters know when they should adjust their approach, swinging above the baseball when there’s a high spin hurler on the mound. They have also incorporated more high velocity pitching machines in batting practice that attempts to duplicate what they will face that night rather than facing a soft-tossing coach for on-field bee pee. So it is no surprise to see offenses starting to counter the attack. That being said, when hitters do offer at high fastballs, they are missing at a greater rate than ever before and Miguel Sano is no exception. Although he is swinging less frequently than he has in his career, he is swinging through more. Compared to last year, Sano swung and missed at 34 percent of elevated four-seamers. This year that’s at a grotesque 50 percent clip (and you will recall the sheer futility in the aforementioned two-strike situations). So far in 2019 Sano has opted for the path of least resistance -- not swinging at elevated fastballs, at least until it is imperative that he protect the zone. Given what he is currently working with, this is a decent option. Sano has what ill-informed broadcasters like to call a “launch angle swing” but, more accurately, Sano’s swing path is down-to-up trajectory that does a ton of damage on balls down in the zone. In his career, the big man holds a .698 slugging percentage against all fastball types in the lower third of the zone. At the top of the zone, pitchers have turned him into Drew Butera with a .287 slugging percentage. It is no surprise then to see that in a series versus Boston, frontrunners in the high fastball industry, Sano struck out 9 times in 15 plate appearances as the Red Sox pitchers threw 26 of their 41 fastballs in the upper third of the strike zone (he swung through 36 percent of those too). So while we can point to Sano’s swing path as a reason why he has trouble catching high fastballs on the barrel that doesn’t answer the question as to why he swings over breaking balls that actually bounce in a neighboring zip code. For anyone who follows PitchingNinja or Driveline coaches on Twitter knows, pitchers have some absolutely filthy stuff right now and, to make matters worse, they have also found ways to make it even more disgusting. The TrackMan data has helped pitchers tunnel pitches better. The high speed cameras and Rapsodo devices have helped add extra break. Hitters are completely outgunned. At the very least Major League Baseball has seemingly done the hitters a solid by tossing in a juiced ball to help even the playing field but pitchers have the development advantage. So there is an element of that behind Sano’s increased strikeout rate. There is also an element of simply telling Miguel Sano to go up there and be Miguel Sano -- the man who can crush monster second deck tanks. Rip the governor off and open it up. Chuck three pointers and don’t worry about the missed shots. Strikeouts be damned. But that’s not why Sano has trouble with his pitch selection. One issue that appears to be hindering him his timing mechanism in his mechanics. It is a main reason why he keeps getting beat on fastballs up, regardless of velocity. And it’s one of the factors behind his inability to lay off those acid-soaked breaking balls. Watch this clip of Sano next to teammate Nelson Cruz. Watch for where they get their hands to the launch point (where the bat starts firing forward). Download attachment: FSFrameGIFImage (2).GIF If you are stumped, here it is: Download attachment: Cruz-Sano.png What you will notice is that Cruz has his hands and bat in a position to fire forward before the 97-mile-per-hour fastball leaves Gerrit Cole’s fingers. It requires no extra travel from this point. This gives him additional time to read and react. Sano, on the other hand, brings his hands back to a spot when Ryan Braiser’s 97-mile-per-hour cheese is quickly approaching the plate. This means he has to make his decision to swing earlier -- before getting the right read on the spin. This is part of the reason why you see Sano swinging over so many breaking balls: out of the hand they look destined for that juicy lower third of the zone before *fart noises* vanishing. Furthermore, Sano has a rolling launch point, almost continually moving his hands which means that he will get beat on fastballs up as well as inside if he starts them late. As another example, consider Mike Trout. Admittedly, it is cheating to take the world’s greatest living hitter and say “do what he’s doing” but there are some existing components in Trout’s swing path that is similar to Sano’s. Both Trout and Sano share that down-to-up swing that decimates balls low in the zone. However, Trout has the ability to get to pitches up in the zone (although, like Sano, this year he’s spitting on more of them). Similar to Cruz, Trout gets his hands to the launch point early, giving him time to recognize the pitch and shut down his swing on things he doesn’t like. Download attachment: Sano Cruz Trout.png It’s difficult to tell hitters change their approach drastically in midseason -- especially when every one out of eleven at bats results in a home run. Still, it is not about a total overhaul, it’s making the right tweaks to improve deficiencies. This is something that just a few years ago, Jorge Polanco cleaned up and has since entered the land of ten thousand rakes. Prior to making that change, he had posted a .245/.296/.351 batting line in 147 games. Since taking the slack out of his drawback, Polanco has hit .308/.368/.502 over his last 204 games. Polanco had been blessed with world class bat-to-ball skills but this modification has allowed him to drive the ball. Another successful Twins convert of the reduced slack swing was Eduardo Escobar. Escobar modified his swing in 2017 which gave him the ability to better differentiate fastballs and breaking balls. From 2014 through 2016, Escobar produced a .626 OPS versus breaking balls with a 30 percent strikeout rate. From 2017 on, he’s posted a .815 OPS against breaking balls and reduced his strikeout rate to 25 percent. And he still hammers fastballs. Sano could be one of them. He could be like Polanco or Escobar. He could be a non-slacker. While the movement may seem minor, it takes a lot of muscle memory to commit that to the body. There are plenty of hitters too, like Sano, who have similar big pre-swing movements (Josh Donaldson comes to mind) but those hitters get their hands to the launch point sooner as well. The solution may not be to swing like Cruz, Polanco or Trout, it maybe simply get your hands moving earlier in the process. There is no question that Sano can hit a ton in his swing plane. His exit velocity on fastballs down in the zone is 98 miles per hour. But more teams are seeing the blueprints to getting him out -- avoid the lower portion of the zone. When or if the adjustments come, then maybe -- just maybe -- we can stop reading about Miguel Sano’s supposed failure as a player. Click here to view the article
  11. Ask any Twins pitcher what they are working on this spring and you will get a similar answer: Almost all of them are concentrating on driving off the rubber from their heel rather than their toe. As an example: After one outing Jose Berrios said that he was focused on driving from his full foot, feeling his weight sink into his heel before exploding toward home plate. Berrios, whose fastball averaged just under 94 mph in 2018, was flirting constantly with 95-96 during this particular spring start. All around the clubhouse there are pitchers saying the same thing as Berrios. Kyle Gibson. Jake Odorizzi. Martin Perez. Stephen Gonsalves. Chase De Jong. Everyone is turning heel. This is one of the immediate effects of hiring Wes Johnson as the new pitching coach.In some regard Johnson’s emphasis on getting into the heel feels like this year’s thing. When Neil Allen first arrived with the Twins as the new pitching coach in 2015, he spent all spring convincing pitchers they needed to throw more changeups. Twins pitchers talked about the importance of throwing changeups to same-sided hitters or throwing them back-to-back. More changeups was Allen’s thing. How did that work out? The team’s changeup usage rate rose a bit but the results didn’t follow suit. Through Allen’s tenure, the Twins held a 4.58 staff ERA, 26th out of the 30 clubs. Johnson’s message, however, is one that concerns a pitcher’s entire foundation. Embracing it can be career-changing. When you ask him to elaborate on what makes this seemingly minor portion of the entire delivery such a critical component, Wes Johnson’s face lights up and he goes into his full biomechanical spiel. “We know that hip speed is a function of velocity and command as well,” Johnson begins in his upbeat southern accent. “And hip speed is generated through your glutes and we’re just trying to activate the glute medius. We’re trying to get the glute med to activate first instead of your quadricep because when a guy’s quadricep activates first, his hip speed goes down. So we’re just trying to activate the glute to get the hips to rotate faster to get command and-or velocity, whichever one.” If that was too technical, Kyle Gibson later offered an abridged explanation: “The goal is to use the big muscles in your legs.” It’s fairly basic. Pitchers who drive off of their toes first are not maximizing their velocity potential. Johnson admits that the concept isn’t for pitchers to actually drive off their heel, it’s to get them over the middle of their foot more. Cueing them to over-exaggerate and focus on the heel puts them in better position. When pitchers drive off their toes, they not only leave some MPHs on the table, they tend to have more inconsistent direction to home plate, wreaking havoc on their command as well. His reputation as a collegiate pitching coach is sterling and that was built on a velocity increase system he created. While with Dallas Baptist University, Johnson would take pitchers who were throwing in the upper 80s and have them reaching mid-90s within a couple of years. It happened again at Mississippi State and again at Arkansas. Johnson found that when more emphasis was placed on the lower half, velocity followed. Just like he did with his college athletes, when he was first hired by the Twins, Johnson said he spent days studying his pitchers to see who could use some adjustments. “I watched too much video. My wife is probably wondering what I was doing all offseason,” he says with a laugh. But the preparation from him and the rest of the Twins’ coaching staff allowed Johnson to have conversations with pitchers when they reported. “Wes has come in and this is his first spring training in professional baseball. I don’t take that lightly, I don’t think anybody should,” remarked manager Rocco Baldelli. “That is not the easiest of tasks to just come in and take control, as the pitching coach, of your staff. He put in a ton of work this offseason to lay the groundwork to be able to come in here and not just function but do some really nice things.” Being able to function as the new pitching coach is a bit easier when one of the veteran leaders of the staff is a big proponent of Johnson’s practices. Gibson is very familiar with these principles. Before the 2017 season, Gibson spent time at the Florida Baseball Ranch, retooling his mechanics with owner Randy Sullivan. Johnson, who had spent years working with Sullivan and other baseball outsiders, had a hand in creating the Durathro system which Gibson used to overhaul his arm action. But it was changing his lower half movements that sparked something for the right-hander, notably using Johnson’s cue of driving off his heel versus his toe. “I stepped across my body more in 2015 and 2016 and the only way you step across your body is by going off your toe,” says Gibson. “I wasn’t working on my direction when I was going through the Florida Baseball Ranch [arm] stuff but as soon as you get on your heel, and push off your heel, your direction to home plate gets more straight.” Like Johnson, Gibson is an avid film-watcher. He says he can quickly spot the flaws in himself and others from shots on the center field camera. “TV is a pretty good angle because you can see where a guy’s knee is,” Gibson says. “As soon as your knee gets over your toe, you’re pushing off your toe more. If your butt sits back and your toe stays behind your knee then obviously the kinetic chain is saying that you are more into your glute, more into your backside.” Gibson transformed his mechanics, engaging his lower half more, activating those “big muscles” in his legs. Gibson unlocked some additional heat but he also felt like he was able to locate all of his pitches better as he drove toward home plate compared to when he was stepping across his body. By the second half of 2017, when the new arm path and lower-half mechanics began to feel natural for Gibson, his career turned a corner. His body direction is what helped him against left-handed opponents in 2018. Previously he rarely went inside to lefties. From 2013 through 2016, he threw on the inner-third of the zone to left-handers just 30% of the time, opting to stay on the outer-third (49%). In 2018, no longer cutting himself off mechanically, Gibson attacked inside to lefties (48%) to great success. Johnson said coming into camp, he and assistant pitching coach Jeremy Hefner had spent endless hours creating individual plans for the entire staff at the major-league level. He knew that