Pederson’s swing is just that: A blend of old and new school that is beautiful to watch and has created impressive results. Pederson has the loose, relaxed upper body reminiscent of hitters of yesteryear with the big leg kick, and the aggressive lower body movements favored by the best modern hitters. This movement pattern isn’t just aesthetically pleasing, it’s an efficient way to deliver the bat with force. The coach in me loves his swing because the movements are so big and clear; Pederson provides a great template to show young hitters how to move with intent at the plate.
As a guide, here are some visuals to help clear up some terms I often use as verbal explanations aren’t always the best way to illustrate moves within a swing.
There are three key terms needed to understand Pederson’s swing: Coil, turning the bat, and launching the bat.
When I talk about coil in a swing I’m looking at the hips moving toward the pitcher while rotating slightly inward toward the catcher. This coil isn’t so extreme that it winds the upper body around, but instead is a move that primes the hips to fire later in the sequence of the swing.
Watch Pederson’s belt during his stride. It turns slightly inward as his foot is in air and he is striding toward the pitcher.
Turning the Bat
This move is what separates big-leaguers from the rest of us mortals. Rather than immediately take their hands towards the baseball, the best hitters on the planet turn the bat while keeping their hands behind their shoulders. Pederson shows an extreme version of this move: His bat goes from perpendicular to the ground to almost parallel to the ground without his hands moving forward.
Pederson starts with his bat pretty much straight up and down. When he starts to move forward with his lower body, the bat is angled just slightly. How did he do this? Watch his bottom hand. At the start of his swing, he opens that hand and then closes it as he begins his forward move. That simple closure of his hand puts a bit of pressure on the knob of the bat, creating that angle. It’s a small move and very easy to repeat. Manny Ramirez was another hitter who favored this method of angling his barrel before launch.
His hands do move during this sequence though. They move up. As he goes to turn the bat, look at the relationship between the end of his bat and the height of his hands. When he first starts to turn his barrel, the end of his bat moves closer to the ground and his hands move up. His hands start about chest high and when his foot lands the hands have moved up to about shoulder height. That move seems easy, but so many young hitters move the bat and their hands to the ball at once instead of being patient with their hands.
Launching the Bat
The bat has finished turning behind him and is now positioned to move forward. Pederson is able to launch with his hands almost behind his body. This buys him precious extra time to read the ball and deliver his barrel. While his bat is moving forward, it’s the big muscles in his core and lower half that are really doing the work; his back leg is driving forward and his shoulders are rotating. He’s created so much force that is just waiting to be transferred to the ball with horrible results for pitchers hoping to keep their ERAs low.
Here’s the entire upper body at work:
All right, enough with the components of the swing. Let’s look at Pederson crushing a ball during spring training:
Two big things jump out. The first is that we have a very aggressive use of his lower body. Pederson has a big leg kick, but that’s not the best or interesting part. If we watch his back leg at the start of his swing, we see it never moves towards the catcher. His first move is a subtle coil of his hips—watch how his belt loops turn in—in combination with a forward movement towards the pitcher.
It’s a simple pattern that allows him to create energy early in his sequence: Lift, coil, go! Dig it. There are some smaller movements during his stride that are noteworthy too. His back knee turns slightly towards the catcher as he starts to move forward. It’s another way he primes his lower half to fire later in sequence.
At the top of his stride, Pederson continues to move his hips forward, but look at the angle of his front leg. There is about a four to five frame window following max leg lift where his front leg doesn’t move as his body goes forward. This is action, or lack thereof, is just awesome. Pederson doesn’t have to worry about extending his leg or anything mid stride. He just rides forward, then extends his front leg once he’s made his read of the ball out of the pitcher’s hand.
There is a relationship between Pederson’s front knee and his back hip. Obviously his hips have to open during his swing, but it’s not just his hips opening, his front knee joins in as well. As his hips begin to turn his front knee works in tandem; these moments happen together to really drive his lower body with as much force as possible.
Pederson’s movements in his lower half are brilliant, but there are other hitters with just as efficient movements. What makes Pederson stand out is when these moves happen. His lower body does a ton of work before his stride foot lands, his hips start to open, his back heel comes off the ground, his front knee opens, etc. And all this happens before his foot lands.
Hitters have to get their lower body firing. Some do it when their foot gets flat on the ground (David Wright), some do it between their toe touching and heel plant (Miguel Cabrera), and some do get lower-body recruitment prior to foot strike (Jose Bautista), but not to the extent of Pederson. The reason Pederson can use his lower body so aggressively is because of how his top half moves.
Watch how his bat starts to turn behind his shoulder before his foot hits the ground. This sequence usually happens when the front foot lands, but this young Dodger is special. The secret as to why Pederson can swing like he does is crazy strength and a naturally athletic gene pool. There are other hitters with big leg kicks who get the bat flat, but none truly mimic Pederson. The lefty starts to turn the barrel as soon as he comes down from the top of his stride. Even guys with big leg kicks usually don’t start to turn the bat until their foot lands or a frame before.
Another reason Pederson can pull off this pattern is his consistency. Every pitch, even takes, he initiates the hip opening and bat beginning to flatten. Look at this at-bat against crafty veteran Tim Hudson.
