Watching a blowout to its bitter end – like the Cubs’ 10-3 first-game loss to the Nationals Saturday – can try any fan’s patience. But sometimes, just sometimes, that extra attention can be worth it.
For instance, I noticed three new things about three different Cubs hitters in the last at-bats of the game. Two are more significant than the third, but all are worth diving into. So let’s review each in this edition of Cubs Rewind, starting in reverse order.
During Kris Bryant’s penultimate out of Saturday’s blowout, I finally noticed that he returned to his old one-handed follow-through. In fact, I realized upon reviewing the games that he returned to it exclusively in the Nationals series so far. Here’s a freeze-frame triptych of his swings against Nationals’ starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Jefry Rodriguez:
Bryant still uses the two-handed grip in his practice swings, but against live pitching, he last used it in two of four at-bats in Wednesday’s finale in Milwaukee. This included a hard-hit warning track fly ball (below), but not on his lone hit, a solid single to left.
Generally speaking, too much is made of a hitter’s follow-through. It’s mostly a stylistic choice with no bearing on the effectiveness of the swing through the zone. The key thing in any swing is consistency, including the follow-through, since a hitter can repeat what works and more readily identify correctable flaws. Sometimes small changes detected in a follow-through can hint at more fundamental glitches earlier in the swing.
So whether one finishes with one hand or two, the key is to repeat it. Ted Williams used a two-handed follow-through and, though Bryant is an acolyte of Williams’ hitting approach, the Cubs third baseman has long finished high and long with that left hand. To each their own.
However, Bryant explained when coming off the DL that he planned to keep both hands on the bat in order to reduce stress on his injured left shoulder. The greatest stress is created by the most violent part of a hitter’s swing, but logic exists that limiting repetitive over-extension from a one-handed follow-through can help too.
So why the change? Does it mean Bryant feels he’s lost some power? Is it a more temporary adjustment to help him better catch up to all of Washington’s power arms? Or is it more psychological and just one more thing that feels uncomfortable as Bryant works to gets his timing back?
And of greatest consequence: Is Bryant risking a return of that shoulder pain just before or during the playoffs? As always, time will tell.
Bat Change for Russell?
Prior to Bryant, Addison Russell delivered a sharp RBI single to center. This was nice, but what most caught my attention was a change in his bat knob. See the left-side picture below of Russell’s current bat knob. The image on the right is from his last start on Aug. 18 before going on the DL.
The difference may just be due to a new shipment of bats, but to my eye and some crude freeze-frame measurements, his current bat seems an inch shorter. I found this interesting as I’ve long thought Russell swung too big a bat. Given his hand and other injuries, a smaller bat would seem a nice adjustment to increase bat control.
This is far from a definitive claim that Russell changed bat models, but some players do scale down in bat as a long season proceeds, usually by weight.
The knob of Russell’s current Zinger bat suggests 34 inches. According to What Pros Wear, that is what he’s used his whole major league career, so I could be incorrect. That site also claims that his only bat change came before the 2017 season when he switched to a slightly heavier, bigger-barreled bat.
That info is interesting for other reasons, as this bat change would coincide with Russell’s dip in offense from his breakout 2016 campaign. Since then, he went from one homer per 28.5 at-bats in 2016 to one every 48 at-bats.
However, given his raft of injuries it would be rash to blame it all on his bat model. Still, it may be something to file away for future analysis.
Batters, Start Your Swings!
Last and definitely least, the hitting approach of September call-up Taylor Davis seized my attention. Though I have seen Davis play in person once, I never watched his hitting style closely. It was amazing to see how early he started his swing against Max Scherzer.
He pretty much started his step toward the mound immediately after Scherzer lifted his front leg. Outside of a softball diamond, I couldn’t recall a hitter starting a swing this early. Compare this to when Russell and Bryant got started in the next two at-bats.
The difference is severe, with Bryant starting the latest. I don’t intend to run down Davis, who is just working hard to go as far as his abilities can take him. But it does show the difference between a competent Triple-A swing and a major-league one, especially against one of the best pitchers in the NL.
For this reason, you know it must have really killed Scherzer that Davis connected on him for a sacrifice fly. This testifies to just how spent Scherzer really was in that 9th inning as he gutted out his complete game.
And for the record, Russell singled up the middle and Bryant struck out. So perhaps Russell’s timing against Scherzer is the one best to emulate. But as always, “timing” will tell.