Last Rites for Mickey?, cont.


=== The Bad, Dept. ===

So it ain't like Dr. D wouldn't give him credit for improvements that accrue to his account.  Just so you know.

The problem is Michael Saunders' swing shape, and it is a fatal flaw.


Dustin Ackley singled to LF in the 3rd inning off a low-away 94 mph Ervin Santana fastball.  In order to get the bat to the ball, Ackley changed his swing shape in the following ways:

  • He dipped his back knee to lower his weight
  • He bent over at the waist to bring his hands over the plate
  • He lowered his hands before he swung
  • He did not snap his wrists as hard
  • He finished with his hands far out in front, and truncated his swing followthrough, with hands lower

You know how it goes.  There is a picture of Ackley in the previous article, singling up the middle, and you can see for yourself that to drive the ball the other way, the hands must finish farther in front than normal.  This results in the low hands at finish.

Also, the two pictures of Ichiro illustrate the tendency.  Just check the elevation of his hands on both shots.

Snapping your wrists to pull the ball, the hands usually finish higher.  The hands are not as far out in front after contact, because they're wrapping back over your shoulder on a nicely-pulled BIP.


Michael Saunders, on the fly ball to LF off his hands, used exactly the same swing and followthrough that he always uses.

  • He kept his CG at exactly the same elevation off the ground
  • His hands went from (1) very high to (2) low to (3) VERY high on the followthrough
  • He snapped his wrists exactly the same way he always does
  • He made contact with the hands not out in front, and finished with his hands way up over his shoulders

So it hits you, watching the guy, that the nature of his problem resides in his inflexible swing shape.



=== The Ugly, Dept. ===

Because Saunders swings .... HI-LO-HI .... every pitch?  

The arc of his swing is on a steep inclination all the time.  It is the exact inversion of Kyle Seager's "Keep the Bat In the Zone a Long Time" mechanic.  Saunders is always "outside" the baseball, and as the baseball gets lower, his bat is on an arc that does not intersect with the pitch.

Hence his ugly swings tonight over the top of breaking balls (again).  As the ball gets higher in the strike zone, Saunders' swing shape is more flat.  And it hits you:  that's why he can handle pitches UP fairly well, and pitches IN reasonably well ... the arc of the bat is closer to the plane of the pitch.

Pitches down?  No chance.  The bat is only on a plane with the ball for the briefest split second.


=== Dr's Prognosis, Dept. ===

Charlie Lau* could come in here and teach Saunders how to hit, I guess, by finishing lower and KBIZLT...

...but how are you going to teach a guy to reflexively sink his weight when he needs to, if he's never learned that?

I'd never been able to figure out Saunders' swing, but it wasn't until tonight that the flaw came through on the Pos-I-Tron as fatal.  Maybe it took his batted balls the other way, to realize that his swing shape is never going to change.


There are all sortsa guys who play well in AAA, but whose swing holes just don't survive the precision of the ML game.  People tend to think that major leaguers are bigger, stronger, more powerful than AAA players -- that they throw harder, hit the ball farther, etc.  Major leaguers aren't more powerful; they're more surgical.

Everybody throwing 97 mph right now, was throwing 97 in the minors also.  AAA does not lack power.

Michael Saunders has had, and will have, an interesting and rewarding baseball life.  :- )  But it's unlikely that SSI will ever give him another thought.  Jack Zduriencik has a lotta interesting outfielders parked on the on-ramp.


My $0.02,

Dr D




to me Michael Saunders looked just as hopeless last night as he ever did.
I marvel at your technical savvy in baseball mechanics, Doc, and reading your analysis of WHY he looked hopeless was instructive and makes all kinds of sense.
One of the cool things about getting Wells and Robinson on top of Mike Carp's emergence as a "stick" is that we don't have to give Saunders a second thought. Either he electrifies us this month, and he won't, or he becomes just another failed Bavasi-era prospect to be tossed aside.
It's a shame. I just figured out last night that Saunders reminds me of Rick Monday, a lanky, lean, swift and graceful lefty centerfielder who hit with pretty good power while striking out a lot. Monday was a big-leaguer from the get-go. Saunders is not.


One upon a time I thought Saunders could be a version of a Joe Pepitone or Franklin Stubbs at the bat.  LH, 20+ HR's, hit .250, OBP .310. Hurt some righties, especially junk ballers.
Pepitone wasn't a bad OF glove when he came up either.
I suppose that is still his absolute upside.  But Eventually I determined that no matter how athletic he looked in the field (not bad) he just didn't look like that at the plate.
Not many decent hitters look completely out of sorts at the plate.  I didn't see the game last night, but during hi last go around, Saunders, when he triggered his swing and as he swung looked like the antithesis of a hitter.
Hitting a baseball in the major leagues may be the most natural athletic gift in sports.  Look how it humbled terrific athletes like Michael Jordan or Danny Ainge. Saunders, I think,  just doesn't have that gift.


With Tui already unceremoniously dumped and Saunders relegated to afterthought, it's pretty clear who's winning in "althetes vs. ballplayers."
It's clear that there are a myriad of little mechanical things about baseball that some of the multi-sport guys don't ever master.  Doc obviously zeroed in on one of them here.
Bummer for Mike, though.  It wasn't his fault he got rushed (other than hitting better than he was "supposed to" as a 20-year-old), and he's been through plenty this year with his mother's cancer and passing.


Can relate to your intuitive sense that something was very wrong with Saunders, 'cause was in exactly the same place before last night...
Then he hits the ball the other way with the same broken swing and the method finally comes to bear, and it matches up...
Thanks for the kind words amigo... always very interested in your take as well...


