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 strike zone. 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.
Today's subject, Yasmany Tomas.
Yasmany loads up a TON on his back foot with a fairly high leg kick. I particularly like batters who have a lot of loading up on their back foot, but the high leg kick can cause timing issues if the player relies too much on the timing. It simply takes longer to get the bat into the hitting zone from the time that the front leg begins to replant itself. This is fine if the player expects fastballs at all times but adjusts their swing as soon as a breaking ball is identified, but the result of that is a loss of power anytime a breaking pitch is thrown. It also means a lot more opposite field late hits on breaking pitches. Yasmany is big and strong though. So even if he gets off balance, late, and has to really adjust for an off-speed pitch he's strong enough to hit it a long way.
Yasmany has a slightly open setup with his lower body and a closed setup with his upper body. You can see his front foot is a bit more in line with 3rd base, it's very exaggerated in the face on view. This isn't uncommon for a batter during batting practice when it is their natural tendency to have the open hips. It is also a bit of a habit for guys that really move to their back foot during their initial move. There's little to no weight on this front foot so it can really be planted anywhere and it doesn't feel like it matters to them.
I don't think you need to be a batting coach or even a specialist in kinesthetics to see what's wrong here. It may be the same person swinging the bat, but it sure as heck looks like two different people position wise. When Tomas is comfortably hitting in batting practice he has just a small lift of the front foot. Very casual in fact. His bat position is night and day as well. In the game his bat position is in front of his head. This isn't just a no-no, it's a nightmare. The bat head has to make a giant transition from here to get to the ball in time. There must be a leveling out of the bat at some point so that the bathead is either over or behind his right shoulder. That's a good 3 feet the bat head has to move before he can even begin to make it move toward the ball. In a game where "Time to ball" is a thing, that extra 3 feet of movement is akin to a pitcher pitching from 3 feet closer to home plate.
There's something else that may not jump out at you, but it sure as heck jumps out at me. Look at how relaxed he is with his upper body during BP. Now look out angled over he is during the game. I don't really care so much that he is angled more over the plate, what I do care about is how vastly different it is from what is his natural routine.
Think about this for a moment. How many balls would you say a batter hits during BP over the course of a year vs how many balls they hit during the games. If you are practicing a completely different swing than the one you take into the game, there are some mental preparedness issues during your practice sessions. Anyone how has ever tried to compete in anything knows you should practice how you want to play. Tomas looks like he's getting prepared for a sandlot game with the neighborhood kids more than he's getting ready to be a part of spring training.
You may think I'm being overly dramatic about this, but trust me... this is what a player with a ton of talent out of the Cuban league with no real experience against tough competition looks like. He isn't just not ready because he hasn't seen enough MLB pitching, he's not ready because he doesn't have the attitude to beat MLB pitching.
Now, I will say this in his defense. This video of this BP session was a while ago before spring training even started. Perhaps he was just working on some things (like his bat position and weight shift), and he may have a completely new respect for MLB pitching after he's experienced it during spring training. I HOPE that is the case and that I am blowing this way out of proportion. But regardless, the variance between his real swing and his BP swing is the size of the Grand Canyon.
To The Ball
So lets talk about Yasmany's leg kick for a moment.
Leg kicks are all about timing and starting the kinetic sequence. For those of you know don't know what the kinetic sequence is, any sports related motion has a series of muscles that contract which move the levers in your body, and they fire off in a very defined order one right after another. If they do not fire in the right order you get power leakage and loss of control. The leg kick itself is the first move a batter makes in the kinetic sequence to start the bat toward the ball.
A big leg kick is indicative of BIG power. The bigger the kick, the bigger kick-start of the kinetic sequence (swing). However, it is also very susceptible to timing issues. If the kick is started too early then the batter will get into the hitting zone too early. If the kick is started too late then the bat will be late into the hitting zone. A player with great body control is able to adjust the firing of their muscles in the kinetic sequence to compensate for a late or early leg kick. For example, if the batter starts the leg kick too early they can purposely slow down how fast the rotate their hips and upper body so that they delay getting the bat into the hitting zone. The downside of this is that now there is a loss of power and some control. They've thrown off the optimal timing of the kinetic sequence and thus no longer have an optimal delivery of the bathead to the baseball.