if he presented video evidence and data, players would respond favorably to the adjustments. “We talk to them about the biomechanics side of it and what you’re seeing, and tell them why you are doing something which, to me, is the biggest factor because if we’re just coming in and saying ‘you gotta stay on your heel longer’ that’s crazy,” says Johnson. “We need to tell them why we are doing it and the success rate and show them video and show them guys who have had success doing it.” Gibson’s success helped the conversation move forward with other players. He convinced Jake Odorizzi to visit the Florida Baseball Ranch this offseason. Kohl Stewart also made a visit. There’s also Martin Perez, who witnessed a spike in velocity at the end of 2018. Johnson said the message they gave Perez was to get in his heel more and move more athletically. His velocity has been consistently up at 95-97 all spring. In addition to established pitchers like Gibson and Perez, Johnson and Hefner want to infuse the concept to pitchers who are currently on the fringe, hoping to stick in the big leagues, such as Chase De Jong. The 25-year-old De Jong has 47 major-league innings to his name. A former second-round draft pick, De Jong’s career has stalled at the Triple-A level. He doesn’t possess the high velocity normally seen by modern pitchers – averaging sub-90 on his four-seamer – and he has walked a few too many hitters (19 batters in 47 innings). Still, De Jong represents an arm the Twins would like to maximize. “They showed me in the video they said, hey, you’re doing this and it’s causing this,” De Jong explains. “[staying on the heel] is the minor mechanical critique he’s made with me. I feel like it’s helped me stay strong on my backside and, directionally, it has helped with my lines tremendously.” Johnson agreed with De Jong’s assessment. “I look at [De Jong] and you look at that and when he’s been really good it’s his direction,” says Johnson. “He may have seen a one mile an hour tick in velocity so it wasn’t a ton for him but his direction and command was really good.” “Sometimes in pitching you can chase symptoms,” De Jong acknowledges. “You’re leaking out front, you’re doing this, you’re doing that, but when you actually get to the root of the problem and address that and just focus on that, the other stuff fixes because that’s what was causing it.” Similar to what Gibson went through in 2017, De Jong recognizes that implementing a new feel into his mechanics isn’t something that will produce results overnight. After all, his first foray this spring was rough. De Jong will start the 2019 season in Rochester, hoping to lock in the new movement patterns and eventually contribute with the Twins this summer. He will be joined at the Twins’ top affiliate with Stephen Gonsalves, another pitcher trying to incorporate Johnson’s cues. Johnson uses Gonsalves as an example of how the process isn’t a straight line. In one outing this spring Gonsalves saw hit velocity tick upward. In the next, it went back down. “You wish that it happened overnight but it doesn’t. It’s a process,” admits Johnson. “So you’ll see a bit of that rollercoaster wave action with those guys where you’ll see a little spike in velocity and then the next time it will flatten out, then spike but it’s because they are learning how to do it.” And that is Johnson’s biggest point: It’s a process. There is no guarantee of immediate success with any of the pitchers. While Gibson may have been able to advance his career through these methods, it did take him a little over half a season to feel comfortable. Many of the pitchers attempting to incorporate the new biomechanics may not see the consistent results for another season or two. That being said, if Johnson’s collegiate track record is any indication, the Twins should see that velo clout soon enough. Click here to view the article
  12. In some regard Johnson’s emphasis on getting into the heel feels like this year’s thing. When Neil Allen first arrived with the Twins as the new pitching coach in 2015, he spent all spring convincing pitchers they needed to throw more changeups. Twins pitchers talked about the importance of throwing changeups to same-sided hitters or throwing them back-to-back. More changeups was Allen’s thing. How did that work out? The team’s changeup usage rate rose a bit but the results didn’t follow suit. Through Allen’s tenure, the Twins held a 4.58 staff ERA, 26th out of the 30 clubs. Johnson’s message, however, is one that concerns a pitcher’s entire foundation. Embracing it can be career-changing. When you ask him to elaborate on what makes this seemingly minor portion of the entire delivery such a critical component, Wes Johnson’s face lights up and he goes into his full biomechanical spiel. “We know that hip speed is a function of velocity and command as well,” Johnson begins in his upbeat southern accent. “And hip speed is generated through your glutes and we’re just trying to activate the glute medius. We’re trying to get the glute med to activate first instead of your quadricep because when a guy’s quadricep activates first, his hip speed goes down. So we’re just trying to activate the glute to get the hips to rotate faster to get command and-or velocity, whichever one.” If that was too technical, Kyle Gibson later offered an abridged explanation: “The goal is to use the big muscles in your legs.” It’s fairly basic. Pitchers who drive off of their toes first are not maximizing their velocity potential. Johnson admits that the concept isn’t for pitchers to actually drive off their heel, it’s to get them over the middle of their foot more. Cueing them to over-exaggerate and focus on the heel puts them in better position. When pitchers drive off their toes, they not only leave some MPHs on the table, they tend to have more inconsistent direction to home plate, wreaking havoc on their command as well. His reputation as a collegiate pitching coach is sterling and that was built on a velocity increase system he created. While with Dallas Baptist University, Johnson would take pitchers who were throwing in the upper 80s and have them reaching mid-90s within a couple of years. It happened again at Mississippi State and again at Arkansas. Johnson found that when more emphasis was placed on the lower half, velocity followed. Just like he did with his college athletes, when he was first hired by the Twins, Johnson said he spent days studying his pitchers to see who could use some adjustments. “I watched too much video. My wife is probably wondering what I was doing all offseason,” he says with a laugh. But the preparation from him and the rest of the Twins’ coaching staff allowed Johnson to have conversations with pitchers when they reported. “Wes has come in and this is his first spring training in professional baseball. I don’t take that lightly, I don’t think anybody should,” remarked manager Rocco Baldelli. “That is not the easiest of tasks to just come in and take control, as the pitching coach, of your staff. He put in a ton of work this offseason to lay the groundwork to be able to come in here and not just function but do some really nice things.” Being able to function as the new pitching coach is a bit easier when one of the veteran leaders of the staff is a big proponent of Johnson’s practices. Gibson is very familiar with these principles. Before the 2017 season, Gibson spent time at the Florida Baseball Ranch, retooling his mechanics with owner Randy Sullivan. Johnson, who had spent years working with Sullivan and other baseball outsiders, had a hand in creating the Durathro system which Gibson used to overhaul his arm action. But it was changing his lower half movements that sparked something for the right-hander, notably using Johnson’s cue of driving off his heel versus his toe. “I stepped across my body more in 2015 and 2016 and the only way you step across your body is by going off your toe,” says Gibson. “I wasn’t working on my direction when I was going through the Florida Baseball Ranch [arm] stuff but as soon as you get on your heel, and push off your heel, your direction to home plate gets more straight.” Like Johnson, Gibson is an avid film-watcher. He says he can quickly spot the flaws in himself and others from shots on the center field camera. “TV is a pretty good angle because you can see where a guy’s knee is,” Gibson says. “As soon as your knee gets over your toe, you’re pushing off your toe more. If your butt sits back and your toe stays behind your knee then obviously the kinetic chain is saying that you are more into your glute, more into your backside.” Gibson transformed his mechanics, engaging his lower half more, activating those “big muscles” in his legs. Gibson unlocked some additional heat but he also felt like he was able to locate all of his pitches better as he drove toward home plate compared to when he was stepping across his body. By the second half of 2017, when the new arm path and lower-half mechanics began to feel natural for Gibson, his career turned a corner. His body direction is what helped him against left-handed opponents in 2018. Previously he rarely went inside to lefties. From 2013 through 2016, he threw on the inner-third of the zone to left-handers just 30% of the time, opting to stay on the outer-third (49%). In 2018, no longer cutting himself off mechanically, Gibson attacked inside to lefties (48%) to great success. Johnson said coming into camp, he and assistant pitching coach Jeremy Hefner had spent endless hours creating individual plans for the entire staff at the major-league level. He knew that if he presented video evidence and data, players would respond favorably to the adjustments. “We talk to them about the biomechanics side of it and what you’re seeing, and tell them why you are doing something which, to me, is the biggest factor because if we’re just coming in and saying ‘you gotta stay on your heel longer’ that’s crazy,” says Johnson. “We need to tell them why we are doing it and the success rate and show them video and show them guys who have had success doing it.” Gibson’s success helped the conversation move forward with other players. He convinced Jake Odorizzi to visit the Florida Baseball Ranch this offseason. Kohl Stewart also made a visit. There’s also Martin Perez, who witnessed a spike in velocity at the end of 2018. Johnson said the message they gave Perez was to get in his heel more and move more athletically. His velocity has been consistently up at 95-97 all spring. In addition to established pitchers like Gibson and Perez, Johnson and Hefner want to infuse the concept to pitchers who are currently on the fringe, hoping to stick in the big leagues, such as Chase De Jong. The 25-year-old De Jong has 47 major-league innings to his name. A former second-round draft pick, De Jong’s career has stalled at the Triple-A level. He doesn’t possess the high velocity normally seen by modern pitchers – averaging sub-90 on his four-seamer – and he has walked a few too many hitters (19 batters in 47 innings). Still, De Jong represents an arm the Twins would like to maximize. “They showed me in the video they said, hey, you’re doing this and it’s causing this,” De Jong explains. “[staying on the heel] is the minor mechanical critique he’s made with me. I feel like it’s helped me stay strong on my backside and, directionally, it has helped with my lines tremendously.” Johnson agreed with De Jong’s assessment. “I look at [De Jong] and you look at that and when he’s been really good it’s his direction,” says Johnson. “He may have seen a one mile an hour tick in velocity so it wasn’t a ton for him but his direction and command was really good.” “Sometimes in pitching you can chase symptoms,” De Jong acknowledges. “You’re leaking out front, you’re doing this, you’re doing that, but when you actually get to the root of the problem and address that and just focus on that, the other stuff fixes because that’s what was causing it.” Similar to what Gibson went through in 2017, De Jong recognizes that implementing a new feel into his mechanics isn’t something that will produce results overnight. After all, his first foray this spring was rough. De Jong will start the 2019 season in Rochester, hoping to lock in the new movement patterns and eventually contribute with the Twins this summer. He will be joined at the Twins’ top affiliate with Stephen Gonsalves, another pitcher trying to incorporate Johnson’s cues. Johnson uses Gonsalves as an example of how the process isn’t a straight line. In one outing this spring Gonsalves saw hit velocity tick upward. In the next, it went back down. “You wish that it happened overnight but it doesn’t. It’s a process,” admits Johnson. “So you’ll see a bit of that rollercoaster wave action with those guys where you’ll see a little spike in velocity and then the next time it will flatten out, then spike but it’s because they are learning how to do it.” And that is Johnson’s biggest point: It’s a process. There is no guarantee of immediate success with any of the pitchers. While Gibson may have been able to advance his career through these methods, it did take him a little over half a season to feel comfortable. Many of the pitchers attempting to incorporate the new biomechanics may not see the consistent results for another season or two. That being said, if Johnson’s collegiate track record is any indication, the Twins should see that velo clout soon enough.
