Smoak's New Thome-esque Swing
goes from Jr's front side leverage to Thome's back side muscle


Q.  The dude is .360 / .440 / .640 in September, with as many BB's as K's, and tonight Greinke fans 13 Mariners while Smoak hits two homers. He looks a lot different.

A.  After one game cyber-cross-checkin', I opined that it wasn't primarily the swing that had him on a hot roll -- he was seeing the ball differently and launching the bat differently.

After two games, can I get a do-over?  The two-hand swing has him on top of the ball and this seems to be adding to the 'attack' factor in his bat launch.


Q.  Why would a lefty hitter use more or less of his left hand in the swing?

A.  Ideally, a hitter (or golfer) uses a whippy, leveraged swing that doesn't really depend much on muscle power.  It depends on wrist hinge.  He pulls the club through, rather than pushes it.  This is how Smoak's RH-dominant lefty swing used to be.

Some batters (and golfers) use their top hands, the stronger arm, to bludgeon the ball.  In real life, Dr. D is one of these.  Jim Thome hit this way.  Smoak's new swing has cost him grace; he used to have a beautiful poster-iffic swing and now he's got more of a Thome swing.

For some hitters, the stronger arm has quite a bit more hand-eye coordination.  Some people just can't target as well hitting a tennis backhand, which is comparable to a golf or batting swing with the bottom hand dominant.  Very possibly Smoak needs to use the palm of his good hand to hit.  Moe could expand on the idea; he knows more than I do.


Q.  Is it costing Smoak power?

A.  In theory it should, but it is not in this case.  Somehow he has quickened his swing without losing arc.  Here, notice the angle of his wrist hinge to start, and the way the bat comes around and hits him in the wallet at finish: 



Watch the vid, especially the rear-view slo mo at 0:33 and you'll see the way in which his acceleration compresses into the hitting zone.  Earlier, with his left hand leading the dance, it seems his acceleration was slower to get going.  Which of course would mean he had to start the bat that little tick earlier.

What's exciting is that he has carried over his old habit of wallet-tapping, through the timegate of the two-hand swing.  Most two-handers have a truncated followthrough, such as Thome and Trout do.  Smoak's getting the control of the left, dominant, palm while still getting a long arc.


Q.  Sounds like you're psyched about it.

A.  Dr. D is partial to this dynamic.  Tell me how much left side you see in this Mike Trout swing.  Dr. D himself hits golf balls and softballs with the palm of his right hand.  It just obviously seems to deliver the weapon to the ball more precisely and allows you to use your kissable bicep ;- )

Obviously there are no absolutes.  Of course there are advantages to being front-side dominant.  Point is, rear-side dominant is a VERY different swing and there's a very realistic possibility that such a different swing could present a turning point for Smoak.

Which brings us back to Jim Thome ...






Pentland really clicks with some guys and it kind of looks like Smoak is one of 'em.

misterjonez's picture

At least to a large extent. There's no question that vision and reflexes are the biggest physical factors related to success as a hitter, but if you adjust your grip/stance significantly, you end up with a much different set of results, which influences overall approach.
Take a couple of very different hitter types for example. Derek Jeter and Barry Bonds. Both are once-in-a-generation talents, and both exhibit wildly different hitting mechanics.
Jeter keeps his hands high and brings them down as part of his timing mechanism. Also, the way her leads with his left hand and lunges his wrists at seemingly every pitch makes him essentially always set for a pitch away but able to use his hips and shoulders to react to a pitch inside. This leads to those overly annoying 'buys' of pitches low and away that he's become famous for, and also to his patented inside-out quick pull swing.
Bonds, on the other hand, kept his hands in the cocked position all the way to launching the bat. There were no timing mechanisms of any kind, other than a weight shift which corresponded to pitch location, in or out. This made him absurdly dangerous on inside pitches because there was no 'hole' there to exploit. He sat middle-in, and reacted away.
The lack of pre-launch noise was a big part of the difference between the two HOF'ers, but so was hand position, weight shifts, and when they began to react to the path/speed of the baseball.
Try it with a Wiffle bat, it's amazing how different YOU look and feel doing your best (yet still probably terrible, lol) impersonations.


