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What's the Deal With
Kolten Wong's Swing?

Kolten Wong is one of the Cardinals' premier, and most important, prospects. While they have an insurance policy in place in the form of Mark Ellis, the Cardinals believed enough in Wong's potential that they felt comfortable trading David Freese.

I was driven to put this piece together by hearing Kolten Wong's recent comments that part of his problem at the end of last year was that his swing got long. As you may know, I think most diagnoses of hitting problems are bogus and based on a number of hitting myths rather than an understanding of what a good swing actually looks like.

As a result, I decided to take a detailed look at Kolten Wong's swing and see what is actually going on with it.

Arm Bar

When evaluating a hitter, the first thing I look at is what their upper body tends to look like at the Point Of Contact (POC).

I say "tend to" because every hitter has to make adjustments and will look somewhat different on every swing. However, I have found that the best hitters will look generally the same at the POC, in large part because they know how to adjust to pitches and consistently put good swings on pitches.

When I look at my clips of Kolten Wong, while he tends to get to a good position at the POC, the way he gets to the POC says "Daniel Descalso" to me.

In particular, the swing flaw that Kolten Wong shares with Daniel Descalso is a case of arm bar, where the front arm extends pretty much fully during the stride. That is a problem because it can reduce a hitter's adjustability.

Yes, Ken Griffey Jr. had a major arm bar, but he is one of the few good major leaguers hitters with that flaw, which suggests that it is a problem that most people can't overcome.

Bad Feet

After the upper body, the next most important item on my hitter evaluation checklist is the hitter's lower body in general and their feet in particular.

The feet are important because they can give you a sense of the hitter's efficiency and their projectability with respect to both power and average. That is because, as I have found through my work with Andres Torres, power and average are inter-related. Within reason, bad feet are often a sign that a hitter is leaving power on the table and, with proper instruction, could be expected to improve their power.

Kolten Wong's Lower Body

Kolten Wong
2013

When I look at Kolten Wong's feet, I see lots of movement in his back foot, much more than you see in Albert Pujols' Back foot.

Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols's Back Leg

In particular, Kolten Wong tends to roll onto the inside of his back foot during his stride, which is a movement pattern that can bleed power and that you can see in clips of Pete Kozma.[1]

Pete Kozma's Lower Body

Pete Kozma's Feet
2010

I also once worked with a professional hitter who had a similar problem with rolling onto the inside of his back foot. 

Bad Feet

Bad Feet in a AA Client
2010

Maybe it's a coincidence and maybe it's not, but that hitter picked up roughly 80 points of BA and 200 points of OPS at AA after I had a conversation with him about what his back foot was actually doing and what it should be doing.

Finally, although I don't have enough clips to say anything definitive, I believe that I also see in Kolten Wong a tendency to shift his weight back onto his heels during his leg lift. Andres Torres has also showed a similar tendency, and it's something I have spent a significant amount of time talking to him about.

Lunging

Part of Kolten Wong's problem with his feet is due to his tendency to lunge forward at the ball and not stay back.

Kolten Wong's Lower Body

Kolten Wong
2013

You can see this tendency to lunge forward in the clip above. Notice how, at the POC, Kolten Wong's torso is leaning forward toward the pitcher. In the best hitters, their torsos are generally at most vertical at the POC and, quite often, are leaning back toward the catcher some.

Of course, the clip above is another good example of bad feet, and this larger problem with bad feet is likely tied into both Kolten Wong's lunging and the length of his stride.

Leg Lift

Jose Bautista is a hitter who spent the first nine years of his career as a replacement level player and then, as if by a miracle, transformed into a 7+ win player. While he has cooled off in the past two years, in large part due to injury problems, he remains a 3+ win player, which is nothing to spit at.

Many people have speculated about what Jose Bautista's secret is. What did he do or change that helped him transform his swing?

While some people have speculated that the answer to the question is PEDs, and others believe that the answer is how he loads, I believe that the correct answer comes down to something else.

