Bubba Starling’s Lengthy Swing

Last week, a number of chat questions about Kansas City Royals Bubba Starling earned me comparisons to ESPN’s Skip Bayless for statements perceived as outlandish. Yes, Starling was a top-5 overall pick in one of the deepest drafts in recent memory. Yes, he was a two sport athlete with the assumed ceiling of not only a big leaguer, but National Football League quarterback as well. And to complete the trifecta. the young centerfielder was drafted by his hometown team and grew up only a half hour outside of Kansas City. There’s a movie script here. Damn me for ruining the happy ending.

Video after the jump

Going to the park in Greeneville, Tennessee to see Starling in person, I knew little about him other than basic background, current stat line and a few swings from video I’d seen at draft time a year earlier. In having little interest in industry consensus, about the only buzz I knew about Starling this season was that he was 20 and in short season baseball — A prospect red flag.

To compare, Indians Francisco Lindor was taken eighth overall in the 2011 draft and opened the season in full season Single-A ball at 27 months Starling’s junior. In going to the park, my purpose for seeing Starling was to not only see him in action, but to figure out why the organization has yet to take the kid gloves off its prized possession. After a few swings, the answer became obvious. Starling’s swing length and “hitchy” load had the potential for disaster in full season baseball.

From the jump, Starling’s trigger mechanism to achieve hitting position includes a double hand hitch and hip gyration which creates very little actual weight transfer. Yes, timing mechanisms of some sort are needed, but this movement results in very little positive effect on his ability to drive the baseball.

The second issue that is noticeable is Starling locking his pull arm while starting to drift forward at a point where his weight should be back and ready to attack the baseball. Once the pull arm becomes locked, there’s no way to swing without leading with the front shoulder, creating significant swing length. This explains the near semi-circle bat path in the back of his swing.

For me personally, loose hands and hand/wrist speed are the marks of a strong hitter. In the case of Starling, his current mechanical flaws make it impossible to be short and quick to the baseball. If his mechanics don’t allow him to bring the bat knob to the hip and stay inside the baseball, then it’s impossible for me to buy into him as a hitter at this point.

My final major concern is that the video reveals Starling is essentially a single plane hitter. This means he has very little to no ability to actually adjust to a pitch where it’s thrown. In the nine swings captured on video, only the swing at the :26 mark stands out as slightly different from the rest. And even that swing was marked with a “?” by me because it probably could have passed for the same plane, as Starling swung under a fastball.

We can argue small sample size and things of that nature, but there’s also something to be said about prospects being “easy scouts”. As a hitter, Starling qualified as an easy scout. Throw him fastballs on the outer half and mix in the occasional breaking ball and his power is mitigated. Mix in a four-seamer at the letters every so often to keep him honest and he’s not going to hurt you.

Of prospects I’d scouted previously, Starling most resembled Trayce Thompson of the Chicago White Sox — Although if you twisted my arm, I prefer Thompson’s bat a little more. After posting a .241/.329/.457 triple slash line in the South Atlantic League at 20, Thompson, a former 2nd rounder, saw three levels this season finishing the year at Triple-A with improved numbers across the board.

Bubba Starling is likely to reach Kansas City in spite of his offensive flaws. The struggle is connecting the dots between what Starling is at 20 and an impact player at the big league level. Yes, Starling has excellent raw power and the above average athleticism to project as a contributor on defense and the base paths. However, if he strikes out 170 times or more per season and fits the mold of mistake hitter to a tee, then that profile can be found outside the top-5 picks in an entire draft and leaves him on the outside looking in in terms of the top-100 prospects in baseball.



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Mike Newman is the Owner/Managing Editor ofROTOscouting, a subscription site focused on baseball scouting, baseball prospects and fantasy baseball. Follow me onTwitter. Likeus on Facebook.Subscribeto my YouTube Channel.


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TX Ball Scout
Guest
TX Ball Scout
3 years 11 months ago

“Once the pull arm becomes locked, there’s no way to swing without leading with the front shoulder, creating significant swing length”

A lot of hitting coaches are now teaching this.

TX Ball Scout
Guest
TX Ball Scout
3 years 11 months ago

“For me personally, loose hands and hand/wrist speed are the marks of a strong hitter.”

