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Break It Down
2007-04-26 10:13
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

Ballard's piece on Bobby V isn't the only reason to check out SI this week. Tom Verducci deconstructs Alex Rodriguez's hitting. Verducci gets the skinny from the Yankees hitting coach, Kevin Long, who "identified three major flaw" with Rodriguez's 2006 swing:

• Rodriguez would sometimes drag his back foot forward rather than leave it in place as he began his swing, which decreased his leverage.

• He would let his hands drift too far from his body during the swing, making it longer and "looser."

• His front leg kick, a trigger mechanism, had become grossly exaggerated. Rodriguez would sometimes lift his left knee as high as his waist, then step toward the pitcher with that leg -- a maneuver that would cause him to bring his front foot down late and violently, which created a tightness and imbalance in his swing.

"His leg kick was getting to a point where it wasn't getting down on time," Long says. "Your front foot has to land when the ball is about halfway to the plate. His was coming down much later than that. When that happens, you have to catch up a lot. You rush, and your body tends to drift [toward the pitcher]."

Long drastically cut the height of Rodriguez's leg kick and virtually eliminated the stride, instructing him to simply move his left foot up and down, not toward the pitcher. Now Rodriguez's left foot lands much softer and earlier, which gets him into a loaded, better-balanced position to hit. The changes also eliminated his drift and allowed him to keep his hands in tighter to his body, improving his core rotation. Think of a spinning figure skater: The closer the hands are to the body and the more stable the axis, the faster the skater spins. For Rodriguez, a faster, tighter spin has created better bat speed and power.

Rodriguez grooved his rebuilt swing through the winter to hit balls on a line into the back of the cage's net, an approach that de-emphasized lift and the temptation to pull the ball. Whereas Rodriguez actually fretted last season about how many home runs he hit in batting practice, Long has encouraged Rodriguez to maintain his line-drive approach in batting practice this year. Indeed, A-Rod did not hit one batting practice home run on Friday at cozy Fenway Park.

Over at The Baseball Analysts, Jeff Albert has a great take on Rodriguez's April, complete with images. Albert concludes:

While I am not so sure A-Rod will top 120 HR this season, I don't feel that this is simply a hot streak. What we are seeing is a great player making great adjustments and setting himself up for a great year.

Our good pal Jay Jaffe also tackles Rodriguez's hot start over at BP and The New York Sun.

Meanwhile, Jon Heyman has the latest on The Boss and the boys at River Ave. Blues tell us everything we need to know about Phillip Hughes (but were afraid to ask).

Comments
2007-04-26 10:31:06
1.   mehmattski
And the socks. Don't forget the high socks.
2007-04-26 10:53:03
2.   Orly Yarly NoWai
It's all about the socks.
2007-04-26 10:57:25
3.   Orly Yarly NoWai
Jeff Albert and Carlos Gomez from The Hardball Times need to get together some time. I love the video analysis; it makes everything so much more clear.
2007-04-26 11:00:38
4.   Sliced Bread
The Verducci piece is illuminating. But after that hatchet job Verducch did on Rodriguez last year it's akin to Donald Trump writing a gushing op-ed tribute to Rosie O'Donnell.
2007-04-26 11:05:01
5.   seamus
wow. did everyone else get this wow feeling from that. It makes so much sense and it feels like. wow. this guy may be awesome this year.
2007-04-26 11:05:28
6.   Sliced Bread
Jaffe is great. The Nettles superball story always cracks me up. I wasn't expecting that old chestnut to pop up in the middle of his A-Rod analysis.
Good schtuff.
2007-04-26 11:13:02
7.   OldYanksFan
Alex - Absolutely outstanding articles. I am amazed at what a science hitting is.

I am SO impressed with ARod. He's already in the HOF and will breeze to 500 HR. He's the highest paid, highest profile BB player. He could easily sit back and ride out a still-great career.

Yet Boras says: You could be thinner, so ARod loses 15 lbs and gets his body fat to 10% (my God). A new hitting instructor is in town, and he's living with ARod (at ARods request) within a week. Bowa says he talks to much, so he puts on headphones and shuts up. And people say he's got a big ego? No way.

