A couple weeks ago, I addressed Carlos Pena's seemingly bipolar season, noting how Pena has been productive for months at a time but has also been incredibly cold at others. This observation sparked a correspondence between myself and Jaime Cevallos, published author and friend of the site, with Jaime sharing some mechanical reasons why Pena's swing prevents him from being more consistent. Since DRB has long been lacking scouting analysis of the Rays, Jaime is graciously allowing me to reproduce his comments here on the site. The words below are mine, but the work and credit is all his.
Pena is an odd case. Mechanically speaking, power and consistency go together like tie-dyed t-shirt and flip-flops. They belong together. Think back on all the truly great homerun hitters of all-time. Babe Ruth. Ted Williams. Willie Mays. Hank Aaron. They were all hitters that not only deposited pitch after pitch into the outfield bleachers, but also hit for a high average year in and year out. If you look around the game today, all of the game's best hitters are both powerful and consistent. Albert Pujols. Alex Rodriguez. Joey Votto. Miguel Cabrera. Sure, there are other batter types out there - slap hitters that bat for a high average with no power and batters that crush homeruns but hit .200 - but when we start talking about a "Best in the League" player, they're typically good at both.
Intuitively, this makes sense. Even from my limited experience, I remember how much small mechanical changes made with my swing. When you're swinging properly, you do two things: hit the ball more often and hit it harder. And so, it makes sense that the best hitters in the majors would have mechanics that allow them to hit the ball often and hit it hard. Power and consistency - the peanut butter and jelly of batting.
But then there's Carlos Pena. As we all know, Pena is both incredibly powerful - he's hit the most homeruns in the American League over the last three years - but he's also incredibly inconsistent. His month-to-month batting statistics look like the results of a schizophrenic seismograph, and he goes through 50 PA stretches where he's either hitting homeruns or grounding out to second. What gives?
The answer lies below the waist.
According to Jaime, Pena's main problem is with his lower body. When he swings, Pena doesn't transfer weight from his back foot to his front foot. While most hitters start with their weight on their hind foot and then transfer it forward, driving through the ball, Pena keeps his weight all on his back foot and unloads on a pitch. I've long noticed this about Pena: it almost looks like he's leaning backward when he swings.
This weight imbalance causes three problems. First, Pena moves his hips and his shoulders at the same time when he swings. Ideally, a player should turn their hips before they move their shoulders, letting their lower body increase the torque of their swing. Also, because Pena doesn't transfer his weight from back-to-front, it makes his swing slow and he has to commit to pitches earlier. He's left chasing lots of bad pitches as a result, which is part of the reason he strikes out so frequently.
And third, Pena can't delay his swing on off-speed pitches. When others batters swing, if they are too far ahead on an off-speed pitch they can lean slightly more on their front leg, "cushioning" their swing and allowing them to still hit the pitch. With Pena, though, he has to commit earlier and doesn't have the ability to cushion his swing, giving him unproductive swings whenever his timing is slightly off.
So while Pena's lower body seems to be the cause of his consistency issues, Pena's upper body is one of the best in the league at transferring power to the ball. His swing has a great area of impact (AKA, he keeps the head of the bat through the zone for a long time) and when he does make contact, Pena has his arms lined up perfectly to transfer mass to the ball. It's a darn powerful swing.
But don't take my word for it. It's easier to see these issues in motion than to read about them, so here's Jaime Cevallos explaining how Pena can become a more complete hitter:
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