In a past life I was a full-time golf instructor. This gave me tremendous insight into the mechanics of the human body when performing other physical activities, including swinging a baseball bat. I have also taught many a juniors how to swing a baseball bat during my time as a little league coach. I may not have the credentials of Mark McGwire, but I certainly do know my kinestheology.
Now there are several mechanical differences between a golf swing and a baseball swing, but the majority of those are related to swing path and the imparting of direction based on bat angle over face angle. The path a bat takes is obviously much more horizontal to the ground than in a golf swing, and mostly a baseball player determines the direction the ball goes based on the angle the bat is at during the time the baseball makes impact with the bat. But the motions bear a striking resemblance and is one of the major reasons why baseball players gravitate to golf so easily.
In this series I hope to walk you through some of the mechanical inclinations of a batter and discuss some of the strengths and weaknesses of the players swing from the perspective of a guy who just kinda knows things. I don't proclaim to be the next specialist that the D-Backs need to really hit the ball better, but I know more than the average Joe probably.
We will break down the swing into sections. First, the setup. Next, the initial move. Then the motion toward the ball as it approaches the strikezone. Followed by impact, follow through, and finally the finish. These are the stages which every swing goes through and can be broken down to help identify where a batters strengths and weaknesses come from. We will look for things like balance, hand path, bat barrel path, lower and upper body torque, arm rotation, and the players upper body tilt at the plate.
First up in our queue, Paul Goldschmidt.
Paul has a fairly unique setup with the bat handle pointed much higher than the average player. This establishes his hands in a much higher location than some of his contemporaries. His knee bend is somewhat more exaggerated while he keeps his upper body somewhat more upright. This is a much more organic move for Goldie than it was anything he was likely taught. As a result his eye level will change as he prepares to swing the bat. That could potentially cause him problems when trying to see the ball as it comes toward the plate as well as alter his swing path. But for now, it is comfortable to him.
His stance is very wide which is growing more common among todays players. The theory being less lower body movement required to initiate the swing. This leads to more stability and a shorter time to the ball. Paul really has to rely on this due to how far his hands are away from where impact will be. His bat speed will be generated by a very strong upper body and less so on the torque generated by his body. Again, this is very much en-vogue to current batting styles.
Now we see Goldies first move as the pitcher releases the ball. He has shifted his weight significantly back to his right foot. This is what helps to load his lower body and releases the pressure off of his front foot to begin the move towards the ball. You will see this in 99% of all professional baseball players and is a naturally occurring reaction for "gearing up" to hit the ball.
Goldies hands have also moved back considerably away from his head. By moving his hands away and lower he is stretching out his lead arm so that when his upper body does begin to turn there will be no slack from shoulder joint to bat. This ensures the maximum amount of energy transfer from shoulder rotation to bat pull. This "taking out the slack" move is very common but can result in inconsistent results. The further a player has to move the bat during this period, the higher the probability that it ends up in a different place each time. Thus, starting the hand path and barrel path in a different location each time. This is not always a detriment however. This can be the point in time where the player positions the hands and the bat where they need to be in order to accommodate the path they need to swing the bat to make contact. If a baseball is lower or higher to the ground, the player can adjust their hands accordingly.
For me, I would like to see Goldie set up much closer to this position. It would grant him more time to adjust to the trajectory of the ball and see the rotation before initiating his swing. Effectively I would want to remove so many moving parts.
Although not really depicted in the picture, Paul has also started to lean over the plate a bit more. He has also angled his upper body back much more causing what we in the golf world call "axis tilt". Axis tilt is the key component to the path which the hands and bat take during the swing. The more "tilt" a player has, the more upright the swing path. The more forward lean (toward the pitcher) a player has, the more downward the bat path.