In which he presents the coaching staff, other than the manager, as guys who contribute nothing other than 30-years-held dogma ("hey, watch the first pitch on this guy" after a loud foul ball) and snark.  I think my bias was locked in when Bob Stinson punched one of them in an early M's locker room.
So it's tough to think of a hitting coach as somebody who is a key part of a hitter leaping a plateau, but Michael Saunders went a loooooong way towards helping me deal with my bias....


Not the old Smoak, is it.
Besides the follow-through (more later) a guy notices two other new things;
1. Smoak keeps his head on the ball to a much greater degree than he ever has. I noted that even in the Greinke K's video. No wonder he's seeing the ball better.
2. His belt-buckle stays centered, too. Back to your aiki, Doc. Check out the tater at 1:15. Belt buckle is exactly pointed at the pitcher. On the previous homer (LH), it is actually pointed just to Greinke's right.
Doc, I wouldn't be surprised if he isn't concentrating on keeping his top hand (Golfers think of it as the bottom hand) on the bat handle BEFORE the swing, as well as at the follow through. In essence, he may be trying to "squeeze" the handle more with that hand, to stay connected to it. Many golfers let the elbow "fly" and that creates separation of the heel of your "bottom" (top in baseball) hand from the grip. Or the heel of the hand comes off and then the elbow flies. Same thing. The hand has to come back to the grip at contact. It can work, certainly, but it tends to rob a guy of clubhead speed. Nicklaus, famously, let his elbow fly but didn't lose the grip with the heel of his right hand. Guys who have the problem however, tend to "cast" or "hit from the top." The clubhead is struggling to catch up, in a sense. Hale Irwin was a caster, so it certainly can work. (Vijay actually reverses the process, with the heel of his hand coming well off at contact. Different story, though)
In golf, if the clubhead is "struggling" to catch up it isn't deadly. The ball doesn't move, remember. What is critical, is that you do it each and every swing. In baseball, however, a "struggling" bathead spells "D-O-O-M.
For a right-handed golfer, if you concentrate on keeping the right hand on the club, even on the way back, you naturally get shorter. Length in the swing had previously been created by separation, not extension.
I think Smoak looks more compact but, more importantly, more "connected" as he begins to unwind (the top of the backswing, in golf). Less bat movement and less hip rotation, too. He's less Bubba Watson and more Fred Funk.
Shorter, more connected "backswing" is more likely to equal a two-hand follow-through: Were he a golfer, I would think he was trying to "squeeze" the handle.
Edit: Cleaned up the typos...that was a sloppy one. Sorry.


Downswing is reflexive, indeed. First of all, it happens so fast. You can't consciously think of too much instruction in that brief time. You can do drills to "train' a swing. But then you have to let it go when it is actual swing-time. Almost always the best swing thoughts are very simple" "Agressive," or ""Easy." Often they are purely visual: "Low and hot," or high and soft." You get it.
"Squeeze" is a great example.
I don't know if that is actually Smoak's new baby, but it is something in that ballpark. Heck, it could be purely a visual thing. He may be simply trying to swing like Thome...or Liddi...and has found something that clicks.

misterjonez's picture

So I goofed around in my five acre yard with various balls and bats, as well as different swings from both sides. Being ambidextrous helped, for sure, but I learned a lot about hitting mechanics for a couple of years playing long fetch with my dog.
I learned that, no matter what my attitude was, when I used ichiro's stance, I instinctively wanted to go the other way. When I would strike a Manny Ramirez, my opposite field flyball swing felt gorgeous (and allowed me to crank 400 foot shots tossing it up to myself, believe it or not). Rafael Palmeiro gave me my best, longest, prettiest pull shots and my olerud ended up feeling pretty good up the middle and into the opposite gap.
Entirely possible that there was bias present to a significant extent, but at the same time my swing path just didn't feel right trying to slap the ball the other way with Palmeiro's swing, or pulling it from Ichiro's.
Never could do a good Bonds...couldn't build up the wrist strength enough for that ridiculous snap through the zone.

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