Judging the Royals

Constant advice for slumping hitters: Get a good pitch and keep your head still

Eric Hosmer kept his head down on this two-run home run Friday.
Eric Hosmer kept his head down on this two-run home run Friday. AP

The Texas Rangers completed a sweep of the Royals on Sunday and our hometown team fell to 49-55. The offense had a total of four hits and when you’re scuffling at the plate (and the Royals are really scuffling at the plate) everybody has advice.

A slumping big-league ballplayer will hear from his old high school coach, his dad, his next-door neighbor, well-meaning fans and, on occasion, guys who write about the team.

I like to think that over the years I’ve shown that I’m totally unqualified to give big-league hitters advice, so I’m not going to do that. But I will repeat something Ted Williams said: the No. 1 rule in hitting is getting a good pitch to hit.

Still, you can have the prettiest swing in the world, but it won’t matter if you swing at bad pitches.

Contradictory hitting philosophies

Talk to enough hitters or read enough books on hitting and you’ll find out there’s more than one way to skin a cat or hit a baseball. Some people advocate a dominant bottom hand; others think you should emphasize the top hand. (And I hope all you alert readers appreciate the fact that I used the word “dominant” correctly this time.) Some people say the hips come first; others think it’s the hands. Some hitting instructors tell their student to throw the knob of the bat at the ball; others tell their students to throw the barrel.

If you find this contradictory advice confusing, you’re probably in the same boat with some of the Royals. When a hitter starts slumping he starts tinkering with his mechanics even when his mechanics are just fine.

The one constant; you have to see the ball

There is no hitting philosophy in which the hitter is encouraged to move his head. Go back to what Ted Williams said: get a good pitch to hit.

To do that you have to keep your head still. It’s the only way to pick up the pitcher’s release point, see the spin on the ball and track it into the strike zone.

Pitchers say the hitters will tell you everything you need to know, so maybe it works the same way in reverse. If it does, hitters should hear what Wade Davis has to say about Miguel Cabrera: Wade doesn’t like to throw him a curveball because Miggy keeps his head still and sees it too well. If Wade throws a curve for a ball Miggy takes it; if Wade throws a curve for a strike Miggy tends to hit it lop-sided.

When Wade told me that I said I wouldn’t write about it, but Wade said go ahead; Miggy already knows.

Wade Davis pays attention to which hitters keep their head still and which hitters move their head. The hitters who move their head are more likely to chase a bad pitch; they don’t see it as well.

Over-swinging on a good pitch

When a hitter gets a good pitch and misses it, the No. 1 reason is over-swinging. If a hitter swings too hard his muscles tighten up and that includes the muscles in his neck. When those muscles tighten up, the head moves when the hitter swings.

You can see this at the swing’s finish; the hitter will be looking down the foul line on the pull side of the field. He got over-amped on a good pitch (and it tends to happen in good hitting counts like 2-1 and 3-1), allowed his head to move and missed making square contact.

Double-play balls

I thought about all this when the Royals kept hitting into double plays against the Rangers. When a pitcher needs a double play he’ll throw pitches down in the zone. And the Royals kept chasing those pitches.

My next thought was “easy to say, hard to do”… I wasn’t the one in the batter’s box trying to react correctly to 92 mph sinkers down in the zone. But even major-leaguers need to keep their head still; let your head move and you’re more likely to chase those sinkers down.

See for yourself

Some of what happens in a baseball game is too fast and too subtle for most of us to spot, but we can see which hitters are letting their heads move and then compare that to their pitch selection.

So next time you watch a Royals game, focus on the hitter’s head and how much it moves during a swing. If you pay attention you’ll be able to see which guys are doing a good job of seeing the ball; it’s right in front of you if you look for it.

But make sure you keep your head still.