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brett jackson batting cageWe’ve been hearing about Brett Jackson’s new swing since last November. It was a revamped approach, designed to cut down on Jackson’s contact issues, which plagued his 2012 season, and which have long limited his professional upside.

By all accounts, the revised swing has been a success. Jackson says he likes it, and can repeat it. Dale Sveum says it cut down on the contact issues. Our look at the swing, at least in batting practice, showed it got him more quickly to the zone, which would theoretically cut down on whiffs.

But we hadn’t yet heard an outside evaluation from someone who’d sat and observed the swing. ESPN’s Keith Law took on the challenge, and although it was a very limited sample, he was prepared to offer an extensive opinion. Part of what Law had to say (in an Insider piece that also discusses Javier Baez, Kyuji Fujikawa, Edwin Jackson, and Trey McNutt, so it’s well worth checking out):

Jackson used to have a very short stride without much of a load, and his hands, which have always been quick, would always seem to start forward from a different position. Now, he’s definitely more consistent, starting from a consistent spot with a slightly deeper load, but his stride is very long, leaving him with a wide base before he even gets his hands started, and producing a swing that looks unnaturally long for him. The stride doesn’t get his weight transfer started early enough, and he tends to roll that front foot over through contact. Everything we liked about Jackson before, from the speed to the athleticism to the bat speed to the arm, is still present, but I wish I could tell you I thought this new swing would solve his contact problems.

Oof.

To my extremely untrained eye, Jackson’s swing has gotten any longer – but I haven’t seen him in game action yet. If it has, however, then some of the changes may not address the underlying issue. That said, Jackson’s been working with some of the best hitting coaches in the game for several months, and, although you can’t guarantee a swing change is going to take hold and make a guy better, you can guarantee that the Cubs aren’t going to be pushing him toward an approach that actively makes things worse.

As has always been true with Jackson, we simply aren’t going to know much about the efficacy of the changes until he gets in several months of work at Iowa to start the year. You hope to see the strikeout rate reduce, but the ability to make hard contact remain (i.e., not sacrificing the authority in his swing just for the sake of making weak contact).

  • #1lahairfan

    I really hope that BJax proves him wrong.

  • TheDynastyStartsIn2016

    FWIW, Law said in his chat last week that any analysis of Jackson’s new swing, at this point, would be a ‘fabrication’.
    Give him time, because that’s what it takes.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      “this time” was last week, before Law and others got to watch it in action. What Law was saying is that we cannot comment on it before we’ve seen it: and that says nothing about not making judgements after seeing it.

      • CubFan Paul

        this.

  • gocatsgo2003

    Keith Law isn’t so impressed with Jackson’s new swing, you say? I’ve never been particularly impressed with Keith Law, so I guess it all evens out.

    • pete

      Seriously. He interviewed with the Astros for a FO job last year, all the while praising the Cardinals farm system (and, therefore, Luhnow) in print. Nice credibility.

      • bbmoney

        He was way off the mark too. That Cardinals farm system (ugh…) is terrible.

        • DocPeterWimsey

          ? The Cards farm system is one of the most highly ranked in baseball by many, many people other than Keith Law.

          • bbmoney

            My point…..

            • bbmoney

              Maybe I read too much into Pete’s comment.

              But STL has is pretty much universally regarded as a top farm system right now. So Law’s praise was in no way off point, eventhough he as interviewing with Luhnow. And since they have a good farm system….ugh….

          • Edwin

            I guess robots don’t understand sarcasm.

  • itzscott

    I cringe whenever I hear about the Cubs trying to revamp a player’s swing just when he got so close to making the team and getting our hopes up.

    I blame it on what they tried to do with 5-Tool Corey Patterson.

    • DarthHater

      Yea, he was so well positioned to have a real shot at breaking the all-time strikeout record. Now, we might never get to see that happen. :-P

    • DocPeterWimsey

      The Cubs never messed up Patterson. Patterson’s inability to tell the difference between a pitch down the middle of the strike zone and one either a foot outside or a foot over his belt (or both) is what hurt him.

