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On Isiah Kiner-Falefa and hip sliding

This mechanical fix will be the biggest tool to unlock the Yankee shortstop.

Chicago Cubs v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

I want to preface this article by making a statement on managing expectations. It was well advertised that Isiah Kiner-Falefa, or any other shortstop acquired this past winter, would be a stopgap shortstop till one of the Yankees’ star prospects, Oswald Peraza or Anthony Volpe, are major league ready. Our own John Griffin wrote just last week that when we put IKF’s expectations into context, he has been exactly what we thought he would be. The idea of a stopgap idea was pushed out hard in the media during the offseason and it’s important to remember that.

For that reason, this article isn’t talking about disappointment when it comes to IKF. It’s just a statement of mere fact that his swing mechanics limit his ceiling as a player, and I’m assessing his limitations. With that out of the way, let’s dive into that mechanical limitation I spoke of. It’s called hip sliding, and IKF falls victim to it more than any other hitter on the Yankees. Let’s start with two videos: one is a hip slide, and the other is the complete opposite.

It’s a little tougher to truly see IKF’s hips sliding forward towards the pitcher at this angle, but his contact and loss of posture are both indicators of the inefficient rotation and force production in his swing. If you couldn’t tell exactly what a hip slide is, I’m sure you can after that swing. Put simply, it’s the forward motion of a hitter’s hips in the general direction of the pitcher after their foot lands. It could be straight or slightly angled, but if there is inefficient forward motion, the hitter is likely hip sliding.

You may be asking why in the world I included a clip of a hockey player in a baseball article. The reason is because hockey players have some of the most efficient rotation patterns of all rotational sports and the key to that is their neutrality in their hips as they rotate from their spine. The hockey clip is crucial because it shows so many angles of the shot. No matter which angle, you clearly see the rotation coming from the spine, rather than spinny or pushy hips.

The best hitters in baseball do the same. Of course it’s not as perfect because they’re not rotating on ice, but it’s pretty clear that you can’t drift towards home plate if you want to be in the right position to drill a pitch over 400 feet or even adjust to different pitch speeds.

Here is a phenomenal video to put these words to your eyes. This is what hitters should and often do look like. One thing to pay attention to throughout these swings is the spine angle on all the hitters. As they rotate and swing, their spine angle is staying near neutral. There aren’t any glaring collapses in posture. Yeah, these swings are nitpicked but it’s for good reason. All the hitters in this clip are incredible at making consistent hard contact in the air on different pitch locations.

Kiner-Falefa’s landing into the ground doesn’t give him the chance to maintain great posture or create enough separation to have depth in his bat path. His lack of stable landing is a big reason why he is one of the league leaders in ground ball percentage for the last few seasons. When you don’t create depth in your bat path, your bat’s entry into the hitting zone is steep — you become a collision hitter. There are only a few pitch locations where you can get your barrel on the right plane to hit a line drive. You need to create space between your hips and shoulders in order to drop your barrel early into the hitting zone.

I’m showing this again because it’s easier to see in slow motion. IKF’s hips drift forward twice in this swing! His toe tap doesn’t help him. In fact, in this particular swing it hurts him. He isn’t using it as a point of stability like many hitters do. Traditionally speaking, a hitting coach would tell him to stop landing hard on his front foot. It’s not letting him absorb and transfer the energy up his spine. Instead, he only has room for a pushy swing in which he throws his hands at the ball. His barrel doesn’t flow through the zone on an even plane.

Perhaps this is why the Yankees hoped he had some upside in his swing. He isn’t at all close to peak swing mechanics, and he is still able to put the ball in play so often. Combine his natural ability to make contact with his above average athleticism and you can begin to dream you have a little more than just a stopgap player. It’s clear to me that he is constantly working to adjust his swing mechanics and get more out of himself. This year alone he has gone from leg kick to toe tap and somewhere in between. He is playing around hoping he finds the cue to that puts his body in the right place. With some time, he may improve, but It’s not guaranteed. Either way, he has done his job, but I’ll continue to dream of a world where he isn’t such a severe hip slider and begins to use the ground to the best of his capabilities.