Jose Abreu’s Swing

There has been no shortage of opinions regarding the Chicago White Sox’ signing of Jose Dariel Abreu.  We have seen how his statistics match up to other recent Cuban defectors before the jump, as well as heard differing scouts’ opinions regarding how those stats will translate stateside. I will not try to add to either of these discussions.  I think the stat comparisons to Puig and Cespedes are interesting enough without my additional input, and I have not actually seen Abreu in person to judge his athleticism or bat speed.  I do not know anything about his makeup besides what has already been repeated by scouts and former teammates.

What I have not heard anything about is how people view his swing.  I made a comment in Dave’s article the other day disputing the importance of bat speed in favor of efficiency, and so I felt motivated to continue that conversation here.  Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes happen to be two of the most explosive athletes in the game, so their exploits may not be very predictive.  On top of his fellow Cuban natives, Abreu has been compared to Miguel Cabrera due to his size and “lack” of athleticism (side note: too many people mistake foot speed for athleticism; rotational athletes are a completely different breed from track stars).  Pretty tall order, since even 1/4 of Cabrera’s production would result in a pretty solid value for the ChiSox.  Even with a very good swing, I think it would be ridiculous to expect the same generational types of seasons from the Cuban slugger.  The first hitter I thought of when I saw Abreu’s swing was Buster Posey.

I decided to present Abreu’s swing in comparison to Cespedes, Cabrera and Posey to help paint a picture of why I think he will be a fantastic hitter in the Major Leagues.  I chose to leave Puig out of this, both because of his unmatched physical skills and lack of enough plate appearances to really see who he is as a hitter.  It remains to be seen how much ability Puig has to adjust back to the league’s changes in approach.  We will look at aspects of both Abreu’s bat path and his rotational mechanics to justify my optimism.

BAT PATH

In my opinion, the path and sequence of the bat are the most important parts of the swing.  The best hitters in the game all get on the same plane as the ball quickly and stay on it for a long time.  This requires being on a slight uppercut angle to match the ball’s slight downward trajectory.  Here are two of Abreu’s swings during the 2012 Cuban National Series from a side angle, where it is easiest to see the path of the bat:

Jose Abreu 1

Jose Abreu 2

Thank the editors of the telecast for the ridiculously long fadeout in the second swing.  For comparison, here are Buster Posey:

Buster Posey Path

Yoenis Cespedes:

Yoenis Cespedes path

And Miguel Cabrera:

Miguel Cabrera path

Due to Cabrera’s injuries with this year and resulting alterations to his swing, I decided to use some footage I had of his from the World Baseball Classic with Venezuela.  Luckily, his swing has looked virtually the same since his first day in the big leagues.

Abreu, like the other three hitters, gets into plane early and stays with the ball well after contact, giving him plenty of room for error with his timing.  Let’s dig a little deeper then.

On top of the path of the swing, the sequence is equally if not more important.  Abreu’s swing has two qualities that put him in the same class as Cabrera and Posey, while also showing where his swing is superior to Cespedes.  Referring back to the above GIFs, one big difference between Abreu and Cespedes is how long the barrel stays close to the back shoulder as they rotate.  Abreu’s bat stays tight to his body for a very long time, while Cespedes uncoils the bat very early in the downward move behind his body.  This difference allows Abreu to be much quicker to the ball by taking a shorter path, while also giving him more whip as he uncoils the bat closer to contact.

Picture 11

Picture 5

Picture 7

Often, hitters with efficient swings appear to have slower bat speed than those like Cespedes, who let the barrel get away from them early in the approach.  Cespedes’ swing speeds up very early, while hitters like Abreu (and Posey, and Cabrera) have swings that accelerate more through contact.  It almost looks like the hands go from slow to fast rather than fast as soon as the hands start.  His efficiency getting to the ball leads me to believe he will have less of a problem handling high velocity fastballs than people think.

Lastly, Abreu’s back elbow works independently of the hands and lead elbow at the start of his swing, which is something only the very best hitters in Major League Baseball demonstrate.

