Friday, February 18, 2011

Is Tsuyoshi the next Ichiro?

While doing considerable amount of research on Tsuyoshi Nishioka for the Maple Street Press Twins Annual 2011, I was taken aback at the amount of references I would find that attempted to compare him to Ichiro Suzuki. 
In one such example, back in November prior to the Twins winning the bidding process,’s Big League Stew editor, Kevin Kudak, wondered if we might see the next Ichiro in Tsuyoshi and even went so far as to describe the soon-to-be Twin saying he “smack[s] the ball with a similar swing that Ichiro has already made iconic in the states.”
In my due diligence in December after the Twins signed Tsuyoshi, I reported on a hitter that showed really no characteristics of being like Ichiro – besides being of the same nationality. You might say that they share a similar initial leg kick but everything mechanical deviates from there.
So when Nishioka arrived in Fort Myers, and several area beat writersand columnists admitted those that were on-hand to witness his batting session at the cage  were surprised to find out that Nishioka’s swing doesn’t resemble Ichiro’s swing much at all, I wasn’t at all surprised. That’s because Nishioka’s swing parallel’s Joe Mauer’s - as one intrepid reporter correctly pointed out -  at least, much more so than it does Ichiro’s considering the two Japanese born hitters share two distinctly different mechanical styles.
Ichiro’s swing, seen below, is one of the few successful modern players to implement a linear approach (admittedly, his is probably more of a hybrid but his foundation is in the linear approach):  

Linear mechanics is usually geared towards high-contact, singles-type hitters, something that was prolific in the dead-ball era of baseball. What happens in linear hitters is that when the front foot plants, their weight continues moving forward during the swing. The actual swing becomes more hands-and-arms, pulling the bat through the hitting zone.
Watch Ichiro’s hips and you will notice that once he plants his front foot that his backside continues to follow him through his swing and he pulls the bat through (to his credit, he actually slaps the ball fairly well and with plenty of juice behind it). This method has provided him with an extremely high contract rate as since ’06, which has been one of the best in baseball at 89.2% in that duration. Likewise, it also helps him keep a lot of his batted balls on the ground, maintaining a 55.5% groundball rate since ’06, using his foot speed to beat out plenty of infield hits (228 to be exact, 100 more than the runner-up, Derek Jeter). Needless to say, this approach has been wildly successful for Ichiro.
Meanwhile, in Tsuyoshi’s swing, you will see something that reflects more of the rotational approach: 

In the simplest terms, the rotational approach is when a hitter plants his front foot and the weight shift stops forward movement as the hips and arms rotate during the swing. In today’s game, this is the most commonly used approach, typically equating to more power generation and hitting the ball hard. Watch Tsuyoshi’s mechanics and you see plenty of rotational hitting traits in his swing. At the point of plantation, his forward progress is interrupted as he unleashes his swing, rotating in place, and loops the bat rather than pulling it straight through the zone.
Does this mean that Tsuyoshi’s going to hit like Mauer once the season begins? Not in the least.
While they share several attributes – including keeping their weight back well - there are plenty of differences. For starters, Mauer has a much more finished swing that wraps around while Nishioka cuts his off. Along the same lines, Mauer’s stature will give him a better ability to leverage his swing for power. 
To many of us, Tsuyoshi is currently an enigma, wrapped in mystery and smothered in secret sauce.  What we can say with some certainty is that he is not going to be the next Ichiro, at least not in his approach at the plate.  While those with cable will learn more about his style in the coming months but if you want to get a jump on the others, I highly recommend ordering a copy of the Maple Street Press Twins Annual 2011 and read the extensive, in-depth analysis on what to expect from Tsuyoshi.