  13. Mitch Garver says he could see the writing on the wall. In 2018, the Twins catcher finished 75th out of 78 qualifiers in framing runs above average. His -9 FRAA would cost his team almost a win. “If I don’t fix things right now, I will not be in the game in two years, three years,” Garver says he told himself. “I won’t be a catcher anymore.” Understanding that his value as a player would depreciate quickly if he were to move out from behind the plate, Garver reached out in multiple directions for help. Initially, Garver thought about working with recently retired catcher Eddy Rodriguez in Tampa. Rodriguez has spent some time in the Twins organization and Garver considered him a friend. It was only after asking bench coach Derek Shelton his opinion on what he should do, that Garver changed his mind. “Go call Tanner,” were the orders he received from Shelton.It is only Tanner Swanson’s second year in the organization, but when you talk to people in the front office or non-Twins employees in the industry, Swanson’s presence is widely revered. To those who know him, he’s affectionately referred to as “a dude” -- which is baseball jargonese for indispensable or invaluable, someone who goes about his business and stands out. A master practitioner in the art of deception, the Twins’ catching coordinator’s hiring paid immediate dividends. According to Swanson, the Twins’ farm system was ranked 27th in pitching framing metrics from 2015 to 2017, then jumped to fifth after introducing some changes. Because most of his work was with the catchers in the system before they reach Minnesota, Swanson said he watched Garver’s technique from afar. When Garver contacted him this past offseason, Swanson gave the 28-year-old a rundown which made the catcher only wish he called sooner. “He basically said, yeah, I see a lot of mechanical flaws in the way I receive and he couldn’t tell me any of those things last year because he felt he was stepping on someone else’s foot and that wasn’t his place to do that,” says Garver. “That sucks. I wasted a whole year where I could have been getting better at something.” Garver was pressed into extended catching duty with the Twins after starter Jason Castro’s season ended prematurely. Garver’s defensive reputation to that point had always been considered a work in progress while in the minor leagues. His biggest issue was nabbing calls at the bottom of the zone -- the air space which has quickly become one of the biggest aerial battles fought between pitchers and hitters. As far back as 2014 it became clear that the strike zone was getting lower and lower. More called strikes were happening below the knee. Before the 2018 season, Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch, a former receiver himself, told MLB Network that “the best catchers nowadays can handle the ball below the knees. Now we work north and south.” Hinch last played in the majors in 2004, where he says the emphasis was trying to expand the zone on either side of the plate. The game now is top and bottom, he says. “Can I make the low pitch -- over the plate and down -- look like a strike? So the game has moved north and south where it used to be east and west.” Smart teams started to target catchers who were able to steal or keep those pitches in trade and free agency. The Texas Rangers signed Jeff Mathis, owner of a career .198/.258/.306 slash, to a two-year, $6 million deal simply because he was one of the best at nabbing the low strike (ninth out of 78 in 2018). The Washington Nationals traded three players for 31-year-old Yan Gomes partly because he was the second-best at coaxing strikes on the lower third. So as more teams paid (and potentially overpaid) for that type of catcher, smarter teams figured to go one step beyond and hire the people who can create those kinds of catchers. That’s where Swanson comes in. While pitching and hitting advances have radically changed over the last few years, catching as a practice, has lagged behind. Teams have known about the value of pitch framing for years but how to develop that skill has been elusive to some. Previously the message to catchers to become a good framer meant being quiet and holding the pitch in place. Swanson says that is outdated. For starters, catchers should corral low pitches and will work back toward the center of the plate. And, rather than keeping the mitt horizontal, catchers are encouraged to receive the low pitch with the glove thumb pointed downward, giving them diagonal angle. This is where Garver and Swanson focused. It is not an easy task, to be sure. Like hitters learning a new swing path or pitchers tweaking their mechanics, catchers too have to undo years of hardwired technique and re-map their systems to perfect this new process. When Swanson works with catchers, he incorporates drills that include weighted plyo balls, j-bands, wrist weights and more. On his Twitter account this offseason, Swanson demonstrated a drill with Twins minor-league catcher Caleb Hamilton where Hamilton works off a pitching machine and just repeats the motion of bringing the glove up -- a movement he was attempted to commit to muscle memory. “I’m in a great place right now,” Garver says about his new form. “You can see the immediate, immediate change. Took a long time for me to get a feel for what I was doing and getting my body into those positions to receive the balls the way I am, but now that I’m there, it’s only going up from here.” Garver and his fellow backstops are in a good place right now. It may only be practice games but the Twins’ pitching staff has the third-most strikeouts among all teams. The newly introduced framing techniques undoubtedly plays a role in that stat. And Garver is just the beginning. The Twins plan on having a pipeline of catchers who steal strikes wherever that advantage may lie. Swanson recognizes that the game evolves, just like the strike zone did, and there may come a time when robot umpires roam the Earth. Their training methods and focus will pivot with the changes. “We’re all kind of learning this as it continues to progress,” Swanson says about the future. “In some ways it's uncharted territories so we’re all trying to stay ahead of it and push the ball forward.” Click here to view the article
  14. It is only Tanner Swanson’s second year in the organization, but when you talk to people in the front office or non-Twins employees in the industry, Swanson’s presence is widely revered. To those who know him, he’s affectionately referred to as “a dude” -- which is baseball jargonese for indispensable or invaluable, someone who goes about his business and stands out. A master practitioner in the art of deception, the Twins’ catching coordinator’s hiring paid immediate dividends. According to Swanson, the Twins’ farm system was ranked 27th in pitching framing metrics from 2015 to 2017, then jumped to fifth after introducing some changes. Because most of his work was with the catchers in the system before they reach Minnesota, Swanson said he watched Garver’s technique from afar. When Garver contacted him this past offseason, Swanson gave the 28-year-old a rundown which made the catcher only wish he called sooner. “He basically said, yeah, I see a lot of mechanical flaws in the way I receive and he couldn’t tell me any of those things last year because he felt he was stepping on someone else’s foot and that wasn’t his place to do that,” says Garver. “That sucks. I wasted a whole year where I could have been getting better at something.” Garver was pressed into extended catching duty with the Twins after starter Jason Castro’s season ended prematurely. Garver’s defensive reputation to that point had always been considered a work in progress while in the minor leagues. His biggest issue was nabbing calls at the bottom of the zone -- the air space which has quickly become one of the biggest aerial battles fought between pitchers and hitters. As far back as 2014 it became clear that the strike zone was getting lower and lower. More called strikes were happening below the knee. Before the 2018 season, Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch, a former receiver himself, told MLB Network that “the best catchers nowadays can handle the ball below the knees. Now we work north and south.” Hinch last played in the majors in 2004, where he says the emphasis was trying to expand the zone on either side of the plate. The game now is top and bottom, he says. “Can I make the low pitch -- over the plate and down -- look like a strike? So the game has moved north and south where it used to be east and west.” Smart teams started to target catchers who were able to steal or keep those pitches in trade and free agency. The Texas Rangers signed Jeff Mathis, owner of a career .198/.258/.306 slash, to a two-year, $6 million deal simply because he was one of the best at nabbing the low strike (ninth out of 78 in 2018). The Washington Nationals traded three players for 31-year-old Yan Gomes partly because he was the second-best at coaxing strikes on the lower third. So as more teams paid (and potentially overpaid) for that type of catcher, smarter teams figured to go one step beyond and hire the people who can create those kinds of catchers. That’s where Swanson comes in. While pitching and hitting advances have radically changed over the last few years, catching as a practice, has lagged behind. Teams have known about the value of pitch framing for years but how to develop that skill has been elusive to some. Previously the message to catchers to become a good framer meant being quiet and holding the pitch in place. Swanson says that is outdated. For starters, catchers should corral low pitches and will work back toward the center of the plate. And, rather than keeping the mitt horizontal, catchers are encouraged to receive the low pitch with the glove thumb pointed downward, giving them diagonal angle. This is where Garver and Swanson focused. It is not an easy task, to be sure. Like hitters learning a new swing path or pitchers tweaking their mechanics, catchers too have to undo years of hardwired technique and re-map their systems to perfect this new process. When Swanson works with catchers, he incorporates drills that include weighted plyo balls, j-bands, wrist weights and more. On his Twitter account this offseason, Swanson demonstrated a drill with Twins minor-league catcher Caleb Hamilton where Hamilton works off a pitching machine and just repeats the motion of bringing the glove up -- a movement he was attempted to commit to muscle memory. https://twitter.com/tannerswanson/status/1075848926614368256 But the optimal process for perfecting the low zone strike, Swanson found, begins at the set-up as well. You may have noticed on the recent broadcasts that Twins catchers are all dropping to one leg in their set-up, reminiscent of the days of Tony Pena behind the dish. Observers at the minor league complex will also see almost all catchers doing the same. Swanson says this is just another strategy of getting as low as possible to give umpires the best view of the low strike zone. It’s new and it’s different but there is a sense of system-wide buy-in. “I think if you ask our guys, most, if not all, would tell you this is how they would prefer to do it,” Swanson said about the one-legged receiving technique. “It’s not something that is mandated necessarily, but I think what we’ve done is given them the freedom to learn for themselves -- that this will be even more efficient in what they were doing, specifically from a receiving standpoint.” Most would probably agree that the one-leg approach (or in the case of prospect Ben Rortvedt, no legs) works fine without runners on base, but the Twins are pushing the envelope, trying to maintain that position even when opponents put men on. “We’re also learning that we can still block and throw effectively from these positions too and, although it’s different and hasn’t necessarily been explored in the past, that’s not scaring us from seeing what we can learn,” Swanson remarked. The Twins are also looking at obtaining more strikes at the top of the zone as well. As Hinch suggested, the zone is stretching northward, with teams trying to blast fastballs at the letters or above. In 2018, 40 percent of all fastballs were thrown in the upper third of the strike zone, whereas in 2017, it was at 36 percent. So there has been a drastic shift to throwing heaters up. Receiving those pitches to make them look like strikes also requires some added technique, Swanson says. Instead of pulling the ball up with a downward-facing thumb, high strikes are