Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Valencia's power generation

Since his arrival in early June, Danny Valencia has sustained a very solid batting average and supplemented that with an equally outstanding on-base percentage (buoyed by batted ball inflation but will discuss that this offseason). His fairly compact, contact-oriented swing produced numerous line drives and several that ran the gap for extra bases helping elevate his slugging percentage to respectable levels. Still, like his numbers in the upper minor leagues, home runs were hit at a premium.

In his first 257 plate appearances with the Twins, Valencia socked just a pair of round-trippers – this coming after not hitting any in Rochester in another 202 plate appearances. Suddenly, over the course of the past five games and 20 plate appearances, the third baseman has tagged opponents for three home runs, giving the Twins an added long ball threat in the lower part of the order as of late.

Here we see Valencia’s isolated power average steadily rising as the season progresses:

Prior to last night’s game, FSN’s sideline reporter, Ron Coomer, offered his analysis of Valencia’s swing mechanics, noting that the key to his recent power bender has been the rookie’s ability to make contact out in front of his body therefore leveraging his lower half of his body and generating more torque to launch the ball deep into the September night sky. Said Coomer: 
“The thing that he has been doing lately is he’s been catching the ball out in front. Great stiff front side, great extension with his head snapping down. When he’s hitting the ball out front, he’s driving it out of the park.”
Coomer’s observation of Valencia’s leverage is spot-on however the FSN commentator overlooked a critical element that has been a large factor for his surge: his leg kick. 

Prior to the Cleveland series, Valencia had a muted leg kick. While at a slight open-stance, the righty would make a small step towards the plate, then rock back on his front foot while keeping his toe planted with the exception for a small lift to transfer his weight back. From this side view during a game against Seattle in August, here is a shot of the apex of Valenica’s loading:

This was Valencia completely loaded and beginning his drive towards the ball.

Now compare that to his more recent swing in which Valencia lifts his front leg and drives forward at the pitcher – generating added power from his legs then he had down in the past:

Clearly, this shot, captured during his home run against Jeanmar Gomez on September 20th, reveals that Valencia his loading his weight significantly better leading to his ability to drive the ball out in front of his body with that aforementioned leverage noted by Ron Coomer. This lower-half shift helps generate additional power that his previous mechanics which are heavily reliant on his upper body.

The following night, on September 21st, Valencia drove in a pair of runs on a single, we were privy to another angle of this revamped mechanics to compare to the previous version. Back in August, we can see how little of lift Valencia used in his front leg:

Comparatively, here’s the same angle before his single in September:

The early returns for Valencia’s adjusted mechanics are favorable. His keen batting eye and connectivity have been complimented with a fusion of power, helping give the Twins a very deep lineup. He’s hitting the ball with more vigor and, with the playoffs looming less than two weeks away, the timing could not have been better for Valencia.