Every pitch that Pederson sees, we’ll see his bat start to turn behind his shoulder. The first portion of his takes look exactly like the start of his swings. That consistency makes it easy for him to adjust his swing in flight, as the first portion of his swing is engrained muscle memory.
I haven’t even gotten to the fun part of Pederson’s swing: When the bat actually launches. There is a reason for this; Pederson does all the heavy lifting in his swing before his bat ever comes forward. Like a slingshot ready to shoot or Elsa building an ice castle, all Pederson has to do when he wants to fire the bat is let it go.
Nothing has to push forward because the big muscles through his hips, leg, and core are all ready to unleash the bat. Going back to the slingshot concept, imagine stretching the bands back, they tighten and tense. Once you let go of the bands, the tension goes away and the energy is used to propel the rock, BB, water balloon—whatever your ammo of choice.
Sticking with the slingshot analogy, what would happen if you pulled the slingshot back, but instead of letting it fly, tried to push it forward? The projectile wouldn’t go anywhere. There is no push in Pederson’s swing. It’s all about storing energy by initiating his lower half without the bat coming forward, then unleashing it all into the unsuspecting baseball.
Pederson has bat speed and it’s easy for him to use it because of his movement pattern. Compare him to two hitters, both of whom possess impressive bat speed: Rickie Weeks and pre-Tigers J.D. Martinez.
Look at the path of that both Weeks’ and Martinez’s hands take. They go forward and down to the ball; that movement is entirely done through their hands. Pederson’s hands are just along for the ride, the bigger muscles do all the work. Martinez changed his pattern and found success and Weeks has shown flashes, but never really tapped into the success you would think a hitter with his natural talent and bat speed would have.
If my rambling has lost you, here’s the Spark Notes on why Pederson is special. His lower half fires early and creates tons of energy, but would be useless without the pattern of his upper body, where the bat turns early and his hands don’t go forward.
Pederson and Kris Bryant are both rookies with impressive power. but they go about their swings in entirely different ways. Pederson has the big leg kick and gets his bat flat behind him very early, while Bryant has a much more contained stride and his bat turns at a more typical time. There are pros and cons to each method. Pederson’s pattern requires finely tuned athletics and timing, while Bryant’s pattern stems from his brute strength.
Bryant has four inches and 20-30 pounds on Pederson, but it’s Pederson’s swing that allows them to both put up monster home runs. Their patterns are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of lower-body movements and how they turn the bat. It’s an interesting comparison solely because they’re both lighting up the league at a very young age, and certainly have the ability to do so for years to come, and while the results are similar, the process is quite different. Fascinating.
From modern comparisons, we step back in time. I mentioned how Pederson had an old-school swing; here he is compared to Ted Williams.
There are some differences, but it’s mostly stylistic. This is Williams we are talking about here, and the fact that Pederson can even look similar to Teddy Ballgame is an amazing accomplishment in itself.
Pederson has the most interesting swing in the big leagues; a blend of old and new that serves as a great teaching template for younger hitters. His swing isn’t just fun to look at it, it’s producing results. Pederson’s average hit leaves his bat at 96 mph, good for second in the league, behind only Giancarlo Stanton.
Pederson will have his ups and downs as he adjusts to the dark magic that is big-league pitching, but I have no doubt he will be a force in the Dodgers lineup for years to come. I reached out to Mario Jimenez who worked with Joc on building the foundation of his swing and asked him what makes Pederson so special.
“His ability to be single-minded as a hitter,” Jimenez replied. “He's got an incredible passion for truth in his swing and seeks it relentlessly. He's got more rubber in his body than any hitter I've seen. Electric.”
Here’s a hitter who is ruthless in his pursuit of damaging baseballs, has a mechanically beautiful swing, and is only 23 years old. Dodgers fans are in for a treat with this elite young hitter.
Thanks to Steve Fiordino (@SoCalSteve9) for the Pederson film and to Mario Jimenez (@JimenezHitting) for providing insight on working with Pederson.
Thank you for reading
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I find it funny that players are often lauded for their creative loads, leg kicks and "rhythm". I can't help but think about Dominic Smith from a few drafts ago. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are players with succinct swings who are not scout favorites, like Mike Trout.
We will see a different Joc in 2016. I am not sure how it will go, but you could see him trying to strip all of that junk out of his setup in the final month of the season. It was ugly as it looked very uncomfortable to him, but i think he knows that what he was doing can't work. Here is to hoping that he can clean up his swing without losing his incredible lower half. It would be fun to see!
As for the Trout comment, the fact that he was not picked 1.1 or even close, tells you what the industry thought of him. Plus-plus runner, defender and frame - if someone thought he would hit, then he wouldn't have went when he did. Read old scouting reports - his bat was always the question and his swing was oft cited as an issue.
Lastly, I don't claim to analyze swings. I don't have a list of strokes that I like. I like to look at clips like you provided and identify what the hitter does to lessen his chances of success. I like a good old fashioned Barry Bonds... trust your bat speed and don't do anything fancy. Many of the most talented hitters try to make it more difficult that it is.
I think that the length of his stride is what is potentially problematic. I don't really care about the high leg kick. I also don't think I would want to coach people to model their swings after his, just because of the length in his stride. The rest sounds good enough, though.
http://wn.com/shawn_green if you're interested.