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Super Thrust is a Must, but Fundamentals Reign Supreme!
Hello everyone! Hopefully everyone enjoyed the 2011 HR Derby, I know I did. The HR Derby is like Christmas come early for me every year, especially since the invention of HD tv and the SUPER SLOW MO cameras they use. I wasn’t a big fan of the yellow and red lines or the behind home plate from 150 feet up view they kept showing, but hey, at least they’re trying to keep it fresh.
Now, onto my analysis.
This is going to be a fun article, with some technique stuff in it, but when the HR Derby happens, I gotta talk about it. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I picked Jose Bautista to win the thing…(shows what I know) but I did think that Cano could possibly make the 2nd round (GREAT PICK)!
I am going to single out a few guys and talk about them, but first, let me say that all these guys are either amazing baseball players or amazing athletes…a few are both. I enjoy watching them swing from these great angles and they really show the importance of all the things the blog has talked about up until now from Vision, and Depth, to Lower Body Mechanics. I do have one funny question: I wonder if any high school coaches were watching all those ‘down and through’ swings on display last night…(if they were…they were not watching the HR Derby…must have been going over some of their own team’s groundball filled game tape…)
Ricky Weeks: Didn’t belong, must be boys with Prince Fielder…Moving on.
Matt Kemp: Interestingly, is a no-stride hitter. The last true no-stride guy I can remember being as good as him was Jim Edmonds who obviously isn’t the specimen that Kemp is. Looked like Longoria in his first HR Derby, trying to pull everything and ‘yank’ the ball out. This leads to being out in front and a lack of depth. Topspin and grounders galore. Kemp is a classic super athlete who will either clean up his mechanics or flame out as his athleticism diminishes (think Andruw Jones). I hope he figures it out, can you imagine him with Cano’s swing???
Jose Bautista: Far and away the most disappointing participant. He’s a truly amazing hitter with impeccable mechanics in games…and he just literally couldn’t stay calm enough with his head (vision) to allow himself to be what he is: Great. He still had amazing hip thrust and shoulder delay. He gained ground with his back leg, but instead of holding that position like he does so well in games, he was so worried about seeing where the ball went after (and before) he hit it that he got lazy and stood up after every swing. To say that I was shocked at his performance would be the understatement of the century. I hope he comes back and tries again, as I really think he could put on a Hamilton-esque show if he can just remain calm and disciplined with his real swing and vision.
Matt Holliday: First things first…HOW GREAT WERE THOSE CLEATS?!? Unfortunately, it’s a bad sign when your cleats are the first thing a hitting blog talks about when discussing your swings at the HR Derby. The other day, a major league teammate of Matt Holliday (I can’t remember who so I apologize) said, ‘Matt could hit 100 homers a year…he’s that strong.’ I’ll just say that if Matt Holliday really could hit 100 HR’s a year…then he would. Comments like that totally blow me away, like when Mariners guys talk about Ichiro’s prodigious home run power in batting practice and then say, ‘he could easily hit 40 homers a year’ type stuff…While I am not disputing these guys attributes…saying what they ‘could’ do when you compare it to what they ACTUALLY do just makes my head spin. Furthermore…if Holliday really could hit 100 bombs a year…don’t you think the cards would rather have 100 bombs than 30 and a .330 batting average???
Back to the Derby: Holliday was, as always, consistently making contact at or just before ‘power v’ meaning he has no depth what so ever, but it doesn’t matter because his forearms look like they swallowed footballs. Strength is Holliday’s calling card. Holliday is a great hitter, a total stud and in my opinion a Cooperstown worthy player, but I just plain think he could be putting up Coors Field pre Humidor numbers even still if he’d just hit the ball with bent arms and have a little more depth in his body weight. His forward lean does help him create backspin when he catches the ball JUST right…but he must over-correct often with his super strong wrists causing lots of topspin pulled line drives. These two changes alone, in my opinion, give him 10 more doubles and 10 more bombs a year…probably a few more hard hit balls as well. His extension is almost unparalleled…but it has to be as he’s ALWAYS out in front of balls and on his front foot. Mechanically, other than Weeks, he was the worst (technique wise) in the competition but he is also the strongest player possibly in the entire MLB. His hit every day grinder work-a-holic mentality makes him what he is: A batting cage rat and a workout freak and his dedication to those things make his production possible.
