Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Go From Quad-A Hitter to Feared Slugger with One Simple Trick!

After being a throw-in bench bat in a deal for a half-year rental starter, Adam Duvall has transformed himself from a Quad-A power guy to one of the best power hitters in baseball. Ranking second in the NL in home runs, Duvall has morphed into one of the only threats in a shallow Cincinnati lineup. Coming into this season, he was flailing away to a career .204 batting average despite displaying tremendous offensive prowess in the minor league levels. He always had very good bat speed that produced plus raw power, but he had trouble tapping into at the big-league level due to a whiff-prone approach at the plate and poor plate discipline, as well as some problems in his swing that have been solved. Let's take a look at some of the adjustments he has made to improve.

Adam Duvall's Pitch f/x Plate Discipline (courtesy of FanGraphs)
2014-2015Giants/Reds38.5 %70.5 %52.4 %52.9 %86.2 %72.4 %43.4 %
2016Reds41.9 %69.3 %54.6 %55.7 %84.2 %72.6 %46.6 %

Duvall has been knocked previously for his over-aggressiveness at the plate and chasing too many pitches out of the zone, so it would seem that his progress stems from being more selective at the plate, but looking at the numbers, this is not the case. Not only has he actually swung at more pitches (54.6% Swing vs. 52.4%), he has actually chased more often as well! The biggest difference is that instead of whiffing at the pitches he is chasing, he has put them in play, with a 55.7% O-Contact%, but even this is negligible because he has a lower Zone-Contact% this year, making his overall Contact% a 72.6%, not far from the 72.4% from before. Looks like improved plate discipline is not the cause of Duvall's breakout.

Adam Duvall's Batted Ball Data (courtesy of FanGraphs)
2014-15Giants/Reds17.6 %48.4 %34.1 %
2016Reds16.3 %44.2 %39.5 %

Here we can see a marked improvement from previous years. By hitting balls harder than before, Duvall has been able to drive more balls over fences and produce one of the top slugging numbers in baseball. But that part is obvious. Every breakout season revolves around hitting the ball harder and with more authority, as it leads to more hits and homers. The question is, how has he done that?

“A mental adjustment,” Duvall said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “Staying on the ball a little longer, seeing the ball as long as I can, keeping the swing short and tight, focusing on driving the ball through the gaps and trying to be explosive when I make the decision to swing.”

The following gif is of Duvall homering when he was in the minors in the Giants organization. Notice how his hands make lots of noise in his load.


The next gif is him homering this season against his old club. While it is from a different camera angle, we can notice that his hands in his load are now much simpler, a direct shift back instead of a down-and-up loop. His hips are also much more explosive through the zone, compared to the previous clip, where they rotate but with much less force.


Simply by making one minor, almost unnoticeable mechanical transition, as well being mentally prepared to be more "explosive", Duvall has gone from a middling bench bat to a premier slugger. While his plate discipline could still use a lot of work (3.2% walk rate), he has already managed to make the necessary transitions to succeed in the majors. This is not to mention his giant leaps defensively, going from a mediocre defensive third baseman into one of the best defensive left fielders in the game right now (4.1 UZR, 10 DRS, 4 assists). Baseball is a game of inches, and sometimes minor adjustments can take you a long way. Give Adam Duvall credit for being able to make the necessary changes to progress his career to an All-Star caliber level.

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