Power comes from hips. Not loose hands and wrists.

philosofool
Member
Member
philosofool
3 years 11 months ago

I think he referring more to what’s sometimes called the “contact” tool than the power tool. Momentum transfer is what creates power, and the hips are clearly essential to momentum transfer.

Balthazar
Guest
Balthazar
3 years 11 months ago

So TX, the number of ergs you put into contact are a function of the mass you accelerate into the ball; so yes, rotating your trunk from the hips involves more ‘force’ than arms and hands. Loose fast hands are essential to squaring up the ball, and are going to figure into the spin you put on the hit, specifically backspin it the batter’s going for loft on the fly. Good hip torque = lots of doubles, if the guy makes contact square. Fast hands and wrists make for doubles down the line, and alls over the fence, and _that_ batter is more likely to make solid contact on a regular basis.

erik p
Guest
erik p
3 years 11 months ago

where can you show good hands? hands, and wrists, have little to nothing to do with power or contact ability. show me video of albert pujols, and where he is using his hands to make contact or power, except on a pitch he was fooled on. his hands and wrists do not break until well after contact. hands are the single most overrated aspect to a players swing. ted williams never once mentioned strong hands or wrists in his book, the science of hitting. and i’d say the man has a good idea how to swing a stick.

Wil
Guest
Wil
3 years 11 months ago

Hence why he said “strong hitter” not “power hitter”. He’s speaking to the ability to react to inside pitches and pitches you get fooled on, IE having loose hands and good hand/wrist speed.

I Can Make up Impressive Names Too
Guest
I Can Make up Impressive Names Too
3 years 11 months ago

Yeah, I’m with Will, I don’t think he meant “Power,” when he said, “Strong,” but Strength in the sense that it’s well done.

Nick
Guest
Nick
3 years 11 months ago

I think Mike’s write-up matches the video, but it also underscores why scouting at the lower levels can be tricky. The swing in this video is significantly different than Starling’s swing earlier this year, as well as his swing at the end of last summer and at draft time.

KAN has certainly done a fair amount of work, developmentally, trying to get Starling to a certain “point”, and without examining the full developmental approach, I think the snapshot can be a little misleading. This is a player in transition, at the end of a long season. This viewing might be emblematic of Starling’s game, or it might be a snap shot of a player in transition and fatigued.

Mike’s work is always high quality, and this is no exception. But it’s important for all of us to step back and examine things from a broader perspective from time to time. Mike’s job is to give an appraisal based on looks he gets, and he does that well. It’s up to the reader to make sure we are digesting and analyzing, and not waiting for the report to do all the critical thinking for us.

Thanks for the read, Mike.

Greenie55
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Greenie55
3 years 11 months ago

I see a little bit of Todd Frazier in his swing

Hayves
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Hayves
3 years 11 months ago

that is an extremely ugly swing

johnorpheus
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johnorpheus
3 years 11 months ago

Agreed. I am by no means a mechanics expert, but that swing just looks awful. If I hadn’t read any of Mike’s comments but just watched the video, I would have come away thinking Starling is not going to be a major league caliber hitter without a major overhaul in his swing.

@dcholcomb
Guest
@dcholcomb
3 years 11 months ago

This is why Mike Newman has become my favorite and my most trusted prospect analyst.

newsense
Guest
newsense
3 years 11 months ago

The next Joe Borchard?

Chrisatuselessbay
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Chrisatuselessbay
3 years 11 months ago

To take this more to the ML level, there are some Mariner’s, like Michael Saunders who has made impressive adjustments to his swing and still has a way to go. And Ackley is working on making adjustments…and Smoak has carried this team at times and now he is a sure out.

This game , hitting in particular is so difficult. I hope that Smoak can shorten his swing and become what we M’s fans have hoped for…and for KC fans who are in same boat as Mariners I hope their potential star can make it happen

Phantom Stranger
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Phantom Stranger
3 years 11 months ago

Bubba was a top pick because he probably was the best raw athlete in the country when drafted. His natural athleticism of strength and speed plays better in football than it does in baseball. Some organizations believe they can take a great raw athlete and teach the baseball skills. The current swing is unlikely to be a finished product.

