After the Boston Red Sox starting rotation struggled in April, their offense was abysmal in May. The primary culprit of this offensive malaise was their legendary designated hitter. After a brief time out with his coach, David Ortiz adjusts his mechanics so he can turn on fastballs from left-handed pitchers.
Ask any Red Sox fan, or almost anyone who follows baseball, if Ortiz has been close to his normal self against left-handed pitchers and you will hear a resounding NO. However, Ortiz has had slumps to start the season before and he has worked out of them. As Ian York pointed out yesterday, his trouble this year has been with fastballs from left-handed pitchers.
Even at his advanced baseball age, it would be very unusual for a hitter of Ortiz’s caliber to just not be able to hit fastballs from lefties. Especially since he is still hitting right-handed pitchers and other pitches from lefties at close to his usual rate. The likely issue is Ortiz has a mechanical issue with his swing. During previous slumps, his mechanics were off. Once corrected, he again became the David Ortiz we all know and love.
Because of his hitting woes, Ortiz was given two days off during the Texas series to work with Red Sox Hitting Coach Chili Davis to try to fix what he had been doing wrong. Now, it’s pretty difficult to spot mechanical flaws when you can only see the hitters from the CF camera, but this past Sunday NESN ran some video showing his swing before and after the days off that showed his swing from the dugout cameras. That angle makes it easier to see the difference in his swing:
The angles are a little different, but they are similar enough to spot the differences in his stance. In the left image, he appears to have his weight on both legs equally – both legs are bent about the same. In the right image (after his days off), his front leg is straighter and his back leg bent more: He is starting out with more weight on his back leg. Putting most of their weight on the back leg prior to pitch delivery is typical of most good hitters.
In the video, you can also see that his leg kick is different. In the image on the left, he raises his leg just a short distance off the ground and lowers it straight back down. As he brings his foot down he opens his hips up a fraction of a second earlier than he should have. This leaves his hands to fend for themselves and forces him to lunge at the ball. Even if he does make contact this way, he wouldn’t do so with any authority.
Looking at the video on the right, his leg kick is more pronounced and he kicks his foot towards his back leg, transferring more weight and fully loading his swing. As his foot comes down his hips start to open up and his hands drive forward through the ball. This is very different from what he was doing prior to the days off. This is the David Ortiz that Red Sox fans know and love and opposing managers don’t want to pitch to with the game on the line.
In his first game back, he hit a 91-mph FB to deep left-center off of RHP Chi Chi Gonzalez and a 95-mph FB of of LHP Sam Freeman for a single to left. In Sunday’s game, he hit a 92-mph FB from LHP Wandy Rodriguez to center for a base hit. These are the smallest of sample sizes, so it’s too soon to say that Ortiz is back to his old self, but you’ve gotta love opposite-field hits and the hits off fastballs from left-handed pitchers. The signs are encouraging.