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Two hitting drills that can help Gary Sánchez unleash the Kraken

Despite Sánchez’s recent string of success at the plate, the Yankee catcher’s unrelenting struggle against the fastball has continued.

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

On Saturday, I broke down the recent mechanical upgrade to Gary Sánchez’s swing, and its intended effects on his production. While Gary’s quietly continued a modest improvement since the making the change, he’s still struggling to catch up to even the slowest of fastballs.

Sánchez has now tallied 21 plate appearances since adding a toe-tap, across which he triple-slashed .263/.333/.632 entering play on Monday. While the sample is small enough to cast some doubt on its sustainability, it’s a marked improvement upon his season-long .193/.336/.386 slump.

However, Sánchez has done damage against anything but four-seam fastballs. While the toe-tap has improved Gary’s rhythm enough to allow him to make pitchers pay for their offspeed and breaking mistakes over the middle, he’s continued his schneid against fastballs of the four-seam variety. Even during this post toe-tap relatively hot streak, during which he’s seen 44.7 percent four-seamers, he’s triple-slashed .167/.286/.167 against the pitch, including a trio of K’s. Due to the fact that his lone hit off a four-seamer was a softly-struck squib to the right side, his expected batting average of .046 and slugging of .054 make him look a fair bit worse than his already poor quantitative stats might suggest.

During the regular season — at least for a while — Sánchez can continue to get away with banging hangers when they come his way. However, it’s the major leagues, and batters with holes in their swings get figured out eventually. If it doesn’t happen during the regular season, it will during a playoff series, when a team’s scouting focus can be winnowed to just a dozen or so batters, instead of hundreds.

In order to be ready and on-time for four-seamers, Sánchez needs to start his pre-pitch load earlier. He also needs to improve his ability to create more malleable space/stretch between his front foot plant, hip drive, and release of his upper body if he wants to catch-up to fastballs and continue crushing wayward offspeed pitches and breakers.

The first of two drills I’d recommend to patch the mechanical hole in Sánchez’s swing would simply be no-stride hitting. Starting off a tee, then moving to front toss and eventually live pitching, this would force Gary to learn to initiate his power from his hips themselves, instead of using the forward weight transfer of his stride to do it for him.

It’s a bit difficult to determine without the perpendicular camera angle to this one, but look at how much of Sánchez’s weight moves from his back leg to the front by the time he gets through his swing when he was still using the big leg kick:

With his bigger leg kick — the one that preceded his newer, subtler toe-tap — Sánchez used the momentum of his front foot planting into the ground to get his hips turning, then the momentum of his uncoiling hips would generate his enormous power through the rest of the swing. While he could crush the ball that way when he was on time, as aforementioned, he mostly wasn’t.

If the hips themselves were to trigger the start of the swing, Sánchez would actually have more time to decide to swing without committing his momentum the way he still does. Like A-Rod in the video I included in this past weekend’s post, Gary could keep his balance centered after the planting of his front foot, and therefore plant earlier, start his swing later, and be on-time to a wider range of pitch speeds.

With the toe-tap, Sánchez is more balanced than he was with the high leg kick, and less reliant upon striking the ground with his heel to create power, but he’s clearly still capable of accessing all the power he had before. Since the addition of the toe-tap, he’s hit six balls over 100 mph, including a pair of missiles over 112 mph.

Given the fact that a slight reduction in his forward weight transfer had a negligible impact on his maximum exit velocity, it’s reasonable to presume that Sánchez would be able to generate similarly supersized Statcast readings with an even more balanced approach.

Starkly contrasting Sánchez’s front-side hitting, Juan Soto does an incredible job of keeping his weight almost entirely on his back leg until the very last moment when he’s ready to turn and burn. On this homer into Monument Park, Soto plants early, and without actually stopping, refrains from transferring his weight to the front-side until he swings:

This restrained approach enables him to access all of his power until he decides to swing without selling out for a fastball or something offspeed at the expense of the other. No-stride swings would force Sánchez to swing within of a neutrally-weighted stance instead of relying on the lunge towards the baseball to catalyze his swing.

While Sánchez needn’t necessarily eliminate his stride altogether in games, as that can negatively affect a hitter’s ability to time a pitcher (i.e. Clint Frazier), he should do some cage work without a stride in order to tune his swing so that he’s less biomechanically reliant upon it to get himself going.

No-stride swinging would give Sánchez a more flexible swing, but he still needs something to help him make the most of that extra time. My latter recommendation would aid just that. A goofy, but useful drill that would help Gary generate some pre-pitch rhythm and improve his timing is, as I learned it, called, “Click, Clack, Boom.”

In the context of this drill, a swing is basically broken into three stages: The load, the plant, and the swing. To do this drill, the batter should verbally checkpoint the arrival of each successive stage by saying “click” upon completion of his load, “clack” upon completion of the plant, and if comfortable, “boom” as he connects with the ball. The actual words chosen don’t really matter, but verbally accenting the stages of the swing obviates any glaring tardiness to the batter himself.

In games, Sánchez might just feel rushed against fastballs and not really know why. Or, he might know his front foot is late, but feel uncomfortable planting it as early as he really should. If Sánchez applied this practice to a couple rounds of BP, he wouldn’t be able to help but notice how small the window between his “clack” (plant foot) and “boom” (swing) is. Hearing the timing of your swing out loud helps a batter more clearly understand exactly what’s going on, and when it’s happening.

If Sánchez were to start to get comfortable with understanding that his foot needs to be fully planted much earlier, he might be able to actualize the appropriate change with that internalized knowledge. Only if his foot is down early enough will he ever be able to catch up to any fastballs. By increasing the balance in his swing, and disconnecting his plant from his hip drive through no-stride swinging, Gary could be early enough to be on time for the fastball, while flexible enough to stay on top of a slower offering.

Most good hitters look for fastballs and adjust to anything else instead of just guessing as to what’s coming on every pitch. With this new approach aided by the aforementioned couple of drills, Sánchez would be able to do just that instead of trying to split the difference on everything, causing him to trail all fastballs, and arrive early on good breakers. He may very well be attempting similar approaches already, but it’s absolutely worth noting, as while swings are complicated, some straightforward exercises can lend a key assist.