Major League Baseball should officially be changed to Major League Baseball featuring A-rod. His situation in NY is easily the hottest topic in baseball and other than some blurb I heard about some trading deadline thing, it’s all about A-rod (I’m slightly exaggerating here).
I first noticed while watching on TV that A-rod’s former weight shift, which used to be pretty significant, has basically disappeared. A-rod was formerly known for having worked with Charlie Lau, Jr. (who called A-rod his “poster child”), so I have to assume that that was an area of focus early in his career.
Apparantly, this is not an area of focus anymore, because if A-rod keeps it up, he is on pace to become a no-stride hitter in 2009 (another slight exaggeration, for emphasis).
What I wanted to do is make a comparison of his MVP ’05 swing to his current ’06 swing and see if I could quantify any difference that showed up in his weight shift. I chose to use ’05 first because it is his best statistical year, second because he is in the same home ballpark (Yankee stadium) and third because it is only one season ago. What a difference a year makes…
To get things going, check out this one still. What do you see?
It is usually difficult to see the whole story by looking at one picture, but this shot best illustrates the apparant difference in the following comparison.
Now getting to the big picture, I have to warn you that I drew ALL OVER this one. Lines, words, numbers, you name it. The idea is fairly clear by now, if I draw a line or make some kind of notation, I think it is something significant.
I am going to break down the analysis a little bit differently, addressing in order: the red lines that appear at the beginning and at footplant (frame 11), the blue-black lines and writing on frame 8, and then angle towards the end
On the left is a HR from 2005, HR from 2006 on the right. Both are fastballs that are belt high. The location of the pitch on the left is further inside, whereas the pitch from ’06 is right down the middle – I’ll get back to an interesting point about the pitch location and result of where the HR’s are hit later. Also of note as to why I used these particular clips is that they are both taken in Yankee stadium and provide as close to the same angle as I could possible have hoped to find (you can judge based on the dugout railing post to the left of his back leg in the background).
RED LINE OBSERVATIONS
The main measurement for the shift in this clip is made using the RED lines. The first RED line goes down from his helmet and over his ear (I used the ear a reference point) and the second RED line goes up from just outside his front foot. The numbers above the RED lines are their ”X-coordinates” in my video program, which I use here to measure lateral movement. The bracketed < > number in between the RED lines is the difference in distance between the two. I measured these points at the beginning and again at footplant to compare the differences.
These are the overall differces in the RED line numbers:
-head 65 – foot 113 difference = 48 -head 311 — foot 347 difference = 36
-head 83 – foot 155 difference = 72 -head 319 — foot 399 difference = 80
*head has moved 18 units *head has moved 8 units
*foot has moved 42 units *foot has moved 52 units
*difference increase 34 units *difference increase by 44
1.) Comparing just his head movement, ’05 A-rod moves 10 more units to the right (18 in ’05 to 8 in ’06).
2.) Although ’06 A-rod’s head has traveled 10 LESS units forward, his front foot has traveled 10 MORE units forwad.
3.) The difference in distance between the lines is also 10 more units in the ’06 version of A-rod’s swing
Super. Lines and numbers. What does it mean? The numbers below in the “Implications” section will correspond to the numbered observations above.
1.) This is the first bit of evidence to suggest ’05 A-rod shifts his weight more (as measured by lateral movement towards the pitcher). It’s just the first symptom in this case.
2.) If we are just looking at the front foot, an easy conclusion is that he is reaching more with the front foot in ’06. By reaching I mean the front foot is extended towards the pitcher while the rest of the body is not being moved along with it.
3.) This is related with #2 because it shows that while A-rod’s head is moing forward in both clips, his foot is moved ahead of his head at a faster rate in ’06. Again this shows that his “stride” is more of a reach with his front foot in ’06 as compared to more of a shifting of the entire body in ’05. What is interesting is that the ’06 shot shows his foot actually starts closer to his head (36 units apart) than it did in ’05 (48 units) but still ends up further away (80 units in ’06 compared to 72 units in ’05).
CONCLUSIONS aka Why is this important?
If you are a forums/mechanics junkie, you probably enjoy this techincal stuff, but to everyone else: bear with me. If you are a dad, you are probably thinking ‘what do I tell my kid?’, and if you are a player you are probably thinking ‘alright already, what am I supposed to do?’
Making a conclusion about the lateral head movement is simple enough since we’re looking at one part of the body. ’05 A-rod’s head goes more distance which equals more lateral movement. Simple. It is just one measure though, and we’ll measure the shift in another way later on (in Part 2).
Looking at the front foot is a little trickier since we are doing it in relation to the head. A simple experiment might help here. Try this: stand straight up and reach out with your front foot (left foot for a RH hitter and right foot for a LH hitter). If you do nothing else but try to reach your foot out as far laterally as possible you will probably find that your upper body is now leaning in the opposite direction to try to balance yourself.
Now if we apply that example to this comparison, A-rod is reaching out more with his front foot in ’06 and his head is not quite coming along for the ride. The result that can be implied or predicted is that A-rod will end up with more weight on his back side/leg, which we’ll see later on. Measuring the front foot in relation to the head is important in this case because both players are making a lateral move forward, but the measurements give us some insight into what may or may not be happening as he moves.
