Nate Schierholtz and His Brand New Swing
One of the best stories of this season (non-Vogelsong category) is Nate Schierholtz’ magical transformation into a serviceable everyday player. For a large part of his career, let’s say all of it, Schierholtz has been somewhat of an afterthought. There was a time way back in the day where I was of the mind that John Bowker was the solution in right field and that Nate would be doomed to a career as Pat Burrell’s late-inning defensive replacement. Now Schierholtz is hitting .293/.343/.464 and as of now is the second best hitter on the team behind Pablo Sandoval. What makes a guy who couldn’t take a walk to save his life one day a decidedly average the next? The folks over at Splashing Pumpkins did a pretty cool piece about how Nate’s closed up his batting stance which has led to some modicum of success. I’d like to take that a step further and examine what exactly this tweak has done for his swing.
Let’s compare some photos. The first photo of each sequence will be of Nate popping up to the left fielder on a pitch right down the middle, circa 2009. The latter will be of Nate’s first home run in his two-homer game against the Padres on July 6 of this season.
First, the load.
In the first photo, we see high-socks Nate with a slightly open stance, no batting gloves, and not a whole lot of balance. Notice how you can almost predict that his front shoulder will fly open early, which more often than not results in popping up good pitches. In the second photo, we see a more upright, closed stance, with a lot more balance. Draw a line from the top of his head to the bottom of his front foot and it’ll be straight. This keeps his front side closed, which in turn keeps his bat in the hitting zone longer, resulting in better contact. Next we move on to the foot plant.
Again we see a stark difference between high-socks Nate and low-socks Nate. You’ll notice that in the first photo, the pitcher is further into his delivery, and the ball is closer to the hitting zone than in the second photo. What this tells us is that his swing is behind is lower body, which makes hitting that much more difficult. While his lower body is in position, his upper body lags behind. Another clear discrepancy is that high-socks Nate is already dropping his back shoulder, which causes a hitter to get under the ball, popping it up rather than driving it. Low-socks Nate’s front shoulder is closed, his back elbow is cocked, and he’s in a balanced hitting position. Now we move on to the money shot: the swing.
Here is where the difference between Schierholtz’ old swing and new swing really become clear. In the 2009 swing, Nate is showing evidence of pulling his head early, a product of his front side opening up. When you pull your head, you’re not balanced and you’re not looking at the ball you’re supposed to be hitting. You can clearly see his head is oriented towards the ball in the second photo, with his upper body square to the field. His bat is already entering the hitting zone and he’s in position to drive the ball to all fields. High-socks Nate on the other hand got his swing started too late and now is forced to dip his back shoulder before he’s square to the field to compensate. High-socks Nate was off-balance from the moment the pitcher went into his windup, which in turn throws his entire swing off.
Schierholtz’ follow-through, which for all intents and purposes appears to be roughly identical from 2009 to now, has some key discrepancies. The one major difference I see here though is that low-socks Nate’s weight is well-distributed. His legs are driven forward while his upper body remains back, helping him drive the ball, likely the reason he homered on that pitch. High-socks Nate’s upper-body has a slight lean forward, which severely limits the ability to hit for power.
Based on this evidence, it would appear as though Schierholtz has gone through a major overhaul in his swing. He’s starting out in a more balanced position, which in turn leads to a flatter swing and better pitch recognition to boot. Because he doesn’t have to compensate for starting his swing late anymore, he can decide to swing a split second later, which allows him to judge the strikezone that much more effectively. Whether it’s from reviewing video for countless hours or extra time spent in the cages, Nate Schierholtz’s hitting ability has finally caught up with his above-average defense, and it’s helping the Giants win ballgames.