2015 Offseason Recommendations
for the St. Louis Cardinals
Were the St. Louis Cardinals to ask me for suggestions about
what certain players should work on during the off-season, these
would be my recommendations.
The more I look at Matt
Adams' upper body, the more I like it. I see the same consistency --
the same ability to get to a good position at contact -- that I
saw in Albert Pujols.
However, unlike Albert Pujols, Matt Adams has two holes in his
swing, up and down.
As I discuss below with respect to a number of other Cardinals
hitters, I'd attribute the smaller hole up in the zone to Matt
Adams' tendency to keep his front elbow down and his barrel up,
presumably in an attempt to keep him
to the ball. However, I have
debunked the logic behind this idea in a number of pieces,
There are two other major differences between the
swings of Matt Adams and Albert Pujols, both of which fall under
the same heading.
First, if you compare the posture and stances of Matt Adams and Albert
Pujols, you will find that they are significantly different. While
Adams is upright, Pujols is much lower. Among other things, that
shrinks the relative size of the strike zone, reduces the
magnitude of the adjustment that Pujols needs to make to cover the
entire strike zone, and allows Pujols to hit more pitches in an optimal body alignment.
You can see this
difference at work in Matt Adams' greater tendency to have to drop his
hands to hit pitches down in the strike zone. You can also see
suggestions of this problem in Adams' inconsistency on pitches
Second, if you compare the strides of Matt Adams and Albert
Pujols, you will also notice a difference. Whereas Albert Pujols
has -- or, more accurately given
Albert Pujols' changes to his stride over the past few years, had -- a
mechanism for making what I call a Z-Axis or timing adjustment,
Matt Adams has no such adjustment mechanism.
The clip above shows Matt Adams hitting a walk-off home run on
2014.07.07. The critical thing to notice is that Matt Adams has to
slow down the start of his swing in order to adjust to his pitch.
While that worked in this case, it's not how the best hitters
typically adjust to off-speed pitches.
Peter Bourjos' problems come down to that fact that
he's doing what
he's told -- keeping the barrel above the ball and trying to stay
on top of the ball -- and it's simply not
It's no mystery what
Bourjos has been taught, given that you can find recent discussions about
what he's trying to do at
Sports On Earth...
dedicated himself to becoming the kind of player the Angels
couldn't keep out of the lineup, revamping his swing and
hitting the ball on the ground more.
coming into 2013, I worked a lot off the tee," Bourjos told me
in the Cardinals' clubhouse last week. "Really concentrated,
had an emphasis on staying low, going hard up the middle. Line
drives, and hard ground balls, and trying to keep the ball out
of the air. I made an effort to do that.
"I set up the
tee, and I had a high tee, and set up a pitch almost out of
the strike zone. And I focused on hitting line drives with
that, sitting on top of the baseball. And then I lowered the
tee and hit the low pitch, tried to hit a low pitch through
the infield. And I'd move the tee around, try a different
approach, low and hard through the baseball."
...and in numerous other pieces over the years...
"(W)orking with Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher
-- the bullseye for so many Angels' fans ire these days --
Bourjos pinpointed a flaw in his swing a couple of weeks ago. An
uppercut had wormed its way into his swing plane and that's the
last thing a player with his speed wants."
"Bourjos said, 'When you have an upper cut, it makes
your bat go in and out of the [hitting] zone too quick.' And
the last thing a player with Bourjos' blazing speed wants to
do is hit a bunch of fly balls."
"Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher suggested the
adjustments to Bourjos and worked with him to integrate
them. The idea was to eliminate an uppercut that had
developed in Bourjos' swing, keep his bat in the hitting
zone longer and give him the confidence that he didn't have
to rush to catch up to major league pitching."
The problem is that the
short to the ball concepts that Peter Bourjos has clearly been
inundated with are at best of limited value and, more often than
not, will tend to take a hitter farther away from the high-level
swing, and not closer to it.
You can see continuing evidence of this thinking in Peter Bourjos'
front elbow down, barel up set-up at the plate, a set-up which is
reminiscent of the
low front elbow set-up that created so many
problems for David Freese (and which Freese has moved away from of
As I explain in numerous pieces...
...these ideas, while seemingly logical, do not tend to produce
the swing that you see in the best -- or generally even replacement level --
major league hitters.
Peter Bourjos' swing is pretty much as short and direct as it
possible for a swing to be. However, I would argue that Bourjos'
results point out the problem with the idea of making the swing as
short as possible. By focusing on making the swing as short and
direct as possible, you will eliminate any and all loading
movements. Those loading movements are necessary to hit the ball
hard enough to get the ball though major league defenses.
If I were to talk to
Peter Bourjos, I'd tell him to focus on squaring up and driving
the ball into the gaps and the corners and using his speed to
create doubles and triples. That is the advice that I gave
Andres Torres and it largely worked (until he started trying
to hit home runs in 2011).
