What would Spring be without (a bit of snow apparently in the North) and a heated discussion on Michael Taylor within southern Florida where he scorches the ball in the regular season and Spring Training.
I feel like more than any other player for some reason the “haters” flock to Taylor, and I say “haters” because there are a few in the Nats fandom who just do not like him even when he is doing well. I don’t really care how good or bad Taylor was in the past though, because we’re here to talk about tomorrow and the near-future.
And as you may have heard, the Taylor of tomorrow has new swing mechanics which is a fact. What we do not know is how effective he will be with those new mechanics in the regular season, and if we will see him revert back to his “old” self. The skepticism from many comes from the years of watching Danny Espinosa who would start Spring Training with a shorter stroke then he would revert back to his longer swing and rack up the strikeouts.
Before we get into the mechanics of his new swing though, we should probably mention his success, because Taylor has crushed the ball so far in Spring Training. As of Monday morning, he’s a smooth .583/.615/1.083 in 12 at bats (even better as of Tuesday morning). Of course, that is an insanely small sample, and to extrapolate anything from it is not doable statistically — but it should be worthy of some optimism if you believe these new swing mechanics can be replicated to regular season success. The pessimists and the “show me” crowd know that Taylor at this point has become well-known for destroying spring training pitching in every season except 2018:
Last year was pretty much the first time in a full spring he struggled. In general, the fact that he has struggled or not doesn’t really matter in the long run, because in general, there is no correlation between spring training stats and regular season stats. A good spring Taylor, does not mean a good summer Taylor.
That doesn’t mean that all spring stats are useless though. Certain statistics, like BB% and in particular SO%, stabilize themselves in much fewer at bats. For strikeouts, that number is around 100 AB. As we can see from the table above, Taylor never reached 100 at bats. We can also see, that his spring strikeout rate is anywhere from 23-38%. We often think of Taylor as a high strikeout hitter, and he largely is that.
However, in the upper minors he wasn’t extremely so. His strikeout rate never reached above 30% (though it was close once) in the minors, and his walk rate was always well above average as well. Of course extra strikeouts were bound to popup once reaching the majors, he hasn’t been able to bring down those numbers close to the high 20’s that he had in the minors though.
Why does Taylor strikeout?
This might seem like a strange question. Because he swing and misses all the time! Obviously, but why, and what is he swinging and missing through. Let’s look at two mystery players again, a long with some of their 2018 stats.
|O-Swing %||Z-Swing %||O-Contact %||Z-Contact %||SwStr%|
O-Swing is the percent of swings, when the ball was out of the zone. Z-Swing is % of swings on balls in the zone. The O/Z-Contact are the percent of contact on those swings, and SwStr% is the total percent of swinging strikes.
In case you might have guessed, Player A is Michael Taylor! He swings at a similar number of pitches in and out of the zone compared to player B. However, we can also see that compared to player B, he is making a lot less contact, especially on pitches inside the zone. Who is player B? Well it just so happens to be Nolan Arenado, who you probably don’t need me telling you is a darn good baseball player.
Why have this seemingly random comparison? Primarily to point out how there are different ways to strike out. Taylor and Arenado are swinging at a very similar number of pitches. However, Taylor is making contact with them at a fraction of the rate in comparison to Arenado. The point being, Taylor’s strikeout problems are rooted largely in swing and miss, as opposed to a poor eye for the strike zone.
Here’s an easier way to see that, among batters with at least 350 PA last year, Taylor’s Z-Contact% of 76.0% would have placed him 7th. Only 6 players made less contact on balls in the zone then Taylor did. Surprisingly, his contact rate on pitches outside the zone is actually only the 61st worst (out of 247 players), which is helping to prop up his SwStr% to only the 21st worst.
So what is the point? Taylor has a good eye but cannot consistently put the ball into play.
Solution? Shorten your swing to make more contact.
And that is exactly what the Nationals said they wanted to to with Taylor this winter. Now, if you look at the results down there, it looks like his new swing was bad. However, more reports have surfaced recently to suggest that he was hurt twice during the winter and was just trying to see live pitching, regardless of results.
Now that it is spring though, we have seen Taylor in action, and we can see that the swing is indeed, very, very different.
Here is a video of Taylor hitting a home run in 2018, courtesy of Baseball-Savant.
Here is a video of Taylor hitting a home run this spring, courtesy of MLB.
Unfortunately, because the second video is from a different view, I’m going to be comparing the 2018 swing to the swing he showed on 2/27/19, since it was broadcast and has a the proper camera view.
So lets get mechanical! and take a look at Taylor’s new swing.
The Leg Kick
Taylor used to have a pretty big leg kick 2018.
It was long, it probably wasn’t efficient. There was a time when leg kicks were a huge part of the game. It is far from dead, but I don’t think it is not as prominent as it once was. A lot of that has to to do with a conscience effort to “reduce moving parts”. While a kick can be a good timing mechanism for a lot of players, ultimately its not helping you if it is slowing you down.
