Something’s changed with the Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in 2014. But this year, he’s taken things to another level. Oh sure, he’s always been a great player with the “when healthy” tagline dinging him to “very good” status. But this year, he’s been healthy and has been going Super Baseball Simulator 1.000 on the league, blasting bombs all over the place while doing his best “No balls get past _this_ diving Jeter” impression. In other words, a delectable blend of Babe Ruth at the plate channelling Ozzie Smith in the field.
What’s that you say? He’s just having a hot two months? Oh yep, you’re right. Any player can have a hot two months and when a player with star level ability has a hot month, it tends to be otherworldly or even Ruthian. But a mere OPS spike is not the “change” that I’m talking about. Nope, what I’m talking about are some fundamental changes to Troy Tulowitzki’s hitting approach that bode well for 2014 and the rest of his career. The changes are subtle too. I wish I could say I noticed them all, but since he’s a player who has changed quite a few things throughout his career either because of maturation, injury or experimentation, I’ll admit I missed a few. So here we are, filling the gaps about what has changed about our favorite superstar shortstop and the implications of those changes.
The first thing I noticed is that he has four home runs to the opposite field so far in 2014. Take a look at the table below, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information Group’s Home Run Tracker.
|Year||AB||Total HR||HR to LF||HR to CF||HR to RF||AB/HR|
With a career high of 7 opposite field home runs, Tulowitzki is already more than halfway there with only 38 games played. Also his AB/HR ratio is at a career best which suggests he’s hitting for more power. Impressed? Well, I’m not sure if you should be. We can talk about sample size and whether Tulowitzki’s just been lucky or not, but based on overall home runs and opposite field home runs, it’s hard to declare from the top of Pike’s Peak “Tulowitzki is doing something different!” But intrigued? Yep, that’s the category I fall under. So I decided to do a little research.
I found (with a little Googling and YouTubing), that just like there are people who analyze baseball statistics, anagrams, and baseball uniforms, there are people who analyze swings. I found one I liked in particular that broke down the swing of Barry Bonds and reached out to the creator, Joey Myers from the Hitting Performance Lab. Joey’s bio outlines his background in coaching and corrective fitness and mentions he is a student of biomechanics. Liking those credentials, I emailed him and basically said, “Hey, nice vids. Wanna look at Tulo?” Sure enough, he did that and what he produced was interesting. He found that Troy Tulowitzki was using a shorter stance but with a wider stride this year as opposed to last year. Ok, does that matter? Joey found that it does. Joey Myers ran an experiment to see what kind of difference stride length makes. Please, watch the video below (and afterwards, subscribe to the HittingPerformLab channel because he’s a really nice guy).
Did you watch the video? Perhaps click on the link to see the hard numbers behind the experiment? There’s a lot of neat stuff in just that short video, so feel free to watch it again.
Ok, I gave you a few opportunities. For those who like reading but not watching videos at work… like myself… here are a few of the takeaways. One, you can clearly see that Tulowitzki’s stance width and stride length are different. Note how far, in the 2014 clip, his foot strides forward of home plate. Regarding the experiment Joey conducted with a shorter stance and a longer stride, Joey found that his personal bat speed increased by 0.624 mph. Also, Joey had three more 90+ mph swings with the longer stride, breaking his own personal swing speed record by 2 mph. Furthermore, and most importantly, during the last twenty swings of the longer stride session, he had five of his 90+ mph swings. Why does that matter? As anyone who has watched a Home Run Derby or listens to David Ortiz (and hey, who doesn’t?) knows, swinging a baseball bat tires you out. (Hint: That’s one reason why Joey took a break between portions of the experiment). By the end of that many repetitions, Joey should be getting exhausted or at least, coming down from his peak swing speed.
I decided to ask him about that.
RB: (Paraphrase) So, what’s that about?
JM: Basically, when you add a longer stride, you get more forward momentum which helps your swing speed. Overall, it helps your body feel lighter and you feel less tired. Think about it like gas mileage in a car. If you are constantly starting and stopping such as on a city street, you are using gas to accelerate. If you went the same distance and speed on cruise control, you’d use less gas because your car is already moving. All the gas is doing is maintaining current speed so, you get better gas mileage because you are using less energy. The body’s just like that. If you get your body going before the pitch to generate that forward momentum, you don’t need to use your muscles as much in your swing and you can let the springiness of your connective tissue freely do all the work. In fact when your muscles do too much work, they constrict and actually slow down your bat speed. The looser your muscles, which forward momentum helps with, the easier a swing is on your body and the faster your swing speed will be.
In terms of Tulowitzki, it is exciting that he may be getting more bat speed. But if by that adjustment he’s also lessening the toll on his body, ah, the “when healthy” beacon doesn’t flare into a Red Alert.
Of course, credentialed as Joey might be, it is just one person’s opinion. So I took a glance around to see if anyone else had seen a change in Tulowitzki. It turns out Jonah Keri, in a previous article on Grantland about Tulowitzki’s historic start, found a NL scout who noticed that Tulowitzki has closed his stance slightly which is helping him handle outside pitches. The stride length is more difficult to see in those videos where it is more evident in Joey’s video, but both Joey and the scout indicate there’s a slight change in footwork.
This also shows up in the heat maps for slugging percentage. Comparing 2013 to 2014 (and yeah, Tulowitzki is hot in 2014) but the important thing to notice is how the heat map “fills up” all over, especially on the outside pitches.
Pretty neat. Instead of belt high sporadic power, Troy is hitting everything in the zone for more power.
It’s hard to say what brought this about. Perhaps his prior lower body injuries were a factor. Perhaps he was given a new hitting tip. In any event, we have tables, we have video, and we have heat maps which suggest that Troy Tulowitzki changed something and that change suggests he’ll hit for more power. Furthermore, we have indication that was he is doing may actually be healthier or, at least, require less exertion than what he did in the past. Now, it may not help him make diving plays but a “when healthy” Tulowitzki is an exciting sight to see and I look forward to watching him swing (and stride) throughout 2014.
P.S. If you want more of Joey, remember to subscribe to the HittingPerformLab YouTube channel. I recommend the Miguel Cabrera “Timing of Torque” video for a funny little surprise. Also, if you want to work on your own (or your child’s swing mechanics), please check out his Step-By-Step online video guide entitled “The Truth About Explosive Rotational Power”. We’ll be seeing more of Joey’s analysis on some of our favorite Rockies players here in the near future. Hope you enjoy it as much as I have.