I named this blog Dingers years ago because even though sabermetrics and math continue to change the landscape, home runs will forever reign as the best possible outcome in a single plate appearance.
With that in mind, let’s look at swing mechanics a bit.
The two important parts to swing mechanics are swing speed and hand-eye coordination. Obviously if a guy has made it to the majors, he’s got good enough hand-eye coord, but elite HEC will get a player a number of things–line drive rates being principle (your James Loney, David Wright, Juan Pierre types). Same thing with swing speed and raw power (Wily Mo Pena, Billy Ashley). But combine the two, and you’ve got a hitter that can hit the ball with the barrel of the bat at maximum swing speed and regularly. The best of these hitters hit for a lot of power.
The best of these best hitters get their swing speed at maximum at almost any point when their swing travels through the strike zone.
We’re gonna look at Andre Ethier as an example here.
Ethier came on to the Dodgers in 2006 and earned a spot as an every-day starter in 2008. In 2009, he hit 31 home runs, even though PECOTA had him pegged for 24 as a best case scenario.
Well Ethier does a few things well.
Here’s a selection of a number of Ethier’s home run swings.
Aug. 27, 2008 vs. Nationals, low and middle
Aug. 13, 2008 vs. Phillies, very low and middle
Sept. 15, 2009 vs. Pirates, just above the knees and in
June 29, 2009 vs. Rockies, at the knees and middle
June 2, 2009 vs. D-Backs, just above the knees and in
May 6, 2010 vs. Brewers, at the knees and center, tailing away
This is kind of a random sampling, but it’s pretty obvious Ethier gets the most power on balls inside and hits almost all of his home runs to right field. He gets excellent swing speed (and power) on balls in, but also on balls down too. That one against the D-Backs (and against Dan Haren no less) seems to be his ideal spot, but he has the dexterity to change his swing a bit mid-swing and to hit to center with power. He could probably hit for more power to center, but you don’t want to make a very good hitter do something he’s uncomfortable with.
This is him hitting one to the opposite field, which happens very rarely. He clearly hits it inside out and it looks awkward, but yes, he does have opposite field power. Again, though, don’t have to mess with success.
Here’s what Ethier’s home runs look like 2008-2010:
You can also check out his hit/out spray charts 2008-10 here.
Again, his ideal pitch seems to be on an inside pitch, preferably above the knees, but he can turn on pitches lower and further outside than that with ease.
His optimal swing is late in the swing, preferably somewhere about halfway to two-thirds of the way through the swing, where the bat is about to finish crossing his body. He can put the bat swing into home run speeds outside of that, but he’s much more practiced at turning on those pitches, and even adjusting to the pitch mid-swing.
You’ll notice on the home run charts and the spray charts that he rarely hits to the opposite field, but generally speaking, he hits for less power there than right field and center field. Not that this is unusual, but that his swing speed isn’t at it’s fastest through the earlier parts of it.
But this is pretty common. His optimal bat speed/HEC point is in the half-way to two-thirds point of his swing, preferably on inside pitches. That Ethier knows his best swing and uses it so much says he understands quite a bit about his own swing and what gives him power.
Matt Kemp s a completely different case, but I’ll go over that later.