Now on the the fun parts of the article: The guys I want to talk about!
***David Ortiz, Prince Fielder: The SIZE team
**Adrian Gonzalez and Robinson Cano: The Smooth team
Fielder and Ortiz are very similar in their swing mechanics. The main difference is youth because when Ortiz was younger he had a super violent swing just like Fielder does now. Fielder’s power is truly amazing. He was hitting balls probably 170 feet high at some points and 450 feet out. When you really look at the distance on the arc that the ball traveled, I can’t imagine a ball going that far in real life, but he did it over and over. When they did the swing off and he went 5 for 5 with all towering amazing blasts, it was one of the more impressive things I’ve seen from a baseball hitter ever. Ortiz is 35 years old and his age is beginning to show. He’s not the overpowering thrust generator he once was but he still creates super deep barrel speed in spite of this. Ortiz has a ‘better’ swing than Fielder at this point but he’s had to overcompensate for his declining thrust by activating his hands a tad earlier than in years past, which is why he had a few grounders and top spin sinking liners late in the competition. Both have a helicopter finish that kids love to try to copy…PLEASE…do not let your kids do this!!! Leftys like them can get away with it for two reasons: First, they’re hitting the ball 450 feet…so they can ride the bat to first base like a horse if they want as it’s in the 2nd deck. Second, they both know they aren’t beating out any grounders to 2nd base any time soon, so when they do roll over, they drop the bat and jog it out. Rightys can’t do this finish as it will cause them to pull towards 3rd base…and away from RHP curves and sliders creating a hole.
There were two main differences in Ortiz and Fielder that I would like to point out. Frist, Oritz had better visual discipline than Fielder. Even though I used a picture of Fielder in my vision article, I was stunned at the slow motion of Ortiz’s swing and how little his head really moved. It was literally…motionless (this could have been due to the sheer weight of the diamonds in Ortiz’s ears, but I can’t confirm that.) Fielder had head movement in a turning motion slightly right after contact, but that’s partially due to the overall violence of his core and lower body. Which leads me to my 2nd point. Fielder is the only ‘big’ man who actually gained ground forward with his back foot during his swing, and he only did this 2 times. Cano, for instance, gained ground on every swing with his rear foot, and knee forward towards the pitcher. Fielder’s violent turn allowed his back leg (once) to come off the ground and gain ground forward towards the pitcher. This ‘super thrust’ with the abdominals PULLS the hips around his body and allows the leg’s mass and weight to get ‘into the swing’ as well. Smaller guys do this better, not only because its easier to move Cano’s leg and Fielder’s telephone poles but also because they don’t have the total mass that these larger men do in their bodies. Sean Dixon of Natural Hitting put this best to me when he said the breakdown of mass of your body is something like this: pelvis, stomach and shoulders are almost 60 percent of your mass. Your legs are about 20 perecent, arms 12 and head 8 percent of total mass. So…to make up for Cano’s size difference, he must pull that extra 10 percent of his mass (his rear leg) into the swing, off the ground and behind the ball. I know that’s a tough concept to get, but it does happen. The best of the best, guys like pujols, do this more often and have size.
**Team Smooth: Gonzalez and Cano
Gonzalez was the top pick of the 2000 draft for a reason: he’s a phenom with the bat. Thought of by many as one of the top high school hitters of the last 30 years, he took a while in the minors to mature, but now I bet the Marlins wish they had stuck with him…instead of letting him get away. Notice the calmness in both Gonzalez and Cano’s upper bodies. Relaxed facial muscles almost like an Olympic sprinter, relaxed shoulders and chests. Calm hand moves. Total package for upper body perfection. Gonzalez exhibited effortless easy hip movements from his super efficient thrusting motion and was able to hit balls all over the field with amazing power and consistency. A few times, he went back to back HR’s on similar pitches to almost the exact same location on the field.
One thing I have rarely talked about so far in my articles is the upper body and the hands. Cano and Gonzales have almost the exact same upper body move with Cano adding a little barrel tilt to his swing, another thing he MUST do to generate power due to his size. Coil inward with the front hip, downward tilt of the front shoulder, hands staying back as the hips begin to turn. Mike Epstien does a lot of motion capture stuff with the guys he studies and I bet their motion captures would look almost identical from the hips up. Gonzales and Cano all had the 3 C’s I talk about with my hitters: Confidence and Calmness produces Consistency. This relaxation throughout their upper body allows the arms to stay bent and the wrists to initiate the snapping motion with no triceps arm press or chest activation at all. Cano and Gonzalez did NOT get tired…yes, they took breaks, but they barely broke a sweat and the balls just kept flying and flying.
