A week where a player hits a grand slam is generally a good week. A week where that player hits a grand slam, two other home runs, and drives in 12 runs in total? That’s pretty close to Bondsian. Yankee first baseman Greg Bird isn’t Barry Bonds, but he had himself a huge week against Baltimore and Cleveland. After starting the season hurt and then struggling to find his stroke, it couldn’t come at a better time for the player many Yankee fans still hold onto as the first baseman of the future.
So what went right for Bird, after so much has gone wrong this year? It’s all in his swing.
Left-handed Yankees will pretty much always be anointed as “tailor-made” for Yankee Stadium, and Bird is no different. Interestingly enough, though, we’re going to look at a few of his swings on the road, since away from the short right field porch is where Bird seems to have found himself.
First, let’s start with a swing on a strikeout in Tampa, facing Ryan Yarbrough:
The key point to pay attention to is the placement of Bird’s hands:
At the time Bird goes to swing, the ball is pretty well middle-middle. He’s not extending that far out to get it, and by the time the ball does travel to the outer third, he’s already missed it. But look how far his hands are outstretched, well out of the batters box. This is the kind of “long” swing you hear talked about, players flailing at the ball without any real tension and torsion in the swing.
Now compare that to this week in Baltimore, on Bird’s grand slam:
Again, focus on Bird’s hands, at the point of contact with the ball:
The ball is still over the middle of the plate, but Bird’s hands are FAR closer to his body, both inside the batter’s box.
The position of those hands is the most important part of Bird’s swing. Think about it like an Olympic diver: the tighter a diver’s pike position, the better rotation they’ll achieve. Bird’s swing is the same way. When his hands are tight and close to the body, it generates so much more bat speed and, therefore, more energy gets transferred to the ball.
Sunday’s finale against Cleveland drove home the principle of Bird’s hands, as the first baseman flew out against Trevor Bauer:
This time, Bird’s hands fall somewhere in between the two above at-bats. They’re not out flailing at the ball like the strikeout, but they’re not as close and tight as the home run. the result is a fly out, albeit one with a 95.4 mph exit velocity, which is pretty close to where you want just about all your batted balls to be.
The Yankees have gotten pretty poor production at first base over the past couple of years. This is a frequent complaint levied at a team whose history includes some of the best first basemen ever, from Lou Gehrig to Mark Teixeira. If this week is any indication, and Bird’s hands stay close to the body for the rest of the season, that poor first-base production is about to pick up.