Jose Abreu elbow

Buster Posey elbow

Notice how the shoulders, front elbow and hands stay in relatively the same position as the back elbow begins to attack.  Lesser hitters will go right into rotation at the same moment the elbow moves, making the swing happen all in one piece.  This move allows Abreu time to adjust to off-speed pitches, or even slightly misjudged locations, since his hands do not commit until later in the process.

ROTATIONAL MECHANICS

Abreu’s lower half is equally as impressive as his hands.  Notice in the last two GIFs, both Posey and Abreu initiate rotation of the core while the back foot is still firmly planted on the ground.  The hips bring the back knee through and the heel comes off very late in rotation.  Notice the contrast between them and Yoenis Cespedes:

Yoenis Cespedes lower

Cespedes’ back knee appears to almost rotate in front of the hip turn rather than as a result of it.  The back foot disconnects very early in the swing, leaving him to almost fall backwards at contact.  Another subtle difference is the back heel; it rotates behind the back toes as the hips turn rather than driving forward over the toes toward the pitcher.  I don’t mean to trash Cespedes, who even with some inefficiency is an above-average MLB hitter.  I only mean to provide evidence that Abreu’s swing will translate as well as if not better than his former teammate’s has.

For one final illustration, you can see from the pitcher’s angle how direct the hips rotate for each of the four hitters we have compared.

Jose Abreu front

Cespedes front

Posey front

Cabrera front

Again, Abreu is much more Poseyan/Cabreran than Cespedian (Cespedesian??).  Notice how Abreu’s hips drive directly toward the pitcher and continue thrusting through contact, just like Posey and Cabrera.  Cespedes has a lot more side-to-side movement, and his hip action nearly comes to a halt before contact and he only has his hands left over to drive the ball.  This gives Abreu the a further edge over Cespedes in efficiency and thus the probability of out-producing him at the plate.

I understand the caveats that come with being a foreign player whose value is completely tied to his bat.  However, there are just too many good things going on in his swing for him to be a bust, things that only the best hitters in the game  do.  I do not feel comfortable forecasting a stat line for Abreu’s upcoming season, since I don’t know enough first-hand information about his makeup and current state of mind and body with the defection.  However, assuming he is able to make adjustments in a reasonable manner next year, I feel confident in him being a top-25 hitter in the Major Leagues.

P.S. – Ironically, and without having known before finishing this article, I found out the 25th best hitter according to FanGraphs batting runs this season was Buster Posey (Marlon Byrd was 24th, crazily enough).




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Dan is a private hitting and catching instructor in the Los Angeles area. He played baseball for four years at Franklin & Marshall College before attending medical school. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @ZMan_DF.


55 Responses to “Jose Abreu’s Swing”

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  1. gump says:

    first gif isn’t working right

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  2. Chcago Mark says:

    WOW! That sounds like your first 2014 bold prediction. Jose Dariel Abreau will be a top 25 hitter in 2014! Good stuff Dan. Thanks.

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  3. Guest says:

    “swings that accelerate more through contact” – One of the most beautiful sounds in the game. Thanks, Dan. Great stuff

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  4. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    “Cespedish”

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  5. Yinka Double Dare says:

    “I don’t know enough first-hand information about his makeup and current state of mind and body with the defection.”

    Who knows about body, but I have to imagine his transition as far as state of mind will be made a little bit easier by having two guys who have made the same transition. Particularly Alexei Ramirez, who went straight to the big club, which I assume Abreu will be doing.

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  6. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Wow, a top 25 hitter just because his swing kinda looks like Posey, Cabrera?
    That’s a bold prediction.

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    • Spencer D says:

      He also has 80 power.

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    • Bip says:

      And he’s had incredible success in a professional baseball league. He can hit and adjust to professional pitching at some level. Projection systems which worked decently well for Puig and Cespedes project Abreu to hit better than both.

      It sounds like he could be a top 25 hitter once you put everything together, not just because of his swing

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    • jim says:

      top 25 hitter in 2013 would place him around 135 wRC+, is that really so outlandish?

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    • Damon F. says:

      Compare his Cuban numbers to Cespedes and Puig, Abreu absolutely blows them out of the water. Comparing their numbers, it is roughly the equivalent to the difference between Frank Thomas and someone like Tino Martinez or non-Rockies era Ellis Burks.

