Small Adjustment Could Play Big Dividends for Sox Prospect Anderson

by Chuck

Heading into the 2009 season, the Boston Red Sox had high hopes for their top minor league prospect, first baseman Lars Anderson. The Red Sox’ eighteenth round pick in the 2006 as an eighteen year old, the 6’5” Anderson flew through the Sox’ system, reaching Double A as a twenty year old before the end of the 2008 season.

As Spring Training commenced in 2009, Boston had hopes Anderson would continue with his rapid progression; another half season in Double A, followed by a mid-season promotion to Triple A Pawtucket. A good season would have been rewarded with a September call-up, with an assignment to the Arizona Fall League a requisite to  a legitimate chance to make the 2010 opening day roster. Even if he had stumbled in either one of his final two hypothetical assignments, another half season in Rhode Island wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen.

Anderson even spent some time with the main squad in spring training, with starting first baseman Kevin Youkilis off playing in the World Baseball Classic.  Anderson played well at times, but was also overmatched at times in his first true exposure to major league pitching.

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, Anderson’s development ground to a resounding halt midway through the 2009 season. Anderson suffered through progressively terrible year, eventually playing himself so far out of the Sox’ immediate future they showed up at the recent Winter Meetings looking for a first baseman.

Now, it must be mentioned there have been reports Anderson suffered back problems during the season. Looking through his season http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?pos=1B&sid=milb&t=p_pbp&pid=502249 stats there initially doesn’t seem to be an issue, but, hey, it’s his back, not ours.

Anderson played 119 of a possible 140 games during the season, with not one single day spent on the disabled list, yet all his games missed were after the All-Star break. It’s certainly possible he tweaked something at some point, but, again, whatever the case, it wasn’t serious enough to take up temporay residence on the DL. If one were to look at his splits in detail, however, there is a definite downward spike in his numbers from the first half to the second. Named to the mid season Eastern League All-Star team, Anderson hit .272/8/42 in the first half (79 games), but just .154/1/9 (40 games) during the second half.

Looking even further, however, one can see right from the beginning of the season something wasn’t quite right, as sandwiched between a .293 April and a .298 June was a .194 May. And this was after a .316 August and September showing in 2008 against the same level of competition.

Something is amiss here, and I know what it is.

http://video.google.com/videosearch?hl=en&source=hp&q=lars%20anderson&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wv#hl=en&source=hp&q=lars+anderson&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wv&qvid=lars+anderson&vid=-1301200176607420190 Right here.

Lars Anderson

As mentioned, Anderson is six foot five, yet at the time of his drafting, was listed at just 195 pounds. He’s filled out somewhat, during his 2009 spring training physical was listed at 212, noticeably bigger, of course, but still not overly so for a guy that tall.

But it’s his height that’s the issue, not his weight.

In scouting terms, Anderson is known as being “self-contradictory”. An infielder who moves perfectly into position to field a ground ball, catches it cleanly, then throws to first base off his RIGHT foot is self-contradictory, as one throws off his left foot. A pitcher who begins his wind-up and stops, only to start up again, is self-contradictory; are you picturing Hideo Nomo, yet?

As you can see from the video, Anderson is self-contradictory in his set-up.

But I’m not going to explain or prove it to you; you all are going to prove it to yourselves. No previous playing experience required.

Ready?

OK, all you need is a mirror. Doesn’t have to be full length, mid-chest up is fine.

So we’re all on the same page to begin, optimum hitting position is slightly closed, meaning, for a lefty, (not because Anderson is, but because I am), your feet, hips and shoulders are slightly closed to the pitcher. If someone were to come up behind you and draw a line from the toes of your back foot, through the toes of your front foot, and outwards 150 feet, it would pass through the infield approximately halfway between the shortstop position and the second base bag.

And, to clarify a common misconception, the description of a player’s stance, open, closed or square, is NOT defined by the position of his feet. The position of the hips and shoulders is the determining factor; Luis Gonzalez was considered to hit from an open stance not because his feet pointed towards the second baseman, but because his hips and shoulders did as well.

Now put your hands in a hitting position, as if you really were waiting for a pitch. In your “optimum” position, your top (left) hand is even with your left ear, with your upper left arm perpendicular to the floor. If you are in the right position here, a straight line could be drawn from your neck to your elbow.

Now, peek down and look at your feet. At this point I’m really not concerned where they are, although they should be no worse than square. Personally, about six inches closed is preferable, a straight line from the toes of your back foot to the pitcher should pass through the instep of your front foot.

If you look at the video of Anderson, and considering the camera angle, his feet are pretty severely open, while his hands are, in reality, almost perfect. (The motion of his hands is a trigger, and while a separate issue in itself, not part of this discussion).

OK, now to show you the “self-contradiction” to Anderson’s set-up.

Here’s where you should be. Feet square to slightly closed. Hands up, top (left) hand even with the left ear.

Now, looking down at your feet, reverse their position. The back foot should be closer to the plate, with the line from your front foot dissecting the back at the instep. While switching your feet, nothing else should have moved.

Now look at the mirror.

See where your elbow and hands are? You really didn’t MOVE them, they did so on their own because you have changed your setup. You have gone from a “body” hitter to a “hands” hitter.

