As many of you probably know by now, my niche in the baseball world is coaching. Therefore, I have a special fascination/place in my heart for strong fundmentals. As I have referenced in other posts, two of the more beautiful things in this world are Miguel Cabrera taking a fastball to right field and Prince Fielder scooping an errant throw in the dirt at 1st base. Why? Because each are absolutely flawless acts, fundamentally speaking.
Moving on, we all were aware of Austin Jackson’s struggles at the plate last season, most notably regarding the incredibly high strikeout totals. He’s made a remarkable turnaround this season thus far (up until his recent injury), and after studying some video from last year and this year, I believe this is directly attributed to his improved hitting fundamentals.
I could literally spend 10-12 lengthy posts describing the intricacies of a proper batting stance, swing, etc. But for the sake of this particular post, I’m going to concentrate on specifically what Austin Jackson has improved on dramatically.
1) Eyes. You’ve all heard the phrase “keep your eye on the ball.” From the time I was 4 years old, swinging a bat for the first time, those words were pounded into my head. After all, you can’t hit what you can’t see. Now, it’s not like Jackson was blind last season or had really bad eyes at the plate, otherwise he quite literally would have NEVER gotten a hit. But his problem lied with tracking the baseball. The ideal “tracking path” starts at the very moment the pitcher shows the baseball (usually immediately prior to releasing the ball) and following the ball all the way until it impacts the bat. From what I’ve seen, Jackson’s issue last season was that he would stop tracking the ball prior to where it made contact with his bat. The ball can move significantly in the last 3-4 feet of it’s path, and this resulted in Jackson either making weak contact with the ball or missing it entirely. This season, Jackson is tracking the ball right up until the point of contact, resulting in less swings and misses as well as much better, squared-up contact. Furthermore, watch Jackson the next time he bats. When he decides to NOT swing at a pitch, he has been tracking it all the way into the catcher’s glove, rather than just losing his track of the pitch when it crosses the plate. He will actually turn his head to the right to watch the pitch all the way into the catcher’s glove. He doesn’t do it on every pitch, but more so than I have ever seen him do it before.
2) Hands. When you hear a scout or a writer say someone’s swing is “long” or “loopy”, the vast majority of the time they are referring to the hitter’s hands. The path of a hitter’s hands must be short, quick, and close to the body when swinging the bat. The knob of the bat must take a direct path towards the baseball, and this can only be done with quick hands. Once the hands get away from the body, the barrel of the bat takes a longer time getting through the hitting zone, making inside pitches nearly impossible to get to. When Jackson would strike out on inside fastballs last season, or get sawed off, this was because his hands were slow, resulting in a longer swing. This season, Jackson’s hands are much, much quicker to the ball, which is why we are seeing him pull inside pitches with authority as opposed to hitting them weakly or missing them completely.
3) Front Foot/Side. We’ve all heard Rod Allen talk about Miguel Cabrera’s varying front leg kick, and how it varies based on the pitcher/count/etc. Regardless of the height of the front leg kick, fundamentally speaking, the whole point of taking a leg kick is to get your momentum loaded on your back leg, so that you can in turn drive forward, which provides the majority of your power (bat speed, forearm strength, etc aside). Jackson’s issue last season was that he would take a high leg kick, but then not be able to transfer that weight forward quickly enough, resulting in his being late on pitches, either popping up or missing completely. This season, Jackson has significantly shortened his leg kick, and is driving his back side forward much quicker, which is in turn resulting in less swings and misses coupled with better contact. When I teach hitting, I always teach that the front foot should be raised just slightly and then set back down as if you are stepping on a piece of ice. This teaches hitters to stay on balance when transferring their weight back and forth (because you don’t want to step on ice off-balance, right?). Regardless of the height of the leg kick, it all comes down to how quickly you can transfer that weight back to your front side so as to get to the ball. You can look around the major leagues and see successful hitters with giant leg kicks and miniscule ones. Like I said, it all comes back to how quickly you can transfer that weight and power.
In closing, Jackson has made great strides in his fundamentals this season so as to be as successful as he has been. This can be attributed to tireless work in the offseason, spring training, and no doubt continuing work during the season. So therefore, this post should serve as a friendly reminder to all of you “Fire Lloyd McClendon” folks out there, because who do you think has been working with Jackson to improve so significantly with the mechanics of hitting? That’s right, Lloyd McClendon.
As always, feel free to comment on the post with your thoughts or contact me on Twitter @B_Sakowski to let me know what you think!
Go Tigers, Beat Cleveland!!