to be pounced upon almost from above. Putting it all together can be challenging. It is one thing to work on the elements in a private facility or a practice field during the offseason, but how can you tell if you are making actual progress? Swanson and the rest of the player development staff have tried to be as innovative as possible. This spring training, they came up with the idea to incorporate pro umpires into bullpen sessions to track each catcher’s framing numbers. The Rapsodo technology will track each pitch location and compare it against whether or not a human umpire calls the pitch a ball or strike. “We [track framing numbers] during the season but we didn’t have the capacity to do that in a training environment, so we were racking our heads trying to think of ways to give our guys more effective feedback during spring training and that’s one of the efforts to do so,” notes Swanson. In addition to the static bullpen sessions where stand-in batters are just decoys, the Twins also had umpires, Rapsodo and cameras available during their live batting practices as well, hoping to recreate the in-game experience as much as possible. Each session is crunched by the organization’s research staff and then the data is delivered to the coaching staff every day. So Swanson knows immediately how Ryan Jeffers or Caleb Hamilton’s progress is coming. If a player struggles, they can review the numbers and film together and isolate what things need to be improved. It’s a feedback loop that can hasten the development process. “For the most part we try to be as transparent with the players as possible to help them understand, not just how the Twins are evaluating them but largely how the industry is evaluating catchers and how valuable the pitch tracking piece is,” Swanson says. “I don’t see any value withholding that information, at least on a consistent basis, so we want to give them as much information as we can so they are not in the dark and can make adjustments.” “I’m in a great place right now,” Garver says about his new form. “You can see the immediate, immediate change. Took a long time for me to get a feel for what I was doing and getting my body into those positions to receive the balls the way I am, but now that I’m there, it’s only going up from here.” Garver and his fellow backstops are in a good place right now. It may only be practice games but the Twins’ pitching staff has the third-most strikeouts among all teams. The newly introduced framing techniques undoubtedly plays a role in that stat. And Garver is just the beginning. The Twins plan on having a pipeline of catchers who steal strikes wherever that advantage may lie. Swanson recognizes that the game evolves, just like the strike zone did, and there may come a time when robot umpires roam the Earth. Their training methods and focus will pivot with the changes. “We’re all kind of learning this as it continues to progress,” Swanson says about the future. “In some ways it's uncharted territories so we’re all trying to stay ahead of it and push the ball forward.”
  15. Marwin Gonzalez. Minnesota Twin. Pencil him in for any position in the field, he can play more roles than Christian Bale. As a switch-hitter, he’s his own platoon partner. Call him a Swiss Army Knife or Thneed or whatever object you want to conjure up versatility. The Twins will simply call him theirs. It was a bit of an oddity that Gonzalez lingered this long on the free agent market. Sure, there’s been the ongoing Great Free Agent Freeze-Out but still, someone who can play passable defense at positions 3 through 9 on the diamond and hold his own offensively would be a godsend for any bench -- particularly those that have their sights on a postseason berth -- at a relatively modest price would have multiple suitors. And, yet, Gonzalez was available so long that the Twins were forced to say ‘take our money’. So what is this modern-day Cesar Tovar capable of providing the Twins? Is Gonzalez likely to replicate his 2017 numbers or is his true production closer to what he’s turned in every other year?You probably can’t help but notice that Gonzalez seemingly came out of nowhere, grabbed attention during the Astros’ 2017 World Series run with a career year at age 28, and then turned in a down year in 2018 on the cusp of free agency. That’s one potential reason he was available in late February. After digging in, it appears that Gonzalez’s 2017 breakout season was really a combination of things including optimization of his swing, refining his zone approach and, perhaps, punctuated with a bit of luck. Let’s start with the swing. While he is a switch-hitter, because over 70% of his career plate appearances happened in the left-handed batter's box -- and will likely be where he receives the bulk of his at-bats going forward -- we will focus on this. Over the first 5 seasons of his career, he posted a pedestrian .256/.296/.382 from the left-side. In the last two -- which was mostly driven by his 2017 performance (we’ll get into that later) -- Gonzalez has hit .280/.362/.477. Look back at his home run totals from the left-side: 2012 - 2 2013 - 4 2014 - 6 2015 - 6 2016 - 8 2017 - 18 2018 - 11 So what happened where he finally achieved his breakout in an age-28 season? To understand his power progression, you have to understand how his swing has grown. Below is a comparison of two of Gonzalez’s left-handed swings. The one on the left is from 2015 -- you know, The Weeknd, Adele, Inside Out, Mad Max Fury Road, Obama, etc. Classic 2015. The one on the right is from 2017 -- Cardi B, Imagine Dragons, Get Out, Blade Runner 2049, Trump, etc. Standard 2017 stuff. Like those two years, Marwin Gonzalez’s swing is essentially the same but also radically different. While the components are similar, such as the big leg-kick and low hands, there are some subtle yet very important changes to his movement patterns. Download attachment: unnamed (1).gif From a high-level perspective, it is a more connected swing. What do I mean by more connected? It simply means that the kinetic chain sequence is working as a unit rather than independent parts of the body. For example, look at the hand load portion of his swing. From the 2015 clip, you see his hands pick up the bat and bring it to the launch point. His back elbow is picking up the bat. It is drifting. In 2017, his hands, elbow, and bat remain in the same spot as he steps away, leaving the barrel ready to fire at the launch point. Download attachment: FSFrameGIFImage.gif Another way to explain what is happening is by using your index finger and thumb, curl your finger back toward your thumb — without touching the two fingers — and flick forward. Now do the same thing but put your index finger on your thumb, feel that tension for a second and then flick. Much more potent, right? That’s the difference between these two movements. This was something that Eduardo Escobar changed during his career with the Twins which helped provide more power but also gave him more time to identify pitches. By staying taut and stretching rather than moving to a spot, it gives the hitter extra fractions of milliseconds to identify a pitch. A rolling start, like his 2015 swing, can also be more difficult to shut a swing down. For Gonzalez, the change helped him ID breaking balls sooner. He went from swinging at breaking balls at a 46% clip in his first 5 seasons to offering at them at a 35% clip since 2017. His chase rate also dropped from 34% to 21%. But that was not his only improvement in discipline. Gonzalez’s overall chase rate from the left-side went from 40% and 35% in 2015 and 2016, respectively, to 26% in 2017 and 27% in 2018. Part of the transformation came from the Astros showing the players charts of their weaknesses and creating development strategies to turn them into strengths. Curveballs, from both sides of the plate, were one of Gonzalez’s biggest weaknesses. To be fair, the Houston Astros are light years ahead of most MLB teams and one thing they excel at is pregame prep. Take a listen to how well they prepare for opposing teams using Statcast data. Furthermore, Gonzalez credits working with and interacting with teammates like Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Carlos Beltran as factors behind his approach adjustment. Undoubtedly, this likely influenced Gonzalez’s improvements versus breaking balls as much as his swing tweak did. As an import from the Astros organization, this is an ancillary benefit for having signed Gonzalez. Gonzalez’s career has spanned the great shift in Houston, going from the laughingstock to one of the elite and respected organizations. He knows the way the analytic-heavy Astros prepared for games and how valuable it was to share ideas with teammates. In order to use the Statcast data to a lineup’s advantage, it requires buy-in from the players. Gonzalez has been through this rodeo and could potentially assist in getting the Twins players up to speed. The next clip is the power sauce. This is where the two swings really diverge. Watch how in 2015 the barrel and his hands come forward whereas in the 2017 clip the barrel is staying back behind him. It’s pushing versus turning the barrel. Download attachment: FSFrameGIFImage (1).gif What happens now, Gonzalez is extending the time the barrel stays in the zone. Gonzalez’s swing stays on plane with the pitch slightly longer, allowing him to handle a greater variation in speed. It also provides a different attack approach. The 2015 version enters the zone steep, which can lead to cutting or chopping contact — in short, less optimal contact. In 2017, with a barrel that is on plane sooner, he’s getting more lift as his ground ball rate dropped from 52% to 46% (his average fly ball distance also increased from 277 feet to 303 feet). That was the catalyst of his 2017 breakout. A season where he finished hitting a robust .322/.394/.552 from the left side, lifting him to career-best numbers. Of course, those same numbers from the left side plummeted back to earth in 2018. He posted a mundane .237/.330/.399 from the port (which was much closer to his left-handed career slash of .252/.304/.386 when removing the 2017 production). It raises the question if his adjustments were so good that it led to a breakout season in 2017, why did it regress so heavily in 2018? “Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It's 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at-bats is 50 points, okay? There's 6 months in a season, that's about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week - just one - a gorp... you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes... you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week... and you're in Yankee Stadium.” - Crash Davis, Bull Durham While the changes to his swing have led to an improved approach and more consistent contact, the baseball gods seemingly looked the other way in 2018 after showering him with good fortune in 2017. His average exit velocity dropped to his normal levels. After posting a 92.1 mph exit velocity in 2017, it receded back to 90 mph in 2018. The second data point that changed is his average launch angle increased from 9 degrees to 14 degrees. Most may consider an increase in launch angle a good thing but for Gonzalez, it led to more batted ball outs -- specifically in the line drive category. Per ESPN/TruMedia’s data, in 2017, Gonzalez had a .794 batting average on line drives as a lefty. Coincidentally, only Logan Morrison (.805) had a better average. The rest of the league’s left-handed constituency sat at .687. So Gonzalez was performing well above the norm which may have been an indication to expect regression. Last year that number dropped to .613. Part of the reason for this is that his line drives carried a bit further than his previous season. In 2017 his average liner went 257 feet on average but was at 268 feet in 2018, meaning fewer liners dropped in front of the outfielders and infielders. Hitting the ball hard on a line is obviously preferential, however there are some diminishing returns when more liners become midrange instead of short or long. The venerable Tango Tom, MLBAM’s senior data architect, dropped some wet hot charty data on us this weekend, showing how exit velocity and launch angle affects the distance of a batted ball. A ball struck at a 15-degree launch and a 97 mph exit velo would travel on average 271 feet. This was Gonzalez’s average line drive metrics in 2017. He actually averaged a distance of 257 feet on those balls. Meanwhile, one that has a 17-degree launch and hit at 95 mph would travel 281 feet. In