July 26, 2008

Is Pujols ready to readjust?

It didn't take any replay analysis to see that Albert Pujols is "pull-heavy," attempting to hit everything pitched to the left side.

The question is: why?

Possibly, Pujols feels he needs to produce more extra-basehits like the rest of the mid-lineup meat. Perhaps he feels as if he needs to up the home run production, again, like the hitters just before and a couple spots after his carved-in-stone three-hole assignment.

The speculated "power want" isn't an ego thing, however. Not when it comes to Pujols. More likely, he simply feels the need to help his team, and more so because they have been losing lately.

Mixing psychology and biomechanics, his pushing to pull is apparent on about every swing.

He's not even looking to hit for one of his best power zones, the right-center field alley. His lead foot is up quicker and stepping a few inches farther than when he was hitting better, a sign that he's looking to pull fast balls.

Anyone watching can see the NL pitchers jamming him first, then nibbling low and away with cutters. (Cutters rather than curves, because the cutter reads speed first, spin second, making it hard to lay off, especially with two strikes.) Before, when Pujols was thinking (figure of speech) middle and pounding away to all fields, the jam pitch was easy to lay off, because it didn't fit the mold of Pujols' most successful approach.
Now, however, his eyes light up and he yanks around on anything inside, even to the point of the ball almost hitting him. His bat skills are so good, he can pull through and make contact, but most of the contact is of little value, unless your a fan in the left side foul territory seats.

All of this left-side only thinking leads to a lengthening of the swing, and as the swing lengthens, the less efficiency a batter has at hitting off-speed. When Pujols thinks middle, he waits, which he can do because of his quick hands and power, making it hard to throw a fast ball by him and hard to fool him with off-speed because he doesn't start that stride so quickly. Remember, a longer stride, even by inches, means you're not giving yourself those extra fractions of a second needed to judge speed. In other words, you've decided on a speed, and your bat has had to start coming around sooner as well, making you much more susceptible to, you guessed it, off-speed.

Pujols is becoming more and more susceptible in this way. If you don't believe me, look back at a lot of his recent swings on pitches located low and away and watch him hit weak pop ups to the right side when he manages to get wood on the ball. But more importantly, watch how his bat loops when he tries to check his swing. And the check swings are increasing on the outside stuff, because Pujols is becoming more selective, and not in a good way, trying to lay off pitches he cannot pull, but having a hard time doing so because he is pulling for power. Hard to stop a power swing once it's going, and if your stride is long(er), and you've started sooner, checking a swing becomes increasingly hard to accomplish.

In fact, it has gotten to the point that outside pitches are freezing Pujols, and you can't get more telling than that.

Now, backtrack through this epic journey of biomechanical confusion and you will realize that the adjustment is to think more toward the middle. You'll also realize that this adjustment in approach will permit Pujols to swing without clouding his brain with a lot of technique. If he takes, or, resumes, his "centered" approach, everything will come back into balance. He will automatically lay off the jam stuff and begin to punish the pitchers' attempts at low and away that get a bit too much of the plate.

And I hate to bring this part up, because it may be way off the mark, but in considering how his swing starting turning pull-side to begin with, I harken back to when that pitcher got cracked in the face with a ball hit back up the middle. Accidental, no doubt, but as caring a person as Pujols' is, it makes you wonder.
photo by Barbara Moore