The hunt for October has finally ended as the MLB postseason begins this Tuesday, September 30th. In this article, I will take the best statistical hitter (Highest on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS)) from each playoff team and rank their swing patterns. You might be surprised who comes in at number one. The Baseball Rebellion staff will also make their World Series predictions!
Each hitter presented in this article is highly accomplished and extremely talented. These rankings reflect my thoughts on the hitter’s movement patterns and are not necessarily rankings regarding the player’s overall talent or ability level. Underneath each video is a brief introduction to the hitter followed by analysis of each hitter.
#10 Matt Holliday A.K.A. “Popeye”: St. Louis Cardinals
Matt Holliday has been a very successful hitter in his eleven year MLB career. Much of this is due to his almost super human size and strength. Holliday is 6’4 and weighs 250 pounds. This year Holliday accrued respectable numbers, posting a .272 batting average, 20 Home Runs, and a .811 OPS. Despite having some mechanical deficiencies, Holliday has recorded in game Ball-Exit-Speed numbers in excess of 110 MPH! Let’s start with some of his strengths. Holliday does a good job of opening his hips before his shoulders and opening his front foot just as it is landing. Holliday also turns the barrel to match the plane of the incoming pitch. Holliday has room for improvement in the forward movement department. He lands nicely with a bent front knee but fails to move forward enough to create a good back leg angle. His posture also limits his mechanical efficiency. He tends to let his head and chest drift forward in his finish. This is in opposition to the lean back you will see in hitters like Buster Posey who are ranked higher. Holliday and the Cardinals will have a tough first round matchup with the Dodgers but you can never count the Cards out when it comes to October baseball.
#9 Jayson Werth A.K.A. “Caveman”: Washington Nationals
Jayson Werth has been a quiet but steady force for the Washington Nationals this season. After signing a seven year, $126 million dollar contract before the 2011 season, the Nationals were heavily criticized. While Werth may be slightly overpaid, he has been an important cog in the Nationals offense. This season, Werth hit .292 with 16 home runs, and a .849 OPS. Mechanically, Werth uses his lower half extremely well but leaves some room for improvement in his upper body. Notice the better angle of his back leg at landing compared to Matt Holliday. This along with his aggressive turn and hip thrust allows Werth to generate a lot of power within his 6’5, 225 pound frame. Werth’s bat path is not as good as any of the other players in this list. While Werth rarely swings down in actuality, his bat does not remain in the way of the baseball for as long as it should. One major improvement he could make is to get his front elbow higher during his turn. This would allow him to keep his hands higher and to have better upward extension. Due to the upper body limitations Werth exhibits, he tends to miss hit balls that could be launched into the upper deck. He will do his best to help the top-seeded Nationals flourish deep into the postseason.
#8 Nelson Cruz A.K.A. “Boomstick”: Baltimore Orioles
Nelson Cruz had a fantastic 2014 season for the Baltimore Orioles. After Cruz was suspended for using performance enhancing drugs in 2013, he signed a one-year contract with the Orioles for $8 million. This was an extremely cheap price considering Cruz was the only player to reach the forty home run mark this season. As well as leading the league in home runs, Cruz batted a respectable .271 with a .858 OPS. Nelson Cruz is an explosive hitter who can absolutely mash the baseball. However, I think there is still more left in the tank. Cruz’s improvements can be made in his lower half. He does not exhibit a great deal of forward movement and tends to land closed on his front foot. This disallows him from fully finishing his swing. Cruz overcomes these limitations with his 6’2, 230 lb body and with some of the positive aspects of his swing. He has a good hip thrust that accompanies a great upper half. This allows him to get on plane with the pitch close to the catcher’s mitt. Cruz does a nice job of using his shoulder tilt to crush this low pitch. For more on this, scroll down to Mike Trout. Look for Cruz and the other Oriole hitters to carry their team as the pitching staff has their question marks.
7# Victor Martinez A.K.A. “V-Mart”: Detroit Tigers
Most of you were probably expecting Miguel Cabrera to be the Detroit Tiger hitter selected for this article. While Cabrera had a good year, Victor Martinez’s year was even better. He finished 2nd in batting, hitting .335. He also hit for power, posting 32 home runs and a .974 OPS. These numbers certainly put V-Mart in the MVP conversation. Martinez’s swing is very good from both sides of the plate. He gains ground well and has a good back leg angle. This quality forward move leads to a powerful hip thrust and back foot movement. A major flaw in Martinez’s swing is his extremely closed front foot. Watching this aspect of his swing reminds me of Chase Utley, a player who has battled front hip and knee injuries for years. Martinez has also had knee injuries in his career. From a performance standpoint, Martinez turns fairly well but is unable to complete his turn due to the placement of his front foot. V-Mart has a decent upper half. In the swing above, he turns the barrel well which creates early bat speed in the way of the baseball. He appears to be a little pushy right before contact but this may just be a function of being early. Martinez will look to combine with Cabrera to become a dominant one-two punch this postseason.
