Inside the Game: Plate Adjustment has Alex Rios Back on Track

by Chuck

Let’s face it; Alex Rios didn’t have a very good year in 2009, matter of fact, Rios might consider “not very good” to be a compliment.

Rios went through his worst season since his second full major league season, with Toronto in 2005. He posted career worst splits in ’09, including an embarrassingly bad .296 OBP.  Things went from bad to worse as the season progressed for the former two time All-Star outfielder, things which ultimately resulted in his being released in August.

They didn’t get much better for him after being picked up by the White Sox on August tenth; on the contrary, the downhill slide seemed to escalate. Over the final six weeks, a period in which Rios played 41 games and accumulated 154 PA’s, he posted a .199/229/.301 split and was eventually relegated to a pinch-hitting role.

I’m parked on the sofa last night, watching MLB Network’s highlight show, when they turned on the White Sox/Royals game. Rios hit a two run homer, but that wasn’t made me sit up and hit the rewind button.

Here’s a couple of videos for you to look at, you’ll either agree a big change is taking place, or totally think I’m nuts, but either way it’s better than reading about a hypothetical terrorist attack on Yankee Stadium.

The first link is Rios hitting a homer in May of 2008. Notice where his hands are and the flex in his knees.

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=3453437

The second video is of Rios with Chicago last year. You should notice his hands are a bit lower, but his crouch has become more exaggerated and his feet have become more open.

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=6858515

This final clip is of his homer last night; look where his hands are. About halfway through you’ll see a side view of his swing, notice how his hands don’t move as he starts the swing.

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=7855171

It drives me crazy to see guys crouching in the batters box like some ballerina. Look at video or pictures of the all-time great hitters, almost all of them are upright in the box. I don’t mean extreme upright like Adam LaRoche or Evan Longoria; there’s just enough flex to be balanced.

Smaller guys like Pete Rose and Rickey Henderson crouched, but they used the crouch as a trigger. Everyone, when they swing, goes up. When you’re bat passes through the strike zone, and hopefully makes contact, you’re front leg should be stick straight. You’re taking the energy from the knee flex and using it to transfer the energy in the body to your upper body; this is where the term “balanced swing” comes from.

If a hitter is too upright, or too crouched, and their upper body, specifically their hand position, doesn’t match, you become out of balance, no matter how pretty you look.

Alex Rios is 6’6”. The more he crouches, the MORE he has to come up during the swing.

Say Roy Halladay is on the mound. The dude is tough enough to hit if you’re doing everything correctly, right?

Halladay is 6’3, he is pitching off a ten inch mound, making him now seven feet tall. At the point of release, his hand is probably a good six inches to a foot above his head, he’s STILL seven feet and a couple of inches high.

And he’s throwing DOWNHILL.

So a guy with an extreme crouch, especially a tall guy with an extreme crouch, will ultimately swing OVER every pitch, even those right down the co…never mind, the middle.

Unless he makes a compensatory move with his hands.

We’ve all heard the old adage that baseball is a “game of adjustments”, which is certainly true. Players switch leagues, they sometimes switch positions; they certainly get older and lose skills as they do. One idea why some guys with a seeming endless supply of talent have short careers is because they, for some reason, don’t make adjustments.

Rios has.

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33 Responses to “Inside the Game: Plate Adjustment has Alex Rios Back on Track”

  1. Patrick Says:

    In the 2008 clip, Rios looks like Jeter.

    In the ‘09 clip, his hands are lower but I thought his stance was closed compared to ‘08. It’s a different swing in part because he was clearing his hips. Also, his front leg was straight before contact and collapsed at contact.

    In this years clip he’s still closed but his hands are like Roy White’s!

    I thought he looked best in ‘08 with his hands in front of his face and elbows extended and feet slightly open.

    Nice job Chuck, that was cool. 3 completely different swings. He seems like he’s searching for answers.

  2. Raul Says:

    Good stuff.

    Speaking of players “back on track”, what are your thoughts on Barry Zito?
    And is Vernon Wells for real?

  3. Chuck Says:

    Patrick and Raul,

    You guys both know the game as well as I do. Hitting is about comfort.

    If batting stances were universal, then Ichiro and Jeter would be putting up the same numbers as Pujols and Ryan Howard and Mark Reynolds would be bagging groceries at ShopRite.

    Your upper body has to match your lower. If you crouch, then your hands should be lower, if you’re upright, so should your hands.

    Personally, your hands should always be high, but there is room for adjustments depending.

