I recently read a post on Off the Bench titled Former College Hitting Coach Breaks Down Jason Heyward’s Swing. Seeing as I love Jason Heyward and it was MY former college hitting coach doing the breakdown, I gave it a close read.
I found I agreed with most of the major points about approach, but we differed in analysis of the necessary biomechanical changes. Kiriakedes stressed the need for Heyward to “find his athleticism,” but watching this Spring, I believe he’s already made significant changes that allow it to shine through. Compared to the mess of a swing Heyward brought to the ballpark last season, he’s a veritable Adonis (Garcia) at the plate right now.
Where Kiriakedes saw hand placement and a more open stance as the key, I believe Heyward has done more. He appears to have changed the foundation upon which his swing is built. As such, I decided to give the swing a second viewing and take some notes. For simplicity (and because I’m lazy), I’m going to refer to the 2016 swing as the Old Swing (OS) and the 2017 swing as the New Swing (NS). Below I’ve included a copy of the video I used and encourage you to watch it while you read.
The first thing that jumped out to me was the starting position of Heyward’s right hip as he begins and finishes his stride. In OS, you can see that the pelvis is more closed off and his right hip is in more internally rotated compared the NS. I think that this simple pre-swing change corrects many of the mechanical errors that plagued the OS. Beginning his front hip in relative external rotation gives his body more available range of motion to work with, as the front hip requires rapid internal rotation to generate a powerful swing. Heyward’s ipsilateral pelvis and scapula appear to be in approximately the same relative alignments in the two stances, but in the NS the shoulder is more open due to the more open pelvis, which in turn allows his head to face the pitcher with his neck in a more neutral position. (You will see that there is much less of an extension curve in his neck now.) In his OS we can see that his head changes position throughout the hitting process, which distorts his vision and changes eye level, making it more difficult to pick up the ball. In the OS, it looks like he is trying to see the ball the moment it hits the bat, and if you’re trying to make an adjustment to your swing at that point, it’s way too late.
The next thing that caught my attention is the change in weight distribution and base of support, before the swing even starts. Let’s take our attention to the width of his feet pre-pitch. In the OS the feet are wider apart, sure, but let’s not stop there. Let’s look at the position of each foot relative to his pelvis. The back foot is more underneath the pelvis now; more solid. If you imagine drawing a line tracing Jason’s spine, you can easily see the major biomechanical effects further up the chain that this change in base of support and weight distribution enables. In the OS, this line would be on a diagonal from the top right of the screen to the bottom left. In the NS, the line is almost directly up and down. This is important because our spines are designed to accept and distribute the forces of gravity—by putting his spine in a better position to accept weight, the core can work more effectively, which essentially frees up muscles for quick, powerful movements that were previously recruited to stabilize.
Bringing the back foot more underneath his pelvis also frees Heyward from reliance on that leg as the main power driver. In the OS we can see that he pushes off of his right leg, but never accepts weight onto his front hip, cutting off available range of motion. In the picture below you can see how far his pelvis could rotate in the OS. In the NS you can see he accepts weight through his front hip and is able to continue his rotation. By cutting off the rotational component of a swing it becomes more linear, or translational, and the bat follows a longer, slower path through the zone.
For those thinking this improved bat path is due to a shift in hand position, consider: If you were to rotate the trunk of the OS and superimpose it on the NS, the starting hand position is actually quite similar. I would recommend watching the video and pausing it when the pelvis stops rotating. You will see that the bats in both swings are on very similar planes. It isn’t until the rotation turns into translation in the OS that the bat plane deviates, putting a “hole” in his swing and diminishing his power.
The other large change I noticed is how Heyward initiates his swing now. In the OS, we can see that it is driven from the back foot and a shifting of the pelvis towards the pitcher. This initiation does not let him use his core effectively. (There is a much larger disconnect between pelvis and scapula compared to the NS, suggesting that the previously mentioned loss of rotation in the hips and pelvis is made up for by a compensation of spinal rotation.) Whereas in the NS, the motion is driven by his hips and pelvis. Take a look at his left pelvis in the NS: As it comes through you can see that it anteriorly elevates relative to his right pelvis. If you look at any elite athlete (See Powell/Bolt video) you will see this pattern of the pelvis anteriorly elevating as the other posteriorly depresses. This indicates to me that Heyward’s core is engaged and that this reciprocal motion is the driver of the new swing.
The changes Heyward made this off-season may seem like small, ineffective adjustments (or just a shift in hand position). But Jason actually revitalized the essence of his swing, making significant changes to his foundation of movement that appear to be enabling massive improvements in swing path and power potential. Although I am only working with one view, to me, Heyward’s swing already looks more efficient and easier on his body. I don’t think the work on his swing is close to being done, but I expect him to have a much more consistent 2017, with improved power numbers.