Cameron Maybin Figuring It Out a Second Time

The San Diego Padres didn’t play on Monday, which means the San Diego Padres didn’t win on Monday. We currently live in a world in which this is an infrequent occurrence. We currently live in a world in which the Padres, Orioles, and A’s keep on winning, and the Red Sox have one of their worst rosters people can remember. In some ways this was a gradual shift and in other ways this was rather sudden. Anyhow, the Padres have been amazing, and one of the players allowing them to be amazing has been Cameron Maybin.

Last offseason, it wouldn’t have seemed weird to know that Maybin would help the Padres down the stretch in 2012. Two offseasons ago, sure, for two reasons, but last offseason, Maybin was coming off a year in which he seemed to put his skills together. Maybin was 24 years old in 2011, and for three years in a row he had been a Baseball America top-10 prospect. Last year was a career year and the Padres rewarded Maybin for his development with a five-year contract. It seemed like he was becoming the player he was supposed to be.

But after Maybin figured it out in 2011, he lost it again to begin 2012. Maybin was left in the position of having to figure it out again.

Full disclosure: some of what’s to come, I’ve already written about elsewhere. This piece is a follow-up to that one. We’re going to talk about a small mechanical change that Maybin made between games on July 1 and July 2. Through July 1, Maybin was absolutely miserable. He owned a .570 OPS, a year after posting a .716 OPS. A .716 OPS is hardly remarkable on its own, but Maybin did that playing every day, and playing half the days in Petco Park. He was worth nearly five wins over replacement. Now, here’s Maybin swinging on July 1. Watch his front foot.

Here’s Maybin swinging on July 2. Again, watch his front foot.

On July 1, Maybin finished 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. On July 2, Maybin finished 2-for-4 with a double and what was at that point baseball’s longest home run of the season. The Padres’ announcers talked about the little tweak that Maybin had made, and clearly it paid immediate dividends. If Maybin was looking for a reason to stick with his adjustment, he got one right away. It took no time at all for Maybin to feel encouraged.

For Maybin, it was all about timing. The idea was that, by changing and reducing his stride, he could feel more in control, and get a better look at the pitches on the way. Slumping players frequently make tweaks, and sometimes they do something and sometimes they do nothing. The evidence suggests that Maybin’s tweak has done something.

Here’s Maybin from a recent highlight. He’s stuck with his adjustment.

The splits are pretty dramatic:

MAYBIN OPS ISO BABIP
Through 7/1 0.570 0.087 0.250
Since 7/2 0.794 0.127 0.364

We’re talking about an OPS gain of more than 200 points, and an Isolated-Power gain of nearly 50 percent. A lot of that might be explained by the increase in BABIP, but the BABIP also suggests better contact. One figured the slumping Maybin was going to regress to a higher level of performance, but this is exceeding simple regression.

This table might be more telling, depending on your opinion of what is and isn’t more telling:

MAYBIN Contact% O-Swing% Z-Swing% BB% K% GB%
Through 7/1 79% 25% 63% 9% 21% 58%
Since 7/2 83% 27% 72% 7% 18% 54%

Since making a change, Maybin has increased his contact, he’s dropped his strikeouts, and he’s become more aggressive on pitches in the strike zone, which I suppose might have to do with the tweak and might not. Maybin’s still a groundball hitter, but the numbers he’s lost in the grounder category have been redistributed into the line-drive category. Maybin has changed as a hitter — not completely, but in part, and for the better.

It’s absolutely fascinating that Maybin has essentially been able to do this on the fly, changing between two games, because we’re talking about undoing years and years and years of muscle memory. Here’s the first Maybin highlight available on MLB.com, from 2008 when Maybin was a Marlin:

Maybin always lifted his foot, until he didn’t anymore. Muscle memory is what makes tweaks to pitching mechanics so difficult to stick with. Your body will naturally do what’s familiar, and it takes a while to change what the body thinks is familiar. Imagine switching two keys on your keyboard. Not just the key labels, but also the functions. Imagine swapping the E and the M. Imagine doing that and trying to type. You’d screw up over and over, then you’d have to consciously focus on pressing the right keys. It would take a long time before you were familiar with the new keyboard on autopilot. You’d be re-wiring your brain.

Maybin re-wired his brain, and in his own words, it hasn’t been easy, because why would it be easy?

Maintaining the change, however, has been a chore for Maybin, who had used that high leg kick in his stance for as long as he can remember. At times, he admits that he’s fighting some old muscle memory in his at-bats.