    The problem with Zito isn’t with Zito, it’s with us. His contract is ridiculous, (so is Wells’) and undeserved, but…

    His Cy season in 2002 is arguably in the top ten flukiest seasons in major league history. He was NEVER that good, not even close.

    This is his 11th year in MLB, take away this year’s 5-0 and that year’s 24-5, and his career record is 110-101 with an ERA over 4.00. In his defense, he has more IP than hits allowed, which, for a ten year guy, is pretty good.

    He’s a #3 getting paid like a #1, and is getting the pub to match..neither he deserves.

    He reminds me of Pettitte, to be honest. A consistent, workhorse type guy who fits well in the middle of a rotation.

    Wells is in the same boat as Barry, he has a career year and the Blue Jays throw a Brinks truck at him, and it’s somehow Wells’ fault he doesn’t repeat what he did before.

    If you look at his numbers, he’s only had one truly lousy season, and that was last year…coming off wrist and knee surgery. How can that be held against him?

    He doesn’t turn 32 until December…eight, nine years from now he could have 1300 runs scored, 1300 RBI, 2600 career hits, 400 homers and ten gold gloves, and we’ll be talking about him as a possible HOF candidate.

    And that is if he maintains his career averages. If he exceeds them?

  4. Hossrex Says:

    I agree about Zito. He’s not been nearly as bad as he’s “seemed”.

    However… he’s really pissing me off this year though.

    TRIVIA FOR THE DAY! The Dodgers drafted Clayton Kershaw three picks before the Giants drafted Tim Lincecum.

    *sigh*

  5. John Says:

    Chuck:

    “He’s a #3 getting paid like a #1, and is getting the pub to match..neither he deserves.”

    Zito and Scott Boras:

    SB: The Giants are willing to pay you more than any pitcher has ever been paid, ever.
    BZ: Do I deserve that? I mean, I’m really more like a number 3 guy on most teams.
    SB: Ah don’t worry about it. I told Sabean that if Jeff Suppan was worth 4/40, you were definitely worth 20% more than Kevin Brown.
    BZ: And he fell for that? Even frickin fangraphs only rates me at around 10M a year!
    SB: I also told him that it would be cool to have both of his highest paid players named Barry.
    BZ: That worked?
    SB: Ya. He’s literally the world’s stupidest person. So. Want to make 126 million dollars?
    BZ: …ok

  6. Raul Says:

    I could never understand why players crouch. To me, it just feels like I had no power.

    And putting your hands low just seems like extra work since you have to raise them to swing anyway. I mean, I think it’s stupid. The only people who should crouch when batting are players who suck so much, that if they crouch they might have a better chance of getting a walk.

    I know for me, when I hit, my two problems were my front leg and my back elbow. I mean I had a great swing, and I always played well. But sometimes I would catch my own errors and correct them…even though my coach or teammates might not notice. Sometimes my back elbow wouldn’t stay tucked into my body, and sometimes I had a bit of a closed stance — (i’m left-handed) and my right foot was a little closer to homeplate than my left foot….not sure how to explain it. I didn’t think it was a big problem…but I felt like when I moved up to the next level, it could hurt me…but my “career” ended before it even started because of my attitude/temper.

    If you guys ever build a time machine…let me know, lol.

  7. John Says:

    Raul,

    I had sort of the opposite problem (my “career” ended in high school, so nothing really worth bragging about). I had sort of a Moises Alou thing going on with my elbow always being up. I was taught that in little league and never really changed. It wasn’t until I was 16 or so that someone pointed out to me that my elbow just goes down anyway and starting with it up high up adds nothing to the swing except slow it down.

    I never got the appeal to crouching but some guys – Jeff Bagwell comes to mind – seemed to pull it off beautifully (please let’s not make this a PED/HOF debate).

  8. Hossrex Says:

    Macu-lar Degeneration sucks. :(

  9. Hossrex Says:

    You can’t say macular?

    You can say all sorts of profanity these days… but you can’t say macular?

  10. Hossrex Says:

    What the heck?

    Sorry for the triple post… but it wasn’t taking post 8 until I split up the word macular.

    Weird.

  11. Raul Says:

    I’m not sure why you’re talking about macular degeneration.

  12. Chuck Says:

    The further your back elbow from your body, the better.

    It doesn’t matter where your hands are, as long as your top hand is even with, or above, your back shoulder.

    The more “closed” your feet are, the better. As a lefthanded hitter, your right foot should be closer to the plate than your left.