reality, Gonzalez’s liners traveled 268 feet in 2018. Take a look at how that visually played out. Download attachment: Webp.net-gifmaker.gif There were many more balls falling in front of the outfielder and over or between the infielders. Since 2009, line drives that traveled between 200 and 250 feet (which is where the bulk of Gonzalez’s landed in 2017) became hits at a 96.2% clip. Line drives traveling over 250 and under 300 feet, however, only became hits at a 70.3% clip. That extra 11 feet cost Gonzalez a bunch of hits. Likewise, Gonzalez experienced a decline in his ground ball average as well. In 2017 he held a .281 average on ground balls, 12th highest among left-handed hitters and well above the .243 average. In 2018, that average dropped to .182, 64th among left-handed hitters. To be clear, grounders are just long bunts however even the most ardent launch angle supporter still hits ground balls in 30% of their batted ball profile mix. Grounders need to sneak through the infield in order to continue to post robust numbers. What does this mean for the Twins and Marwin Gonzalez going forward? Obviously, you can’t just say Marwin, hit it a bit softer with some topspin occasionally. Hitting doesn’t work that way. That said, Tango Tom’s Twitter thread alluded to that particular study potentially being critical in understanding how attack angle plays a role in the output. There are players who outperform that expected batted ball travel distance and most of those players with the added carry have lower launch angles (Tango cited Lorenzo Cain versus Joey Gallo as contrasting examples). The Twins brain trust may be able to back into an attack angle study with Gonzalez. It may be that his swing in 2018 had some change that can be tweaked back through some spring drills. Again, Gonzalez’s greatest asset is his versatility, not necessarily his bat. Tweaks or no tweaks heading in 2019, if Gonzalez continues to hit the ball as hard as he has done since 2017, from either side of the plate, while playing wherever he is needed in the field, the Twins should wind up with more than enough value. Click here to view the article
  16. You probably can’t help but notice that Gonzalez seemingly came out of nowhere, grabbed attention during the Astros’ 2017 World Series run with a career year at age 28, and then turned in a down year in 2018 on the cusp of free agency. That’s one potential reason he was available in late February. After digging in, it appears that Gonzalez’s 2017 breakout season was really a combination of things including optimization of his swing, refining his zone approach and, perhaps, punctuated with a bit of luck. Let’s start with the swing. While he is a switch-hitter, because over 70% of his career plate appearances happened in the left-handed batter's box -- and will likely be where he receives the bulk of his at-bats going forward -- we will focus on this. Over the first 5 seasons of his career, he posted a pedestrian .256/.296/.382 from the left-side. In the last two -- which was mostly driven by his 2017 performance (we’ll get into that later) -- Gonzalez has hit .280/.362/.477. Look back at his home run totals from the left-side: 2012 - 2 2013 - 4 2014 - 6 2015 - 6 2016 - 8 2017 - 18 2018 - 11 So what happened where he finally achieved his breakout in an age-28 season? To understand his power progression, you have to understand how his swing has grown. Below is a comparison of two of Gonzalez’s left-handed swings. The one on the left is from 2015 -- you know, The Weeknd, Adele, Inside Out, Mad Max Fury Road, Obama, etc. Classic 2015. The one on the right is from 2017 -- Cardi B, Imagine Dragons, Get Out, Blade Runner 2049, Trump, etc. Standard 2017 stuff. Like those two years, Marwin Gonzalez’s swing is essentially the same but also radically different. While the components are similar, such as the big leg-kick and low hands, there are some subtle yet very important changes to his movement patterns. From a high-level perspective, it is a more connected swing. What do I mean by more connected? It simply means that the kinetic chain sequence is working as a unit rather than independent parts of the body. For example, look at the hand load portion of his swing. From the 2015 clip, you see his hands pick up the bat and bring it to the launch point. His back elbow is picking up the bat. It is drifting. In 2017, his hands, elbow, and bat remain in the same spot as he steps away, leaving the barrel ready to fire at the launch point. Another way to explain what is happening is by using your index finger and thumb, curl your finger back toward your thumb — without touching the two fingers — and flick forward. Now do the same thing but put your index finger on your thumb, feel that tension for a second and then flick. Much more potent, right? That’s the difference between these two movements. This was something that Eduardo Escobar changed during his career with the Twins which helped provide more power but also gave him more time to identify pitches. By staying taut and stretching rather than moving to a spot, it gives the hitter extra fractions of milliseconds to identify a pitch. A rolling start, like his 2015 swing, can also be more difficult to shut a swing down. For Gonzalez, the change helped him ID breaking balls sooner. He went from swinging at breaking balls at a 46% clip in his first 5 seasons to offering at them at a 35% clip since 2017. His chase rate also dropped from 34% to 21%. But that was not his only improvement in discipline. Gonzalez’s overall chase rate from the left-side went from 40% and 35% in 2015 and 2016, respectively, to 26% in 2017 and 27% in 2018. Part of the transformation came from the Astros showing the players charts of their weaknesses and creating development strategies to turn them into strengths. Curveballs, from both sides of the plate, were one of Gonzalez’s biggest weaknesses. To be fair, the Houston Astros are light years ahead of most MLB teams and one thing they excel at is pregame prep. Take a listen to how well they prepare for opposing teams using Statcast data. Furthermore, Gonzalez credits working with and interacting with teammates like Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Carlos Beltran as factors behind his approach adjustment. Undoubtedly, this likely influenced Gonzalez’s improvements versus breaking balls as much as his swing tweak did. As an import from the Astros organization, this is an ancillary benefit for having signed Gonzalez. Gonzalez’s career has spanned the great shift in Houston, going from the laughingstock to one of the elite and respected organizations. He knows the way the analytic-heavy Astros prepared for games and how valuable it was to share ideas with teammates. In order to use the Statcast data to a lineup’s advantage, it requires buy-in from the players. Gonzalez has been through this rodeo and could potentially assist in getting the Twins players up to speed. The next clip is the power sauce. This is where the two swings really diverge. Watch how in 2015 the barrel and his hands come forward whereas in the 2017 clip the barrel is staying back behind him. It’s pushing versus turning the barrel. What happens now, Gonzalez is extending the time the barrel stays in the zone. Gonzalez’s swing stays on plane with the pitch slightly longer, allowing him to handle a greater variation in speed. It also provides a different attack approach. The 2015 version enters the zone steep, which can lead to cutting or chopping contact — in short, less optimal contact. In 2017, with a barrel that is on plane sooner, he’s getting more lift as his ground ball rate dropped from 52% to 46% (his average fly ball distance also increased from 277 feet to 303 feet). That was the catalyst of his 2017 breakout. A season where he finished hitting a robust .322/.394/.552 from the left side, lifting him to career-best numbers. Of course, those same numbers from the left side plummeted back to earth in 2018. He posted a mundane .237/.330/.399 from the port (which was much closer to his left-handed career slash of .252/.304/.386 when removing the 2017 production). It raises the question if his adjustments were so good that it led to a breakout season in 2017, why did it regress so heavily in 2018? “Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It's 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at-bats is 50 points, okay? There's 6 months in a season, that's about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week - just one - a gorp... you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes... you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week... and you're in Yankee Stadium.” - Crash Davis, Bull Durham While the changes to his swing have led to an improved approach and more consistent contact, the baseball gods seemingly looked the other way in 2018 after showering him with good fortune in 2017. His average exit velocity dropped to his normal levels. After posting a 92.1 mph exit velocity in 2017, it receded back to 90 mph in 2018. The second data point that changed is his average launch angle increased from 9 degrees to 14 degrees. Most may consider an increase in launch angle a good thing but for Gonzalez, it led to more batted ball outs -- specifically in the line drive category. Per ESPN/TruMedia’s data, in 2017, Gonzalez had a .794 batting average on line drives as a lefty. Coincidentally, only Logan Morrison (.805) had a better average. The rest of the league’s left-handed constituency sat at .687. So Gonzalez was performing well above the norm which may have been an indication to expect regression. Last year that number dropped to .613. Part of the reason for this is that his line drives carried a bit further than his previous season. In 2017 his average liner went 257 feet on average but was at 268 feet in 2018, meaning fewer liners dropped in front of the outfielders and infielders. Hitting the ball hard on a line is obviously preferential, however there are some diminishing returns when more liners become midrange instead of short or long. The venerable Tango Tom, MLBAM’s senior data architect, dropped some wet hot charty data on us this weekend, showing how exit velocity and launch angle affects the distance of a batted ball. A ball struck at a 15-degree launch and a 97 mph exit velo would travel on average 271 feet. This was Gonzalez’s average line drive metrics in 2017. He actually averaged a distance of 257 feet on those balls. Meanwhile, one that has a 17-degree launch and hit at 95 mph would travel 281 feet. In reality, Gonzalez’s liners traveled 268 feet in 2018. Take a look at how that visually played out. There were many more balls falling in front of the outfielder and over or between the infielders. Since 2009, line drives that traveled between 200 and 250 feet (which is where the bulk of Gonzalez’s landed in 2017) became hits at a 96.2% clip. Line drives traveling over 250 and under 300 feet, however, only became hits at a 70.3% clip. That extra 11 feet cost Gonzalez a bunch of hits. Likewise, Gonzalez experienced a decline in his ground ball average as well. In 2017 he held a .281 average on ground balls, 12th highest among left-handed hitters and well above the .243 average. In 2018, that average dropped to .182, 64th among left-handed hitters. To be clear, grounders are just long bunts however even the most ardent launch angle supporter still hits ground balls in 30% of their batted ball profile mix. Grounders need to sneak through the infield in order to continue to post robust numbers. What does this mean for the Twins and Marwin Gonzalez going forward? Obviously, you can’t just say Marwin, hit it a bit softer with some topspin occasionally. Hitting doesn’t work that way. That said, Tango Tom’s Twitter thread alluded to that particular study potentially being critical in understanding how attack angle plays a role in the output. There are players who outperform that expected batted ball travel distance and most of those players with the added carry have lower launch angles (Tango cited Lorenzo Cain versus Joey Gallo as contrasting examples). The Twins brain trust may be able to back into an attack angle study with Gonzalez. It may be that his swing in 2018 had some change that can be tweaked back through some spring drills. Again, Gonzalez’s greatest asset is his versatility, not necessarily his bat. Tweaks or no tweaks heading in 2019, if Gonzalez continues to hit the ball as hard as he has done since 2017, from either side of the plate, while playing wherever he is needed in the field, the Twins should wind up with more than enough value.