      BJax has the exact opposite problem that Patterson has (had). Corey was amazingly good at hitting baseballs: one of his more dubious accomplishments is to have hit homer runs on pitches estimated to have been further out of the strike than any other home run in at least 2 seasons. BJax doesn’t swing at those pitches: but he does swing and miss strikes. LIke batting eye, contact skill is a basic tool: but unlike batting eye, it can be aided by adjusting swings. They will never make an Ichiro out of BJax, but they might be able to improve him to a <25%K guy with power and who takes walks in a skill position.

      • hansman1982

        If Soler reaches his ceiling, I wonder what kind of outcome this will have on many of the notions of how a prospect succeeds. The claims of every-day playing time, yo-yoing a player, etc… could be stood on their head. Then again, I think sabrmetrics have already done this.

        • DocPeterWimsey

          Tim Raines spring training in 1987 should have done this!

          • Cubbie Blues

            Care to expound on that for those of us that may have been too young to remember what happened outside of the Cubs that year?

          • DocPeterWimsey

            Raines didn’t play at all until mid-May: due to collusion, nobody signed him as a free agent, and he was not allowed to re-sign with his “former” team (the Expos) until mid-May. (That was the year that Dawson gave the Cubs the blank contract.)

            Raines did no spring training and just turned up and played: and he played really well from the start, going on to post a .330/.429/.526 line for the year.

            That is when I first remember people pointing out that the length of spring training was an anachronism from the days when ballplayers were semi-professional athletes who needed to get back into shape after 6 months off of sports.

            • DB Kyle

              That, and nobody wants to mess with pitchers’ ST routines with unpredictable results.

      • Noah

        Well, I’d say the one stupid thing the Cubs did with Patterson wasn’t a development issue, but instead a use when he was on the Major League team. Because he was fast and played center field they desperately wanted him to be a leadoff hitter, when his best offensive talent was his power. He was a guy who was never going to actually be a star, but in his very brief, very early prime he was a great defensive CF who hit for power and was averagish in his other offensive skills outside of drawing walks (which he was terrible at). But upon reaching the Majors he was put in a role that all but screamed “let’s highlight all of your deficiencies!”

  • http://ehanauer.com clark addison

    Is there anybody left on the Cubs instructional staff that was around when they tinkered with Patterson?

  • http://bigleaguefutures.net Kevin Gallo

    I have had talks with Law at fields and have been unimpressed. Where he miss takes sliders for Curveballs and other things. I have seen Jackson’s swing is better and will improve his contact. I don’t agree with Law but he also doesn’t like saying he was wrong either.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Never minding the possibility that Law is getting it right and you are not, given that a slider is in many ways half-way between a fastball and a curveball, where a pitch stops being a slider and starts being a curve is a bit subjective.

      • http://bigleaguefutures.net Kevin Gallo

        No because along with my opinion there were about 15 scouts that agreed with me.

  • cubfanincardinalland

    This is how bizarre the baseball world has become. We have Harvard economics grads, who have never coached, instructed or played baseball, giving critiques on a players swing mechanics, as though they were a credible source.
    Keith Law has the ability to take statistics and use them to evalute player potential. He is no doubt a good mathemetician. He basically has copied what trailblazers before him have done.
    But to think that he would have any skill or ability to understand the techniques and movement involved in playing baseball is absurd. It is an insult to career baseball coaches like Dale Sveum and his coaching staff, who have probably forgotten more about the art of hitting than a Keith Law will ever know.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      By that logic, we should trust the words of chimps over those of Jane Goodall.

      At any rate, it’s pretty easy to stand this on its head. The winning teams of the last 20 years have been the ones that started listening to the people outside of baseball. If it was so patently absurd that these people could figure out what was working and what was not, then the program would have flopped. It didn’t: instead, the “old school” is being driven extinct.

