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March 17, 2014
The Power in Javier Baez's Swing
Javier Baez has left jaws on the floor and baseballs in critical condition thanks to an electric swing that is as powerful as it is unique. The identifying feature of his swing is a whip of the bat forward during his stride. That inspires many comparisons to fellow bat-waggler Gary Sheffield. On the surface the comparison makes sense as both have a pronounced trigger leading up to elite bat speed. Reality paints a different picture.
Sheffield whips his bat forward using a combination of his forearms and wrists. Watch the angle of his wrists as the bat moves. Sheffield is also wiggling his bat up until his front foot hits the ground. In the immortal words of musical geniuses LMFAO, Sheffield’s bat goes something like wiggle wiggle wiggle yeah (contact).
Baez uses his forearms and shoulders to whip the bat forward late. His bat actually starts from a fairly typical location before he begins his stride. During the gather phase of his swing he tucks his back elbow into his body only to raise the elbow above his back shoulder during the approach of his swing. To put it more simply, his back elbow goes down as his front leg comes back and then his back elbow goes up as his front foot moves forward. His wrists stay at the same angle. Another way to see this is to watch how the distance between his bat and right forearm never change.
Baez’s swing wasn’t always like this. Here he is at a pre-draft workout. The swing is much more tame. Did the Cubs completely change Javier’s mechanical identity? Not one bit. They allowed it to flourish. Watch him as a high school player. However slight, the “foot back, elbow down — foot forward, elbow up” mechanical trigger is still present.
In high school Baez had a small stride so the trigger was small. His stride is currently higher and more aggressive featuring a large negative move (knee and foot coming back toward his body). His natural identity features a trigger where he lowers the elbow during the gather phase and back up during the approach phase. In high school both his gather and approach featured small movements so the trigger was small. In pro ball his gather and approach are very pronounced, so naturally the trigger becomes more pronounced.
The most improved aspect of Javier Baez since being drafted is in his lower body. As a prep star he generated very little momentum with his lower body. When his heel plants his backside has moved just a bit. Elite hitters steepen the angle from their back foot to their back hip as they move toward their front heel touching down. He did very little of this as an amateur. As a pro he is the poster child for setting that angle. Compare the shots of Baez at the height of his leg lift and his front heel coming down as an amateur to those same positions as a professional.
Leg lift as an amateur:
Heel plant as an amateur:
Leg lift as a pro:
Heel plant as a pro:
He creates incredible momentum now and he even controls it well. His follow-through is loud and it would be easy to say his swing is out of control. Here’s a great video from 2012 that shows Javier creates momentum early and for every swing. It’s not a case where he decides to swing and then has to rush the lower body to an exaggerated ending position. Even on takes, he steepens the angle of his back leg, even begins to drive his back knee. As an amateur his back knee moved forward at the same time as his hands. As a pro he creates torque and momentum early so in order to fire his swing all he has to do is launch his hands.
While the hand speed, extension, and exaggerated lower half all get talked about fairly regularly, it is (almost more) important to look at the relationship between Baez’s upper body and hips in terms of rotation. This relationship is where hitters build torque. Most power hitters build torque by opening the hips early and firing their swing around their hips. Chris Davis is the prime example of this, as he inwardly rotates his hips, clears them early, then delivers the bat through the zone. Baez has a slight inward rotation of his hips combined with a more pronounced inward load of his upper body.
Baez doesn’t appear to have the great hip flexibility of his peers, so his hips don’t clear as early as Davis’ do. What he lacks in hip flexibility he makes up for incredible strength through his hips and excellent flexibility with his torso. When his hips do open they are strong enough to withstand the force generated by his swing, rather than leak forward or recoil backward. His upper body is a whirlwind of rotation ending with his front shoulder pointing somewhere between the second baseman and pitcher. Compare Baez to a hitter with more typical torso rotation, Mike Trout:
With Baez you can even start to see the number on the back of his jersey after his swing from the center-field camera.
This is a long way of saying Baez generates his ridiculous power through an atypical but equally effective method when compared to the run-of-the-mill 30-homer threat. When you combine the bat speed, torque, and serious intent to harm a baseball you have the makings of a superstar. Is there still work to be done in Javier Baez’s swing? Of course. His overall balance isn’t ideal, he can get a bit hard landing on his front foot, and learning to hit big-league breaking stuff always takes time. The ironclad guarantee of a player hitting his ceiling is a pipe dream, but Javier Baez is taking to right steps to reach that ceiling. This is a special hitter who will one day be putting balls onto Waveland Avenue.