As we continue our mid-season refresher, I decided to take a step back from Statistics and take a look at something that leans more toward the scouting crowd.
More than a year ago, I attempted to crack what is now known as The Zobrist Code. As the story goes, Ben Zobrist went from a below-average major league hitter to an American League All-Star within the span of a calendar year. Many were amazed by the transformation that took Zobrist from back-up infielder to Zorilla, yet few (none) bothered to investigate why. After weeks of searching, I came across one man who stepped forward from the shadows to shed some light; that man is Jaime Cevallos.
Over the last year, we've highlighted Cevallos' work with Zobrist, including speaking to Zobrist himself. Just this off-season, another member of the Tampa Bay Rays organization, Justin Ruggiano, jumped aboard with "the swing mechanic's" unique approach to training.
Cevallos has many skeptics - including some on this site - however, his belief in his system remain strong as ever.
Along the way, there have been calls for more information on Cevallos' revolutionary teaching philosophy. Well, your calls have been answered with Jaime Cevallos' new book: Positional Hitting: The modern approach to analyzing and training your baseball swing.
After the jump, you'll find a preview/review of the book. As I received the book, Jaime's one request was for un-biased and honest review. Here goes...
First off, Positional Hitting is not an autobiography loaded with ego-driven success stories. It is only in the first few pages that Cevallos gives background on why he does what he does:
"I had made myself into a good hitter and I did it by changing a few positions through my swing. I had cracked open a door to a world that nobody else seemed to know exist - the door to Positional Hitting." - Jaime Cevallos
The rest of the book reads like a how-to instruction manual for improving your swing and becoming a better overall hitter. For those who have been hoping for an inside look at Cevallos' method, you'll get a full fix. Before letting you into his positional hitting world, the Swing Mechanic lets us in on the eleven myths that have held hitters back. If you watch just one baseball broadcast in your life, you will hear nearly all eleven at some point or another. I won't list all eleven, but I can't resist one of them, considering we hear it often in Tampa Bay.
On a nightly basis, Kevin Kennedy will tall about "staying inside the ball." Cevallos explains that this myth is a "close relative" of drive the ball the other way, another favorite of Kennedy. However, Jaime explains that a "stay inside the ball" swing shortens the Area of Impact (AOI), and less force is transferred from the bat to the ball. It also forces a hitter to make a decision to swing the bat too early - a big no-no in Cevallos' eyes.
One of Cevallos' major league students describes the positional hitting training as "swing yoga." This is possibly the perfect explanation for what Cevallos does. Unlike traditional exercises, yoga takes an unconventional approach to achieve a similar goal. Positional hitting, like traditional hitting techniques, is designed to make you better at hitting a baseball; however, a moving baseball is never used. Instead, Cevallos uses videos to measure swing angles, and he studies things like AOI as well as the key positions of the swing.
The meat of the book is spent looking at each position in detail. There are seven positions in total: the fall, cushion, slot, impact, delivery, finish, and guard. Positions are a huge part of Cevallos' training. As he says, "the real secret to hitting is in continuously improving the positions that you achieve through the swing as seen on video." He goes on to add, "For those who attain the key positions, hitting is effortless and fun. For those who don't, hitting will always be a struggle."
Again, I could go on in great length about all seven. Instead, I'll talk briefly about my favorite position: the slot. This position occurs after the stride in the forward swing, just after you decide to swing*.
*A misconception about the training is it is all about power. However, a good part of the technique is spent on pitch recognition and selection.
A major part of the slot position is bat lag - "the point where your back elbow falls close to your side, and the bat momentarily fires toward the pitcher behind you." Cevallos explains it is important to achieve maximum bat lag early in the slot position to increase bat speed. Achieve max bat lag too late, and you'll be rolling on pitches causing weak grounders and shallow flyballs. We have seen our fair share of both from the Rays' offense this season.
This is just an extremely small sample of things you can learn in the book. Cevallos also incorporates illustrations throughout the book, giving you visuals to follow along with. In addition to telling you about the positions and what they mean, there are also drills for each to help you try the training for yourself.
In conclusion, I believe Cevallos nails what he intended to accomplish with Positional Hitting: giving outsiders and insiders, believers and non-believers, an all-access pass to his modern approach on swing analysis and training. Do I believe this system will turn every average hitter into a major league star? No. Is it the sole reason for Zobrist's transformation? Not likely. But do I think the swing mechanic's methods can turn a good hitter into a better hitter? Yes - with the proper balance of teaching and, of course, talent.
For players of the game and fans who are open to thinking outside of the box - going beyond traditional approaches that have been in place for more than a century - Positional Hitting should definitely be a part of your process. Results, however, may vary.
Thank you to Jaime for providing me with a copy of his book. If you are interested in learning more about positional hitting, you can order your copy here.