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  7. channelclemente says:

    How does one do a similar analysis of pitch recognition, and ability to adjust?

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  8. Alexander Nevermind says:

    *Cespedesque

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  9. Tim says:

    Is it true that only the best hitters in the game have this type of bat path? That’s quite a extreme statement without any evidence to back this up. I’m not discrediting your analysis of Abreu’s swing, but I would be shocked if only the best hitters in the game have swings like that. It would seem to me that other problems (such as horrible plate discipline) could allow a hitter with a great swing to fail at the highest level.

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    • Nick says:

      I think he meant all of the best hitters do, but it is not limited to that group only. All of the other factors lead to being a productive hitter.

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    • Kraemer_51 says:

      What about this analysis seems shady to you? Farnsworth isn’t trying to trick anybody. I trust that he’s done the research to identify certain points within a swing that elite hitters do and average hitters do not.

      Also, this article was never intended to address the “other problems” you mentioned, but I’ll try to help. When Farnsworth said “Abreu’s back elbow works independently of the hands and lead elbow at the start of his swing, which is something only the very best hitters in Major League Baseball demonstrate”, it was meant as a segue to his next point:

      “This move allows Abreu time to adjust to off-speed pitches, or even slightly misjudged locations, since his hands do not commit until later in the process.”

      Presumably, Abreu has some discipline issues. I can’t know for sure(so I won’t definitively comment), but suffice to say Cubans haven’t been known for their propensity to walk. Having a swing path that allows a hitter to make adjustments on off speed pitches late into the hitting process bodes well for a hitter.

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    • Dan Farnsworth says:

      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/breaking-down-the-swing-best-hitters-of-2012-part-2/

      Check out the part on hand path. As Nick said, I don’t claim that only the best hitters do this, but they certainly show this characteristic.

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  10. dang says:

    Very good article. Good observations and insights.

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  11. Dead Opera Star says:

    Interesting coverage, though I still don’t exactly see a resemblance at all between the Posey and Abreu swings. Maybe from a center field angle it would be easier to tell, though.

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    • Dead Opera Star says:

      Of course, I was scrolling through too fast and didn’t see the Abreu center field angle .gif the first time through. Now that I see that, I don’t see him as having that different a swing from, say, Adrian Beltre.

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  12. Joe Curious says:

    Great article Dan. Was just curious though, what are your baseball qualifications. Not that I’m questioning the legitimacy of your critique, I’m honestly just wondering how you came to analyze swings at this level.

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    • Dan Farnsworth says:

      Played D3 college ball, went to medical school, and I have been coaching teams and teaching individual hitters for the last 3 years. I also have to attribute much of my knowledge to working with some pretty amazing coaches in Carmen Fusco and Craig Wallenbrock.

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  13. bh192012 says:

    Looking at the first 2 gifs it appears to me as if the contact point for Posey is signifigantly deeper than Abreu. Also not sure if it matters which pitch we’re looking at (say fastballs @ hips vs some kind of breaking pitch.)

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    • Dan Farnsworth says:

      You’re right, but contact point does change depending on speed and location. That’s why guys that are on plane longer have a much better chance of squaring the ball up.

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  14. Jerry Brewer says:

    As someone who has watched a lot of video on Cespedes, this wasn’t an entirely fair comparison.

    1) Cespedes struggled with his swing in early 2013, specifically with his front leg which caused him to cast his hands early in the swing.
    2) Cespedes was fooled by a change-up from Lincecum. All the other swings are against fastballs.

    The closer swing comparison to Abreu is Stanton than Posey.

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    • Dan Farnsworth says:

      Cespedes has been coming off his backside early since he got signed. Everyone goes through hot and cold spells with their swings, and Cespedes still hits a homerun on that pitch. Also, the first Abreu clip (the one that was used for the side shots) is on a curveball.

      I’ll take Abreu’s hands over Stanton’s any day. Stanton has been pretty much strictly a pull hitter in the big leagues, whereas Abreu has the ability to drive the ball to all fields. Stanton produces by being stronger than everybody, not by having an efficient swing. He doesn’t need to.

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      • Jerry Brewer says:

        Could you explain “coming off his backside early” please.

