The Curse of Jerry Hairston, Jr./Eric Hinske:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

j teaches us all some cool stuff: Former (and potential Future) Yankee Robinson Cano

Clay and Mike K. are planning to review the development of the Yankees minor league players, and asked if I would be interested in providing some swing analysis to compliment their discussions. I said yes.  I wanted to get things started with a primer using Robinson Cano’s swing.

The first step is where Cano, and other good hitters, gather their weight into their back leg.

Note that I said *into* and not *over*. Cano isn’t drifting over his back foot with his weight. Instead, he’s rotating in the angular direction opposite to the direction that he’ll swing in, loading the revolute ball and socket joint in his back hip.  This also serves to close, or what Ted Williams refers to as ‘cocking’, his front hip.

The next stage of his swing is where Cano accomplishes the stretch shortening cycle, a well documented phenomenon whereby an eccentric contraction of a muscle precedes concentric contraction and results in a greater output.  You can think of it like stretching a rubber band and releasing it.  Players have a few ways of accomplishing this, and Cano’s approach is to stride slightly forward – maybe just a few inches – as part of the action of shifting his weight from his back side to his front side while simultaneously loading his shoulders into the opposite angular direction.  Finally,

There are a few important things to note here.  First, these actions must happen at the same time, otherwise a hitter is not going to achieve the stretch-shortening cycle.  Also, Cano isn’t pushing off his back foot towards the pitcher. Instead, he’s pinned his back foot into the ground (using his cleats) and rotating his (revolute) ankle joint in the opposite angular direction of his swing.  Because that joint is pinned, a force in the opposite angular direction of his swing is going to create movement of his hips in the angular direction of his swing.  Finally, you’ll notice that the simultaneous loading of the hands and shifting of his weight stops as soon as Cano’s foot hits the ground. At this point, Cano’s about as leveraged as he can get and is ready to use his hips and core muscles to pull his hands through the hitting zone. Once Cano’s front foot lands, the potential energy that he’s stored in the muscles that connect his front hip and back shoulder starts to decrease. So, once that front foot goes down, ideally Cano should start the rotation portion of his swing. We’ll see in the next image that this is exactly what he does.

Now we see Cano rotating, using his hips and core muscles. This phase really starts a little before Cano’s front foot lands – as you can see, the front foot landing coincides with a little bit of hip rotation. This isn’t a flaw – in fact, it’s an important triggering mechanism for the rotation phase of the swing. His front leg is stiff, which provides a pivot for rotation. His back elbow is now tucked into his back hip, making his hips, torso, shoulders, elbow, and wrists a rigidly coupled system, so that they are all moving together.  The rotation of his hips have created a moving angular reference frame, inside of which the stretch-shortening cycle has created a system with potential energy that is becoming kinetic energy, with velocity that’s added to the angular velocity created by his hips.  Also notice how compact Cano is. By keeping his arms close to his body, he’s not only created a very rigid couple between his hips and his bat, but he’s also decreased his moment of inertia.  By decreasing his moment of inertia as much as possible, Cano is minimizing losses in the transfer of angular momentum at his hips/core to angular momentum at his shoulders/arms/wrists/bat.  We see the same effect with ice skaters – they spin more slowly (so, with less momentum) when their arms are extended, and then tuck their arms in to speed up their spin.

Strength through this motion is basically the most important part of the swing. Cano’s using his hips to pull his hands through the hitting zone. 

He’s keeping his hands back and the bat on the outside of his back shoulder. It’s important to understand the role of the hands here. The hips are doing all the work, and the hands just need to keep the bat in position to make contact with the ball. The best way to do that is to travel on a plane that matches the trajectory of the pitch.  Based on the height of the mound, the trajectory of a pitch makes about a 6-8° angle with the ground.  So, the bat needs to travel on a plane that matches that angle. 

Here’s another good example of what happens as a result of strong rotation from the Home Run derby in 2011. Notice how the extreme rotation of his hips literally pulls his back foot off the ground.

There’s not much to discuss with the finish.  A good swing has the bat accelerating through the point of contact and creates a bat with a lot of angular momentum. A good indication that the bat is on the correct plane is that it the finish will be at the opposite shoulder.

There are a lot of subtleties and intricacies that I glossed over here, but I wanted to give everyone a sense of what are the pieces that make up a good swing.  We’ll likely get into them when we look at some of them minor league guys and discuss problems that they’re having and what the root cause might be.

So, what concerns me about Cano’s swing? Well, there’s not much, but there are a few things:

- When Cano gathers/unweights his front foot, he does seem to drift back a little bit. It’s not a lot, but it’s there. Drifting or swaying backwards creates a balance issue. Because Cano sways back a little, he needs to drift back forward to regain his balance. He seems to incorporate this into his stride and uses it to get separation between his back shoulder and front hip. A hitter who incorporates this sway back/sway forward approach is potentially vulnerable to pitchers with large velocity differences between their fastball and offspeed pitches.

- Cano’s unweighting mechanism is a leg lift. This is fairly common, but it is, in my opinion, a concern as any players physical abilities start to decline and will reduce their ability to maintain their contact rates.  A better option is a toe touch, where you unweight your front foot but stay in contact with the ground, so you can drop your foot and start the rotation phase quickly. Of course, it’s not an easy thing to change, especially if there’s no problem with it now.


Thanks a ton to j for doing this. He’ll be providing us with more great stuff as Mike and I work on our pieces this winter. Hopefully we’ll do some in-depth prospect profiles at some point as well. - Snuggles


--Posted at 11:00 am by Snuggles T. Porcupine / 29 Comments | - (0)


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Well… that did not work.