      • cubfanincardinalland

        Doc, this is where you are mixing up your functions. 100% correct stat guys like James and Law have had a positive effect on baseball by using sabermetrics. Every team uses it now to different degrees.
        A guy like Law loses credibility when he starts talking like a coach. Totally different animal. Takes years of playing usually, and years of learning the art of playing baseball and how to judge it.
        And he was a glorified front office lackey, not a scout in his 4 years with the Blue Jays. Used his math skills to project players. Many on this site would know far more than him on the mechanics of playing baseball and evaluating players based on that.

        • DarthHater

          Nobody says that a good sabermetrician automatically knows anything about coaching a batting swing. He either does or he doesn’t. But either way, it has nothing to with whether or not he was himself a baseball player. Saying that someone who hasn’t been a ball player automatically cannot understand how to coach a swing is just as wrong as saying that someone who is good at math automatically does know how to coach a swing.

          • cubfanincardinalland

            Correct, you do not have to be a former player to be a good coach(though most are). I read once that the hall of fame swimming coach at Indiana could not swim.
            But you don’t just wake up one day and say I am going to be a baseball hitting coach, or I am going to evalute a players swing. Law has no training or experience in teaching hitting. Compared to someone like Dale Sveum, he is a complete amatuer. I think he makes himself look foolish when he takes his baseball evalutions out of the realm he does have training in. That is the math side and sabermetrics.

        • DocPeterWimsey

          The problem with “mechanics” is that if you ask 6 different people to describe a players’ mechanics, then you’ll get at least 3 or 4 very different responses. This is because most of them do not work from first-principle theory, but instead by analogy: they saw so and so do X, so do X without any regard for whether X is what caused success, or whether X is a byproduct of what actually caused success.

          And don’t get me started on how wildly incorrect their descriptions of the biomechanics underlying what baseball players is: I didn’t specialize in biomechanics, but even a 101 failure would get irked!

    • DarthHater

      This is an absurd attitude. Physicists and engineers somehow managed to understand what it would take to build spacecraft capable of taking men to the moon, even though they were not themselves spacecraft capable of going to the moon. By your reasoning, we should have put our top olympic high jumpers in charge of NASA.

      • BluBlud

        Have you seen those high jumpers land. By your reasoning, every space shuttle would ome to a bouncy, uneven, landing.

  • Edwin

    Keith Law has pretty good scouting/baseball analysis background. I don’t think it’s fair to dislike his opinion just because he isn’t heaping praise all over every single Cubs prospect he’s ever asked about.

    • JB88

      Isn’t Law more of a “pitchers” guy? That isn’t to say he is wrong on BJax, just that I seem to recall that his analysis has always been better WRT pitchers than hitters and I thought that was because his scouting “background” was pitching-related.

      • Edwin

        It may be, but I’m sure with his experience working in the front office, he’s learned things along the way. I don’t know what his speciality is, and I’m not saying he was some kind of scouting legend. But he’s been around baseball long enough to be more advanced than your typical fan/blogger.

        He’s not perfect, but that’s scouting for you.

  • ruby2626

    At the bottom of this story there was a link to a Feb 2012 story where Keith Law ranked Jackson #89 whereas everyone else had him top 40. He’s entitled to his opinion, so he doesn’t like BJax as much as we had hoped, so what. Actually Law having BJax lower than everyone else and having him come in with the 2nd highest K rate of all time, that actually gives Law more credibility not less.

  • Kygavin

    Stand up where you are and take a long stride before taking a swing……. youre gonna get way out on your front foot and be unbalanced plus it is going to take your hands longer to get through the zone.

    On a side note Klaw does hate every team and is 100% biased in everything he writes or says. Meow

  • BluBlud

    I think KLaw is a very good all-around baseball guy. His evaluation of Brett Jackson has actually been more acurate over the years then anybody elses. However, I still think it’s to early to judge Jackson swing, as I’m sure Jackson is still fighting off years muscle memory. I compare Jackson baseball swing change to my golf swing change, which actually cost me a couple years of time.