I fell in love with Matt Carpenter's
the day in 2010 that I first saw him hit.
I would love to see Matt Carpenter moved down in the order to a
position where he could swing the bat more and not be so focused
on taking pitches. He's a hitter and he should be hitting. I'd
rather that a guy like Jon Jay or Peter Bourjos (once he's fixed) lead off.
The only element of concern that I see in Matt Carpenter's
swing is his adherence to the low front elbow cue.
While it generally doesn't seem to affect Carpenter significantly -- his
front elbow tends to come up off of his chest and the barrel loops under
the ball as it must -- it does appear to create occasional
problems with balls up and away.
I have seen Daniel Descalso put good swings on pitches that are
down the middle or up. However, he seems to struggle with the rest
of the strike zone. I think part of the problem is some
significant arm bar, which can reduce his adjustability. I also
see a tendency to not adjust correctly to balls down in the strike
A pitcher's timing is critical to their long-term health. While
most pitchers run into problems with their arms being late,
Jaime Garcia fals into that small group of pitchers whose are too
early; their arms get up too soon, creating a pause in their arm
action and thus a weak link in the kinetic chain.
As I pointed out in 2008, this causes Jaime Garcia's arm to
drag, which is the likely cause of his elbow and shoulder
The good thing about Jaime Garcia's
pitching mechanics is that it is much easier to fix a problem with
being early than a problem with being late. However, if this
timing problem isn't fixed, then Garcia isn't going to be handle
much more than a long reliever's workload.
I generally like Randal Grichuk's swing. His lower body moves
exceptionally well. I also saw some very nice swings and positions
at the point of contact on his home runs during the playoffs.
The biggest thing that I have seen on some occasions, and that
I am keeping an eye on is, as with Kolten Wong and Daniel
Descalso, a tendency to bar out his front arm. That can be a
problem because it can limit a hitter's adjustability. As in the case of the late Oscar Taveras, that can
also suggest a tendency to get pull-crazy; to try to pull pitches
that should instead be hit where they are pitched.
Grichuk has also shown some problems with breaking balls.
However, I see pretty everything that he needs to do in his lower
half. He just has to improve his pitch recognition and discipline
and tweak his stride to improve his Z-Axis adjustability.
Prior to the 2010 season, Mark McGwire worked with Matt
Holliday on simplifying his stride. While that conversation was
likely a bit premature, I believe that Matt Holliday's
increasingly slow starts are symptomatic of what McGwire was concerned about.
As he gets older, it
appears to be
taking Matt Holliday longer and longer to get his timing locked in due
to the magnitude and complexity of his stride.
One option would be
for Matt Holliday to radically simplify his stride as McGwire suggested
(perhaps using Albert Pujols or Jim Edmonds as the model).
However, there are tweaks that could be made to Holliday's
that would allow him to maintain that leg kick that he is
obviously comfortable with but still reduce his need to adjust by lunging at
I was been impressed with how Jon Jay was able to make
adjustments to his swing during the 2014 season. In general, I
think his swing is moving in the right direction. However, there
remain a couple of opportunities for improvement.
First, Jon Jay employs a wide stance and stride that, as with
Allen Craig, can cause problems with with his lower body.
Second, I have seen a tendency for Jon Jay to let his hands go too
soon. I don't know is the issue is related to the timing of his
stride or due to another cue, but the result is a reduced level of
efficiency and a decreased ability to hit for power.
In my opinion, Pete Kozma is another example of a hitter whose
potential has been limited by the hitting instruction that he has
received, likely going back to high school.
To a large degree, and as with Matt Adams, a large part of Pete
Kozma's problem comes down to his posture; he starts out too erect
and has no idea how to efficiently adjust to balls down in the strike zone,
creating holes both up and down in the strike zone. As he tries to
incorrectly compensate for balls down, he creates problems with
What's more, and as I discuss in my earlier piece
Pete Kozma's Swing and my more recent piece on
Pete Kozma and the Pure Rotational Swing, Pete Kozma's swing
is too stripped-down. While it may have worked with hotter BESR
bats, Kozma doesn't put enough energy into the system to be able to
hit the ball consistently hard or well.
The good news is that these problems aren't fundamentally
mechanical and can be fixed with proper instruction.
I know that Justin Masterson is likely a moot point with
respect to his future with the Cardinals. However, I bring his
name up because I believe that his brief tenure with the Cardinals
exposed some significant problems in the team's understanding and
First, and to be clear, I would have been fine had Masterson
been regarded as a long-shot bet that simply didn't work out.
However, I find fact that Masterson apparently wasn't regarded as
what he was -- as a long shot -- to be disturbing.