So what you are supposed to do throughout your “stride” is move the segments of your body together. Remember the kinetic chain? Chains have links – and the links only make up a chain when they are linked together.
BLUE and BLACK LINES
Here is just a bit of specultion…A-rod comes over to the Yankees and struggles at the beginning (.268/.355/.463 in April ’04 with NY). Hard working player that he is, he’s trying to make adjustments in his swing. In an effort to “stay back” longer and minimize head movement, he starts to cut down his former “mega-shift”. If he can “stay back” longer, he can stay behind the ball more and see the ball longer, etc.
The blue and black lines are my effort to redefine the phrase “stay back”. Lateral movement in the form of a weight shift gets a bad rap because it is a common misconception that it leads to lunging. I suppose it does if you don’t do it well, but there is no reason why you can’t shift your weight forwards toward the pitcher and stay back at the same time. Enter the blue and black lines.
The BLUE lines were dropped straight down from the front shoulder. The BLACK lines were taken up from his front hip. Very, very interestingly, these lines are the same distance apart. I could go into more detail about the significance of this, but I’m not going to spill all the beans.
Suffice it to say that “staying back” has just about nothing to do with keeping your weight on the back leg. A-rod can shift as hard as he wants into his front leg and he’ll still be “back” if the difference in those lines is the same.
THE ANGLE and Final Thoughts
In keeping with the Giles and Francoer analysis, this angle shows the result of weight that is left towards the back side earlier in the swing. The larger angle in ’06 (71 degrees versus 67 degrees in ’05) again shows how A-rod ends up with more weight leaning back.
I go through this process looking for cause and effect – what are the symptoms and why are they there? So when I see something like this at the end of the swing, I’ll track back and try to figure out how it got there. Anyways, the ’05 A-rod is very comfortably behind the ball with a little less backwards lean…lookin’ good….MVP. I can’t imagine he really wanted to make any big adjustments, so maybe he just fell into some bad habits, maybe trying too hard, who knows.
The other thing I will mention as another symptom at this point is how his front foot rolls over. If I was looking at an isolated version of the ’06 swing (not compared to his ’05) the front foot rolling over at the end would probably not jump out to me, since it is happening after contact. But the fact that the front foot of the ’05 swing stays much more firmly planted (does not roll over) is just another indicator that ’05 A-rod has moved more aggressively and effectively into his front foot. But it makes no sense to me, for a guy who is talked about as someone who really ‘gets through the ball’ to ‘create backspin’ to be essentially spinning and pulling back off the ball. It’s hard to do both at the same time.
What is also interesting about the front foot rolling over has to do with the pitch location and where A-rod hits the ball. I already mentioned the ’05 pitch is inside and the ’06 is down the middle. The ’05 HR ends up in LF and the ’06 ends up in Right-Center (I will address this again in Part 2). This provides more insight into the decreased effectiveness of A-rod’s current weight shift because, all things being equal, it would be more typical for the front foot to roll over on a pitch further in that is pulled. The pitch in usually requires the hips to clear all the way and hands to be pulled in, which is a prime setup for rolling over of the front foot after contact. What we see here is exactly the opposite. I guess these swings aren’t so equal!
Lastly, the line in the ending frame is the final stamp on the issue of being able to shift forward without lunging. Dropping the line from middle of the helmet shows A-rod of ’06 does finish further “back” but hopefully my stance on that is clear at this point (see also Giles’ analysis). For the record, if you are looking only at the finishing position of a player, and he has this “backwards lean” thing, it is not necessarily a point of concern. For example, Andruw Jones’ finish these days is basically reclining on the catcher. A-rod is still going to hit close to 40 bombs. The point is not that you can’t have some success, but more about trying to help the player execute his best swing.
REGAINING MVP STATUS
Who am I to make suggestions to A-rod? I’m not the Yankees’ hitting coach and I have no idea what A-rod is working on or going through. All I can do is use the footage I have to make observations such as these.
Based on this comparison, I do have my own opinion on making an adjustment. The Marcus Giles analysis gives a little hint, and I will say that it doesn’t need to be any kind of major thing. Small adjustments can have major impact at this level. This is what is compelling and ironic about analyzing major league swings – it can take a lot of time and effort and tecnical mumbo-jumbo to quantify small observations that are hard to see in the first place and even harder to define, but then you have to make a suggestion in one sentence that summarizes everyting. A good MLB hitter knows what he is doing and has a good enough feel of his swing to make the necessary adjustment.
So until I’m watching A-rod from the dugout everyday, my only suggestion is trace back your steps, and work on the things that brought you into the $252 million MVP stratosphere. I would surely like to watch you resume your dominance of the baseball world. You are too talented not to.
Part 2 will take a another (simpler) look at measuring the lateral movement (weight shift) and what happens during this time that effects the rest of the swing- hint: spinning versus rotation. I will also match up some numbers and other illustrations to the changes in his swing, and comment more on how this applies to hitters in a general sense.