        Stanton’s wOBA to opposite fields:
        2013: .374 on 20% of PA
        2012: .363 on 20% of PA
        2011: .365 on 20% of PA
        2010: .349 on 23% of PA

        Posey has much better front shoulder mechanics than Abreu. Take a look at Stanton’s swing vs. Abreu. Really close. Abreu is no whimp either.

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        • Dan Farnsworth says:

          I don’t mean to be dismissive, but I explained coming off his backside in the article.

          Here’s a link to Stanton’s homerun spray chart from Hit Tracker:
          http://www.hittrackeronline.com/detail.php?id=2013_659&type=hitter

          I’ve looked at the 4 or 5 swings I have from Stanton, and I don’t see the similarities. I see Stanton swinging with much more level shoulders and coming around his body, rather than under his shoulders like all of the guys in this article. I also see him pinching his back knee in from the start, making his hip action longer and not as direct. I guess we’ll have to disagree on that. Even if their swings were identical, I don’t know how useful comparing somebody’s mechanics to Stanton would be, since they have completely different physical tools. Abreu’s big, but not the Greek god that Stanton is.

          As for Posey’s front shoulder mechanics, I’m curious to hear what you mean by that.

          Thanks for the feedback!

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  15. Jerry Davia says:

    Dan should be considered for a hitting instructor

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  16. Gabe says:

    Do you know why so many scouts think he won’t be able to hit elite fastballs? You briefly touch on why you think it won’t be as big of an issue, but I’d love to see the opposing argument through your analytical lens.

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    • Dan Farnsworth says:

      I haven’t talked to anyone personally, so I cannot say for sure. Most of the online reports and opinions lament his lack of bat speed. I just see way too many guys in the minor leagues hyped because of bat speed that never make it, while many big leaguers were considered non-prospects for the same reason Abreu is being panned.

      I think Abreu has a great swing, and doesn’t need to have elite bat speed to catch up to fastballs. Just my opinion.

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  17. Damon F. says:

    I’d go with ‘Cespedesian’, you can’t just drop the S.

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  18. Jerry Brewer says:

    Dan

    It wouldn’t let me reply in our thread. Posey’s front shoulder retracts and takes the slack out of the front arm. His front side starts to pull while the front elbow stays in place. Notice how Abreu’s front shoulder and elbow move in one piece. I wrote an article on this:
    http://www.eastbayhittinginstruction.com/micromove-1.html Griffey Jr. was the best at this.

    I think what you are saying Cespedes does is what i call casting. Which i argue is the result of his front leg function.

    That’s cool we disagree on Stanton. To me the front view looks very similar.
    I wasn’t trying to be combative, just talking shop.

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    • Dan Farnsworth says:

      I gotcha. That’s what makes this awesome; no right answer.

      I read your piece. Pretty interesting. I see what you’re talking about with the front shoulder, but it looks to me like it’s more a product of the back shoulder dropping in to get on plane with the ball, more passive than active. You mentioned pitching in your article, which I think is useful in comparing to hitting for many reasons. I do wonder if thinking about retracting the front shoulder can lead to similar problems as flying open with the glove side as a pitcher, instead of rotating around a strong front (glove or lead arm) side. Just semantics, since it’s all about feel with moves that subtle.

      Don’t get me wrong because I still like the notion; retracting the back side shoulder blade is what has helped a number of hitters I’ve worked with create that independent back elbow move you see with all those good hitters. I’ll have to check out your other articles on eastbay.

      As for Cespedes, I usually refer to casting with guys who are more level with their shoulders and get away from their body horizontally, but there again I think we’re talking semantics. No doubt the front side has a part in that move.

      Awesome thoughts. I definitely don’t mean to be snarky when I say thanks for the feedback. I’ll keep looking at the front shoulder move and think some more about it.

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      • Jerry B says:

        “retracting the back side shoulder blade is what has helped a number of hitters I’ve worked with create that independent back elbow move you see with all those good hitters”

        Nice. I wrote an article on this very thing. I believe the front side is active. The only muscles that can retract (abduct) the shoulder are on the back of the shoulder, so trying to create the movement from the rear side would be like pushing a rope.