“It’s tough,” Maybin said. “I’m a pretty good athlete and I’ve been able to make the adjustment, … but sometimes my body still wants to do it. It wants to get up there.”

Maybin says he’s seeing the ball better now, and the statistical evidence backs him up. It’s nothing short of astonishing that he’s been able to fold this in and stick with it day to day. It helps that he’s been getting more positive results, which serve as encouragement.

What’s also interesting is what Maybin was, and what he appears to be turning into. For one thing, recall that Maybin had his breakout 2011 while still using the high foot lift. He had success over a full season with that approach and now he’s finding success only after changing that approach. That might seem odd, but baseball’s hardly static. Players are always adjusting to players, so players are always having to adjust back.

And Maybin was never a contact hitter before. Last year he made contact with less than 74 percent of his swings. Even first-half, slumping 2012 Maybin posted a contact rate of 79 percent. Since July 2 it’s gone up to 83 percent. Early on, Maybin was getting his bat on the ball more often; now he’s getting the bat on the ball and hitting it with authority even more often. Maybin isn’t turning back into the guy that he was in 2011. He’s turning into a different guy who’s also successful.

I of course have to note that we can’t prove causation, and that this could all be due to a coincidence, or something else. I also have to note that the sample sizes are small and we don’t know how much is signal and how much is noise. What it certainly looks like, though, is that Cameron Maybin made a little adjustment, and it’s helped him out in a big way. Adjustments don’t always work this well, but Maybin’s has apparently worked exactly this well. In 2011, Cameron Maybin figured out how to succeed over a full season. In 2012, Cameron Maybin seems to have figured out how to succeed all over again.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Baltar
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Baltar
4 years 9 days ago

This is a thought-provoking article. Watching the gif’s shows how the changed method is superior to the old one without the results even having to be known.
There is no mention here that the idea for change came from anyone but Maybin himself. It makes me question the worth of all these hitting coaches and “special assistants” that teams have around when none of them caught this.

GG
Guest
GG
4 years 9 days ago

Hitting is very specialized. There are no cookie cutter molds to fit players into and a lot of it is trial and error if a player struggles. Hitting coaches can help and probably did bring up different ideas for improvement, but ultimately its up to the player to decide. The coach’s advice is to guide them, not to strictly 100% adhere to.

Nolan
Guest
Nolan
4 years 9 days ago

In broadcasts, Tony Gwynn has always been very vocal about Maybin’s swing. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s had some words with him about it. I remember them talking about the toe-tap, but I very much can’t remember whose idea they said it was.

anatole
Guest
anatole
4 years 8 days ago

There was a broadcast around the middle of August when Tony Gwynn was doing the color commentary and Dick Enberg was doing play by play. They were talking about Alonso’s swing, and Gwynn was being effusive about Alonso. He is really big about Alonso.

Anyway Maybin came up to the plate and as they were talking about Alonso’s swing, Dick asked Tony what he though about Maybin’s swing, since he seemed to be getting more contact since he started using the toe tap. Gwynn said immediately that Maybin needed to shorten his swing, that his swing was too long.

About a week later, Maybin started using a shorter swing, and he went on a streak of batting over .400. I believe this change was due to Gwynn’s remark, and it has been the combination of the toe tap and shorter swing that have changed Maybin into a high contact hitter.

Drakos
Member
Drakos
4 years 9 days ago

Interestingly enough there was an article a couple of weeks ahead of the July 2nd swing change where Maybin discussed his swing.

http://sandiego.padres.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20120619&content_id=33583600&notebook_id=33583602&vkey=notebook_sd&c_id=sd

In the article he talks about changing his swing prior to the 2012 season and wanting to go back to his old swing. So I’m not really sure what happened between June 20th and July 2nd that resulted in an all new swing. It would be interesting to know the rest of the story.

YODA777
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YODA777
4 years 9 days ago

A result of the foot movement change you can clearly see that Maybins head does not move as much! Much more stable.

John
Guest
John
4 years 9 days ago

Very informative article.

A word about timing mechanisms, whether it be toe tap or other lower body mechanism. The mechanism itself is solely for a hitters timing. But a change to the timing mechanism can effect either/or/both timing and balance.

It’s very clear in the above videos that Maybin’s previous mechanism put him in a poor balance position. When he needed to accelerate or decelerate his swing his balance became very awkward leading to poor swings that were undercommitted or overcommitted.

