The year is 2008, and Yonder Alonso just finished his college career at the University of Miami. His stats are pretty impressive. Alonso’s slash line for his junior year goes .370/.534/.777 with 24 home runs (good for ninth in ALL of college baseball). The previous summer in the Cape Cod League he went .338/.468/.497 with four home runs swinging a wood bat. Between his freshman and sophomore years Alonso went deep a combined 28 times. Here’s the best video I can find of him.
Alonso gets drafted by the Cincinnati Reds with the 7th overall pick and things begin to go a little south. Specifics of the organizational philosophy from that time are hard to find, so I am going to guess it went something like this:
Alonso: Hi coach. I’m Yonder Alonso. I just want to help the club the best I can.
Reds Single A Hitting Coach: Nice to meet you. Welcome. Says here you hit 24 home runs last year at Miami.
Alonso: Yes sir.
Reds Single A Hitting Coach: Well damn son, that won’t play up here with these wood bats. Get the foot down early and hit the ball on the ground.
Alonso: Yes sir. Just want to help the team.
All jokes aside, something happened along the way. Take a look at a swing from the 2009 Arizona Fall League.
The thing that will jump out is the different stride. It is a "foot down early" stride. I’m not sure who or when started this movement in hitting, but it definitely was in full steam in the late 2000’s. Truthfully I don’t super-hate it, I just don’t like how a foot down early stride is typically done. It is typically done like Alonso above. It is a choppy, poorly timed movement. Things get started, then have to slow down, then things don’t know what to do and it just looks like hell (cough, cough Michael Choice). But more than that, the movement lacks conviction. It has no stones. It reeks of "I don’t want to get beat by a fastball so I better get started early". Watch guys who do an early stride like David Wright or Paul Goldschmidt and you will see it has an entirely different feel.
But there is one more thing. Something really jumped out to me on Alonso’s Miami footage. Take a look at this frame. Take a look at his lead (right) forearm.
Notice how it isn’t rolled over. See how we can still see the top side of his elbow. This reminded me of a couple guys you may have heard of, Trevor Story and Nolan Arenaldo.
What all three of these guys are doing is basically refusing to let the barrel rollover to topspin the ball. They are doing everything they can to prevent it. They want to get under the ball and drive it. (Compare this position to a follow through of a tennis player who want to topspin the ball).
Alonso’s 2009 swing does feature this movement, though definitely not as strong. Instead of really staying through the ball, he’s content to roll it over through the infield. He is kinda mixed up, he has some moves for contact and ground balls, but remnants of a really nice movement for power.
Fast forward to 2016. Going into the 2016 season, Alonso had logged 353 games with the Padres and Reds and hit a combined 32 home runs. The same guy who hit 24 in 64 games his junior in college just didn’t translate his power to the professional level. Quickly skimming through his game footage from 2012-2016 shows similar swings as the 2009 effort, a mixed bag of movements and intentions resulting into way too many groundballs. (Culminating in 2015 with a whopping 1.77 groundball to flyball ratio. Woof!)
Of course, you know the rest of the story. Alonso decided to try a leg kick after the recommendation of Danny Valencia in late 2016. Then he decided to start doing some damage this last offseason. And so far in 2017 Alonso has 12 home runs in 38 games. For the first time in his career he is hitting fewer ground balls than fly-balls. And his swing…
Smooth. The leg kick? Who cares. Just a timing mechanism, something that allows him keep his swing flowing. Notice the front leg. Instead of being "What do I do? What do I do?" before, it has a role and is supporting the swing. And the follow through?
Notice the broken lead wrist? The refusal to roll-over is fully back. Staying through the ball like a boss.
So what does this all mean? Let’s use the patented Brewer Bullet Point System.
The Cincinnati Reds development system stinks. I really have no proof of this and it isn’t a terribly nice thing to say, but hey this is an A’s blog and the Reds ain’t exactly killing it these days.
The biggest thing for Alonso is his renewed conviction. It would make a for a great read if I could show his swing was trash last year and it is miles different this year and the A’s for sure should lock him into a huge contract based on this. I can’t. His swing is largely the same. His swing was never bad, he was a big leaguer for goodness sakes. The changes that are there are the result of changing his intention. He wanted to start doing more damage so he quit the weenie stride-approach and slightly adjusted his swing path (and I mean slightly). Those are the result of what he wanted to do. Alonso’s changed intention changed his swing.
Not everyone should just go flyball crazy. You may have noticed that there is somewhat of a "flyball revolution" going on in baseball. This was bound to happen with the stat movement and the importance of power. Still, just saying everyone should start aiming for the second deck at the Coliseum isn’t the way to go. Alonso always had the capacity to hit for power, he just had to re-align his intent to match that. This is what worked for him and it won’t work for everyone. Steve Souza has talked about his success this year is in part trying NOT to hit flyballs anymore. And there is data suggesting that hitting more flyballs - intentional or not - is hurting just as many players as it is helping (here as well). To think that we can turn say Richie Martin into a slugger is misguided.
Super props for Alonso and hitting coach Darren Bush for having the guts to try something. Yonder Alonso was a big leaguer and he still wanted to take a risk to try to get better. That’s really admirable. As a "swing guru" I would love to say that everyone who goes through a hitting change turns into an All-Star, but that just isn’t the case. Some guys don’t improve, and I’ve heard stories of guys getting worse (something Joey Votto talks about here). Alonso took a gamble and it paid off for him. A’s hitting coach Darren Bush deserves credit here too. Way too often coaches have fear-of-failure to protect their job, basically crippling them to try new things. It is really nice to to see a success story of Oakland coaching.
Well, I think that does it for this week’s Yonder Alonso story.