    People who hit with their feet open are compensating for a weakness..can’t hit breaking balls (Howard), have vision problems (Galarraga), or have slider swing bats and are trying to pull everything (David Wright).

  13. Hossrex Says:

    Raul: “I’m not sure why you’re talking about macular degeneration.”

    Because it’s difficult to hit a curveball when you’re legally blind in your left eye.

  14. Patrick Says:

    I used to change my stance a lot. When I opened it it was usually because I was pulling off and opening it forced me to dive into the pitch, kind of like Johnny Damon does. Also, I have good eyes but sometimes my left eye wasn’t as good as my right, so opening my stance would allow me to use both eyes to track the pitch.

    Also, as Chuck said, it’s about comfort. As long as everything is straightened out on contact it doesn’t really matter how you got there.

    I think Rios ‘08 swing looks like it would be better for BA but it probably ties his power up by being crouched. His current swing looks relaxed with very silent hands and being 6′6″ he seems to have more leverage on balls that are down. He might hit 30 HR’s playing his home games in Chicago.

    Hossrex, I’d say it’s nearly impossible to hit a curveball when your lead eye is legally blind. Macular Degeneration is a frustrating mess…..They have shots for that now. Worked on my Dad. Once a week for 8 weeks, needle in the eyeball. It was worth it, he can see the golf ball again.

  15. Hossrex Says:

    Really? I was under the impression that once the vision was lost, it was irreparable.

    My right eye is fine (I do everything left handed… EXCEPT for bat and throw… so… yeah… screwed again), which allows me to get around alright, and continue working (can you imagine what it’s like being a photographer who has legitimate reason to think he might wake up one morning blind in his only good eye?), but it sure made playing ball difficult.

    I guess my only saving grace is that I was never all that good in the first place, so at least it’s not like the world lost the next DiMaggio.

  16. Patrick Says:

    It’s new. They told my Dad that hopefully it would halt the degeneration but he got markedly better. They were thrilled, both the Dr. and my Dad. They caught it early so I’m sure that helped. That was in December and January and he’s still doing fine. He’s out golfing as we speak.

    Check it out, can’t hurt…..well, once you get past the needle in the eye thing.

  17. Hossrex Says:

    I don’t get along with Doctors… or needles… and this is a 10+ year problem…

    But…

    Hell…

    It sure sucks being (legally) blind in one eye.

    Thanks man.

  18. Patrick Says:

    I hope it helps. He had both eyes done, one shot, alternating eyes every week. 4 shots total in each eye over 8 weeks, so I would assume you would only need 1 shot every 2 weeks. They numb the eye so it’s only uncomfortable, not painful. You’re welcome.

    My daughter graduated med school last year and she barely knew about the shots so they’re that new.

    Hoss, you’re still a young man so get it fixed and go smack some softballs around. (note, transition back to baseball :-) )

  19. Chuck Says:

    I’m legally blind in my left eye as well..I’ve worn glasses since the sixth grade.

    And is also the reason why I taught myself to hit lefthanded when I was in elementary school.

    Like Patrick said…it’s easier to hit when your dominant eye is closest to the pitcher.

  20. Patrick Says:

    Seeing as how this article is about current baseball happenings I’ll use it to point out that the top 4 teams in the AL East have won 17 straight games and are already 30 games over .500!

    The NL Central is the worst division at 12 games under followed closely by the AL West at 10 games under.

    When teams start LH pitchers they are 12 games over .500. Not surprisingly, the Phillies are 2-5 against lefties and 15-6 against righties. How important is it for the rest of the NL East to get quality lefties?

  21. Chuck Says:

    Hoss,

    http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20100501&content_id=9730946&vkey=news_milb&fext=.jsp

  22. Raul Says:

    Chuck,

    Well I guess I had it right as far as my feet…I’ll chalk that up to bad coaching and being taught incorrectly. :-)

    The part about my elbow was more about during the swing, not my stance. I wish I could show you what I mean, but I think you know. My elbow isn’t all the way up like a chicken wing during my stance, but when I start to bring my hands forward, the back elbow comes down, straight forward, through the ball. What I was saying is that sometimes, I’d get a little bit rotational, with my arms and shoulders, and sort of swing “around” the ball instead of through it…i don’t know if you’d call it “bailing out” or whatever. That’s what I meant.

    It’s so much easier to show people in person…maybe if I knew the mathematical way of expressing it, I could make some SABR guys happy. LOL

  23. Patrick Says:

    “Lambo is 10th in the Southern League with a .342 BA and 5th with a .566 SLG Pct.” ….