Cano, the winner, and possibly the best swing in baseball right now, put on the most impressive showing I’ve ever seen in a homerun derby other than Josh Hamilton’s round a few years back. I will say this, Cano had the longevity to win the competition, where we all remember Hamilton running out of gas. Robinson Cano is a batting champion who hits for power, I wonder if this showing will springboard him into really anchoring the heart of the Yankee lineup as Arod and Texiera age. Remember, the Yankees got rid of Alfonso Soriano after a 40 hr/40 sb year to make room for Cano, so this guy has tons of talent and a super high ceiling that he’s not even close to reaching.
This is such a great video of Vlad, you can see his hips open first, then the internal and external obliques untwist the body in a sudden violent muscle contraction. We all NEED to wrap our heads around the idea of the 29 muscles in the core swinging the bat, NOT the arms and legs. Think of your “core” as the muscles from the bottom of the pecs (chest) to the top of the knees (quads) wrapped all the way around the body, including the inside ones supporting the spine.”
Cano is SUPER ELITE with his hips, possibly the best hips in the world, a title that I previously thought was Bautista’s to lose…well during the Derby, a new title holder was crowned. What I’m going to talk about now is the middle and lower body portion of Cano and I touched on this earlier in this article. What Cano is doing is pulling his locked rear leg and hip through with his abdominals and lower back to add his rear leg mass to the mass he is moving in the swing already. This gives more power to the swing and more behind the barrel. Sean Dixon of Natural Hitting and Jeff Edwards, a Colorodo Rockies scout helped me come to some of these conclusions and now I’m going to take them a step further.
Let’s do some MATH to prove what I’m saying!!! I mentioned the body weight percentage earlier in the article (60 percent core, 20 percent legs, 12 percent arms, 8 percent neck and head) and we’re going to use this breakdown to explain Cano’s greater power over Gonzalez in total distance of HR’s.
Adrian Gonzalez weighs 225 and Robinson Cano weighs 205 (weights by yahoo sports). Gonzalez does NOT pull the rear leg/hip as far with his abdominals, so he only hits with the 60 percent of his weight that’s in his torso. 60% of 225 is 135. Now, we’ll move to Cano. He weighs 205, but he has ‘super thrust’ and locks his rear hip socket and allows his abdominals and lower back to pull his back leg forward and off the ground about 5 inches each swing. That extra oomph allows him to hit with 70 percent of his weight behind the barrel. 70% of 205 is 143.5. This higher number, or extra weight behind the ball, that Cano can produce explains why he had 7 of the farthest 9 homers in the competition! Who had the farthest? CORRECT, the BIGGEST guy, Prince Fielder. Prince, even without a super thrust, weighs 275 and moves 165 lbs of his weight into the ball…WITH super thrust, which he had on his farthest hit, he moved 192.5 lbs into his swing. I don’t know what’s more impressive, his 478 foot blast that he got under or that one of his legs weighs 27.5 lbs!?!
Another thing I’d like to point out is the total rotational move that Cano can produce that no one else produced in the Derby. His hips rotated, turned, spun, whatever you wanna say, over 100 degrees while most other guys only turned at about 90 give or take 5 degrees. Cano was consistently past 100 in all the video I’ve looked at including video that was not taken during the Derby. This does not take into account the ‘spin out’ move that Oritz, Fielder, and Gonzalez did, I mean purely with the front foot on the ground how far and fast does the rear hip socket rotate? For Cano, it was further than everyone else and his super thrust that won him the derby could possibly catapult Cano in to the upper echelon of 2nd basemen in the history of baseball before it’s all said and done! What’s really amazing to me is as I wrote this article and looked for Super Thrust from all the players, I found it in Weeks, Kemp, Holliday, Cano, Bautista, once in Fielder, and Ortiz used to Super Thrust almost all the time…The winners and losers STILL broke down to visual discipline, depth of weight and contact, and balance…even in the derby, where guys are maxing out and putting on a show, TECHNIQUE beat ATHLETICISM again…Here’s to the only sport where that happens over and over, Baseball!
Chas Pippitt, Leader of the Baseball Rebellion