If you did this move correctly, your left elbow should have dropped about four inches, if you’re tall like Anderson, maybe as much as six. Your top hand is now even with your chin.

Why did this happen? Send an email to with your PayPal account information, and for a Dugout Central only discount price of $99.95, I’ll tell you. (Hey, tough economy…nothing’s free anymore).

OK, fine, I’m kidding. Whatever.

The more your feet are open, the more you use your hands in the swing. For a lefty who is pulling the ball, by the time the swing is complete, you’ve essentially taken your first step towards first base without moving your feet, just because of the way your weight shifts. But because you set up with the feet open, in order to make contact in a square position, you’ve actually moved your body AWAY from your target (first base). So, to compensate, for the feet to remain open, or semi-open at contact, the player must start his hands closer to the impact zone.

If I worked in the Sox organization, I would leave Anderson alone…from the waist up. Other than the hand motion, he’s pretty much perfect. All I would do is close his feet, maybe spread them out a bit. The extra fractions of a second he would gain would help him with his pitch recognition, once he starts trusting in the change and “re-believing” in his ability, he should regain his projection as a plus hitter.

While Lars Anderson’s prospect status has fallen somewhat in the past year, he still hasn’t fallen far enough to be considered “suspect”. A small adjustment in his set-up should erase those doubts, and put him back on track to be a regular in the Red Sox lineup.

Better late than never.

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6 Responses to “Small Adjustment Could Play Big Dividends for Sox Prospect Anderson”

  1. Raul Says:

    Very good article.

    Things like this are why I love to talk to scouts about baseball and mechanics and all that stuff.

    I’m 6′4 and when I was playing, I weighed about 205lbs. It can be tough if the slightest part of your swing is off. We’d spend hours on the batting tee working on positioning. I don’t know how someone as tall as me could keep their feet so close together in their stance. Then again, I really didn’t move my feet too much. During soft-toss and sometimes BP, I’d already take my step, stay balanced, and wait for the pitch and then swing. Not a lot of power there but the key for me was balance and recognition of pitches outside.

    By the way, my hands are positioned as just at the bottom of my left ear. I guess I could raise them a bit…I haven’t played in a long time and probably lost the feel for it.

    Maybe the Redsox should take a break from their spreadsheets and look at their players.
    Relax, sabers…I’m only kidding….sort of :-)

  2. Derek Says:

    Good stuff Chuck. I had esentially the same problem except I could not stop over striding. I went from a line drive machine to a lazy pop up instant out. Hands only no power, miserable exsistence. Finally a freind of mine who was actually a softball player told me to just pick it up and put it down in the same place. After about 5000 balls/2 sets of batting gloves and lots of bloody hands I was back. Unfortunately a broken knee cap/ruptured patella tendon a few months later and now I work at a bank. Man what I wouldn’t give to hit another lazy fly ball!

  3. Jim Says:

    Is this a change from when he was successful? Isn’t this something the coaching staff and team scouts would pickup? If they have and are working with him on it, is it the type of thing where it is in his head, even when the physical correction has been pointed out or even made?

  4. Raul Says:

    I think it would be hard to say, Jim.
    Sometimes a player does everything right and still struggles, and consciously or unconsciously makes little changes that can throw off everything. Maybe that’s what happened to Anderson.

    “Isn’t this something the coaching staff and team scouts would pick up?”

    Chuck’s a scout. He picked it up. Then again not all scouts are created equally.

  5. Raul Says:

    We all have those kinds of stories, Derek. I had to laugh a little bit when reading your post because my immediate thought was “just put your foot down” and then you wrote the part about your friend correcting your problem.

    That’s one of the biggest problems I see that kids have—striding to the ball. They’re so hungry to make contact.

    My struggle as a kid was getting the bat through the zone for inside pitches. Eventually I got better by standing in front of a mirror at night for hours, working on keeping my back elbow tucked against the body and throwing my hands quickly through the zone. If kids can work on balance, and getting that front hand out quickly….I feel like you’re good to go.

    The thing is, a lot of kids love the batting cage. They love to make contact and see how far the ball goes. Batting cages are for timing. You’ll never learn to hit during BP.

  6. Chuck Says:

    Thanks, Raul.

    Jim,

    I wouldn’t exactly call what Anderson did in the minor leagues his first couple of years “successful.” I understand he was a high school pick, but 24 homers and 105 RBI’s in roughly 800 AB’s over two seasons in A ball isn’t something to brag about.

    The Red Sox have ALWAYS been patient with their draft picks, just look what they’ve done the last couple of years with Casey Kelly..pitcher, SS, back to pitcher, back to SS….

    But at Anderson’s age now, and with there a need at the ML level for his skills, either as a first baseman or DH, and coming off a pretty significant step back, the Red Sox MUST intervene now before it’s too late.

    The adjustment itself isn’t significant in nature, he just needs to close his feet. Each person is different, and reacts to change differently, will it take him 5000 balls like it took Derek before he was comfortable?

    Only Anderson knows that, but as Raul stated, tall players have more less room for error than a shorter one, because it’s easier for them to get out of whack without seemingly doing anything different.

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