Alex Rodriguez got off to a gloriously hot start to the season. In the first eleven games he hit .405/.511/.865 with 4 home runs, sporting an OPS of 1.376. Unfortunately, this hot start came to a screeching halt in Texas. On April 16th in Texas the Yankees removed Rodriguez from the game with a mild oblique strain. He avoided the disabled list, but he didn’t return to the lineup until April 20th. Whether the oblique strain was still bothering him or simply disrupted his timing is hard to say. What is clear is that Rodriguez went through a massive slump when he returned, hitting .188/.263/.294 with 2 home runs and 22 strikeouts in 22 games.
When the Yankees finished getting swept by Boston at home, they headed to Tampa. At the time talk surfaced of hitting coach Kevin Long working hard with Rodriguez to fix a mechanical flaw in his swing. They weren’t able to rectify it immediately, and in fact it seems that Rodriguez had difficulty implementing the change. In his first game in Tampa Alex went 0-4 with 3 strikeouts against Price. But they may have gotten a handle on it shortly thereafter. YES scribe and fan favorite Jack Curry had the details on this fix in a piece published May 18th, a day after Rodriguez clubbed two homers off Big Game James.
Long determined the cause of Rodriguez’s struggles, detecting that the third baseman hadn’t been using the lower half of his body to ignite his swing. Rodriguez called it a “disconnect” between his lower and upper body…
“We’ve diagnosed the problem,” Long said. “It’s vivid. We know what it is. But Alex said there’s been some hesitation. He knows he has to use his legs and he’s telling himself to use his legs. But when it comes time to do it, he hesitates. It’s all about fixing mechanics.”
Several hours after Long spoke to me about Rodriguez’s missing swing on Tuesday, Rodriguez corrected his mechanics and found that smooth swing again. Rodriguez blasted two homers off James Shields to help guide the Yankees to a much-needed 6-2 win over the Rays.
By taking a look at Rodriguez’s swing against the Red Sox Sunday night against Beckett and comparing it to his swing against Shields in Tampa, one thing stands out quite clearly: Alex almost completely eliminated his leg kick. Courtesy of friend of RAB Richard Iurilli, we can use .gif images to get a good slow-motion look at the difference. The first .gif is Alex striking out against Josh Beckett. (Update: Added the jump for site loading reasons)
Should of swung earlier. As you can see, he has a fairly pronounced leg kick, raising his left thigh nearly parallel to the ground. You can also notice his back leg collapse as he swings through the pitch, a clear sign that his timing is off. So what did the swing look like in Tampa against Shields?
These .gifs are from Alex’s two home runs. The change is obvious. In both swings Rodriguez has nearly eliminated his leg kick. It’s likely no coincidence that Long’s work with Rodriguez resulted in him eliminating the kick. How this relates to Alex using his legs more is a little unclear to me. Perhaps lowering the kick gives him a better sense of timing on rotating his legs in conjunction with his torso. I’m no expert on hitting mechanics, so all I’ll note is that before the Curry piece Alex was rocking a high kick and struggling, and now he’s barely using a leg kick and is hitting a lot better. It’s only been four games, but he’s 7 for his last 18 with a .778 slugging percentage.
If my memory serves me correctly, Rodriguez has always featured a high leg kick. It’ll be interesting to see whether this is just Long’s way of helping Alex fix his timing issue as a temporary remedy, or whether cutting down on the leg kick is a permanent alteration to Alex’s swing. Maybe he’s not as quick as he used to be. Baseball is a game of adjustments, so either way it’s a positive sign to see him be able to fix his mistakes on the fly.