  17. It’s January so, like most of the of the young and inexperienced pitchers, Fernando Romero’s future role with the Minnesota Twins is up in the air. What we do know is that with the signing of Martin Perez, the traditional starting rotation is currently full. There is the possibility that Romero emerges as a primary pitcher -- the guy who follows the opener. There’s also a chance he lands as a late-innings power arm. It could be in Minnesota. Or it could be in Rochester.The Twins acknowledged that Romero is currently a two-pitch pitcher. Technically, he has three types of fastballs (but two movement patterns), a promising slider, and a developing change-up but, functionally, he has a fastball and a slider. Because of this, the front office believes he is better served coming out of the bullpen (or at least in a role that limits his times through the order). Foundationally, Romero’s fastballs are solid for any pitching role. The mid-90s-plus 4-seam fastball can be elevated while his 2-seam and 1-seam fastballs burrow down-and-in to right-handed hitters. From a pitch sequencing standpoint, this is something to build upon. In the most basic sense, depending on the shape of a pitcher’s breaking pitch, when you have an elevated fastball, it would be best to have a curveball that can tunnel with it before descending out of the path. Likewise, if you have a running sinker, you would like to pair it more with a slider running the other direction, similar to how Kyle Gibson tunnels his. Ideally, a pitcher would have a variety of pitches moving in different directions to keep hitters defending the entire zone but a pair of complementary pitches can carve opponents up. After all, Glen Perkins had an impressive run as the Twins’ closer with a two-pitch repertoire. So what is the shape of Romero’s slider? The greasy techie data says that it is one that has 8.2 inches of break length from release to the plate, which is average from a right-handed pitcher, and a below average break angle of -2.9. The break angle essentially means which direction and how much the pitch is running. A break angle of 0 means the pitch follows a straight path from the release point to the target with no movement in any direction. If the break angle is positive, it means it is moving toward a right-handed hitter. Negative, toward a lefty. Romero’s -2.9 break angle means it has some movement toward left-handed hitters while the average right-hander’s slider has a break angle of -8.1. (To give a better picture of what break angle means, you can compare Fernando Romero’s -2.9 break angle slider with the new Yankee Adam Ottavino’s frisbee slider with a -21.5 break angle slider who is on the opposite end of the slider movement spectrum.) So that is the essence of his best secondary pitch. It’s thrown fairly hard (the average slider is thrown at 84 mph and his clocks in at 87), moves slightly away from right-handed hitters, and has about league-average break. Before coming to the big club, Paul Molitor described Romero’s slider as “inconsistent”, which is exactly how it played for the Twins. On occasion, Romero would spin a nasty hoochie woochie but on others, it would back up and sit on a platter for a lucky batter. While Romero’s 36 percent miss rate on the slider is above average (and actually higher than that of the oft-celebrated Ottavino), opponents posted a .723 OPS and an 88 mph exit velocity (higher than the MLB slider average of 85.8 mph) off of it. It is a small sampling, to be sure, but one can look at these numbers as an affirmation of what Molitor suggested. One reason for the middling production was simply location. If you divided the zone in half across the middle, separating upper and lower quadrants, his slider landed in the upper quadrant 40.1 percent of the time (significantly higher than the 25 percent league average). The good news is that hitters did not completely decimate sliders left up - but they didn’t swing through them either (just a 5% swinging strike rate up compared to a 25% one when he kept it down). Download attachment: fernando romero.png The location cost him some strikeouts, leaving the ball spinning up in two-strike counts where an otherwise well-executed slider would have been a kill shot. Download attachment: trumedia_baseball_heatmap (7).png In terms of sequencing, Romero’s slider has actually played well off of the 4-seam fastball, enticing a miss rate of 40 percent and a 39 percent chase rate out of the zone in a fastball-slider pairing. On the other hand, opponents may be able to tell the difference between his slider and sinker as they have a 33 percent miss rate and just a 15 percent chase rate on his slider after being set up by his sinker. If Romero does nothing to tweak his slider heading into the 2019 season, at the very least he should be pairing it more frequently off his fastball. Here is where the new-look, data savvy, tech-reliant Twins organization might be able to optimize Fernando Romero’s stuff. It would seem that Romero is a prime candidate to receive the pitch design treatment — a retooling of his pitches guided by Rapsodo technology and high-speed Edgertronic cameras. Championed by Driveline Baseball, the baseball training company has found some best practices that can identify issues and improve a pitch’s performance based on certain modifications. Before pitch design technology became available, the previous best method to improve this was to have a pitching coach observe bullpens, giving the pitcher cues and provide affirmation when the ball seems to react differently. Then they hope that a player carries whatever feel they had during the pen into the game. Between the diagnostic process and communicating what the problem and solution might be, there could be a long trial-and-error period. Now, however, armed with the new tools, a pitcher and the player development team can isolate the issue, diagnose it and set forth a plan to correct it. The first issue for Romero is consistency, which seems to track back to the moment the pitch leaves his hand. When he releases the slider, it may be that he is letting go too early or with different hand tilts. As researchers at Driveline have demonstrated, even the smallest minutiae such as fingertip contact points can wildly change the spin and flight path. Admittedly, without the high-speed cameras, it is difficult to properly diagnose the issue but from the limited slow-motion release clips, we can see where Romero’s slider needs work. Here is an example of how the slider comes out of Romero’s hand. Romero’s thumb is tucked and his fingers are wrapped around the bottom of the baseball. At this juncture, the thumb is making very minimal contact while his index and middle fingertips are applying pressure. Then he snaps across. On average, he imparts 2,431 rpm worth of spin on his slider, which is about the league average spin rate for right-handed sliders (2,413). Now compare that to Justin Verlander’s slider grip and release (image courtesy of Pitching Ninja) -- the one that Verlander reportedly improved upon while using the Astros’ bevy of Edgertronic cameras to isolate his release point. Notice how his fingers wrap the side with more contact points on his fingers. His release motion also comes down diagonally through the ball. The results were two more inches of run than Romero’s slider as well as 200 more rpms of spin (2,684 average). The added rpms is important because each increase of 100 or more translates into more swing and misses. Of course, not everyone has the same release or arm path. Verlander’s 6-5 frame and over-the-top delivery might preclude Romero from copying his style. Romero’s slider release almost mimics that of Marcus Stroman, whose pitch was the basis for Trevor Bauer’s recent slider rebuild (which is now superb). This may be a template for Romero to unleash hell on an improved pitch. Like Verlander’s, Stroman’s slider grip is held deeper in the hand, which can account for more spin. Stroman’s release has his hand placement similar to Romero’s (underneath rather than like Verlander’s wrapping the side) but unlike Romero’s, Stroman has more contact with the baseball, most noticeably with his thumb (Stroman’s is flush whereas Romero’s makes contact on the side of his). The action differs slightly too as Romero pulls across while Stroman’s hand pulls down. To be fair, Romero’s slider numbers actually outperformed Stroman’s in 2018, with a higher swinging strike percentage, but Stroman’s numbers took a step back on the pitch this last season where he had previously had a swinging strike rate of 21 percent and a chase rate of 41 percent (with 17 and 33 being league average on the pitch). That said, Stroman’s metrics exceed those of Romero, with a 12-inch break and a 2,654 rpm spin rate. If Romero can emulate this pitch consistently, it will give him a significantly improved weapon and be a cornerstone swing-and-miss pitch vital for late innings relief. At the very least, tweaking his slider to give it more consistent depth and tilt could help create a monster in the bullpen. What’s more, if he reinvents his slider and maintains the more cutter-ish version, he might have the necessary three-pitch mix to be a force in the rotation. The Twins have built a player development infrastructure -- both the best tech and the best minds — to address this very issue. Now we will get to see it in action. Exciting times. Click here to view the article
  18. The Twins acknowledged that Romero is currently a two-pitch pitcher. Technically, he has three types of fastballs (but two movement patterns), a promising slider, and a developing change-up but, functionally, he has a fastball and a slider. Because of this, the front office believes he is better served coming out of the bullpen (or at least in a role that limits his times through the order). Foundationally, Romero’s fastballs are solid for any pitching role. The mid-90s-plus 4-seam fastball can be elevated while his 2-seam and 1-seam fastballs burrow down-and-in to right-handed hitters. From a pitch sequencing standpoint, this is something to build upon. In the most basic sense, depending on the shape of a pitcher’s breaking pitch, when you have an elevated fastball, it would be best to have a curveball that can tunnel with it before descending out of the path. Likewise, if you have a running sinker, you would like to pair it more with a slider running the other direction, similar to how Kyle Gibson tunnels his. Ideally, a pitcher would have a variety of pitches moving in different directions to keep hitters defending the entire zone but a pair of complementary pitches can carve opponents up. After all, Glen Perkins had an impressive run as the Twins’ closer with a two-pitch repertoire. So what is the shape of Romero’s slider? The greasy techie data says that it is one that has 8.2 inches of break length from release to the plate, which is average from a right-handed pitcher, and a below average break angle of -2.9. The break angle essentially means which direction and how much the pitch is running. A break angle of 0 means the pitch follows a straight path from the release point to the target with no movement in any direction. If the break angle is positive, it means it is moving toward a right-handed hitter. Negative, toward a lefty. Romero’s -2.9 break angle means it has some movement toward left-handed hitters while the average right-hander’s slider has a break angle of -8.1. (To give a better picture of what break angle means, you can compare Fernando Romero’s -2.9 break angle slider with the new Yankee Adam