By now, Blue Jays fans are well aware of the highs and lows of Brett Lawrie’s game. Watching Lawrie play baseball is like watching the readings on an electrocardiogram machine; he will give you a spectacular defensive play to end an inning, and then make you bash your head against the wall with an atrocious at bat. He’s enigmatic, to say the least. You’d have to have been living under a rock to have not encountered the struggles Lawrie has faced at the plate since his first full season in 2012.
In his first major league call up in 2011, Lawrie posted a 157 wRC+, granted it was over a rather minute sample of 171 plate appearances. In 2012/13 however, he wasn’t able to crack a 100 wRC+, which is league average, having posted a 98 and 94 wRC+. We’ve heard many the explanations for his failures at the dish, some plausible…some not so much. Too much Red Bull, super agro, bat waggle, etc, that is just a small sample of what people believe is wrong with Brett Lawrie. I, on the other hand, have decided to attempt dive a little deeper than that and take a closer look at Brett Lawrie’s mechanical issues at the plate and how it’s effecting his overall offensive output.
Last season the Jays did a great job at quieting down Lawrie’s pre load aggro. At first, the results were fantastic, he took off in August with the change, but fell apart again in September. However, Lawrie had different results at the beginning of this season, he came into the 2014 season using the same tweaks as 2013, but had a dreadful April.
In taking a look at what Brett Lawrie is doing this season in comparison to what he’s done in the past, I looked at three main areas of his swing mechanics individually.
- Bat waggle/Timing
The first point I wanted to address was the bat waggle that everyone seems to enjoy pointing out. In specific, I’ve noticed a number of people blaming Lawrie’s struggles on the return of the bat waggle. Though, it’s rather difficult to ascertain just what kind of waggle people are seeing and talking about. Prior to last season’s mechanical adjustments, Lawrie would waive the bat around like a maniac while waiting for the pitcher to start his motion. He was also crouched over, and moved his body around far too much. Perhaps because it stands out so much or perhaps just because it looks so odd, people like to focus on the waggle.
When Lawrie made the mechanical adjustment last season, he lost some of that aggressive waiving of the bat. He also stood more upright, which helped eliminate movement and allowed Lawrie to focus on getting into a proper load position, thereby allowing him more time to recognize the pitch more successfully. Therefore it’s not as simple as saying, ‘he’s wagging his bat again, and that’s why he’s struggling.’
Lawrie is someone who is wired like he’s all six Rocky movies combined. You can’t just tell a guy like that that to stop, and why would you want to?
With the more upright stance the aggressive waggle turned into small circles, but Lawrie would snap the bat forward before setting hands in the gather stage of his swing. Below you will see a breakdown of his preload contact before and after his stance change.
You can see that even when he would wag the bat like a maniac, there was still one last wag forward before the load. The new stance is no different, that last wag is still there.
I think some people see that last wave of the bat and assume the old waggle is back, but as you can see in the GIFs below, he’s always had that timing signature.
Despite his troubles at the plate since 2012, when he’s on, Lawrie has one of the prettiest right handed swings we’ve seen over the years. He has all the tools needed to destroy major league pitching. However, there are some flaws that go unnoticed because of all the bat waggle talk.
Lawrie’s aggressiveness comes out in every aspect in his game. So it should surprise no one to learn that the timing within his hitting mechanics are affected by his aggressive nature at the plate. When you watch the best hitters in the game, you will notice how fluid they are at the plate. If you’ve read my previous pitching mechanics articles, you know how much I harp on this fluidity, it’s no different with hitting mechanics. Despite his tools, it’s almost as if Lawrie is over-swinging, with every swing leading to kinks in key areas of the swing, which I will get to later.
Below is an example of a plate appearance that illustrates Lawrie’s frustrating and painful plate approach.
Called Strike 1. Called Strike 2. Then Lawrie swings at a bad pitch to pop out and the at bat is over. This is just one example of many in which Lawrie struggles with pitch recognition and vision at the plate.
While it’s easy to see that there are major flaws in Lawrie’s approach, but it’s not necessarily as easy to identify what these flaws actually are. Rather than making a poor attempt to explain it myself, I’ve asked fellow Blue Jays Plus writer Steven McEwen to help give us some additional insight into Lawrie’s flaws at the plate in the paragraphs that follow.
Swinging early and often at everything in the strike zone is the easiest way to describe Lawrie’s approach prior to this season. As the chart below shows, in the past, anything that Lawrie thought was in the strike zone, he’d swing at.
Something similar would occur whenever pitchers tried to bust him inside with any hard pitches, as you can see below. As a result this led to high foul rates on non-breaking/offspeed pitches (around 20% of all FB/SI/CT are fouled off) or weak contact mostly groundballs or popups. So far in 2014, these aspects of his approach have been even more noticeable as his swing rate has climbed.
Of Lawrie’s 37 career home runs, only 9 have come off of pitches with a velocity higher than 91 MPH and the highest velocity he’s knocked out of the ballpark was a 94.3 MPH fastball from Jon Lester. The average velocity of the pitches Lawrie has sent out of the park is 87 MPH, 16 coming on pitches between 86 and 91 MPH. To emphasize this let us compare Lawrie to all of MLB when it comes to pitches under or equal to 90 MPH.
|Foul||In Play||Whiff||Hit||Line Drive|
While Lawrie does put the ball in play more than the league average, he also whiffs more, with less line drives and with a drastically lower batting average (.468 for the league vs. .341 for Lawrie). Contact has never been the main issue for Lawrie, but moreso squaring up the ball and timing his swing in order to get in front of the ball and stroke the ball for line drives thereby getting hard, base hit quality contact.
One of the issues that come with Lawrie’s giving 110% at all time, is his jumping out at pitches he likes. As pointed out in the approach section, Lawrie fouls off or hits groundballs at insane rates. The major mechanical issue for this appears to be a turbo rotational problem.
Below are some examples of elite hitters at the point of contact:
You will notice how their hips aren’t flying open and their hands are in perfect position thereby leaving their entire bodies balanced and able to work in a fluid motion.
Now look at an example of Lawrie swinging at a strike.
In this example, Lawrie’s hips rotated far too quickly and his whole torso is open to Sabathia. As well, if you look to his hands and right elbow; he is forcing his hands to stay inside the ball so much that instead of taking that belt high fastball deep to left, he’s getting under it and popping out to second.
Rather than being out front and attacking the ball, Lawrie’s bat is late, preventing him from getting the barrel on the ball and using his power to his advantage.
When Alex Anthopoulos landed Lawrie, it was difficult to avoid falling in love with his potential. The book on him was that he was a possible superstar with the bat, but would struggle on defence. Oh, how times have changed. Jays fans already have painful memories of would be stars hitting the big leagues, only to fizzle out. We’ve seen Travis Snider, J.P. Arencibia, and Ricky Romero to name a few. Of course, given Lawrie’s age, tools, and SSS of talent on display, it’s far too soon to be writing off Lawrie’s career. His raw talent will allow him to get away with this occasionally, but I fear that without addressing some of Lawrie’s, timing, approach, and swing related problems, we will continue to see the same streaky Brett Lawrie with the highs we love and the lows we continue to dread.