What I mean by accelerate/decelerate is that sometimes he would start his mechanism late and so needed to “hurry up” his swing. Or start it early. And at times he would guess offspeed and if a fastball was coming he would need to accelerate. Etc. This is common for all players.

Watch a player like Votto or Miggy to see that balance.

Adam
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Adam
4 years 9 days ago

Great article.

I wonder if the same could apply to Hanley Ramirez. If he would eliminate the high leg kick, perhaps that would help him get back to pre-2011 form. The leg kick starts almost as early as Maybin in the first image above. But of course, that’s always an if considering he isn’t open to tweaking anything.

Antonio
Guest
Antonio
4 years 9 days ago

I remember the game when he first made his adjustments, i also remember Mark Grant the color commentator mention how he (Maybin) had been working with Alonso Powell (second hitting coach) and Plantier (hitting coach) in making the changes.

Cus
Guest
Cus
4 years 9 days ago

Maybe a guy with a career .243 average shouldn’t be your hitting coach? Just saying.

evil kevin towers
Guest
evil kevin towers
4 years 8 days ago

2011 Padres: -66.1 runs batting value (26th in MLB)
2012 Padres: +11.8 runs in batting value (8th in MLB)

tough to criticize the hitting coaches at this point

a
Guest
a
4 years 8 days ago

because ted williams was a fantastic coach, right?

erik p
Guest
erik p
4 years 8 days ago

To above, Ted Williams WAS a fantastic hitting coach. Almost any player who had Ted Williams talk to him about hitting would say he helped them improve at the plate. Ted was an incredibly intelligent person, and a wonderful communicator, when he wanted to be. Just because some players didn’t like him doesn’t mean he was a bad coach.

Sam
Guest
Sam
4 years 9 days ago

Maybe Maybin (or his swing coaches) originally took the idea from the case of Austin Jackson, who cut down his big leg kick this winter and turned in a borderline All-Star season.

Juan B
Guest
Juan B
4 years 9 days ago

No

LTG
Guest
LTG
4 years 9 days ago

This adjustment is becoming very common. Jose Bautista made it before his power surge. Carlos Ruiz made it before this season. Austin Jackson, as noted above, as well. If only it applied to Ryan Howard…

snoop LION
Guest
snoop LION
4 years 9 days ago

“Maybin always lifted his foot, until he didn’t anymore. Muscle memory is what makes tweaks to pitching mechanics so difficult to stick with… Imagine switching two keys on your keyboard. Not just the key labels, but also the functions. Imagine swapping the E and the M. Imagine doing that and trying to type. You’d screw up over and over, then you’d have to consciously focus on pressing the right keys.”

This statement is so outlandish. Anyone that’s swung the bat even for a bit knows that the stride is the one thing players constantly tamper with and change.. especially if one has had timing issues in the past (which i figure Maybin has because he never put it together). I’m not talking about in games, i’m talking about in the cage, off a tee, think about how many hacks a big leaguer takes, you think Maybin’s just all of a sudden decided to use a step instead of a leg kick (lift) and its like re learning his swing? First of all the muscle memory involved in changing to a step is not that different to his stride. Secondly I’d say he’s taken MANY hacks with a step prior to this. Just speculation of course.

snoop LION
Guest
snoop LION
4 years 9 days ago

eg. Albert Pujols switching from step to stride to step in the HR Derby on multiple occasions.

Tiger guy
Guest
Tiger guy
4 years 9 days ago

Austin Jackson did something sort of similar between 2011 and 2012 … drastically cutting down his front-leg movement for much better results.

evil kevin towers
Guest
evil kevin towers
4 years 9 days ago

i didn’t see it mentioned in the article, but it’s worth noting that Maybin has sported an improved k% and bb% all season long, even when he was hitting poorly.

Over 40% of San Diego
Guest
Over 40% of San Diego
4 years 9 days ago

If you could please repost the .gifs without cutting out the other 99% of the game, we’d really appreciate it. Thanks.

anatole
Guest
anatole
4 years 8 days ago

For those not in the know, he is commenting on the fact that 40% of San Diego can’t watch the Padres because Time Warner cable has refused to buy the games from Fox Sports San Diego.

anatole
Guest
anatole
4 years 8 days ago

Hey Jeff thanks for keeping up with the Padres. Even when the team was doing poorly at the start of the season, you were still one of the few journalists outside San Diego still doing spot pieces on the team, such as your earlier piece on Maybin.

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