One of the hardest things about being a baseball blogger is determining what changes or adjustments a major league ballplayer should make. They are all so, so much better at what they do than I am at what I do, but here we are.
Is it worthwhile for Miguel Andujar to consider a mechanics change? He had a good 2018, complete with a 127 wRC+ and second place finish in Rookie of the Year voting. We know how good he was, but now the question is how good he could be. His skillset basically boils down to a high-contact hitter. He goes up hacking and tends to make contact an awful lot:
One would expect to see a high-swing, high-contact hitter like Andujar close to the top right of this cluster, and that’s exactly where he sits. Moreover, it’s this approach that got him to the major leagues in the first place, and it drove him to such an impressive debut season.
Still, the question has to be asked: Is this best approach for a player going forward? Would Andujar have more success in the long run if he became more selective at the plate and made better contact on pitches he does hit?
There are four categories I like to look at when it comes to quality of contact, and it’s interesting to compare the way we see a player against his best comps in each category. In max exit velocity, Andujar’s closest comps are Eduardo Nunez and Kevin Kiermaier. For average exit velocity it’s Aledmys Diaz and Paul DeJong. Hard hit rate? Kevin Pillar and CJ Cron. With barrel rate per plate appearance, Andujar hits like present-day Albert Pujols and Starlin Castro.
All of these players are perfectly serviceable major leaguers – okay maybe not Pujols – but none are high-level hitters. Over the long run, they just don’t do enough damage with their balls in play, and since Andujar is so comparable in his kind of contact, it’s fair to express some concern.
Adujar’s approach and contact stem directly from the mechanics of his swing, and so if we’re going to talk about whether he should change at the plate, the first part of that is modifying his swing. Here he is on a home run in 2018:
There is a lot going on here. This isn’t a swing you’d teach to kids, as a number of times you can see Andujar fall off balance as he “helicopters” the bat all the way around.
The easiest way to point out some mechanical issues is to compare Andujar to a guy that has famously rebuilt his swing, J.D. Martinez. The Red Sox DH built a reputation on being a freak about his swing; he tailors and tinkers with it until it’s as optimal possible.
I’m not saying that Andujar should adopt Martinez’s swing — different things work for different guys — but it is useful as a guide:
First and foremost, there are fewer moving parts. Andujar throws himself at the ball; look at the way he pushes his hands forward so forcefully. Martinez’s hands go “along for the ride”, the swing starts in his lower body, his hips begin to rotate, then the shoulders, and his hands don’t push forward at all.
They also start from wildly different points:
This is the “plant”, when a hitter’s front foot touches down after the leg kick or toe tap. The kick/tap is a timing mechanism for the hitter, and the plant is where you begin to shift your weight from the back foot - the “load” - to the front. This is the foundation of a swing; it all starts in the lower body.
Andujar’s weight shifts as soon as he plants. There isn’t really a gradual transfer. You can see how his front leg has taken on all the force of the swing, and that leads to him losing energy, forcing his arms to compensate. As noted above, this is where he’s “pushing” himself at the ball.
Martinez, on the other hand, has a far more gradual shift in weight. When he plants, his back leg still has most of the weight and then he begins to move to the front. He’s just much more balanced and relying less on his arms and shoulders to make quality contact.
The other major difference is how compact each guy is at the point of contact:
Look how loose and open Andujar’s upper body is. Compare that to Martinez:
At the core, a swing is a rotation around an axis, the same as an Olympic diver. The tighter the rotation, the less energy lost and the faster you can rotate. For a baseball player, less energy lost in the swing means more transferred to the ball, or better contact. A faster rotation equals better bat speed and an ability to keep the bat in the strike zone for longer, further increasing chances of making good contact.
By slashing at the ball like that, Andujar is regularly off balance and losing a lot of energy that’s not being sent to the ball. That energy loss is why his contact quality is lower than you’d think for a guy who had as good a season as he did.
To continue with the Martinez comparison, it’s not like J.D. is any more disciplined than Andujar is. They actually were identical in terms of strike recognition in 2018:
The yellow callout represents Martinez, while the red indicates Miggy. They both logged an 11.90% K-BB%, but Martinez proved a far better hitter overall. That’s because his contact quality, driven by superior mechanics, is much better. By swinging off balance and pushing at the ball, Andujar is just as likely to hit popups and bleeders as he is to double.
Now comes the really difficult part. Miguel Andujar is already one of the top 0.5% or so in the world at what he does, and he got there with the mechanics he has now. He is so unbelievably good at baseball that it’s not a bad argument to just say “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”. As we project his performance going forward, though, it’s pretty easy to see how wonky mechanics could lead to trouble down the road.
Biomechanics are the new Moneyball for teams. Wearable technology and the ubiquity of high speed cameras have made it easier than ever to optimize a pitcher’s drive or release point, or fix a hitter’s balance. For Andujar, a guy oozing natural talent, that optimization might make him far more regression-resistant than he’d be otherwise, and it’s something he should strive for.