    Big numbers. Is it a whiffle ball league? :-)

    With so many minor league players failing PED tests it makes me wonder how many guys are still juicing and are relying on masking the test results?

  24. Chuck Says:

    Lambo’s drug of choice is weed.

  25. Chuck Says:

    I was thinking of you as I was writing the article Raul because I remember you saying you’re 6′4″. I figured a taller player would get it right away.

    “but when I start to bring my hands forward, the back elbow comes down, straight forward, through the ball.”

    You have an inside-out swing..like Jeter.

    Your hands drag the bat-head through the hitting zone, instead of letting your lower half put it there.

    There’s nothing wrong with the style, just you don’t often see six foot four Judy’s.

    :)

  26. Raul Says:

    Ouch, lol.

    Hmm, well in my mind, I was more of a gap hitter/line-drive hitter. I never really pulled the ball straight down the right-field line…then again, nobody ever pitched me inside.

    I wouldn’t say this, but coaches from other teams said I reminded them of John Olerud. I guess that’s not a bad thing.

    When I was in DR on vacation years ago (I was past the “prospect” age), I was with my uncle who signs and develops players in the DR, and I met Pascual Perez (and he’s ugly)…not exactly a big star or anything…so anyway, messing around I got up on the mound and pitched a bit…him and a couple of guys said I reminded them of a lefty Juan Marichal..well, I hope my mechanics weren’t that crazy.

    I have a lot of …well no, I let the anger go by now. But I was pretty upset that I didn’t have the right people around to help coach me. I mean that’s a big part of it.

    Chuck,

    I was 6′4 in high school. I had been playing baseball since I was a kid. And I’m left-handed. And never once, not one time, did any coach ever approach me to pitch. Ever. I just played 1B. Granted, there was more to it than that…my temper really screwed me sometimes…but isn’t that the first thing you think about when you see a lanky 15 year old kid who’s lefty? I did have natural talent and drive, though. And it really pissed me off when I went to the DR when I was in my mid-20s and met the kids that were signed to major league teams….because I was a hell of a lot better than most of them….but…we all have our sad tales…lol

  27. Chuck Says:

    John Olerud had an inside out swing too. Not as extreme as Jeter’s, but he was more of a gap shopper.

    ” But I was pretty upset that I didn’t have the right people around to help coach me. I mean that’s a big part of it.”

    You’re right, and I haven’t let all the anger go yet.

    A good friend of mine is a nightclub singer, he’s been doing it now for over 30 years. Makes good money, too. This guy has the best voice, is a great entertainer, yet he’s schlopping the weekend club tour, while guys who couldn’t carry his jock are making millions rapping about killing cops and raping their mama’s.

    It’s the same thing with ballplayers, too. Some of the best players I’ve seen never got that one break they needed.

    The vast majority of coaches I’ve seen are just frustrated jocks/parents looking to get out of the house a couple of nights a week. Most of them couldn’t find their dicks if they stood naked in front of a mirror, yet they’re supposed to “teach” 15 twelve year olds how to play baseball?

  28. Raul Says:

    Wait, a guy got suspended 50 games for weed?

    What do you get for a Tylenol? a year?

  29. Seven Says:

    The most surprising thing about this article to me is that Alex Rios is 6′6”. What an athlete he must be to play such a great outfield and cover so much ground at that height.

  30. Chuck Says:

    Second offense, Raul.

    First offense is a “freebie”.

  31. brautigan Says:

    Chuck: How funny AND ironic. I wore glasses since the 3rd grade, and because my left eye was my dominant eye, I could see the ball better batting left handed. I switched to left handed at age 11. All through my career, I had a lot more power right handed, but I couldn’t hit the ball consistently, so I switched full time to hitting left handed.

    In college, I got frustrated hitting batting practice off of a left handed pitcher and so I turned around and hit two 420 foot bombs back to back. I really wondered at that time why I didn’t switch hit (all it took was one at bat in a game situtation that I knew the answer to that question…..a strike three swinging at a ball about a foot outside!).

  32. Hossrex Says:

    lol… I was aware of the Lambo suspension, but unaware that it was a marijuana offense.

    What a dumbass.

    He’s one of our better rated prospects.

  33. Chuck Says:

    Kind of backwards, eh Braut?

    You would think you would want your dominant eye closest to the pitcher.

    You’re righthanded, I assume.

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