    When I started taking lesson, the first guy I work with tried to change my swing all at once, and I could not mentally remember to repeat every aspect of the new swing as my old swing was a habit for me. Once I forgot any part of the new swing, my old habits naturally took over. The second guy I worked with broke my swing down in small portions and made me change one portion at a time. My stance and ball approach was first, my hip turn was second, following my hip turn with a slow back swing was third, keeping my foward arm from bending was fourth, repeating my back swing on my return was fifth and walking out of my swing was last. The point was I never had to work on the next part of my swing until the pior part became natural.

    With Jackson, he is having to work on every part of his swing at one time. I’m sure he broke it down into parts in the off-season, but it’s pretty hard to simulate live ball in the off-season. Until he seen live pitching, there is no way he could know how he was adjusting. So I’m sure there are still some old parts of his swing that are still mixed in with his new swing. Once he get into full season ball in the minors, his swing will adjust more, and the result will probably start to show. I trust Sveum and company’s judgement over Keith Laws, so I’m sure he will have some success. Whether that success will be marginal or extreme will be the question?

  • Mike S

    This might have been stated already, but according to cbssports.com, the Tigers are currently looking to the trade-market to find a closer. They mentioned the Red Sox and Nationals as potential trade partners, but I was surprised that the Cubs weren’t mentioned. Marmol would seem to be the piece that the Tigers need, and the Cubs would be willing to give up.

    Thoughts?

    • Crockett

      Marmol for ???

      I’m all for dealing him whenever.

    • Bigg J

      I am guessing that the Tigers don’t wan to give up good prospect for Marmol who can be dominant, but can be horrible at same time. I am sure the Tigers will come around to the Cubs though if prices are too high elsewhere

      • Mike S

        Brett,

        What are your thoughts?

  • Crockett

    I think Keith Law is a fantastic baseball writer and scout. He, in my mind, is more accurate than most guys…John Sickels, etc.

    I think Law is being very fair with his evaluation. If Jackson’s swing has gotten longer, that could be an issue. He does have incredible bat speed…so that will help. But I am still pessimistic that the changes will help at all. The hand-eye coordination is something that can improve, but is unlikely to do so.

  • JR

    I just wish BJax would go to the swing he had in 2011. The swing which allowed him to have a great year at AAA and sit high on all the expert’s prospect list. For whatever reason he thought it was a good idea to change it up before last year. Bottom line is that Jackson is always going to K like a maniac, but hopefully he can tame it down a bit.

    • Noah

      The only difference between Jackson’s Triple A numbers in 2011 and 2012 is BABIP. He struck out in 4% more of his Triple A PAs in 2012 than 2011, but 30% and 34% are both awful. The big difference is that his BABIP in 2011 was .402, and in 2012 it was .372. By the way, the fact that a guy can have a .372 BABIP and NOT look like one of the best prospects in baseball tells you he has a problem with the K.

  • http://advancedfantasybaseball.com Jon Williams

    It takes time for a batter to adjust to a new swing. In the initial stages it can be very awkward looking. I have no idea how long Jackson has been working with the new swing but I’m betting Law saw him while he was still feeling it out. Just trying to work through various stages of the swing could make it look long. I seriously doubt the Cubs would make Jackson’s swing longer or slower. I think we need to wait out the process before deciding on Jackson’s future.

  • Mike

    I really despise abbreviated names. That said, I won’t refer to Brett Jackson as “Bjax”, unless he actually proves himself as a major league regular…which, I hope he does. Until then, pet names like “BJax” are silly. I’d be more comfortable with “B-Whiff” until he gets over the strike-out problem.

    • Jack Weiland

      This joke was a real b-whiff.

    • TWC

      Were you born “Mike” or “Michael”?

  • http://www.wavesoftalent.webs.com tim815

    I think it’s foolish to be expected to type out Samardzija or Bogusevic when half the letters get it done. Whichever.

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