Friday, February 22, 2013

What Caused Jose Bautista's Wrist Injury?

By
Courtesy of Zimbio
A grammatically challenged man once said "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".

For a man who has tallied 124 home runs over the past three years, repair is the last thing one would think Jose Bautista's swing needs. But after sustaining a season-ending wrist injury, perhaps it is time to look into the idiosyncrasies of his swing.

After fiddling around with his swing for years, Jose Bautista finally got into a groove in the latter part of the 2009 season after working with hitting coach Dwayne Murphy and Cito Gaston. They finally perfected a swing and stance that maximized the power out of Bautista's 190 pound six-foot frame.

Over the past few years, the idiosyncrasies of Jose Bautista's swing and stance have become second nature to most, but it was only upon closer inspection that I noticed a couple things which may or may not be a cause for concern.

The first thing that jumps out to me is the positioning of Jose Bautista's feet in the batter's box prior to his stride.

Occasionally batters will turn their plant foot in towards their body, but in this particular instance below, Bautista's foot is at a very large angle in ... nearly perpendicular to his body

This trait of Jose Bautista's swing isn't necessarily problematic, it's merely an observation.

I suppose his foot position is almost irrelevant because he ultimately ends up in the correct position following his stride. Batters have and inordinate amount of foot positions prior to swing, all that matters is they follow-through correctly.

The second thing is how Bautista's left foot (or his plant foot) nearly rolls over onto itself, as the torque from his right side nearly twists his ankle. Frankly, I think it's a miracle that Jose has never sustained an injury as a side effect of his ferocious swing.

Again, I don't claim to be a kinesiologist, but I can't imagine twisting one's foot like that is a good thing. Anything I've ever read indicates it is paramount to keep your plant foot flat on the ground on the follow-through.

To further illustrate my points, here's a slo-mo GIF of Bautista's swing in question its entirety. To compare, here's a slo-mo GIF of a regular Bautista swing.

I suppose the next step in the evolution of Jose Bautista's follow-though can be illustrated best with Adrian Beltre's post-swing poses. If the momentum carried Bautista a little further, he would fall onto his knees much like Beltre does.

And lastly, the final thing I noticed about Jose Bautista's swing is what happens with his wrist during his follow-through. This is where we can begin to see the warning signs of Bautista's impending wrist injury.

Compare that screenshot above with this one below from a few years ago. Although Bautista maintains the same one-handed follow-through, notice the position in which he snaps the bat back is much higher.

Rather than snapping back below the waist, Jose's wrist is just below shoulder-height level. Although it's only for a split second, snapping back higher also doesn't force his left wrist to carry the entire weight of the bat for quite as long.

Here's a side-by-side split on the differences between Jose Bautista's swing from early in 2012 and the exact swing in which he sustained his injury on at Yankee Stadium on July 17th: 


Both arm angles themselves aren't all that different, but there's a stark contrast between the two when it comes to Jose's arm position at the apex of his swing. On Bautista's follow-through on the right, his bat is nearly touching the ground.

In the offseason, luckily we have the liberty of time to sit back and review things like these, and Jerry Howarth also seemed to notice this eccentricity with Jose Bautista's swing as well speaking on the Fan 590 last week:
"I was watching Jose's swing a lot in video here in the winter time, and what I noticed was, especially after his home runs but on a lot of his swings, after the follow-through, he would snap the bat back over his head with his left hand.

You start to do that 25, 30, 50,100 times ... finally, your left wrist says 'enough, I can't do this anymore'. You can't snap that bat back over your head on the follow through.

I'd love to see him eliminate that, and I think that will help him a lot as far as his body and the sheath holding the tendon."
Much like Jerry Howarth, the thing that concerns me the most isn't even Jose Bautista's foot position prior to his swing, or even that he rolls onto his ankle, it's what he does after his swing that is

The scariest thing of all is Bautista doesn't just drop the bat on his follow-through, he snaps it back in what can only be described as a violent fashion.

Simply put, a wrist isn't supposed to bend that way. Multiply that by one-thousand swings like that every season, and you can see why it would take its toll on Jose's wrist.

After combing through numerous videos, I noticed that the one-handed follow-through is something that has become much more prevalent with Bautista's swing the past few years. That aspect itself isn't all that troublesome, it's the follow-through afterwards that could be causing the issue.

