Hey Jason Heyward! Make an adjustment!
One of my favorite coaching phrases when a player is making the same physical mistake over and over and over is “Make an adjustment!”. At some point, it’s just that simple. As a hitting coach, it is frustrating when I watch a hitter consistently fail without making any attempt to change. Throughout this past season, I have been Jason Heyward’s harshest critic, because he refused to make any adjustments to his badly flawed swing. His stubbornness culminated in an embarrassing hitting performance throughout the playoffs, including the World Series.
My seats at Wrigley field are within earshot of the field, which allows me to have some “verbal fun” with opposing players. In all my years as a loyal fan, I have rarely made negative comments directed at one of the Cubs. Heyward rebelled against cries from all Cubs fans for him to “make an adjustment”, which angered me. I was the crazy guy in the stands yelling “Get your hands back!” or “Rotate your hips through the swing!”. My comments would often draw laughs from the people seated around me, but Jason Heyward was unfazed. I was just another nut in the stands. So, here is one nut’s analysis of Jason Heyward’s swing, along with the simple adjustments he can easily make to be the hitter we all want him to be.
The Flaws In Jason Heyward’s Swing
Here is a picture I took of Heyward’s 2016 set-up. The primary fatal flaws in his swing are readily evident in this one picture.
His hands are too high
I always tell my hitters that no matter where the hands start, they always eventually get to should height as the swing is initiated. Heyward’s hands start nearly above his helmet. As the ball approaches, his hands are forced to drop in order to get bat to the hitting zone. This is unnecessary movement for any hitter, even a Major League hitter.
His elbows are too close together
Before the pitch, Heyward continually flexes his elbows together. I’m not totally sure why he does this, but I know how this movement negatively affects his swing. When he moves his elbows together, the bat naturally becomes too upright and the wrists fail to set. Like his high hand position, this creates unnecessary movement as he initiates the swing. His elbows will eventually separate to an acceptable position and his wrists will finally set, but at the expense of timing and power.
His hands are too far forward
One of my Hitting Keys is to move the hands back at set-up and keep them pack until they are forced to move after the powerful rotation of the lower body followed by the rotation of the upper body. It is a scientific fact that moving the hands back only a few inches will increase bat speed and power. Heyward does eventually move his hands back as the pitch approaches, but it is too late to harness the power generated by his body.
His timing has to be perfect
With Heyward’s hands too high and too close to his body, he is forced to time the pitch perfectly. This is the primary reason Heyward looked overmatched by fastball pitchers and totally fooled by breaking ball pitchers. By the time his hands came down to shoulder level, his elbows separated, his wrist locked in a powerful position, and his hands finally moved back toward the catcher, it was usually too late. No good hitter can have that much bat movement and still be consistent. The best hitters in baseball have very little upper body pre-swing movement.
One Small Adjustment
In an earlier post to this site, I wrote about how a small adjustment can often make a big difference. If Jason Heyward made one relatively small adjustment to his swing, I know he would immediately be more effective. He would catch up to the fastballs that were consistently thrown by him all season. He would be able to intentionally hit the ball with authority to all fields. Finally, he would hit for more power to the gaps and over the walls of the “Friendly Confines”. All he needs to do is move his hands to shoulder level and back at set-up just a few inches and KEEP THEM STILL UNTIL HIS BODY ROTATES INTO THE BALL!!
I have proven with every hitter I have ever worked with that bat speed and power will increase by merely moving the hands back toward the catcher, instead of holding them close to the body.
If Jason Heyward moves his hands down to shoulder level, separates his elbows to a normal relaxed position, and moves his hands back toward the catcher before the pitch is thrown, he will finally be able to use his athleticism to hit with consistent power.
Here is a video clip I found of Jason Heyward’s swing when he first came to the Major Leagues with the Atlanta Braves. I decided to use this older clip because it illustrates why he enjoyed hitting success early in his career.
I’m not sure why Heyward went away from this pretty swing, but he should revert back to these hitting mechanics that are more powerful and repeatable.
His hands are back:
Heyward’s hand position in this picture is perfect in my opinion. They are shoulder level and back toward the catcher. His hands should stay in this position as long as possible until the hips rotate fully, ultimately forcing the upper body to rotate powerfully into the ball. It’s that simple!
He has great extension at impact:
One of the strengths of Heyward’s swing is his great extension. Unfortunately, the downward path of his swing in 2016 due to his high hand position caused him to waste this extension. Instead of driving the ball into the gaps with a level or upward angle to the swing path, Heyward beat too many balls into the ground. Lower hands at set-up will allow him to match his swing path with the angle of his body. It’s that simple!
He maintains his extension:
Like any good hitter, maintaining full arm extension is as important as achieving it. If Heyward’s bat is on the right path from the beginning of the swing, maintaining his extension will naturally increase his extra base and home run totals. It’s that simple!
He has a balanced and powerful finish:
In this picture, Heyward finishes in an ideal position. His hands and bat finish high and away from his body. With the correct swing path, this is the only logical place for the hands and bat to end. I tell my hitters this is “letting the bat finish where IT wants to finish”.
Unfortunately, when Heyward was with the Braves, not only did his swing change at some point, so did his finish. In the picture above, his feet are relatively close together, his balance is perfect, and his weight has successfully transferred from his back leg to his front leg. Unfortunately, Heyward rarely finished in this position in 2016.
In the picture below, his legs are too far apart and he looks like he is going to fall over. This ending position was common for Heyward in 2016. Instead of finishing in that nice position above, he actually falls backward after the swing. This indicates that he is not fully rotating his hips during the swing. Without full hip rotation, he gets “stuck” at some point, which causes him to lose his balance.
The real problem with this awkward finish is the power Heyward is sacrificing. Great hitters load on their back leg before the pitch reaches the hitting zone and then their weight is transferred to the front leg during the swing. Heyward never fully transfers his weight by rotating his hips to his front side, resulting in diminished power and inconsistency.
That’s a practice swing??
Finally, what really set me off this season was not Heyward’s poor performance in the batter’s box. It was his practice swing! Here is a video of the swing Heyward practiced in the on-deck circle and just before entering the batter’s box.
What the heck is that? I can typically identify what hitters are working on based on their practice swings, but Heyward’s abbreviated practice swing that appears to levitate, baffled me all season. Instead of working on a repeatable swing he can take into the batter’s box like all of his teammates, his last swing before each at-bat looks like he is playing a different sport.
I previously wrote about how hitters should prepare for each at-bat. If Heyward hits for a high average with good power numbers, he could do whatever he wants before entering the batter’s box. But, given his poor offensive performance, I would suggest a more traditional practice ritual before each at-bat.
I am hopeful Jason Heyward will “make an adjustment” for the 2017 season. By all accounts, he is a good teammate and an asset to the Cubs with his glove and his positive attitude. He was credited with firing up the team during the rain delay before the start of the 10th inning in Game 7 of the World Series. Unfortunately, he also struck out easily with runners in scoring position with only one out in that inning. A hit or even a long fly ball would have extended the lead heading into the bottom of the inning.
It has been reported Cubs coaches will work with Jason Heyward during this offseason to make some adjustments to his swing. My advice would be to keep it simple—just move his hands down and back and encourage him to transfer his weight powerfully with good balance. It’s that simple!