Ottavino’s frisbee slider with a -21.5 break angle slider who is on the opposite end of the slider movement spectrum.) So that is the essence of his best secondary pitch. It’s thrown fairly hard (the average slider is thrown at 84 mph and his clocks in at 87), moves slightly away from right-handed hitters, and has about league-average break. Before coming to the big club, Paul Molitor described Romero’s slider as “inconsistent”, which is exactly how it played for the Twins. On occasion, Romero would spin a nasty hoochie woochie but on others, it would back up and sit on a platter for a lucky batter. While Romero’s 36 percent miss rate on the slider is above average (and actually higher than that of the oft-celebrated Ottavino), opponents posted a .723 OPS and an 88 mph exit velocity (higher than the MLB slider average of 85.8 mph) off of it. It is a small sampling, to be sure, but one can look at these numbers as an affirmation of what Molitor suggested. One reason for the middling production was simply location. If you divided the zone in half across the middle, separating upper and lower quadrants, his slider landed in the upper quadrant 40.1 percent of the time (significantly higher than the 25 percent league average). The good news is that hitters did not completely decimate sliders left up - but they didn’t swing through them either (just a 5% swinging strike rate up compared to a 25% one when he kept it down). The location cost him some strikeouts, leaving the ball spinning up in two-strike counts where an otherwise well-executed slider would have been a kill shot. In terms of sequencing, Romero’s slider has actually played well off of the 4-seam fastball, enticing a miss rate of 40 percent and a 39 percent chase rate out of the zone in a fastball-slider pairing. On the other hand, opponents may be able to tell the difference between his slider and sinker as they have a 33 percent miss rate and just a 15 percent chase rate on his slider after being set up by his sinker. If Romero does nothing to tweak his slider heading into the 2019 season, at the very least he should be pairing it more frequently off his fastball. Here is where the new-look, data savvy, tech-reliant Twins organization might be able to optimize Fernando Romero’s stuff. It would seem that Romero is a prime candidate to receive the pitch design treatment — a retooling of his pitches guided by Rapsodo technology and high-speed Edgertronic cameras. Championed by Driveline Baseball, the baseball training company has found some best practices that can identify issues and improve a pitch’s performance based on certain modifications. Before pitch design technology became available, the previous best method to improve this was to have a pitching coach observe bullpens, giving the pitcher cues and provide affirmation when the ball seems to react differently. Then they hope that a player carries whatever feel they had during the pen into the game. Between the diagnostic process and communicating what the problem and solution might be, there could be a long trial-and-error period. Now, however, armed with the new tools, a pitcher and the player development team can isolate the issue, diagnose it and set forth a plan to correct it. The first issue for Romero is consistency, which seems to track back to the moment the pitch leaves his hand. When he releases the slider, it may be that he is letting go too early or with different hand tilts. As researchers at Driveline have demonstrated, even the smallest minutiae such as fingertip contact points can wildly change the spin and flight path. Admittedly, without the high-speed cameras, it is difficult to properly diagnose the issue but from the limited slow-motion release clips, we can see where Romero’s slider needs work. Here is an example of how the slider comes out of Romero’s hand. Romero’s thumb is tucked and his fingers are wrapped around the bottom of the baseball. At this juncture, the thumb is making very minimal contact while his index and middle fingertips are applying pressure. Then he snaps across. On average, he imparts 2,431 rpm worth of spin on his slider, which is about the league average spin rate for right-handed sliders (2,413). Now compare that to Justin Verlander’s slider grip and release (image courtesy of Pitching Ninja) -- the one that Verlander reportedly improved upon while using the Astros’ bevy of Edgertronic cameras to isolate his release point. Notice how his fingers wrap the side with more contact points on his fingers. His release motion also comes down diagonally through the ball. The results were two more inches of run than Romero’s slider as well as 200 more rpms of spin (2,684 average). The added rpms is important because each increase of 100 or more translates into more swing and misses. Of course, not everyone has the same release or arm path. Verlander’s 6-5 frame and over-the-top delivery might preclude Romero from copying his style. Romero’s slider release almost mimics that of Marcus Stroman, whose pitch was the basis for Trevor Bauer’s recent slider rebuild (which is now superb). This may be a template for Romero to unleash hell on an improved pitch. Like Verlander’s, Stroman’s slider grip is held deeper in the hand, which can account for more spin. Stroman’s release has his hand placement similar to Romero’s (underneath rather than like Verlander’s wrapping the side) but unlike Romero’s, Stroman has more contact with the baseball, most noticeably with his thumb (Stroman’s is flush whereas Romero’s makes contact on the side of his). The action differs slightly too as Romero pulls across while Stroman’s hand pulls down. To be fair, Romero’s slider numbers actually outperformed Stroman’s in 2018, with a higher swinging strike percentage, but Stroman’s numbers took a step back on the pitch this last season where he had previously had a swinging strike rate of 21 percent and a chase rate of 41 percent (with 17 and 33 being league average on the pitch). That said, Stroman’s metrics exceed those of Romero, with a 12-inch break and a 2,654 rpm spin rate. If Romero can emulate this pitch consistently, it will give him a significantly improved weapon and be a cornerstone swing-and-miss pitch vital for late innings relief. At the very least, tweaking his slider to give it more consistent depth and tilt could help create a monster in the bullpen. What’s more, if he reinvents his slider and maintains the more cutter-ish version, he might have the necessary three-pitch mix to be a force in the rotation. The Twins have built a player development infrastructure -- both the best tech and the best minds — to address this very issue. Now we will get to see it in action. Exciting times.
  19. If there is one thing you should remember from this article it is that Logan Forsythe rarely swings the bat. Over the last two seasons, Joe Mauer offered at 36 percent of pitches thrown his direction. The only person who swung less than that was Logan Forsythe. He deemed just 34 percent of pitches worthy of his lumber. So when a rare event like a Logan Forsythe swing transpired, you would want results that were worthy of the wait. He is sort of the infield version of Robbie Grossman -- likes to gamble that the pitcher can’t throw two consecutive strikes when down in the count. The Dodgers, however, were not fans of this passive approach of letting very hittable pitches scurry by. If there is a second thing you should remember from this article it is that Logan Forsythe did hit a healthy number of home runs, once upon a time. In 2015, Forsythe hit 17 home runs with the Rays. He followed that up with another 20 in 2016. His play was enticing enough that, when the Twins balked at trading Dozier in 2017, the Dodgers flipped a solid pitching prospect for Forsythe instead. However, upon his arrival to Los Angeles, he stopped hitting for power. There were various ailments cited -- a toe injury in April 2017 and a shoulder injury in April 2018 -- that zapped some of his power potential and limited his time on the field. While those are all factors for the power outage, there is also a component of his swing that changed significantly between 2016 and now. Watch the clip of his swing in 2016 (right) compared to 2018 (left): Both swings are against 93 MPH fastballs away from left-handed pitchers, thrown in plus-counts when a hitter should be hunting. For the most part the swings are similar but Forsythe has toned down his pre-launch bat movement since 2016. The added movement before the launch equated to more bat speed. It's simple: less bat speed, less exit velocity. For whatever reason -- a coach’s instruction, a tip from a player, his own development and feel, etc -- Forsythe has removed this element of his swing. In doing so, his average exit velocity has dropped, his average launch angle has decreased, and his ability to drive the ball to right field for power has declined as well (he hit 10 home runs to right in 2015-2016 and has zero since). There is a lot to like about Forsythe’s ability to get the barrel to the ball. He’s a barrel turner (as opposed to someone who hacks down). Watch as his hands turn the barrel rearward before rotating forward to contact. This gets the barrel on plane longer and allows for him to stay back longer instead of drifting toward the pitcher. The other thing to appreciate is that Forsythe actually has a two-strike approach -- something that isn’t always shared by his contemporaries. In two-strike situations Forsythe tones down, eliminating the leg kick and long distance hand load, to try to wait as long as possible and adjust on off-speed pitches: Forsythe rarely chases breaking balls out of the zone. According to ESPN/TruMedia’s data, since 2017 he’s reached on just 14.3 percent of breaking balls outside of the zone whereas the average hitter has done so on just over 30 percent. For comparison’s sake, Joe Mauer has even chased after 23 percent of breaking balls in that time. Forsythe will swing through some (8 percent, same as Mauer) and the results aren’t great when he does make contact (a .588 OPS vs .657 MLB average) but with baseball’s increasing reliance on nasty breaking balls, being able to wait back and keep from chasing after those pitches is rare skill set. Since coming over to the Twins, Forsythe has been some sort of bizarro Shannon Stewart and has been a spark plug for the offense. The offense, of course, isn’t going anywhere except home in October but Forsythe’s play has at least kept the team from improving its draft position. This isn’t meant to read as a sales pitch to the Twins to try to retain Logan Forsythe. A week ago, Seth Stohs asked “What To Do With Logan Forsythe” and the prevailing sentiment seemed to be “drive him to the airport”. When he was acquired, it was accepted that Forsythe was a placeholder until the end of the year. That should probably stay, but night after night he’s piled on the hits and has given the front office, at the very least, a mild case of the considerations. Truthfully, this is probably more of a sales pitch for contending teams interested in an additional bench bat or utility player. If someone is willing to surrender a prospect or project to have a high-contact right-handed bat on the bench for the playoffs (there’s got to be a team interested in a player who can put the ball in play in a pinch) the Twins should absolutely move him. What’s more, Forsythe would also come with untapped power potential if someone could convince him to rekindle his 2016 swing. If there is a third thing you should remember from this article it is that it ended.