In Pauls Pre-Impact stage you can see just how taught his left arm is. It is fully straightened out and his shoulders have rotated to the point where he is almost facing the pitcher. At the same time his right elbow is really pointing down to the ground. The position of the right elbow is key to how low the bathead can come into impact. The more it points downward, the more upward the swingpath will be (homerun swing). The more behind the player it points, the more downward (grounder) the swingpath will be. The axis tilt of the player assists in the ability of the player getting this trail elbow into this position. It is a combination of both tilt and elbow which facilitates the path.
Paul has excellent plate coverage because of his balance, extension, and tilt over the plate. His arms are fully extended while still keeping his body somewhat angled towards us. His balance is excellent as we can see his back heel come up off of the ground and his front foot is still well planted. He doesn't look out of control.
At impact you can really see how much his right elbow is pointed down toward the ground while his left hand is firmly on top of his right hand. His head has actually moved back slightly, pulling away from the pitcher. This small move actually increases bat-head speed and he counters the pull of the bat by pulling back. He is fully rotated at this point and his hips as well as his shoulders are now facing the pitcher. He has completely unwound his body and released all of the torque to his arms. His hand speed will now out-pace his rotational speed which is why we're starting to see his right arm pull away from his body and both arms extend. He still actually has a little bit of speed left in the bat. Even with all of this speed, his balance is impeccable. He looks firmly in control and his eyes appear locked in on the ball. Balance and ability to see the ball right up to the point of impact are truly the greatest reasons for good contact.
Now we can see the full extension of Goldies arms releasing the bathead out into outer space. The bathead has come up a little since impact which fulfills our assertion that he was making a somewhat more uppercut swing. But even more telling is where his hands are from impact to here. You can compare against the backdrop of Cody Ross in the background. His spine tilt away from the pitcher is another dead giveaway of the upward inclination of his swing. He clearly wanted to hit this one out of the park.
His balance is truly something to behold and something more players should imitate in their swings. He has maintained his angle over the plate which has helped him remain balanced and kept his head relatively still through the whole process. There was some counter motion away from the pull of the bat, but many good hitters do this to generate a bit more speed. Just so long as it doesn't result in total loss of sight of the ball.
Paul has finished up nicely here, although a bit more on his back foot than some might like. The only reason I point this out is because your time out of the box is dramatically affected by how much weight and momentum you have going back on your back foot. The faster players out of the box have a bit more of their weight on their front foot and towards 1st base. Home run hitters like Goldie tend to hang back on their back foot a bit more because of the uppercut swing style. A marriage of the two is possible but admittedly a fine line to try and walk. It is difficult to be both a power hitter, and a quick player out of the box.
This backwards momentum is also a result of the counter-pull in Goldie's backswing to the bathead. It isn't "out of balance" per se, but it could be helped a little if Goldie didn't pull back so much during his swing.
Goldies strengths are in his plate coverage and ability to generate a lot of power. He has great balance which allows him to make small adjustments while making his swing to catch up to most pitches a pitcher will throw. His balance also bodes well for his body. In general the more in balance a player is, the less prone to self inflicted injury. This creates durability not just for a full season, but for many seasons.
Because of the early hands and arm movement in his swing Goldie can be prone to timing issues. This is especially true for pitchers who regularly change the pace of the ball. I would assume this makes him highly susceptible to the change up. Goldie also has great running speed for a big hitter, but he is not going to beat you out of the box for an infield single. Goldie is also susceptible to the inside high fastball because of his uppercut swing path.
How To Pitch To Him
A smart right handed pitcher will pitch Goldie up and inside with a fastball, then down and away with a change-up. A slider is not a good pitch to try and get Goldie out on because of his incredible pitch recognition and the plate coverage. A slider off the edge of the plate is just as likely to drop in for a double as it is to get him to strike out.
For left handed pitchers, a slider low and inside can be used effectively but must be used very judiciously. His ability to recognize pitches and stay on the ball means it could easily get deposited in the upper deck. Similar to right handed pitchers a change-up is your most effective weapon when mixed in with the fastball. The hole in Goldies swing is his timing mechanism. If you can keep him from timing the pace of the pitch by varying the speed, you can get him to strike out.