We’ve had a mechanical analysis of a pitcher, now it’s time to look at a hitter. To best introduce our hitter breakdowns, I wanted to use a particularly impressive hitter in terms of swing mechanics. That hitter is University of South Carolina infielder, Reese Havens. A lefty swinger, Havens has really impressed me on every opportunity I’ve had to see him. Check out our first “Batter Breakdown” after the jump…
Setup: Nothing fancy here, which I have to say I generally like from a hitter. Some guys will have their odd approaches that work, but a quiet, standard approach works just fine. Havens is slightly open at the dish, but closes it up aggressively as he he loads up. He holds his hands back and below the ear, where he can simply drop the hammer. When you watch the video, you’ll see a very relaxed, well schooled hitter. A batting stance is a matter of preference but you can quite often see a lot about a hitter’s feel for hitting and swagger just by how they set up. But, overall, there’s nothing that out of the ordinary to take note of here.
Plate Discipline: Reese Havens likes to swing the bat, but if you’re a pitcher trying to get him to leave the strike zone, you might have a long wait. And, since he’s a well respected hitter in the college game, he’s been drawing quite a glut of base on balls. As a pro, you’ll likely see the walk totals drop a bit because he’ll jump on a good fastball in the zone. But, it’s very rare to see him leave the strike zone. He’s got a short stroke, which we’ll touch on, so he can decide late what he’d like to take a hack at.
Head Movement: It isn’t a prerequisite for being a good hitter, but one philosophy you’ll see me employ a lot is in regard to head movement. I’d like to see a hitter’s head stay fairly still and on the ball. Moving it toward the pitch as it comes in only makes hitting a 90 MPH fastball harder than it should. As I said though, it’s one school of thought. Havens has a great deal of head movement, more specifically toward the pitcher, than I would prefer. And, if you look closely toward the end of his swing, it comes up. That is a directly result of a lot of the upper body that he uses in hitting the ball. There’s lots of shoulder and upper body torque going on there. It may cost him a little power with his upper body drifting at the ball but he’s very good at getting to the ball and making contact simply using his hands.
Check out these still images. I broke Havens swing down into 11 phases.
Reese Havens Frame By Frame
Balance: I love what Havens has going on in terms of balance. The weight transfers beautifully from the back to front leg and he finishes his swing just as balanced as when he began. He really drives his hips at the ball rather than just spinning himself onto his heels. He swings very athletically and not off his heels.
Lower Half: You can tell a lot about a hitter by looking at his front side. And, the key here, which you’ll see in the video clip, is the kind of resistance Havens gets off his front (right) leg. He plants it firmly and really plows his hips through the zone, creating room for his hands to explode. Havens also has a very interesting technique that I really found impressive. If you take a look at his right hip movement just before his hands come through the zone you’ll notice it dips slightly. That is because, if you watch his right knee, it buckles just a bit to allow room for the hips to release. But, as soon as the hands start to come through, the leg locks back up as it should. It is a small movement such as that that allows Havens to do what he does. There is also a huge separation between where his hips come forward against the front leg and his hands, which remain completely back. Torque is the key word, and with those hips clearing, the weight staying against that front leg is ideal for creating the big time bat speed that Havens produces.
Stride: The common trend with hitters of late in regards to strides has been less is more, and I agree. The less moving parts the better is optimal I believe. With that being said, what Reese Havens does with his stride is about perfect. Very simple; he lifts his up and he puts it back down no more than and inch or so from where it began. It’s an extremely small mechanism but it keeps any of the weight he has stored on his back leg from leaking forward. And, all of that stored weight equals power when he releases his hands.
Hands: You’re learning a lot about what I like in this first hitter breakdown so why stop now. I’m far from alone on this but give me a hitter with quick hands at the plate that can control the bat and a good hitting coach to work with him and there’s a good chance you can mold him. Think Johnny Damon on this, minus his frequent one handed swing. Havens is a very “handsy” hitter and he controls the bat extraordinarily well. When he goes into his load, and subsequently his stride, his hands drop slightly and move back, where they are unloaded. Another key word with Havens is drag. Yes, it sounds like something bad for a hitter, but in this case it’s not. Havens’ hands at the plate are extremely strong, which allows him to hold the barrel of the bat back, and the knob of the bat and his hands are the leading the barrel through the hitting zone. That is where we get the term drag. The longer the barrel stays in the zone, the better chance you have of having a very good hitter on your hands. I really, really like what I see here overall.
Swing Path: One of the first things scouts look for in a young hitter is his swing path, or swing length. The term “long swing” is slapped on hitters quite a bit, but don’t let it’s overuse fool you. It is a hugely important part of evaluating hitters. Obviously, a short swing is what we look for. And, that is yet another check mark in Havens favor. You may be able to see it with the naked eye in the video, but check out the still images for a better look. That is one very straight line to the baseball. He’s very top hand oriented, which keeps him from falling into any sort of negative sloped loop. You really won’t find many straighter paths to the baseball than Havens’. But, most importantly of all, as I touched on, earlier, his swing and bat is being lead by his hands and he only begins to roll the wrists right at the point of contact. This is not a swing that I feel will produce big time thumping power. There just isn’t much lift in this swing path. This is the swing path of a tremendous pure hitter, however.
Extension: This isn’t Havens’ strongest area in terms of swing mechanics but I can’t call it a flaw. He cuts his swing off just a bit more than I’d like. It’s something that could suppress his power somewhat, but enough where I’d change the other outstanding swing mechanics he’s got going on. His quick bat and hands make up for the lack of extension somewhat.
Summation: Swing mechanics and theories towards what makes up “the best swing” are very diverse. But, there are many standards that I like to think are pretty constant when it comes to making a good stroke. That is why I chose to examine Reese Havens first. What you see in the video, and in the photos is a very refined hitter with a polished swing. He has some small flaws here and there and other things go into make a good hitter besides mechanics of his swing, but it is a good place to start. Havens’ stroke is built to spray line drives to the gaps and to all parts of the field. I’d be quite surprised if that polish doesn’t easily carry him to a big league career.