Tomas does not appear to have this kind of control to any great degree. He has a little, but not a lot. This leaves him to guess on pitches more than most. If a batter cannot adjust to the pitch, the batter has no choice but to start guessing. If he guesses a fast ball (which no doubt he received his fair share of in the Cuban league), but gets a slider instead then he's going to be out in front of the pitch. If he's lucky and manages to get the bat on the ball, it will go to left field or foul. If he's guessing change up and gets a fastball, he will be late and hit it opposite field or foul.
If you pay attention to his opposite field hits, they're almost always late swings to fastballs. He never looks like he's purposely hitting to right or right center. He is simply late.
Moving on to his bathead, you can see during the game that the bathead has gone all the way from a position that is in front of his helmet to a position that is behind his right shoulder. That's a big long loop that the bat took. When a bathead moves around that much it becomes difficult for a player to line up the bat on the correct plane to intersect with the ball. During his practice session this is much easier for him to achieve since the bat is more or less just above his shoulder and doesn't need to move as much to get into position.
You might also notice during his BP session he's finally angled himself over the plate a bit more. Honestly I think he looks far better in his BP position than he does in his game time position. He looks a little off balance and on his heels during the game time swing, but much more on the balls of his feet in the BP swing.
During the game swing you can see Tomas has had to reach out to get to a center cut baseball. His lower body is back on his heels and he's doing his best to adjust to where the ball is by leaning his upper body over more. He managed to get just enough of it to get the ball over the fence in right center field but honestly I chalk that up to luck and strength more than what I would qualify as a "good swing". The pitch isn't very good at all (center cut), and Tomas is out of position, but manages to lean over and extend just enough to get the very end of the bat barrel on it. If a ball is pitched right over the heart of the plate and you still have to lean over to get to it, you were fooled by the pitch.
His face on look during BP looks much more like a solid impact position. His head is down looking right at impact, his weight looks well distributed over his feet. He's got his left elbow bent just a little bit which is fairly typical of his natural swinging motion, and his right arm is tucked against his side with some solid support as he's extending his hand out to keep the bat path on track to the ball.
There really isn't much to say here. He has great extension here, but I do think he's done a better job of staying in balance during his BP swing. If you look carefully at the game time view he's got his front leg bent slightly. That a result of having to reach for the ball and bending over more with his upper body while not counter balancing with his lower body very well. He's let his weight get carried onto his front foot a bit more than in the BP swing. In the BP swing you can see the front leg is stiff and locked. He's carried much more power into his BP swing than he did in the game time swing, and you can see the results by how much he has to resist the torque during the BP swing.
This illustrates quite well how such a small change in the swing can show up in the other parts of the swing. In this case during the game that one extra bit of extension to reach for the ball resulted in a little less power and a little more of an off balance follow through. Tomas is just strong enough to make that get out of the park. But with better pitching and bigger ball parks, it probably doesn't get to the wall.
In my teachings as a golf instructor, I would ask a student to pay the most attention to their setup and their finish. The reason being the swing they make will show up in the finish, so long as the setup was good. Baseball swings are no different. When you know what to look for in the finish, you'll know what you did in the swing.
Here during the game time swing, I see a player how is leaning over home plate. At alone tells me that during the swing the player had to reach for the ball. You can also see it in the very early and prominent release of the bat with his right hand. His right shoulder is so far away from the bat grip that he would have had to really hold onto that sucker to keep it in his hand. Personally, I don't really care if a player lets go of the bat. In many way's it's a good indicator of proper extension during impact and follow through. But when it's this pronounced and early, it's a sign of an adjustment.
It may seem odd that I'm going through pointing out these little things that signal adjustment, after earlier saying I don't think he can make them very well. But when you realize THE PITCH WAS CENTER CUT, my point is made. If that pitch is on the outside corner, he doesn't get wood on it because he's already having to adjust just go get to this mistake pitch.
I don't think Tomas is ready for the majors right now. He's moving the bat all around the place during his first move, looping the bathead more like a lasso than a bat. He doesn't appear to be practicing the way he plays which is a very bad sign for his mentality. He doesn't make very good adjustments to get wood on the ball and any pitcher with decent deception in his pitches is going to make mince meat out of him. I seriously doubt Tomas has seen much of anything other than fastballs all his life. Pair that with his inability to make adjustments and he's barely a .220 hitter with maybe 15-20 home runs. How power is undeniable, but he's just not ready.
PS. If you want to see someone with a big leg kick and excellent bat adjustment skills watch some Manny Ramirez video or Pablo Sandoval. There's a reason they're known as two of the best hitters foulpole to foulpole.