In preparing for the Law School Admission Test, one thing you learn is that correlation does not equal causation. In other words, the simultaneous occurrence of two factors does not necessarily imply a cause-and-effect relationship between them. The concept applies beyond logical reasoning questions to, among other things, baseball analysis.
More specifically, baseball players often make changes that we notice and sometimes assume, erroneously, will lead to improved outcomes. Take Lucas Giolito, who shortened his arm circle last year—which we figure led to his improved command and impressive results. This year, Robbie Ray made the same change, but has thus far been terrible over three starts. That begs the questions of whether Giolito found his command separately and apart from the change, Ray will have better starts in the near term, or certain changes only benefit certain players. It’s anyone’s guess, really. That’s why it’s difficult to infer that, because players make a change that should lead to success in theory, they will be more successful in practice.
Which brings me to Wil Myers. Myers looks different in the box this year. But I’m hesitant to conclude that his new batting stance will lead to more power or a better batting average, for instance. With all that said, it’s nevertheless worth monitoring and, I think, could lead to improved results.
To begin, admire Myers hitting a home run on September 15, 2019:
He’s standing up straight in the box, with his lead foot diagonally out in front such that he’s open to the pitcher. If you pause around the two-second mark, you can see his front leg is almost completely straight as he swings through the pitch because he’s standing so tall.
Fast forward almost a year and he looks completely different:
For a better look, here are his 2019 (left) and 2020 (right) batting stances side-by-side:
There are two notable changes to Myers’s batting stance. First, he’s now more closed off. You can tell because his front leg is now almost in line with his back leg and he’s turned away such that his elbow is back, his hands are tucked behind his head, and you can see more of his jersey. Second, he’s bending more at the knees, particularly in his front leg.
Myers turning his body away from the pitcher and situating his front leg more parallel with his back leg is evidence of him closing off. In a closed stance like this, Myers will generally be later to the ball (because he’s facing away) and, as a result, he’ll reach the ball deeper in the zone. That’s why hitters with closed stances go the opposite way with ease. By the same token, a closed stance also makes it more difficult to be early to the ball and pull it across the body.
Myers’s pull rate this season (40%), however, is mostly in line with his career pull rate (39.4%).
Having closed his stance, we would expect Myers to hit more to the opposite field and pull the ball less. Yet, going the opposite way 20% of the time is actually below his 2019 rate. We would also expect a higher BABIP with an all-fields approach, and his .346 mark is, in fact, elevated. But it’s also in line with the .344 BABIP he posted in 2019.
In theory, it’s simply more difficult to hit home runs the opposite way, so this might blunt some of his power going forward. The tradeoff is that hitting to all fields should bolster his BABIP. Bear in mind, however, that correlation does not equal causation. Just because he has made a change, doesn’t mean it will produce the results we expect. Still, this next change to his stance is producing some noteworthy outcomes.
Angle Against The Force
Starting lower to the ball is crucial to Myers’s ability to elevate. Famous hitting coach Bobby Tewskbary uses the following image of Joey Votto to explain the relationship between the angle of the hitter’s lead leg at the point of contact and the resulting launch angle:
As Tewskbary explains,
For me, weight shift has more to do with WHERE your weight is. What does this mean? Think of it in terms of direction of force, not just force. In the Votto screenshot above, the red arrow above shows angle “against” the force at his front foot. Typically, I see the angle from the front foot to the head being in the range of 60-70 degrees with the best hitters. (Votto is at 60 degrees here.)
The teal arrow above shows a force direction being vertical over the front foot. I see a lot of hitters getting too far forward with push/knob to ball style swings. They shift over the front leg to get leverage to push. This swing is typically too steep/downward.
Here’s the best in the business showing how the front leg should look at the point of contact:
— Lance Brozdowski (@LanceBroz) August 8, 2020
Compare that to Myers’s old swing as recorded by PastimeAthletics:
Evidently, Myers was so upright that he would essentially fall over his front leg, resulting in a downward swing path. There’s almost no bend in his front leg, which turns inward at a steep angle at the point of contact. It’s probably closer to 80° than Votto’s or Trout’s ideal 60°, which means that, per Tewksbary, Myers was shifting over his front leg and chopping down at the ball.
Whereas now, Myers starts much lower to the ball with his front leg bent inwards, which creates a straighter/upward swingpath and allows him to finish middle, as opposed to on top of his front leg. Here’s how he looked in Spring Training:
At the point of contact, Myers is sitting back deeper and his front leg has a much lower angle against the force of the ground (the red arrow from the Votto image). The resulting swing is far more similar to Trout’s or Votto’s above. Now, Myers swings up and through the ball.
Here he is again hitting a home run off hapless Robbie Ray:
This all comes back to Myers’s new starting position. Because he begins with his legs spread further apart and his knees bent (particularly his front knee), he’s much lower to the ball during his load and his front leg winds up at a lower angle against the force (~60°) during contact. In other words, he’s no longer starting so high up that he has to swing downward at the ball and propel himself over his front leg. If anything, his swing plane is on an upward trajectory.
To that point, Myers’s problem has never been raw power. When he puts the ball in the air, he generates impressive exit velocity — particularly in recent years.
|Season||Exit Velo on FB/LD (mph)||Rank Among Qualified Hitters|
Rather, with career 43.3% ground-ball and 21.1% fly-ball rates according to Statcast, Myers’s issue has been getting the ball in the air.
This year, as he’s no longer swinging over the ball, Myers has had a much better time of elevating the ball than before. Right now, Myers is running a career-low ground-ball rate that is just over half the MLB average. His fly-ball rate is a career-high and well above the MLB average. And perhaps most notably, Myers is hitting line drives nearly half the time he puts the ball in play.
Indeed, now that he’s lower to the ball, Myers is no longer rolling over pitches in the bottom of the zone. Compare his launch angle charts from 2019 (left) and 2020 (right):
His launch angle on pitches thrown down-and-away has quintupled. His launch angle on pitches down-and-in has increased as well. That home run off Ray I showed you earlier? You guessed it—the pitch was in the bottom half of the zone.
Here’s Myers getting under an extremely low pitch from Alex Young:
And here he is reaching down for a line drive off Luke Weaver:
In sum, Myers’s new, squatter batting stance creates an upward swing path, as opposed to swinging down at the ball. He’s lower during his load and, at contact, his front leg is no longer fully upright. In theory, these changes should facilitate his ability to elevate the ball.
There are other interesting developments in the small body of Myers’s 2020 work as well. His swing rate is down almost four percentage points, and his chase rate is down nearly five. His swinging-strike rate has dropped from 13.6% to 8.5%. His contact rate has jumped tremendously from 68.9% to 78.4%. But it remains to be seen what’s causing these changes and how they will play out over the course of the season. It’s unclear if he’s deliberately being more patient and selecting better pitches to hit, or whether these improvements have anything to do with his new batting stance and swing. And besides, irrespective of what’s going on under the hood, Myers is still striking out in a whopping 35.7% of his plate appearances.
That said, I like the changes Myers has made. His swing looks smoother as he’s much lower to the ball and his swing plane has completely changed. What’s more, he’s closed off now too. Still, the interaction of his closed stance and his new swing path might have wonky results in terms of his batted ball mix relative to past years. If I had to guess, I’d say he will continue to elevate more and start hitting more to the opposite field. But correlation does not equal causation, and these changes that should, in theory, produce those results might not for Myers.
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Rick Orengo (@OneFiddyOne on Twitter and Instagram)