Both have/had plenty of sabermetric knowledge, but saber education still does not quite match up to a grandmaster's intuition...
I liken it to the 1980's, when chess computers became rather strong, better than 97% of tournament players, but still came in a distant second to the very strongest humans.
At the present time, I don't believe that a guy with a pocket protector ;- ) and a fangraphs site could run a baseball team anywhere near as well as Pat Gillick can.  It's not an indictment of method; it's a celebration of human mastery over the machines.


Didn't Jim Boutin, in Ball Four, write that he saw former Yankee teammate Pepitone use a blow dryer on his hair, post game, sometime in the mid-60's.  And hasn't Pepitone been credited with being the first MLBer to bring said dryer into the lockerroom. I'm sure that is right.
So perhaps it was Pepitone that began the inexorable process where machines have destroyed much of what is good and sacred in baseball, despite the great efforts of Pat Gillick and Z.
Radar guns, aluminum bats, $6 beers, "Disco Night" at Comiskey Park:  Eddie Gaedel would have turned over in his grave.
To think that Joe Pepitone may have been to blame for all of it!
Say it ain't so Joe!
I know, I know! Wrong Joe, but you get my drift.

MarinerFanInJapan's picture

In an aptly titled Mariners Blog post back on March 18, 2010, Baker posted a video with Dr Elliott talking about the new training program the Mariners were starting. Dr. Elliott compared tests they had of Dustin Ackley, "a beautiful rotational athlete," with those of Michael Saunders whose natural vertical movement hindered his ability to hit for power or consistency. The difference in the graphs was stunning.
While Saunders has developed the rotational athleticism to hit the ball a long way, I don't think he will ever lose the vertical hop in his swing that limits his hitting potential.

ghost's picture

I find it remarkable just how little we got out of the Bavasi era.
Eve if you include the guys Bavasi and Z traded away from the prospect heap...the list of guys he got hits on (at least in terms of position players) is...
Adam Jones
Sin-Soo Choo
Asdrubal Cabrera
...I guess...Jose Lopez? He was good a short time...
...I guess Yuni Betancourt...but...that's really a stretch...
Miguel Olivo, but he then gave up on him too fast...
Whereas Zduriencik has laready netted us:
With many other hopefuls...and he's been at it for much less time than Bavasi.


IMO, the Bavasi era showed a nearly pathalogical preference for "Ichiro type" players.  Aggressive, modest K, low walk contact guys.
I really get the sense that if you fanned 90-100 times in the low minors, they assumed no way could you ever succeed in the majors, even if you cut your K rate in half further up the chain.
I said many times that it felt like every player they promoted from 2005 on was some larval form of Ichiro.  I honestly think the organizational imperative was 'natural' contact hitting.
Lopez, Yuni, Reed ... were all 50 K per season guys in the low minors.  The only exceptions I can really find would be Wlad ... who sort of inherited the 'top spec' spot from Adam Jones, after the club dealt him away.  And Clement.  Of course, Wlad and Clement showed up when the Bavasi era was already in its death throes.  Then again, they extended Joh for 3 years, so it's hard to see that there was any real organizational enthusiasm for Clement either.
I think Matt nailed it --- they believed in the athlete above the ball player --- completely missing that Ichiro was a ball player, who just happens to be an athlete, too.  Not the other way around.


So it's actually worse.  Choo, As-Cab, Lopez and even Betancourt were all gotten by the international guys, most of whom are still here.  They were not part of the scouts and farm directors Bavasi brought into the org.
I assume we're only doing bats here, so for Bavasi's guys you can still count Morse (who we got no use out of).  But it's astounding how in 5 years he couldn't find a bat to save his life.  Now, with the Brewers Jack didn't find a ton of pitching, but he hasn't shown any issues in that dept with us, while Bavasi found Tillman, JCR (again, international), Morrow and Pineda (international)...and not a lot else. 
Aumont, I guess, if you think he can make a go of it with his control issues.  He's still a year or more away. Tillman still hasn't done anything other than get shelled in the majors worse than Beavan or Furbush over multiple years (180 IP).  Ramirez isn't anyone and still has a couple years before he can even start thinking of being someone.
But whether with pitching or hitting, Bavasi found approximately one above-average player in each category domestically in his 5 years with the club.
Morrow and Jones.  That's essentially it.  The last draft by his farm directors, in 2008?  Fields, Raben, Pribanic, Hensley, Lorin, Tenbrink, Kasparek, Maurer...hey, Maurer!  Might eventually get a second arm to add to that list there.
It's astounding how bad they were in the domestic draft. 
Just look at the 2009 draft for comparison:
Z added Ackley (no brainer to me, but Clement was only one draft slot behind this one and we messed up that pooch pretty badly), Franklin, Seager, Catricala, Carraway, Moran, Gillheeney, Tony Vasquez...that's 3 guys who have already logged big-league time, one of whom is a star and the other hitter looking like a decent regular, with two top-100 hitting prospects arriving in AAA and the rest of the arms in the high minors with shots at a big league career.
If you offered me Morrow + Jones for that list headed by Ackley, I'd turn you down.  In one draft, Jack out-did Bavasi's 5.  Yowtch.
As Sandy said, there were problems in the types of players they were putting faith in in the first place, but it gets worse when you can't recognize useful talent even when you have it.  I'm just thankful we didn't manage to trade away Pineda as a throw-in to some other deal.
I'm sure it was a close call.


Read or re-read Churchill's piece.  Notice the "work-work-outwork" theme throughout, and that it goes all the way up to McNamara and Z. 
I had a boss once who would go play squash in the middle of the afternoon a couple of days a week, leaving me with all the work.  Doesn't exactly inspire the troops.  These guys sound the like the opposite.
They know what they're doing; they like what they're doing; and they want to win at it.

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