I'm just amazed. The guy is open to learning, open to advice, open to help. This is rare in a star.

If he stays healthy, he's going to be up there with Ruth and Gehrig. Please.... somebody tell me Cashman is not going to let him get away.

2007-04-26 11:27:38
8.   Jim Dean
Indeed, thanks Alex. Here's my favorite quote from the 'Duc:

"A-Rod is like Picasso," Boras says. "He's like a great artist or performer. When the level of your performance is so great, whatever you do to present yourself to society is never going to match the same level of your performance. So what you say in explaining yourself and your performance will be held against you by others. So you realize that what represents you the best is simply the beauty of your performance. Leave it at that."

Can see why Boras makes the big bucks - he's got a way with words.

Still, you sir 4 are absolutely correct. It's weird that journalists are so afraid of breaking the third wall and using he dreaded "I". Here 'Duc did an absolute butcher job on Alex's "head" (which appeared three weeks after his slump ended - couldn't let all that good research go to waste!). Now it's "Arod had a mechanical flaw in his swing". Shit, one paragraph that briefly covers the silly psychoanalyzing that went on last year, with some self-reference to his own "work", that's would have sufficed. Instead he looks like a hack that simply covers a story depending on the direction of the wind. Where was the analysis of Arod swing then? It's not like people weren't saying it.

2007-04-26 11:32:48
9.   Sliced Bread
The Heyman update on Steinbrenner doesn't mention the Swindal thing. Health questions aside, I think George's daughter's divorce has a lot to do with his recent silence.
In fact, I'm not sure if he's been to the Stadium since reporters and producers ambushed him with questions about Swindal.
2007-04-26 11:34:26
10.   Shaun P
7 Cashman won't let him get away.

I didn't understand when A-Rod signed his 10 year $252 M contract, but I do now. He is a once-in-a-lifetime talent. You pay them, and that's that.

Cashman understands this. This is the exact kind of situation where the Yanks' overwhelming financial resources should be used - not overpaying for middling talent (COUGHFarnsworthCOUGH).

2007-04-26 11:35:00
11.   Jim Dean
Old,

Makes sure you read the River Ave Blues writeup. Hughes is legit and he's ready now. It might take a few starts, but the kid will help this team and they'll do everything they can to keep him injury-free.

A sampling:
"The only problem with Hughes's numbers is the sample size. Everything else looks magnificent. Not once in his minor league career did he break a 1.00 WHIP. He's never broken 2.50 BB/9, and never dipped below 9.00 K/9. His home runs shouldn't even be measured by a rate stat: he's given up just six in his entire minor league career, and three of them came in his first two AA outings. And, as his Eastern League numbers show, he kind of settled in."

2007-04-26 11:40:59
12.   williamnyy23
At the risk of being too "negative", this does beg the question: "why didn't ANYONE notice it last year"?
2007-04-26 11:41:49
13.   Shaun P
Disclaimer - Mattingly was my first baseball hero too.

Why did it take Kevin Long to figure out the problems in A-Rod's swing? Why didn't Mattingly figure it out, seeing he was the hitting coach?

This is the second time this week I'm wondering what Mattingly's role is behind the goings-on in Yankeeland. My earlier question was, if Torre is over-managing, which he seems to be doing, isn't Donnie trying to say something about this, since he's bench coach? Or is he a contributing factor to it? I wish I had some answers.

2007-04-26 11:44:11
14.   rbj
11 Some good comparisons there (Clemens, Verlander), a cautionary one (Gooden) and a frightening one (Pavano).

And is it just me, or does that picture make Phil look like a cross between Jesus (what they were going for) and Jar-Jar Binks?

