Saturday, January 31, 2009

The importance of relaxing at the plate and hitting the ball the other way

Gordon following new overall plan this winter

Below is an article on former Husker Alex Gordon and his work this offseason to improve his hitting by workig on relaxing at the plate and using the whole field. The article speaks of how Gordon was trying to "muscle up" and pull everything which is a common trait of many high school hitters.

Kevin Seitzer went to a few Royals games last season, and he saw the talent and the power in third baseman Alex Gordon. But he also saw a hitter who seemed too conscious of pulling the ball -- and his swing was not conducive to the kind of consistency needed to haul a hitter through the inevitable struggles of a 162-game season.

So when Seitzer was named as the Royals' new hitting coach several months ago, he already had a good sense of adjustments he wanted to address with Gordon, the Royals' slugger. Weeks ago, Gordon started going out to Seitzer's place to work on his swing, and he feels as if he's made great strides as he prepares for the third season of his career.

"It's really about the approach, mentally," said Gordon, who also has been working on his defensive play with former Royals third baseman Joe Randa.

Gordon feels like he lost focus in his approach and that, in taking batting practice, he'd gotten into the habit of trying to launch the baseball. "I was trying to muscle up when I took BP," he said.

What Gordon and Seitzer have done in their work together is to change the hand path of his swing -- to change the way he swings the bat, to put him in a better position to use the whole field, to hit the ball up the middle and the opposite way. They've talked about making him more fluid in his swing, less rigid -- "letting his hands work better," Seitzer said.

Gordon starts each of their sessions with tee work designed to make him use his hands properly, with his feet essentially flat, "to get the mechanics going the right way."

Then, when he starts to take regular batting practice, they talk situations -- different counts, different runner alignments, different pitchers. The default swing for Gordon, throughout, is that approach to hit the ball the other way. It's an adjustment that Seitzer believes will serve Gordon well through the long season.

"I think there's probably 10-15 percent of the season when a hitter is smoking hot," said Seitzer. "There's about 10-15 percent of the season when a hitter is ice-cold, when they have no clue. And about 60-70 percent of the time, they feel OK, when they have decent days. Hopefully, we can shorten the ice-cold part for him, and increase the smoking-hot time."

Gordon had some really cold spells last season. His month-to-month OPS, at-bats, walks and strikeouts:
April: .799, 98, 10, 24

May: .745, 107, 13, 25

June: .748, 98, 14, 24

July: .704, 84, 14, 23

August: .877, 56, 11, 11

September: .888, 45, 4, 11

Gordon's work on his defense with Randa has been in cleaning up a lot of his mechanics, of getting his feet in the right position so that he doesn't have to rely so much on his arm, which has tended to drag as he makes his throws.

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