Justin Masterson's arm action is one of the worst in the major
league, and his timing may be the
worst of any active major league starter.
At a minimum, it's disturbing to hear Justin
Masterson's problems characterized as being relatively minor,
mechanically speaking, when, in truth, Masterson's arm action is
What was worse was the proposed cure. Staying tall in the back
leg isn't going to make things better for Justin Masterson.
Instead, it's likely the cause of his problems; it made his lower
body extremely inefficient and forced him to develop his tortured
As I discuss in my piece on
Shelby Miller's pitching mechanics, I have concerns about
Shelby's long-term prospects due to his arm action.
Mark Reynolds, appears to have a problem with
Bat Drag. While Mark Reynolds has admittedly had some impact
at the major league level, KPW's bat drag should be monitored and
immediately addressed at the first sign that it is causing his
progression up the ladder to stall.
While Jhonny Peralta is admittedly exceeding the value of his contract, I believe that he is
still leaving power and average on the table.
Jhonny Peralta is the most fudnamentalist, vertical barrel, low front elbow hitter on the team.
Matt Carpenter sets up with a low front elbow, but he (largely) doesn't let
it get in his way.
However, the same isn't true of Peralta.
Again, and as I
discuss in my piece on
David Freese's Swing and Keeping Your Front Elbow Down, the
problem with keeping your front elbow down and the barrel up for
too long is that, aside from not achieving the (physically impossible) goal
keeping the barrel above the ball and the hands, it will also
tend to create a hole at the top of the strike zone.
That is precisely
what you see when you look at Jhonny Peralta's whiff rate.
I know that Stan Musial
and Ted Williams were low front elbow guys, but if you really
understand their swings, then you will realize that their swings
were more complicated than is widely understood.
When I look at Tommy Pham, I see a stance that is right on the
edge of creating similar problems to those that
Allen Craig experienced.
Shane Robinson appears to be another hitter who has been bitten
keep your front elbow down bug and whose numbers aren't being
helped by this cue, at a minimum.
Trevor Rosenthal had an off year and I think some of his
problems can be traced to problems with how he grips the ball; I
have noticed changes in the placement of his thumb and some other
problems with his index and ring fingers that could lead him to
accidentally throw a cutter. He also needs to make sure that his
cleats are clean of mud in wet weather, because the force with
which he rotates does leave him subject to rotating off line.
While many people are heralding the arrival of Xavier Scruggs
and touting him as a possible platoon companion for Matt Adams, I
have deep concerns about Xavier Scruggs' ability to hit major
The problem is that, given his typical -- more
extended than is customary -- position at the Point Of Contact,
Xavier Scruggs looks to be a prototypical
"throw your hands at the ball" hitter. Unfortunately,
and as I touch on in my piece on
the myth of extension in hitting, that
approach to hitting, while widely taught, significantly restricts
hitters' ability to adjust to off-speed pitches. At best, while
"throw your hands at the ball" hitters are able to make consistent
contact, their power can be spotty at the major league level.
However, this is not an irreparable flaw.
"Throw your hands at the ball" was one of the things that
was taught, and I was able to help him quickly change his swing with some
instruction about the proper role and path of the hands in the
As I discuss at length in my piece on
Michael Wacha's Pitching Mechanics, Michael Wacha appears to
have a problem with over-throwing; you can see the
difference when he ramps up the velocity on his fastball.
However, another thing I have noticed of late are indications of mechanical differences in Michael
Wacha's delivery not only from fastball to fastball but between his fastball,
change-up, and curveball. What's more, I have seen some problematic
scapular movement patterns when Wacha throws his change-up.
I have discussed
Kolten Wong's swing at length before, and see a continuing
problem with chopping down on balls (especially balls in the lower
2/3 of the strike zone) but an improved approach to balls up. That
could point to a swing plane problem that is the result of a
misguided attempt to create backspin.
Like Daniel Descalso,
Kolten Wong exhibits some arm bar; he fully or nearly fully
extends his front arm. The problem with do that is that it can
reduce one's ability to cover the inner part of the strike zone. I
believe that Wong could improve his plate coverage if he worked on
keeping some flexion in his front arm instead of always extending
his front arm.
A third area of concern with Kolten Wong
is his widely-touted bat speed. While bat speed is good, there is
such a thing as too much of a good thing. Remember that Albert
Pujols' bat speed was a relatively middling 87 MPH. By certain
objective measures, Kolten Wong's bat speed is in the fastest
group. That may explain his power but also his relatively low
average and relative dearth of extra base hits. It could be that
dialing down his bat speed could make Kolten Wong a more
1. When reading my recommendations about
hitters, you should understand that many of my recommendations are
based on my belief that members of the St. Louis Cardinals, like
members of most major league organizations, still buy into what I
believe are a number of
myths about hitting...