#6 Alex Gordon A.K.A. “Gordie”: Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals offense left a lot to be desired in the power department during the 2014 regular season. They finished with a league worst 95 home runs. One of the few bright spots was Alex Gordon. He finished with a team-high 19 home runs and an OPS of .783. Gordon’s swing pattern is simple but effective. He starts with a wide stance but still gains ground well, getting to a very good back leg angle position. He then turns explosively. One minor mistake Gordon makes is the extension of his back leg in his finish. This shuts down his turn a touch early and limits his back foot movement. Overall, Gordon is one of the better players in the league at using his lower half. Gordon’s bigger mistakes come in his upper half. He has a bit of slack between his elbows. This means that his back elbow gets too close to his front elbow before the hands go forward. Gordon compensates for this by pushing his hands out to avoid dragging his bat. Alex Gordon will look to lead the Royals offense in their first playoff appearance since 1985.
#5 Buster Posey A.K.A. “My Nickname Is My Real Name”: San Francisco Giants
Buster Posey is one of the best offensive catchers in the game today. One of the reasons for this is the way his hips lead his shoulders. This begins the flow of energy that is eventually transferred to the shoulders, arms, and bat. In the video above, Posey does an exceptional job of leaning back to turn his barrel upward through the path of the baseball. His spine angle is maintained throughout his entire turn leading to phenomenal balance. Posey’s vision is also impressive. Perhaps this is a major factor in the consistency he displays year after year. One of the only criticisms I have of Posey is his backside approach. At times he will inside out pitches instead of turning explosively. I think his numbers would be unreal if he committed to taking swings like you see above 100% of the time. Posey hopes to lead his team to its 3rd championship since 2010.
#4 Yasiel Puig A.K.A. “Notorious P.U.I.G.”
Yasiel Puig has been a polarizing figure in baseball since he arrived on the scene. You either love him or you hate him. Personally, I love watching him play and I hope he shows up in a big way this postseason. Puig is a freak athlete who swings the bat violently. My favorite part of Puig’s swing happens at the very beginning. He coils his hips but moves his body forward at the same time. This allows him to remain calm but ready to explode on the incoming pitch. Many of our students at I.T.S. Baseball have been introduced to this type of forward move and have excelled. Chas did a more detailed breakdown of Puig’s mechanics that you can check out here.
#3 Mike Trout A.K.A. “The Millville Meteor”: Los Angeles Angels
Mike Trout is widely considered to be the best hitter in baseball. His strength and size certainly help him but his upper half is one of the best in the game today. Most baseball coaches preach the importance of extension. I can’t say that it has no value but when the best hitter in the world rarely extends, it is hard to make the case for it to be at the top of the hitting priority list. Extension is not important to Trout because his timing and depth are superb. The pitch above is hit over the center field fence but is hit insanely deep. Trout is also one of the best at using his shoulder tilt to reach an array of different pitches while still keeping his hands high in his turn. Remember when your Little League coach told you to stop dropping your back shoulder? That coach evidently hasn’t seen Mike Trout (or any other professional hitter for that matter) swing the bat. In his first postseason I look for Mike Trout to show why he is about to become this year’s AL MVP.
#2 Andrew McCutchen A.K.A. “Cutch”: Pittsburgh Pirates
Andrew McCutchen has made a decent case to repeat as the NL MVP. He hit .314 with 25 HR and an OPS of .952. McCutchen has lead the Pirates to their second straight postseason appearance. If these rankings were soley based on explosive turning ability, McCutchen would win in a land slide. McCutchen’s swing demonstrates most of the principles taught at the Baseball Rebellion. He gets to a great back leg angle position, matches the planes of the pitch and has great back foot movement from his hip thrust. My only criticism of McCutchen is that his front hip goes up slightly at the end of his turn. I think if it went back towards the catcher, his turn could be more complete. Andrew McCutchen is an elite hitter who I look forward to watching dominate pitchers for years to come .
#1 Josh Donaldson A.K.A. “Bringer of Rain”: Oakland Athletics
Before the 2014 Home Run Derby, Josh Donaldson said “I’m just going to try to hit it out of the stadium.” I’m pretty sure he takes that approach to the games as well judging by swings like the the one you see above. There is very little to critique in Donaldson’s swing. As soon as he begins moving there is a constant flow of energy that never stops until the ball has been launched deep into the bleachers. Donaldson comes in at number one on my list not because he is the best hitter, but because he maximizes his body’s potential. This is our goal for our students every day! I hope to see Donaldson and the rest of the players above light up the scoreboard this postseason!
Thanks for reading!
Gabe Dimock – Baseball Rebellion Certified Instructor