In late July, I visited Wayne Graham, the head baseball coach at Rice University, at his office to talk with him about Anthony Rendon, the third baseman the Nationals chose with the sixth overall pick and signed last night to a $7.2 million contract. Graham has lived a baseball life, from his minor league playing days to his two cups of coffee in the majors – he played briefly for Casey Stengel – to his 20 years at Rice. He has seen some stuff.
The first time he saw Rendon swing, Graham noticed an uncanny resemblance to the way Hank Aaron used his wrists in his swing. He thinks Rendon’s swing will work in the majors, that Rendon’s superior hand-eye coordination, barring injury, will not allow him to fail. But he also thinks Rendon will have to make a slight change to his swing.
Forewarning: It’s about to get a little technical up in here.
The way Rendon begins and ends his swing, Graham thinks, is ideal. He starts by turning his front (left) ankle inward – a “lower-body coil,” Graham said, that transfers power from his legs through his core and loads it into hands. The end is Rendon whipping the bat through the zone with those quick wrists and a short stroke.
In the middle, though, “he’s going to have to compact,” Graham said. “Have you seen on the internet the guy who analyzed his swing?”
Graham waved me over behind his desk and loaded a web page on his computer screen, a site called ProjectProspect.com that aims to break down top amateur baseball players. Rendon’s page includes a video clip of Rendon swinging in the batting cage.
“I think he’s got to change,” Graham said. “And I’ll show you why.”
He pointed to Rendon’s front foot. After he turned his foot and coiled his lower body, Rendon strode forward. As he did so, he tapped his foot on the ground, then continued with his stride.
“Double-tap,” Graham said. Rendon used it as a timing mechanism, and it always worked in college. In professional ball, it may make him more susceptible to off-speed pitches.
“I don’t like it,” Graham said. “And I don’t think he’s going to do it. I think you need just a comfortable coil and go.”
If you’re lost, don’t worry. It’s not you, it’s me. But the videos on that link (here is it again) are interesting to watch, especially trying to see the similarities between Rendon and Aaron. It may be helpful to have it open in a seperate browser windown as you read. Sorry, I know you work enough at your job.
When Graham showed me, he started with the web page scrolled to the video of Rendon in the batting cage.
“Watch nothing but his hands,” he said. “Don’t watch where he starts, because he and Aaron are going to start in different places. Right … there. Look at the bat angle, look at what the hands are doing. Bat angle, hands. Watch the hands.”
Graham scrolled down the web page, to the old clip of Aaron swinging.
“Alright, now, you got to watch the moment of truth. Right … there. That’s the moment of truth. That’s recognition, now you’re swinging. But what you’re doing is loading your hands properly. The hands are doing the same thing right prior to release. Pretty good hitter right there.”