Every so often, we get reminded that players sometimes just need minor mechanical or mental adjustments to finally unlock their potential. As we all know, Chris Colabello profiles as the classic quad-a player, lacking statistical precedent to sustain success in the bigs. I saw his insane average over 50 ABs and wondered if he changed anything from his approach from when he was with the Twins to warrant further review. Last year, Steve Pearce proved that a breakout (temporary as it might have been) is possible for players their 30s and I need not remind anyone of how bad Encarnación and Joey Bats were to start their careers.
When thinking about Colabello, lots of interesting questions come to mind. Is his small sample of enhanced performance due to luck, hitting in a better lineup, better ballpark, a division full of hitter’s parks, or maybe actual performance enhancers? I imagine all those factors play a role (hopefully not the performance enhancers), but they don’t necessarily improve all players’ stats… cough*Colby Rasmus*cough… So, thinking this through I decided to take a look at his mechanics and find out if he’s made any substantive changes to his approach that would enable him to take sustained advantage of his new highly favorable hitting environment. I started by McFlying a little to look at ’14 Colabello for a baseline.
2014 Assessment: Last year Colabello featured a typical major leaguer’s stance and weight transfer to a load position, but then things would go wrong as a hitch would often appear in his swing. Hitches in swings can actually be helpful if kept short and managed appropriately by occurring during the batter’s load up to the trigger position, (the point from which the swing path commences) as they can aid timing and swing fluidity (i.e. Sheffield/Cano/Betts and Paredes so far this year); however if the hitch is too long (Javier Baez), or occurs after the trigger position, it can severely limit potential by hindering ability to adjust to higher velocity and off-speed offerings. In the case of Colabello’s ’14 approach, the hitch was both large and late; doubly damning like when your girl’s boobs get juicier when she’s about to go on her period, but then she’s like “no I’m late, this ain’t gonna happen.”
Stance Trigger Swing Path
As you’ll see from this wicked picture sequence above that comes from this video, his stance and load to the trigger position look fine. But then from his trigger, he drags the bat toward a horizontal position behind him rather than straight to the ball in front of him, creating a post-trigger hitch. That hitch created a jerky, deflated swing resulting in a weak ground out on a very hittable hanging slider from Sale; which he driven into the right-center gap. (It’s worth noting that the grounder from this swing brought in a runner from third and might have been Colabello’s limited goal for that at-bat. However, fantasy studs shouldn’t be content to sacrifice themselves on pitches they can drive and even if he was intentionally sacrificing himself, good hitters don’t do that by inserting hitches into their swings.)
So my first conclusion is that if he hasn’t changed anything then this year’s success could only be attributable to luck/environment as he’s clearly not a physical specimen who can overcome faulty mechanics. So I took a look at a video from this year and pleasantly found him doing what I thought he should have done last year with a hittable fastball out over the plate from Wade Miley. Now a smart fantasy baseballer (Grey’s mom’s term I think we’ve universally adopted by now) will ask: What, if anything, did he change and is it meaningful?
2015 Assessment: Several mechanical adjustments and each one improves his approach. Like the snapshots above, the ones below show his stance, trigger position, and swing path. Let’s look at each change and its impact.
Stance Trigger Swing Path
Stance: The first thing you’ll notice is that he’s closed his front foot, which is now closer to the plate than his back. As any Zen podiatrist will tell you, feet and their positions can impact the entirety of our body mechanics. Closing his front foot can help a hitter keep his elbows and shoulders closed which ultimately limits upper body movements, which could help limit a hitch. This actually appears to have produced an upper body mechanical change as you’ll see that his front elbow has come in just a tad, and making his bat position slightly more erect, which I’m sure would do the same to Tom Emanski as a vertical bat head promotes a more direct swing path.
Trigger: Colabello’s new trigger also features a couple of slight but important changes to his 14 approach. First off, check out the bat position – he actually angles it out toward first base. Other hitters who’ve gone through or successfully prevented problematic hitches have successfully integrated this tactic as well, (Rizzo is by far the best, and also d’Arnaud and Ike Davis are recent examples). By slightly shifting the bat head in front of him, he preemptively limits his inclination to let it drift behind, or get horizontal.
Additionally, look at his hips – he turns now them more inward, exposing more of his delicious semi-doughy ass to the pitcher. This helps him keep his weight back, which helps enable a better attack on off-speed pitches, while also allowing him to engage his lower half and sweet abs to provide more torque, ultimately translating into better bat speed through the zone (healthy versions of Joey Bats and a healthy David Wright show how effective turning that front hip in can be). The only drawback here is that the additional hip movement may make him swing and miss more as he’s got more lower-half movement and power to control, making it harder for him to check his swing if he’s late to recognize breaking pitches. Early results show a high K rate, which I expect will continue, but that he might be able to decrease as he gets more accustomed to the movement.
Swing Path: Now his hands are following the subtle directions of his swing prep and heading straight down toward the ball with outstanding force instead of casting them out behind him like he did last year – again making him elongated and weak (insert your own joke this time). Now I haven’t seen data on his bat speed, but I can only deduce that a more direct path coupled with engaging his lower body more has created substantially improved swing acceleration at the point of contact, (the real determinant of how hard you can hit a ball), which could more than compensate for a high k-rate by producing higher BABIP and HR/FB rates – a trend that he early results support perhaps too strongly to be believable.
Overall Assessment: Based on the positive indications of his subtle yet very important mechanical adjustments, which may exemplify the Jays track record of turning mid-career sluggers around, and the hand-eye coordination he’s always displayed to produce great stats in the minors, these mid-career adjustments might be the game changer for Colabello that we saw for Joey Bats. I don’t see him becoming a sudden all-star, but legit big league contributor? Heck yes.
With him just having gained outfield eligibility, I’d recommend adding him in any AL only, or five OF format, 14 team+, or OPS leagues. Like any good right handed hitter I’d go after him in dailies against almost any lefty with that ridiculous Jays lineup in front of him and also against sub-par righties. He won’t give you any stolen bases, but the balls he’s hitting hard should leave the park with solid frequency. He’ll surely regress some, but if he can keep up the improved mechanics going, the regression fairies can unplug their turntables for a minute and suck his and my balls – along with Ben Affleck’s.