  20. Logan Forsythe’s 19-game run with the Minnesota Twins has been fairly remarkable. In the time since he came over from the Dodgers in the Brian Dozier trade, Forsythe has led the team in batting average (.377) and on-base percentage (.434). Yes, a little over two weeks is the poster child for small sample size enthusiasts and having half of your hits come on ground balls isn’t exactly a roadmap for sustainability, yet Forsythe has looked good considering he was flotsam in LA. While the hits have been nice, it’s a far cry from his days with the Tampa Bay Rays where he was hitting double-digit dingers.If there is one thing you should remember from this article it is that Logan Forsythe rarely swings the bat. Over the last two seasons, Joe Mauer offered at 36 percent of pitches thrown his direction. The only person who swung less than that was Logan Forsythe. He deemed just 34 percent of pitches worthy of his lumber. So when a rare event like a Logan Forsythe swing transpired, you would want results that were worthy of the wait. He is sort of the infield version of Robbie Grossman -- likes to gamble that the pitcher can’t throw two consecutive strikes when down in the count. The Dodgers, however, were not fans of this passive approach of letting very hittable pitches scurry by. If there is a second thing you should remember from this article it is that Logan Forsythe did hit a healthy number of home runs, once upon a time. In 2015, Forsythe hit 17 home runs with the Rays. He followed that up with another 20 in 2016. His play was enticing enough that, when the Twins balked at trading Dozier in 2017, the Dodgers flipped a solid pitching prospect for Forsythe instead. However, upon his arrival to Los Angeles, he stopped hitting for power. There were various ailments cited -- a toe injury in April 2017 and a shoulder injury in April 2018 -- that zapped some of his power potential and limited his time on the field. While those are all factors for the power outage, there is also a component of his swing that changed significantly between 2016 and now. Watch the clip of his swing in 2016 (right) compared to 2018 (left): Download attachment: FSFrameGIFImage (4).GIF Both swings are against 93 MPH fastballs away from left-handed pitchers, thrown in plus-counts when a hitter should be hunting. For the most part the swings are similar but Forsythe has toned down his pre-launch bat movement since 2016. Download attachment: FSFrameGIFImage.GIF The added movement before the launch equated to more bat speed. It's simple: less bat speed, less exit velocity. For whatever reason -- a coach’s instruction, a tip from a player, his own development and feel, etc -- Forsythe has removed this element of his swing. In doing so, his average exit velocity has dropped, his average launch angle has decreased, and his ability to drive the ball to right field for power has declined as well (he hit 10 home runs to right in 2015-2016 and has zero since). There is a lot to like about Forsythe’s ability to get the barrel to the ball. He’s a barrel turner (as opposed to someone who hacks down). Watch as his hands turn the barrel rearward before rotating forward to contact. This gets the barrel on plane longer and allows for him to stay back longer instead of drifting toward the pitcher. Download attachment: FSFrameGIFImage (1).GIF The other thing to appreciate is that Forsythe actually has a two-strike approach -- something that isn’t always shared by his contemporaries. In two-strike situations Forsythe tones down, eliminating the leg kick and long distance hand load, to try to wait as long as possible and adjust on off-speed pitches: Download attachment: FSFrameGIFImage (3).GIF Forsythe rarely chases breaking balls out of the zone. According to ESPN/TruMedia’s data, since 2017 he’s reached on just 14.3 percent of breaking balls outside of the zone whereas the average hitter has done so on just over 30 percent. For comparison’s sake, Joe Mauer has even chased after 23 percent of breaking balls in that time. Forsythe will swing through some (8 percent, same as Mauer) and the results aren’t great when he does make contact (a .588 OPS vs .657 MLB average) but with baseball’s increasing reliance on nasty breaking balls, being able to wait back and keep from chasing after those pitches is rare skill set. Since coming over to the Twins, Forsythe has been some sort of bizarro Shannon Stewart and has been a spark plug for the offense. The offense, of course, isn’t going anywhere except home in October but Forsythe’s play has at least kept the team from improving its draft position. This isn’t meant to read as a sales pitch to the Twins to try to retain Logan Forsythe. A week ago, Seth Stohs asked “What To Do With Logan Forsythe” and the prevailing sentiment seemed to be “drive him to the airport”. When he was acquired, it was accepted that Forsythe was a placeholder until the end of the year. That should probably stay, but night after night he’s piled on the hits and has given the front office, at the very least, a mild case of the considerations. Truthfully, this is probably more of a sales pitch for contending teams interested in an additional bench bat or utility player. If someone is willing to surrender a prospect or project to have a high-contact right-handed bat on the bench for the playoffs (there’s got to be a team interested in a player who can put the ball in play in a pinch) the Twins should absolutely move him. What’s more, Forsythe would also come with untapped power potential if someone could convince him to rekindle his 2016 swing. If there is a third thing you should remember from this article it is that it ended. Click here to view the article
  21. MIguel Sano has been a hot mess at the plate pretty much all season. Statistically, he has had career highs and lows in all the wrong categories warranting the need to push pause on his 2018 season. The demotion to Fort Myers should give him the opportunity to clean up his swing as well as recuperate from whatever lingering leg injuries have been stifling him. When it comes to his swing, you may be asking yourself what exactly does the big man have to clean up? Let's take a look. Click here to view the article
  22. https://twitter.com/ParkerHageman/status/1007726522998972416 https://twitter.com/ParkerHageman/status/1007727021496119296 https://twitter.com/ParkerHageman/status/1007727875095703558 https://twitter.com/ParkerHageman/status/1007728487602548737 https://twitter.com/ParkerHageman/status/1007728796538228737 https://twitter.com/ParkerHageman/status/1007729487432253440
  23. https://twitter.com/ParkerHageman/status/1009854271981064192 https://twitter.com/ParkerHageman/status/1009854582128771077 https://twitter.com/ParkerHageman/status/1009855114197262336 https://twitter.com/ParkerHageman/status/1009855544268611584 https://twitter.com/ParkerHageman/status/1009856382999433217 https://twitter.com/ParkerHageman/status/1009856779876958214 https://twitter.com/ParkerHageman/status/1009857667425292289
  24. Eduardo Escobar's day at the park ended shortly after a Rick Porcello fastball bounced off the vulnerable part of the arm just above the elbow and sent shooting pain down to his digits. It is the type of injury that would have made a lesser person's fingers tingle for hours, leaving them incapable of eating steak. Not Ed Escobar, however. Banged up, bandaged up, and listed as day-to-day, the Minnesota Twins' hottest bat made his way several blocks from Target Field to his favorite restaurant to restock on massive quantities of protein. The narrative surrounding Escobar's historic doubles pace has been credited to his penchant for eating at the Brazilian meathouse or a chance run-in with actor Nick Cage. These are both cute stories but the real catalyst behind the power surge has more to do with his development as a hitter than what he has been during outside the lines. Take a look. Click here to view the article
  25. Let’s talk about Logan Morrison for a hot minute. After last night’s 1-for-4 performance against the Yankees, the one they call LoMo is now hitting .113/.214/.177 on 70 plate appearances on the year. Yes, in the grand scheme of things 70 plate appearances is nothing. After all, a player’s fortune and season can change quickly if said player catches fire for a week. In 2016 Morrison started his career with the Rays by going 6-for-60 with a .290 OPS. He would post an .821 OPS the remainder of the season to bring his final stat line to a respectable .238/.319/.414 mark. Consider this, Morrison’s .392 OPS in 2018 is now the lowest mark among all qualified hitters just as his .290 OPS was to start the 2016 season. There is plenty of season left to return to normalcy but that said, Morrison’s tenure in a Twins uniform has the feel of a Black Mirror episode. Yes, it’s still only April but It has got the makings of a historically bad season. So what is up with LoMo?During Wednesday night’s Fox Sports North broadcast, Roy Smalley homed in on Morrison’s swing on several occasions during the game. From the side view, Smalley remarked that Morrison’s bat path, which works rearward before coming forward, was long and keeping him from catching up to the Yankees’ velocity. While Morrison may have issues squaring higher velocity this season, Morrison’s swing path is not likely the source of his consternation. For one, it is the same bat path/swing he has employed in the previous season when he jacked 38 home runs and posted a .868 OPS. Second, rearward movement of the barrel happens with all swings – it is just a matter to what degree a hitter rotates the barrel that direction. Even Max Kepler, whose swing Smalley has expressed affinity for, has some degree of loop in his swing. When you look at Morrison’s peripheral numbers compared to last season, his plate discipline rates are very similar. He is striking out at a similar rate. He is chasing pitches out of the zone at about the same rate. He is making contact at about the same rate. The main difference is that he is swinging more frequently and not making contact on pitches outside of the zone than he did in the past. When you dig deeper, what stands out is his inability to capitalize on fastballs. In 2017, armed with the same swing path as he has this year, LoMo crushed all kinds of fastballs. Last year 21 of his 38 HR were on fastballs. He was crushing heat. This season has been wildly different. He has fouled off a much higher percentage of fastballs (ticking almost 50% of his swings on fastballs). Morrison has put 13 fastballs into play this year and six of those have been infield pop flies. That is significant considering he had just four infield flies on fastballs all of last year. If his overall numbers did not tip you off, this should tell you that something is wrong. Because of limited video availability, there is not a lot of opportunity to compare Morrison’s swing in 2018 with his swing in 2017. MLBAM does not upload and host side view highlights of players whiffing or lifting pop-ups to second base. FSN, however, was kind enough to provide multiple side view shots. While the camera angles differ slightly (and the low-def quality of my TV combined with the iPhone video capture) may distort the view, what we can discern is that Morrison — compared to last season — is over-striding. This would explain the inability to make solid contact. Watch Morrison’s lower half as he tries to gain more ground with his front/right leg (L) vs last year ®. Look how much further apart Morrison’s knees are from each other. Download attachment: DbrsbQJU8AItbRF.jpg This has all sorts of implications for his swing and why he is just missing squaring fastballs. His eye level can change with the wider stride. His bat path, while similar to last year, is now angled slightly different. His stride timing, a fraction of a second longer now, is disrupted. It can be a domino effect, really. Why is Logan Morrison swinging this way? He may be attempting to get into his legs more (as Brian Dozier demonstrated during his MLB Network appearances) in hopes of gaining more power. He appears more squat in his stance this season versus last. As noted above, he is swinging more often, particularly at pitches outside the zone, so he may be trying to force his way out of the early season slump. He may be just trying something new to change things up. He may have no idea that he has made changes. Where does Morrison go from here? The Twins' middle of the order production has been horrendous so the team clearly needs to get Morrison's bat going and going soon. At this point, Morrison can choose to continue with these mechanics, hoping to refine and perfect the timing of this new, longer stride. Or Morrison and the Twins staff could have the conversation about what made Morrison successful a year ago: his upright and shorter, quicker stride. I won’t pretend to have the answers on this. Morrison could go either direction and struggle or rip off a month of 15 bombs. That said, if I were in charge of trying to get LoMo going, I would start a dialogue about the change in his mechanics, hoping to spur a rapid recovery. Click here to view the article
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