As the ever-wise Tao of Stieb noted back in January, this swing trait appeared very evident when MLB 13 The Show decided to let the fans vote on three potential covers featuring Jose Bautista. In two out of the three covers, Jose only has one hand on the bat during his follow-through.

Courtesy of Playstation Canada
Wrist injuries are among the worst that can happen to a hitter (the equivalent to Tommy John surgery for a pitcher), as the ill effects can be felt for a long time. Even once a player has completely recovered from the surgery, sometimes they linger for years after the fact.

Baseball Prospectus noted that only four players have ever sustained a wrist injury as severe as Jose Bautista's that required the same type of surgery: Rickie Weeks, Nick Johnson, Sam Fuld and Blue Jays hopeful Mark DeRosa.

With exception of Rickie Weeks, each of those hitters experienced a significant power drop-off in their subsequent seasons following their wrist injuries. One hopes that like Weeks, Jose Bautista becomes the exception to the rule.

So are all these symptoms simply red herrings, or is there any merit in these idiosyncrasies of Jose Bautista's swing? Up until last July, I wouldn't dare question the methods of Joey Bats because he was crushing the baseball with authority. Until that point, everything Jose Bautista did was working.

However, now that he missed a large chunk of time due to an injury caused by his violent swing, now seems like the opportune time to tweak some of those flaws before they become a much bigger problem in the future.

Thanks to the benefit of hindsight, we can now see the beginnings of what may have been some problematic symptoms of Jose Bautista's swing. 

It's true what the idiom says ... if it ain't broke, don't fix it. While Jose Bautista didn't break his wrist, a substantial injury like that warrants a "fix" ... or at the very least, a "tweak". Otherwise, I'm fearful that history might repeat itself.

5 comments:

  1. He just needs to be ready to let go of the bat even if he knows it is a foul ball. He hurt it on a 450 foot fly ball foul to left. At yankee stadium. If he lets go of the bat he is a grandstander on a foul ball (lol yanks fans)... if he doesnt.. he blows out his wrist. Id start letting go of the bat more haha.

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    1. Seems like a simple fix ... hopefully he and the hitting coach worked on a remedy to the situation. I haven't seen much of Bautista in Spring Training, but will have to watch closely to see what he does now on his follow-through.

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  2. Great article, Ian. My first read and definitely not the last.
    I have been hooked on Bautista’s swing since that one TSN segment and I have since watched many MLB and Youtube highlight videos. Call me weird but I have a knack for emulating stances and swings and I once tried using Bautista’s stance in a game (high school, nothing special).

    Regarding the article, I wanted to show you this.
    http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=21487401&c_id=mlb
    Instead of Robertson, it’s Kuroda. Nearly the same swing, same pitch and same location.

    The only difference? He squares it and tees off. It’s amazing. It’s hard to change a person’s swing mentality when you can do that. I do, however, have one “simple” proposition for him.

    If I was in an alternate universe and was able to dare tinker with JoeyBats, I would tell him to revert back to the two-handed follow through.

    Dominantly shown here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xk0KGFBQVgA

    Watching 2011 highlight videos, you can see the point of where he starts to snap his wrist forward instead of gracing the swing path. In 2012, it was prominent. Flashy and badass. Even this year, Bautista uses the one-handed follow through in batting practice. It’s a tough sell.

    One tweak made JoeyBats the slugger he is today and I believe a tweak is in order to keep him as that. He’s too much of an integral cog to squander.

    A bit much, but just my thoughts before I call it a night.

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  3. Thanks for the kind words, Kevin! That's what I was trying to figure out myself ... trying to pinpoint exactly when Bautista started the one-handed follow through. In that 54 home run video, it seemed like most of them were two-handed follow through swings, and I noticed last year is when he really started that violent one-handed snap of the wrist.

    It seems like the simple fix is for Jose to either just drop the bat after his swing, or keep two hands on the bat at all times. May be easier said than done, though.

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    1. I saw it a few times in the 2010-2011 season. You're right, two homeruns in 2012 and the snap is everywhere.

      I have my fingers crossed that he'll stay healthy. That homerun a few days ago was a good start.

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