His leg lift.

When he was struggling, Jose Bautista used a number of different strides. However, the common thread to all of his strides was that he started them relatively late, often around the time or even after the ball was released. Now, and as I explain in detail in my piece on Timing, if you look at the timing of Jose Bautista's stride, you will see a significant difference.

I first noticed this pattern as part of my work with Andres Torres. He too sometimes utlizes a relatively high leg lift and, during the past two years, has had occasional problems catching up to good fastballs.

So how is this relevant to Kolten Wong?

When I look at Kolten Wong, I see the same timing problem that Bautista had before he put it all together and that Torres tends to develop when he is struggling (and that tends to cause Andres to start tweaking his stride).

Head Movement

One telltale of a Lau/Hriniak swing is that the hitter is looking straight down at the Point Of Contact. One hitter who does this is Ryan Ludwick.

Ryan Ludwick's Swing

Ryan Ludwick

The problem with that much head movement is that it can cause the hitter to lose sight of the ball earlier than is optimal, which can make them vulnerable to quality, late-breaking pitches.

Kolten Wong's Swing

Kolten Wong

Although he doesn't finish looking down at the ground in all of my clips, I saw enough of a suggestion of it that I went looking for it in other clips of Kolten Wong and found a good example of it in the clip above.

Back Arm Dominance

One milestone that some swing analysts look for is what the hands do to relative to the back elbow. Basically, it's potentially problematic if the hands get behind, and outside of, the back elbow, because that can lengthen the swing and, in some cases, force the hitter to make contact farther out front than is optimal.

Kolten Wong's Lower Body

Kolten Wong
2013

In the clip above, Kolten Wong's hands go right to the edge. While they don't go past the point of no return, they get close enough that you have to wonder if that is part of what Kolten Wong is feeling when he talks about his swing getting long.

Of course, this problem can often be related to a hitter being told to pull the knob to the ball, and a resulting problem with a dominant back arm, so it would be helpful to know exactly what Kolten Wong has been taught in terms of hitting mechanics.

Swing Plane

If you are familiar with my work, you know that one of my least favorite swings is the swing of Joe Thurston. I believe that Joe Thurston is a gifted athlete who has been taught to do pretty much everything that the conventional wisdom about hitting teaches and whose swing has been absolutely ruined as a result.

Joe Thurston

Joe Thurston

Although it's a devastating comparison, when I look at Kolten Wong's swing plane, and other aspects of his swing, what I see is some of what you see in the swing of Joe Thurston.

In particular, what I see some suggestions of are a bat path that, instead of hitting the ball with a slight uppercut, instead continues to travel downward through the POC.

The Good News

So that I close on an up note and not a down note, let me say that, if you can get past all of the Lau/Hriniak garbage, there are (important) things to like in Kolten Wong's swing and that tell me that he isn't a lost cause.

Kolten Wong's Swing

Kolten Wong

Five Frame Swing

The first positive about Kolten Wong' swing is that, while it's sub-optimal, it's still short and quick enough to get the job down. Although I can't see his feet, it looks like Kolten Wong's swing comes in at five frames, which is where it needs to be.

Of course, that tells me that the problems that Kolten Wong is having aren't due to his swing being long, but to the issues I have pointed out above. The concern is that, in an effort to fix his problem, he could very well make things worse and not better. 

Coil

Kolten Wong's lower body moves very well. While his swing looks like it was molded by a disciple of Charley Lau and Walt Hriniak, his lower body still moves like Ted Williams' lower body did, which is obviously very important and very good. However, the question is whether all of the Lau/Hriniak garbage will prevent Kolten Wong from reaching his full potential.

Notes

[1] I have seen this problem with rolling onto the inside of the back foot in Cardinal hitters that I wonder if it's occuring due to something that is being taught. For instance, encouraging hitters to widen their stance, and getting them into a stance that is too wide, could cause what I am seeing.

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