2007-04-26 11:47:40
15.   Jim Dean
12 People did. It's just wasn't in the mainsteam media. Alpert, for instance, had the exact same breakdown, but comparing 2006 and 2005. It's just hard to understand, and well when you don't understand something it's just easier to make stuff up even if it's your teammates.
2007-04-26 11:52:14
16.   Jim Dean
13 What I thought was interesting is he spent days in the off-season with Long coming up with a plan then months implementing it. With Donnie it may have simply been a case of trying to replace the planks in the middle of the ocean. Even if they had identified the leaks, it's extremely difficult to get it right without major work. I just think of all the stories of Tiger reconstructing his swing, and even he had to fire his old coach. Repeatable motions are extremely resistent to change.
2007-04-26 12:00:08
17.   Sliced Bread
16 exactly. especially in golf. it's all muscle memory.

Not to apologize for Mattingly with respect to A-Rod's problems last year, but
I wouldn't read too much into a certain coach's success/failure with a particular player.

Maybe Long is a better coach than Mattingly. Maybe Alex is a better student (more receptive?) to Long than he was to Mattingly.

I personally believe A-Rod's hitting struggles were all in his head last year. So did he. So did everybody. When he was slumping he looked like a physical wreck from head to toe in the batter's box.
When he was like that he looked like he didn't even belong in the Majors.

If A-Rod goes into an extended slump this year will it be Long's fault?

Is Long responsible for Melky's early struggles? If he can help A-Rod, why can't he make Minky hit? (ok, not a fair question)

Bottomline: I try not to give coaches too much credit, or too much blame.

2007-04-26 12:02:49
18.   Bama Yankee
Something I have wondered sense we hired Guidry: Would a better, more experienced pitching coach net similar improvements for some of our pitchers? I liked Gator as a player, but I wonder if he is just learning on the job as a pitching coach.
2007-04-26 12:06:36
19.   Jim Dean
18 But he's got Kerrigan behind him. I think the same thing applies 17. Some guys can help some guys get fixed. The problem is who with whom.
2007-04-26 12:12:22
20.   pistolpete
18 Same here - something didn't sit right with me when I heard about this hiring. Loved the player, not so keen on him being a coach.
2007-04-26 12:24:34
21.   Shaun P
16 17 All great points, both of you.

If it was more advantageous to have multiple hitting coaches, I don't know why teams don't do that. Other than its out of the box, and it costs money, and baseball traditionally doesn't work that way.

This is why I'd love to see Mark Cuban buy the Cubs or the Pirates, or another MLB team. He would probably have all sorts of out of the box ideas that he would try.

2007-04-26 12:30:07
22.   Jim Dean
21 That's a great point, Shaun. A few coaches of each type is a great idea - Cuban's the only I knw that's done that. Me, I'd love to understand the dynamics of the coaches and the players - how it works, who helps when, etc.
2007-04-26 12:30:25
23.   Bama Yankee
19 Yeah, but Gator is the one who goes out to the mound to give "words of wisdom" to a guy who might be struggling.

I remember during the ALDS last year, just when we seemed to have one of the Detroit pitchers on the ropes Leyland would go out to the mound and settle them down. Who knows what he said, but it always seemed to work. When Torre wakes up from his nap and sends Guidry out for the same task I always feel like Gator gets this "deer in the headlights" look, mumbles something unintelligible, pats the pitcher on the behind and trots back to the dugout thinking "boy, I'm glad that's over".

I just wonder what would happen if we had a more experienced guy in that job. Sure, a great pitching coach is not going to help all of your pitchers. But at the same time, how many pitchers are going to be helped by a bad pitching coach?

2007-04-26 12:32:42
24.   ny2ca2dc
16 17, etc; I agree, different strokes for different folks. Thats why I like the overlapping fields of experience and experties. Bowa might be the infield coach, but Mattingly knows a little something about playing a good 1B, as does Torre, who knows something about catching, to complement Pena. Mattingly would seem likely to help some players (maybe something to do with Cano's breakout? who knows), but probably has a different style than Long - who seems to be more scientific, which seems to suit A-Rod. the tangled webs we weave!

I don't have a real sense of what Kerrigan contributes (or, honestly, what any bullpen coach contributes) and/or interlaces with Guidry. Any thoughts?

2007-04-26 12:40:28
25.   Shawn Clap
Hey, not for nothing, but there ain't nobody who's gonna remember a couple of walk-off homers in April if there's another empty October.