        As with anything, it can be overdone. Bautista is a guy who is really pushing the limit of flying open.

        Cool stuff.

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  19. Jesus Mejia says:

    just read this… great stuff Dan.. a question.. dont you think Abreu’s approach is similar to Pujols(in his prime)

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    • Thanks man! They have some similarities for sure, but I think Pujols was a much more explosive hitter at the same age. He was also a little flatter with his bat path than Abreu is.

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  20. Alejandro says:

    If all angles in the videos are from the same at bat, the comparison is not showing apples to apples. Cespedes and Cabrera are swinging at a ball inside, which changes the mechanics a little bit. You can see them lifting the back foot.

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    • Dan Farnsworth says:

      Not sure what you’re getting at; Cespedes is swinging at a curveball out over the plate and Cabrera is swinging at a fastball down the middle. Of course swings don’t look exactly alike every at bat, but movement patterns are very consistent.

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  21. Joseph Smart says:

    This analysis falls far short on accuracy. I have not seen many swings of Abreu. But…in the swing this article started with….Abreu is NOT creating the same barrel path as the other pros he was compared to. Abreu’s arms travel INDEPENDENTLY forward FAR SOONER than the others. He does not have the depth of barrel speed that the others have. In THAT swing….his upper body is leading his lower. It is not even arguable.

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    • Dan Farnsworth says:

      I’m not sure what you mean by depth of barrel speed. The first clip is on a very slow hanging curveball up in the zone, for what it’s worth. I do not agree with your assessment about his upper body leading his lower, but I admit it looks close in the first swing. However, looking at the swing from the WBC from the pitcher’s perspective down below, it is pretty clearly the hip turn leading his hands.

      Commenter Jerry Brewer and I discussed his front side mechanics in relation to his shoulders starting to turn a bit early if you read through. That might be what you’re seeing as well; just a guess. I think the good still vastly outweighs the bad, and the numbers more than speak for themselves. I don’t think he’s better than Cabrera, Posey, and Cespedes as a baseball player. I do believe he shares enough positive qualities with them which, along with his track record, suggest he will be a very good hitter in the Major Leagues.

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  22. kharrington says:

    Most important aspect of any swing is the swing plane… The bat cant be accelerated with any sort of efficiency if there is a wave in it. There is no leveling off of the barrel. Once it starts on it predetermined path, any effort to try to change its trajectory kills bat speed. The key is to start on the correct trajectory that matches the pitch.

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  23. kharrington says:

    The feel of power and speed in a swing is very deceiving. When a bat is on plane, it accelerates much faster and offers less resistance to the batter. Take the bat and put it out of plane and try to accelerate it onto plane and you will feel the resistance. The Elite hitters are not stronger or Quicker than the average MLB hitter, they just have better planes that give them much more time to accelerate the bat.

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  24. JJ says:

    Now how about a comparison of Abreu with say a Matt Adams. One is lefty, the other righty, but it would be a fun comparison and one that can actually help folks decide which 1B bat to take first in a draft this year. We all know we should go for Cab, Posey and Cespedes (yes, Cespedes too) ahead of Abreu, simply because they are all proven at the MLB level while Abreu has yet to show his stuff. But how would a big guy like Adams (that is assuming he is batting against a RHP) look next to Jose Abreu? More so, Dan… would you personally take Abreu over Adams in a draft to man your 1B. Everywhere I look both of their 2014 projections look about the same, even though we all know Adams could have problems against LHP until he makes adjustments, something I hear he is working on. Thanks for the Abreu analysis.

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  25. BP says:

    Is it safe to say Abreu will dominate the entire league like a Greek God Robo-Tripping his way through an episode of American Gladiators?

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  26. elio says:

    Well, It appears that the writer of this article is very knowledgeable of batting mechanics and his prediction could not have unfolded any more accurate.
    Kudos to you.

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    • indeed says:

      yea, this dude nailed it. Watching Jose in spring + the first few weeks I was telling my friends “not to say he swings like cabby, but he kinda swings like cabby”

      not nearly as patient, but still, elite power + very good average + average discipline easily equals top 25 hitter in MLB. He’s probably closer to 10 at the moment than 20.

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