Here is what Taylor’s leg kick looks like now.
That is pretty much the extent of his leg kick now, just a lift, not even a tap. The leg kick is probably the most obvious difference, but the rest of his swing has become more compact with it.
In addition, he’s also moved where his hands in his pre-load from where he was in 2018:
Here is Taylor now with his hands up higher and inside to create less movement and a more direct path to the ball:
Unfortunately, the spring camera is a little more off center. His hands have moved in two ways though, up and inside. This initial placement of his hands is maybe the most important change. Sometimes it’s hard for us to perceive how such a small change can have a sizable impact. Every single part of a players swing mechanics needs to work in tandem though, and something even like the initial placement of your hands will affect the rest of the swing. A lot of this also involves what Taylor did with his hands, as he loaded.
This is where the real change is happening, and it is in part possible because of the two changes he made above. Here is Michael Taylor loading from last year.
So much is happening in his load. Aside from the leg kick, hes actively dropping his hands and pulling them back. Most players do this to an extent, but Taylor is swinging his arms everywhere. He’s making a loop with his arms as he coils himself to get ready. I can’t begin to express how much cleaner this looks this spring.
His hands barely drop and he keeps them so much closer to his body. Just look how much stiller he is in the second gif compared to the first one. His hands stay there too. If you look at the home run video above from this spring, you can see how still he keeps them once they’re loaded. That was not the case in his swing from previous years, where I really can’t see any noticeable pause.
Will it work?
We obviously don’t know, but spring is the time for optimism! It has worked well so far this spring, but as I mentioned earlier, that of course is inconsequential.
Taylor was in need of a swing change though. He has great power and speed, we’ve always seen him flash that but his power came at the expense of strikeouts and a lower batting average. What he lacked was a high contact percentage which was discussed at length by both Mike Rizzo and manager Dave Martinez. Cleaning up your swing seems like a pretty sure fire way to “get better”.
“[Taylor] has to make a commitment to make a change offensively,” Martinez said.
What is this really allowing him to do though, is “get his hands to the ball“. I’m fairly certain this concept is taught to just about every professional player, long before they ever step foot in the minors. The idea being, that you don’t swing the barrel towards the ball, but rather the knob of the bat, or your hands. This seems counter intuitive, but what this actually results in, is the barrel hitting the ball.
Here is Barry Bond’s swing stopped mid-way through. That is not a check swing, that is a swing to deal damage. We have a misconception in baseball that since a ball is a strike when it crosses the plate, that over the plate is where hitters make contact. That is also incorrect. Even on outside pitches where the hitter wants to take the ball the other way, often the ball never catches the plane of the plate. This is much more pronounced on pull swings. This Pujols photo does a pretty good job of illustrating this.
As I would like to point again (and I hope I’ve illustrated this well) every swing is different. To say one thing works for one guy so it will work for everyone else just isn’t correct. That doesn’t mean that every player already has the best swing they can. Harper has a pretty unique swing. Has it worked out for him overall? For the most part yes. Would he be better suited to a more traditional swing? We can’t know unless he decides to try it for himself, and why would you bother when you’re already getting good results from what you have.
Taylor needed better results though, and his swing was not conventional. The swing we have seen this spring, is much cleaner and “typical” if you will.
Taylor has always had quick hands. His hands “explode” as he uncoils and this is a driving part behind his power. There was so much coiling before though, and his hands were moving so much, that by the time they were in place, he was already late on the pitch. Now his hands are not only starting closer to the plate, but he also is doing a better job keeping them in. He’s standing straighter too, and really straightening and pushing off of his back leg as he swings now.
The other spring training storyline is that there is also top prospect Victor Robles who wants to be the Opening Day starting centerfielder for the Washington Nationals. Robles is also having a good spring training.
“So far [Taylor] looks really really good, and I mean he’s putting the ball in play,” Dave Martinez told The Junkies. “What I’ve noticed is his two-strike approach been really really good. He has simplified, and I love it. He’s strong. Real strong. He’s one of those players where he has enough power to hit 25 home runs — but we need him to do is hit just 40 doubles and get on-base more and walk a little bit more and bunt when he needs to bunt and do the situational baseball game. He’s going to hit his home runs. That’s something that K. Long has explained to him. He’s strongest enough that if he puts the ball in play just half the time he’s struck-out half of those could be home runs or doubles. So, his approach has been unbelievable and I’m glad he’s made the adjustment.”
That’s about all I got for now. If you respond to something along the lines of “Taylor Sucks Meh”, I’ll just assume you didn’t read anything since;
A) I never said Taylor was good
B) I never said Taylor will now be good.
What I have here, is a breakdown of the changes Taylor made this year, with the eye of improving himself this season. Now let the discussions begin.