Chris Blessing
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Chris Blessing
3 years 11 months ago

I was expecting references to the Will Smith movie Hitch. I’m disappointed.

Ty
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Ty
3 years 11 months ago

Very good read. I agree completely with you analysis of a ‘strong hitter’.

I can say from experience that people in Kansas City are starting to get tired of having one of the strongest farm systems in baseball, as it seems to be turning into little more than that. Starling has me completely worried that he’ll turn into another Hochevar, or others of the sort. He’s got a very high ceiling, but I’m honestly not sure he’ll ever hit that potential

Chrisatuselessbay
Guest
Chrisatuselessbay
3 years 11 months ago

Ty, I agree. It is very disappointing to be a fan and get hopes up that this person will turn our team around. I heard a story about George Brett when he was first brought up to KC he was supposed to be a star and he faltered and looked like he would not pan out and he turned that around in a big way…and now Alex Gordon has done that as well…

I guess it comes down to the dangers of drafting a young kid out of HS. You never know what you are going to get. M’s drafted Zunino after Staring and he had proven record in College and is tearing up AA, and yet we don’t really know if he will be valuable at ML level. I think the scouting of college players is crucial. I love the Mariner’s scouting and their decisions but time will tell.

I feel some comradery with fans from other struggling franchise

TK
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TK
3 years 11 months ago

Starling and Zunino were two different drafts.

Chrisatuselessbay
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Chrisatuselessbay
3 years 11 months ago

oh, yeah, sorry. I thought Starling was one of the 2 HS players picked this draft before Zunino…u r correct

John
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John
3 years 11 months ago

Drew Stubbs?

UZR is a Joke
Guest
UZR is a Joke
3 years 11 months ago

With more strikeouts.

mwash1983
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mwash1983
3 years 11 months ago

I’ve heard that comp for over a year

Paul
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Paul
3 years 11 months ago

I guess the big thing for me when watching Starling and Thompson is the bat speed. Trayce’s length and bat speed are really sub-par, while to me despite his mechanical flaws (which I think at least two of those hi-lighted are personal preference) Bubba has above average or very good bat speed. I know that he doesn’t appear to have a lot of flexibility in his wrists, but it’s unlikely that he is stiff given his overall athleticism. We see guys succeed all the time despite quirks in their overall approach. It’s far from the worst swing I’ve seen, and I’m encouraged that he’s not overly mechanical and does not appear to be thinking his way through his mechanics.

It may have been discussed in the chat, but when you have a guy put up pretty good numbers but the eyes don’t like him, how do you reconcile those two? Yes, he’s a little old for the league, but everybody knew he was super-raw and outside of a few fanboys who drink way too much and get on message boards, I’ve never seen anybody think he was going to make a leap within his first season.

Royalsfan
Guest
Royalsfan
3 years 11 months ago

Am I the only one that thinks the hitch has been fabricated to force him to see more pitches? The one thing that has shocked me with Starling thus far is the number of BB’s he has drawn. He did not have that reputation as a HS prospect. If you are being forced to slow down your mechanics half a step, to swing later and see movement, your swing would probably look very planar, similar to a 2-strike swing. Wil Myers when he was coming up also had a hitch in his swing that appeared to obscure his power, when he was also one of the highest K percentage, highest BB percentage prospects in the minors.. He reaches AA/AAA ditches the hitch and starts hitting homers like its going out of style. I’d add.. that his HS competition was abysmal, he’s in short season because the majority of his baseball career was against guys throwing in the upper 70’s.

Paul
Guest
Paul
3 years 11 months ago

I don’t know if I’d give the Royals credit for being that devious. But I do think it’s a good observation regarding his BB% and them wanting him to look at a lot of pitches.

Over at minorleaguecentral you can see SO% by swinging and looking. Turns out 10% of his strikeouts (the total is 30%) are looking. For comparison, this the past two years Adam Dunn has averaged just over 9%. So this and the walk rate, and your note about him being a free swinger in high school, are all positives to me despite the mechanical issues, which I’m not nearly as alarmed by as Mike.

Alex
Guest
Alex
3 years 11 months ago

I’m no scout, but that is one gnarly lookin swing.

