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: Jake Lamb
After watching a few of Jake's swings he is what I would classify as a prototypical pull hitter. But what's a bit different about Jake is his ability to pull the ball pitched on the outer half of the plate with reasonable success. The typical book on lefties is to never pitch them inside, much less low and inside and Jake is no exception. They tend to golf them out. One thing that Jake really has going for him, is how quick he can get to the ball. Probably one of the shortest swings executed in the league. Shorter swings = longer time to react.
The most noticeable thing about Jake's setup is his high hands. This setup is usually very helpful for getting at low and inside pitches. He may have developed this habit in response to learning to get to the inside tosses after having some trouble with it down on the farm.
I also wanted to point out that while he has relatively closed shoulders and neutral hips, his feet are open. For those of you who don't know what "closed" and "open" refers to; closed is where you see more of the backside of a player and open you will see the front side of the player. If you look at Jake you can see the name on the back of his jersey while not seeing what is on the front. That would be a "closed" shoulder rotation. The hips fall almost perfectly in line with the pitcher so they would be considered "neutral", while his lower body is open.
I'd call this setup the "half coiled" setup. There's a pre-twisted look that he has and this is a very good thing if you want to be quick to the ball. He doesn't have to rear back much if at all during the initial move.
Lastly, he does stand up a bit taller at the setup and begins to angle himself over the plate more as the ball approaches the strike zone. It does have the potential of becoming an unnecessary variable in his swing but from what I can tell it seems to be a natural way for him to adjust for high and low pitches. It certainly doesn't seem to hurt him at all.
So you can see Jake begin to re-position his hands to a much lower position. At the same time the bat gets very vertical (yellow line) compared to where it was (red line) at the setup. The lower hands are a good thing IMO, but the vertical bat is not. The worst thing a batter can have is a "looping bat-head". It's the same critique I had of Yasmany Tomas's swing but Yasmany has it way worse. Jake gets himself into a nice position a little later on, but all of that bat movement from flat, to vertical, then back to flat means he can loose control of the plane. What that boils down to is he may try to swing the bat-head into one position, but it ends up in a slightly different place and you get very inconsistent contact. Lots of popups and grounders instead of line drives. It also makes for a very streaky hitter which I believe Jake to be. All the more reason to play him while he's hot and sit him when he's not.
As his foot lifts up off the ground just a couple of inches you can see everything turn a bit more closed, but the overall rotation of his body from his setup to here is minimal. This is one of the big reasons why he can wait on pitches a bit longer.
FWIW, Peavy threw a piss poor fastball here. It started on the inside corner and went out over the heart of the plate. I think Peavy was trying to throw it much more inside and down based on where Posey is setup. Apparently neither Posey nor Peavy have looked at Lamb's zone chart.... or realized he's left handed.
To The Ball
Sorry for all the colorful drawings but there's quite a bit to point out here.
First the arrow. I want you to look at the previous picture then at this picture and be in awe of how much his hips turned in that millisecond of time. That's power folks. You don't have to be built like the hulk to hit the ball far (though it does help) when you have hips like this. Understand that his hips are just the beginning of a chain reaction that will lead to quick shoulders, quick arms, and quick bat head speed. Speed like this also means he can wait longer on pitches.
The three lines all represent the bat in the various stages of his swing leading up to this point. The green line is where he had the bat at setup, the red is during his initial move, and the yellow is where the bat is now. Not only has the plane changed for the bat (from horizontal to vertical to somewhere in between), but his hand position has changed quite a bit as well.
He looks a little scrunched up here trying to keep his hands closer to his body and not getting them extended. I suspect his initial reaction to the pitch was that it was going to be inside and to get to it he'd need to keep his hands close. As the ball started to move out over the plate it found the sweet spot on the bat. Jake was likely hoping for a shot up the right field line for a double at best, but got a nice surprise when the ball got more of the sweet spot and took off. It would have easily been a home run at Chase Field.
I think this image is a fine illustration of what I mean by the bat following a different plane and how Jake is a pull hitter.
The red line indicates where the bat was just a few frames before this one and you can see he has quite a bit of variation on the level of his bat. He's flatter now than he was in any other frame during his swing and he will continue to get flatter and flatter with the bat all the way to his finish.
His body is WIDE open to the point where he's basically facing the pitcher but the bat-head hasn't even hit the ball yet. That's some serious body turn. He isn't using his hands to swing the bat so much as he's using body torque to do it for him. You see this a lot from juniors and folks with slightly slender builds. People who are stronger and more muscular tend to use their hands and arms (Goldie is an arms and hands swinger with a bit of body turn). In general a body swinger is smoother, more fluid, and takes a bit longer to perform the swing. The bigger muscles are getting involved. This is advantageous in that a swing tends to be much more repeatable, but on the down side it is a bit harder to manipulate the bat and adjust. It also causes an "outside-in" path of the bat. More commonly known as a Pull Hitter.
Jake is not slow at all despite being more of a body turn swinger, quite to the contrary. He has learned to rotate his body very quickly by having very little movement during his initial move and clearing his hips so early in the approach to the hitting zone. As a result, his pull hitting swing is much more pronounced and that's why we see so much of his upper and lower body at impact. It also makes him very good at getting to the inside pitches.
You can see Jake has really released the bat much more around his body than upward toward his shoulder. He's also hanging back on his back foot which isn't a bad thing. In fact it's generally considered the right thing to do in a baseball swing to keep your weight on your back foot while using your front foot to plant and resist against. Jake does this with authority. All that torque he's applied has really forced him to resist against that planted front leg and once he doesn't have the force being delivered for his front foot to resist against, he'll end up falling completely back onto his back foot.
Jake's not going to get any awards for being the fastest out of the box because he's got all of his weight on his back foot, but this really is the result of so much resistance his front leg has had to have against the force of his swing. You can see he's barely got his front heel on the ground while he's springing his weight on the toes of his back foot. His back leg all the way up through his left arm is as extended as it can possibly be. This is a sign that absolutely nothing was held back in this swing.
His bat and left arm are really wrapping around his body emphasizing the point that he's really swinging around his body and pulling across it. It's a very pull-hitter'ish thing to do. You'll generally see good opposite field hitting players with a much higher finish of the hands and bat as they swing more from the inside to out.
How to Pitch To Jake Lamb
Well it's probably better to start off with how NOT to pitch to Jake Lamb. Middle of the plate to inner third is death. Here's his chart according to BrooksBaseball.net:
You can see up and in is Jakes butter zone. Instead a steady diet of both off speed and fastballs on the outside 3rd is in order. Of course the problem with off-speed pitches is you can't always locate them where you want and Jake has a league average eye for breaking and off speed pitches. Anything that works its way back over the inner half is likely going to go against your ERA instantly.
He may have a good eye for the off speed, but the change of bat angle can make him susceptible to the double play ball or popup so don't be afraid to throw it when you need that crucial out. Just make sure you err on the side of caution when you do it. Better to fall behind him in the count and let it be off the plate than to be deposited in the stands.