As some of you probably know by now I used to be a golf instructor. I was decent enough at it to make a living for a while but now the golf course that I used to teach at has a giant baseball field on it. That baseball field is called "Salt River Fields".
Now days I spend my time writing marginally funny commentary in game day threads, and post the top headlines of the day on Mondays and Fridays on a fairly well known website run by a British guy with a penchant for numbers. I tend to do so using various run-on sentences, probably irritating the British sensibility of our fearless leader along the way. Occasionally though, I get really bored and irritate my wife enough that she tells me to leave her alone, and that's the story of how the Swing Analysis article started!
Today's Subject: Nick Ahmed
Nick is another fairly typical pull hitter which is backed up by his spray chart. If you look closely you can see most of his opposite field hits are categorized as pop ups while he grounds out and hits line drives to left field. That does not mean Nick cannot hit to opposite field but at this point in his development trying to incorporate directional hitting doesn't make a lot of sense.
Nicks biggest problem though is that he doesn't get properly coiled up for his swing. His kinetic sequence is abysmal and it leads to very jerky swings that seem out of control despite being extremely well balanced.
This setup is probably one of the best setups in the whole game. His feet are slightly open and so are his hips but this is not really a bad thing. You don't want them so open that it messes with balance, and you don't want them so closed that it hinders the ability of the batter to see the pitch coming with both eyes.
His hands are out in front of him a bit and he will need to move them back as he winds up for the swing. This could become a timing mechanism for him as he tries to get his body in a rhythm with the motion of the pitcher. But that's not entirely what happens with Nick as we'll see.
I love his bat position and the way he is carrying his arms. Whoever it was that taught him how to set up at the plate knew what they were doing. The bat is hovering on a plane that is parallel to the plane he will swing the bat, as a result there is very little loop to his swing.
You can see his weight is mostly on his back foot with his front foot just barely touching the ground.
Nick has lifted his leg just a little bit. It's not a real high leg kick like Pollocks, and it's not Goldies non-existent kick either. If this were the story of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears his kick would be baby bears leg kick.... juuuuust right. It makes his balance for the initial phase of his swing very good. Problem is, he's not coiling very much. We can barely see his name and number on the back of his jersey. If I had to guess I'd say it's because he's trying to be quicker to the ball.
Shorter back rotations do not make for quicker swings however. The kinetic sequence needs time to pull out all of the slack, and there in lies the main thing Nick could really do to improve his swing. I'd like to see him rotate his shoulders and get his arms more behind him so that there is no slack between his hips and his lead arm. At a certain point the kinetic sequence does pull this slack out. Unfortunately it's far too late in the forward swing which makes for a jerky and non-adjustable swing. You need the swing to be taught and coiled from the moment you start the swing forward in order for any adjustments to work properly.
Initial Move Part 2
I don't usually have to break down an initial move into 2 parts, but Nick essentially has 2 of them. The first phase is where he's lifting his leg but not really coiling. The second part that we see above is his coil AND leg extension. This is where Nick gets discombobulated.
His lower body is moving in one direction while his upper body is moving in another. This is where his swing eventually gets the kinetic sequence MOSTLY taught. He still has the problem of a bent left arm which will eventually become straight as it is the last body part tugged on by his kinetic sequence.
So just give this a moment to sink in. In this frame his lower body is starting to drive forward. His upper body is driving backward, and his lead arm is still completely unaffected. It's a bit like towing a car with just a single chain, the car being toed is rolling backward a bit and now the lead car just rev'd the engine and popped the clutch. The car being toed is about to get a major jerk if the chain doesn't break first.
To The Ball
Earlier I pointed out the perfect position Nick was holding the bat in his setup. The top yellow line is the plane the bat was on when Nick was waiting for the pitch to be delivered and the longer yellow line is the plane Nick is swinging on. You can see how nearly identical the two planes are. This is a near 0 loop swing. It really doesn't get much better than this in terms of swinging a bat where you intend it to go.
The bad news is, you can see the plane he's swinging on is well below where the ball is being delivered to. From our vantage point that baseball is still rising in the frame. Nick is doing his best to adjust to this by trying to keep his hands in closer to his body and not allowing his lead elbow to straighten out but it's just too late.
Impact (Or Lack Thereof)
When I was talking about Nick's initial move where he barely lifted his leg, I mentioned how wonderfully balanced Nick's swing was, in the image above you can see how little change there is in the spine angle Nick has from setup to impact. This is both a blessing and a curse for Nick. Though he is in tremendous balance, an unchanging spine angle can make it difficult to get to certain pitches around the plate. For a high fastball, Nick should be trying to straighten up more. Instead by keeping his spine tilt over the plate he's having to use just his arms to lift the bat up onto a higher plane than he initially started it on. He has managed to get the bat up a bit, but not near enough to catch up to the ball.
Just as a small note, you can see Nick's left arm has become much more straightened out, but not yet fully extended. This is a result of both the lack of proper coiling in his initial move and trying to catch up to the location of the baseball. It's still worth noting his arm IS extended a bit more than it was because of the kinetic sequence really trying to pull his arm taught. It makes it harder to adjust the path of the bat when the body has no control over it and everything is left up to the strength of the arms.
Stop me if you've heard this one. Nick is in good balance here. Despite whiffing with a herky jerky swing that required a lot of arm manipulation to get the bat up in the strike zone, Nick couldn't be in better balance if his name was Ken Griffey Jr. Now, his trailing arm (right arm) has been pulled up as a result of his attempt to get the bat up in the zone, but his balance is impeccable.
He's got great extension indicating a very powerful swing and he's really letting the bat go during the release. Some professionals might say his swing was "sped up" because his follow through has more extension than on his way to the ball. It has the look of someone really trying to be quicker to the ball and missing. He has an accelerated bat speed well after impact. It's also partially why the swing looked so jerky.
So.. umm.. yeah... That looks like it hurts. The fact that he's still standing up is a tribute to his balance.
How To Pitch Nick Ahmed
Well BrooksBaseball.net says Nick has a poor eye for fastballs and breaking balls, but has an average eye for offspeed stuff. I think we've seen Nick chase his fair share of high fastballs such as the one in this analysis. I don't think you have to try to fool Nick. Just some well placed fastballs up in the zone with the occasional low and away pitch to change his eye level.
Unfortunately for Nick he just doesn't have any reliable way to adjust to pitches so standard fastballs that don't cover the plate or get down and in should be fine. An occasional breaking pitch that moves down and away from him can also be useful, but there's really no need to throw it unless you have a lot of confidence in the ability to spot it out there. Anything high in the zone though is really where you're going to strike him out.
How To Fix Nick Ahmed
Well from the detailed explanation I gave of the swing I think you can probably tell where I'm going with this. He needs to figure out a way to adjust to pitches. My personal favorite is the spine angle and learning how to move the hips underneath you to adjust it. I would start with some exercises where Nick stands as straight up at the plate as possible. Then throw him stuff in the dirt and make him swing at it. This will get him used to having to adjust himself at the plate to reach a ball so far away from where he is set up that reaching pitches around the plate will become a breeze.
Second, I'd tell him to set up with his back facing the pitcher more, then reach his arms back and around his right shoulder as the ball is being delivered. This will help him be more coiled and be faster to the ball since he won't be waiting for all the slack to go out of his swing.