June 27, 2008

Learning new habits key to fixing Duncan's swing

A mid-June 4thebirds post, by permission:

Have been seeing a lot of folks wanting to let everyone know that Chris Duncan isn't swinging the bat well. Duhhh.

So what's wrong?

Biggest problems:

  • his entire swing is set up to pull

  • improper weight transfer

  • opens up front side too quickly

The "pull" issue is probably the biggest problem, because from there, all other mechanical problems are created, and tend to intensify. You could easily add shortfalls in hitting mechanics on batting speed, follow through, hitting the ball out in front of the plate, stride, etc., but the root must be dealt with, or all those other by-products cannot be corrected.

In fact, if Duncan could get the initial phase of his stroke in order, most or all of these other issues would take care of themselves.

My couple cents worth: get in balance on a stride that doesn't commit to pulling the ball. And since working on a negative command is not efficient, make the plan: get in balance on a stride that permits you to hit through the middle or even to the opposite side.

It has become obvious, the "book" on Duncan, to either bust him inside with heat, so that even if he does get around with a powerful swing, the struck ball is likely nothing but a loud foul. Or, pitch him away, low, and slow, and slower, and, well, you know. So we see Duncan taking a batters' box position well off the plate, maybe trying to get that inside fast ball in a location that might be off the plate, but very hittable. Problem is, that's not addressing his inability to drive the ball toward the middle of the field. Since he has set up so far off the plate, he is seeing a lot more outside off-speed, which isn't going to do a power-hitter like him much good.

Unless ... he can hit through the middle with authority. And I hate to say this, but the hits he got last night weren't off of good swings. Okay, we aren't giving them back, but realistically, this is just looking like more frustration when those types of hits don't fall in.

Duncan survives as he is, struggles and all, basically, because he is such a good hitter. And a good athlete from all appearances. Add to that his hustle. These factors tell me Duncan will be just fine, if he develops a swing that doesn't require such a confining pitch selection.

So why is it so hard for Duncan to regain his successful swing? A few reasons, one of which is that he isn't going to see those pitches he can pull for his optimum power swing. It just isn't going to happen unless there's a pitching mistake. Otherwise, Duncan will end up either "pulling off" the pitch, or, if he lays off his perfect pitch, he will take a lot of strikes and be forced to swing from behind in most counts, which doesn't lead to lot of production.

Another reason for Duncan's lack of success is that there is an underlying factor to how he approaches correcting mechanics. So, pick your hitting problem, any one you like, and set Duncan out to correcting it. Won't work. And the reason it won't work is that "hitting through the middle" issue.

Final analysis and fix: Duncan, as he is currently, cannot have success with his swing because it is obsolete according to the "book." He is having tremendous difficulty with his ingrained hitting habits, which will not work against a decent pitcher. As stated, he is a good athlete, so he can struggle along and still contribute, but cannot fix things at the major league level. In order to get a good swing back in line with what will work at this highest level of competition, he must form new habits, which is time intensive, but is much more productive than trying to break old habits.

Of course, it would be difficult to get a major leaguer to mess with what has taken to the top level, but athletes who falter and return often accomplish relearning an aspect of their game, and come back even better than before. And of course, some don't. There is no guarantee.

Hitting through the middle, in my estimation, is the only way Chris Duncan will attain the level of which is capable. And make no mistake, he is capable. A lot of this type of adjustment is mental, a sort of open-mindedness that allows you to, for instance, do something as basic as "wait, wait, wait, explode on the ball" with the intent of driving it through the middle, or near the middle. This should help a lot with staying back productively longer with the hips, so that when the swing does come through, it is with good bat speed as well.

Duncan does a great job of keeping his head still and down on the ball, which is probably how he can hit the ball at all to this point. To me, that's the starting point of any good hitting. With a "quiet" head, you can swing like a proverbial rusty, old gate and still have some success. Without stillness of the head, and a head down and on the ball, you got "whoosh." Duncan is okay in this respect.

That being said, he needs to "let go" of his urge to pull, a mental trick which he will need to figure out, something can tell himself that permits himself to take a totally different approach. And when he allows himself to drive the ball more toward the middle, things will change for the better. You'll know this is beginning to occur when starts driving the ball to the left-center field alley. And he will not hit for the same power you are used to seeing, not for a while. Yet that too, will come, after he adjusts.

The biggest obstacle to Duncan's correction to hitting right now is the fact that is at the major league level right now. It's almost as if he has to put any "fixing" on the back burner while he does whatever he can to help the team now.

It is possible Duncan will find his way at the major league level, but unlikely. I, for one, would like to see him go back to some level of the minors just so he can get the proper allocation of time he needs to devote to this New Habit Project. Remember, don't break old habits, form new ones. And at the minor league, the push to produce won't interfere with his working on his mechanics.

So don't tell me Duncan's not hitting, like we haven't noticed. It's not like he doesn't care. I do believe folks got Chris Duncan all wrong, and ought to be supporting his efforts, not matter how he actually gets his bat back in order.