KerryHofmeister
Member
KerryHofmeister
3 years 11 months ago

Great article. I am looking forward to see how he does in the MWL next season. The MWL generally depresses power to even the best hitters. It could be scary to see what happens to Bubba when his power doesn’t play because of advanced pitching a poor hit tool.

thescarletpimpernel
Guest
thescarletpimpernel
3 years 11 months ago

If you look at slow motion video of all of the great major league sluggers, you will see that they ALL lock out their lead arm, almost in a frisbee throwing motion. This is because they generate their power with their body, like all athletes, not with the hands or wrists. Wrists are a poor source of power compard to the hips, and a wrist dominant swing will not be found among the best major league hitters.

Caleb
Guest
Caleb
3 years 7 months ago

Actually, that isn’t necessarily true, depending on your criteria. A couple of guys actually follow the kind of swing technique that I believe Mike is speaking about. Albert Pujols is a great example of someone who uses weight transfer to his advantage in hitting for power rather than straightening his front arm to pull for power. There are two schools of thought in hitting for power, and most guys in the majors are strong enough to pull off the straight lead arm technique, but if you look at Pujols, his swing is mostly about timing and weight transfer as well as keeping his front elbow bent a little bit. When you do that you can extend your swing past hitting the ball which creates more potential energy for line drives and homeruns on the right pitch, which is one of the reasons Pujols is so consistent with hitting for average.

BryceV
Guest
BryceV
3 years 7 months ago

Ryan Ludwick swing. I think they compare it to a golf swing with your front arm straight.

Mr Scout
Guest
Mr Scout
3 years 6 months ago

It strikes me that BS is trying to swing too hard, still trying to “out physical” his competition. He will have to change his mental approach before he can develop a professional looking swing.

He looks like a great athlete without the baseball skills to compete in a professional baseball setting. It might click for him at some point, it might not…duh. For now I’d ignore his competition. This is going to be a battle of Bubba vs Bubba which determines his fate. If he can’t develop a professional approach to build off, he seems destined to be the Huskers QB in 2017

TD
Guest
TD
3 years 6 days ago

Aside from all the distracting movements in Starling’s mechanics, his actual swing doesn’t look all that terrible. It’s only looks ‘loopy’, at least IMO, when he swings at low pitches, which makes complete sense.

The biggest problem I see, and I’m a little floored that it hasn’t been fixed, is how late he starts loading his hands. To me, this is the single biggest culprit in why he can’t hit consistently.

Since his hands start so late, it’s a completely rushed movement from start to finish. He throws his hands back AFTER the pitch is already released (and I mean ‘throws’), then has to hurry to reverse the bat direction to swing forward, in an effort to not be late for the pitch that’s about to fly by. The net effect of this is that he not only doesn’t have sufficient time to see the pitch smoothly and be ready for the decisive moment, but it severely limits the time he has to make the necessary micro-adjustments to the bat as it goes forward, to guide it accurately to the ball.

Another effect of the late load is that it makes it a jerky, ‘armsy’ movement, because he has no time to involve his body more. This is robbing him of his full power potential.

The second culprit would be all the hip wiggling, bat waving, and downward dipping, which all prevents a good look at the pitch, disrupts his concentration, and makes it a crap shoot for him to end up in the same repeatable swing position and timing on any given pitch.

Third, the straight front arm is also robbing Starling of power. The compound movement of the front arm straightening by the triceps muscle during the forward swing provides added bat velocity, which obviously adds power. Since his arm has already been mostly straightened during his load, the effect is miniscule. Not to mention all the other disadvantages that go with a straight-armed, long swing.

All of the above adds up to severely diminished accuracy and power. A real bummer for anyone, and especially so for a $7.5M bonus boy. Beyond the money, the poor kid probably feels the weight of the world on him right now.

What I’d do if I were his hitting coach:
– Have him hold his hands in the area just to the right of his cheek or neck.
– Stop his wiggling and keep his head still.
– Stop his downward dipping, to keep his head level.
– Slow the bat waving once the pitcher starts his wind up, then smoothly start loading his hands back and slightly upward, nice and early, when the pitcher’s throwing arm is becoming fully cocked. Limit that movement to around 4″ to 6″, keep some meaningful bend in his front arm, and include a small amount of shoulder counter-rotation to his load.
– And finally, think about only one thing- seeing the ball big.

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