Just sayin'.

Commence with the lovefest....

2007-04-26 12:45:13
26.   dianagramr
Hmmm ... wonder if A-Rod will opt out, then sign for a "home town discount" :-)
2007-04-26 12:45:37
27.   pistolpete
25 Yeah yeah, you're 'just sayin' something we've all heard at least 1000 times before.
2007-04-26 13:11:24
28.   Bama Yankee
25 Along those same lines, I have wondered how the fans will react this year when A-Rod regresses to the mean. Maybe his performance so far is the mean for this year... I can dream, right?
2007-04-26 13:18:03
29.   yankz
Well, he is the kid who only hit homers. I'm not letting this one die till the hot streak is over.
2007-04-26 13:21:56
30.   williamnyy23
25 This year, there may not be an October. And who knows...April might represent the biggest games the team will play. Now, I don't really believe the last part, but I also no longer think it is 100% impossible. If the Yankees do fall out the race at a relatively early stage, the season would pretty much come down to watching Arod and Hughes. If that did happen, these April walkoffs could wind up being the best memories fans will take from the 2007 season.
2007-04-26 13:23:19
31.   Ken Arneson
28 From my Bay Area perspective, having watched Bonds and McGwire do this sort of thing over a whole season up close, you can be certain that ARod won't keep up this home run pace. Not because he doesn't have the talent to get in a home run groove like Bonds and McGwire did, but because if he keeps this up, the other teams will just start walking him all the time, even if he has a batter like Giambi behind him. And then it would get really hard to not lose his groove, because he'd see so few pitches to hit.

The really remarkable thing about Bonds was that if he was lucky, he'd get maybe two pitches to hit all week, and he'd homer on both of them.

2007-04-26 13:26:20
32.   Cliff Corcoran
I'm sorry, but I don't think there's anything to read into Steinbrenner's "silence" other than the fact that he's a very old man who's health is failing him and his handlers are shielding him from public exposure. That's speculation as much as anything else, but I ask you, when was the last time he appeared in public and said more than a few sentences? When was the last time those few sentences were anything other than vague boilerplate statements? When was the last time he appeared to be anything other than an old man battling severe senility or dementia? How long ago was that very special Center Stage on YES? He seemed to be fading out then and that was a few years ago. These things can move fast. I've seen it happen in my own family. As soon as you notice it's something serious beyond senior moments and absentmindedness, it's taken them. I'm not sure how much of Steinbrenner is really left.

7 Alex Rodriguez is one of the game's true greats. He's on par with Mays and Aaron, but Ruth and Gehrig were on a whole other level as hitters--they're two of the five best to ever step to the plate--and Rodriguez is simply not there. Never has been, never will be, even with the season he's having right now. In fact, its those sorts of expectations that caused the problems he had with the fans last year.

2007-04-26 13:33:51
33.   yankz
32 Yeah, your sidebar links convinced me. Can you imagine having to pitch to Ruth and Gehrig back to back?! And people think Abreu/Arod is tough. Whiners.
2007-04-26 13:35:05
34.   yankz
32 What makes Arod more impressive to me than Mays and Aaron is that he's done it while primarily playing Gold Glove SS. We're really lucky to have him. If Cash lets him go, I'm on the Jim Dean bandwagon.
2007-04-26 13:40:47
35.   Bama Yankee
Is sausage served on the Jim Dean bandwagon?
2007-04-26 13:42:34
36.   mehmattski
Hopefully, it's sausages wrapped in a pancake, like they make fun of on the Daily Show.
2007-04-26 13:48:21
37.   yankz
Hopefully, just a lot of crow.
2007-04-26 14:00:03
38.   Bama Yankee
36 This must be it:
http://tinyurl.com/fukth
2007-04-26 14:08:54
39.   Bama Yankee
38 Oh by the way, Chyll if you're reading this, you don't dip those into your coffee... ;-)

For those who don't know the story:
http://bronxbanter.baseballtoaster.com/archives/546902.html#6

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