[1] I fixed the not working part (but not the title…)

edit: now I fixed the title.

I removed the embedded video as it was causing the page to load and run slower.

Thank you, j.  Really interesting.  I was surprised to learn that he doesn’t drive with the back leg at all.  Is that true of all hitters?

Also, if the arms are mostly holding the bat in position and the power comes from the core muscles, what does that tell us if anything about weight training?  Does this mean big guns like McGwire’s have nothing to do with power?  And if so, what effect do known PEDs have on core strength—or is it still all about aiding in recovery?

I suppose it also means that plyo, as discussed the other day, ought to be really important for hitters.  Right?

ETA, I’m sure I’ve heard commentators talking about drive with the back leg—am I confusing that with pitching?

[5] Is that true of all hitters? I think it’s a fairly common misconception that players are pushing off their back leg linearly towards the pitcher.  The best hitters don’t do that. It’s a rotational counter movement. It’s honestly a bit confusing unless you stand up and do it yourself.

Does this mean big guns like McGwire’s have nothing to do with power?

I think there’s a few ways to look at it.  The most efficient way to generate power is using your hips and core muscles. Does that mean that a guy with huge arm muscles can’t use those arm muscles to hit a homerun? Certainly not.  If you look at McGwire, he’s got huge legs in addition to those huge arms.  I think the big upper body muscles allow you to get beat and still have the strength to hit the ball hard.  To me, this blurb from BR makes the point the most clearly:

Mickey Charles Mantle (The Mick, The Commerce Comet or Muscles)

Positions: Centerfielder and First Baseman
Bats: Both, Throws: Right
Height: 5’ 11”, Weight: 195 lb.

Mantle was able to hit 500+ ft HR’s without being huge.

I think steroids make people stronger and faster.  The conversation the other day was about what you do when your total strength is decreaed. Well, one approach could be plyometrics, which give you more access to the strength you do have.  Steroids also allow you to work out longer and recover faster.

I’m sure I’ve heard commentators talking about drive with the back leg—am I confusing that with pitching?

IMO, baseball commentators are generally uninformed.  That generalization is somewhat extendable to coaches, managers, and even players.  It’s an odd thing. Some of the best hitters don’t even know what it is that they are doing.

[6] Look at most 5 tool players. They tend to be built like “classic” athletes, not hulking monsters. Granderson is pretty wiry and has loads of power.

On the PED topic, in addition to aiding in recovery, I thought I once read something about some of the stuff Bonds/Balco were experimenting with was to improve sight and hand/eye coordination, which would obviously be beneficial to a hitter in baseball. Not to mention, eye drops…

Edit - obviously Bonds was taking some sort of HGH to bulk up and build raw strength as well as the stuff above.

j - Great stuff. How do you know all this? Not questioning your knowledge, just curious how one comes to be able to analyze hitting mechanics in such detail.
- Thanks.

[9] sorcery. He claims otherwise, but I know.

[8] Not sure about chemical vision enhancements, but I have contacts that give me better than 20/20 vision.

[9] Thank you. All of this stuff is on the internet, although there is a lot of misinformation out there. The sources I like the best are Chris O’Leary, Ted Williams “The Science of Hitting”, and Eric Cressey.  For me, I take it a step further because I still play (25-40 games/year in a wood bat league) and spend a lot of time doing video analysis on myself and friends.

[11] That performance enhancement is not fair to your fellow employees. I believe I know one of them (if you ended up at a company whose name rhythms with Lepic), so I will be passing this information along. Expect a 211 work day suspension soon.

[13] The jig is up!

Also, they were prescribed by a doctor. I met him in an alley, he wrote it on a napkin, signed it and then spit into it. Doesn’t get more legit than that.

Great stuff.  I feel like after reading and understanding it all that I could be a professional MLB player.  I’m sure we all could.  Well, if being better than Nunez qualifies as being a professional MLB player.  I’m not sure.

[15] According to updated information on Dustin Pedroia, he and I are basically the same size, I’d probably outweigh him if I were training for baseball though. That, along with my 20/15 vision, means I’m basically an all-star, right?

[16] - I’d give you $300M.

Very good work, j!

j, what I really want to know is—this is the RLYW, after all.  Who’s got the worst, most mechanically unsound swing on the Yankees?

[19] My guess is Ichiro or Gardner.

[20] If I WANTED your guess, I would have ASKED for your guess.

Nunez, of course

It has to be Ichiro.

I honestly don’t know. I haven’t looked at any Yankees except Cano. I plan to over the course of the offseason. Teixeira’s problems interest me.

I vote CC after Teixeira.

I would like to know how Chris Stewart can seemingly get full extension and pull the ball to LF only to produce so many harmless pop flies..

[26] ‘Extension’ has no place in a good swing before or at the point of contact. I don’t have a still shot of it, but if you look at the last animated GIF of Cano, he’s clearly still compact, with his elbow tucked into his back side and his front arm bent around 130-140 degrees at the point of contact. The still shot of the HR derby from 2011 is well after the point of contact, and the extension happens as a result of all the momentum created by his rotation.

only to produce so many harmless pop flies..

Swing plane is an important aspect.  Getting the plane of the bat in the plane of the pitch maximizes the likelihood that you’ll make good contact. Essentially, the intersection of the two planes needs to be maximized.  If you don’t match the swing of the pitch, the intersection becomes very small. The result is very low contact rates, and when you do make contact, pop ups or groundballs.  A good swing is a very slight uppercut.

[27] Interesting, thanks. From my untrained eye it seems like he’s all arms (similar to Gardner) as well.

The result is very low contact rates, and when you do make contact, pop ups or groundballs.

This should go on Chris Stewart’s tombstone.

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