B.J. Upton’s swing has changed some, but whether it’s the dramatic difference he needs remains to be seen.
Upton’s 2013 was a perfect storm of bad habits rolled into a swing that was all arms and generated no lower-body help. It led to slow bat speed, whiffing through velocity and not being able to drive anything up the middle.
I wrote in October that Upton’s 2013 swing had little load, a very slow trigger, a stiff front side and no lower-body torque. He didn’t generate any momentum to the ball, didn’t rotate to it, and his body went toward home plate instead.
Lindsay Berra wrote an excellent article on Upton’s changes posted Wednesday. She described Upton’s flaws last season very well, and what Upton did during the winter to correct them. The money quote:
"I can feel myself using my legs now," Upton said. "I'm basically just sitting on my legs more, if you can think of it that way. If I use my lower half, everything corrects itself."
Upton’s No. 1 change had to be using his lower half more, and he focused on doing that. But did he do enough?
When comparing photos of his swing in Wednesday’s spring training game to a game in September 2013, the initial stance isn’t that different. His 2014 stance has perhaps a little more crouch, but it’s more in the back than the legs.
Comparison No. 2 starts to show some change. His 2013 swing has almost no shift from his initial stance as the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, which means the batter is either starting way too late or not starting at all. In Upton’s case, his hips never started. His 2014 swing shows his butt a little more, and you can tell the hips are beginning to rotate slightly. It’s a start, but it’s not the difference I was hoping for.
Comparison No. 3 isn’t timed properly, but the 2014 photo is another indication of how he’s using his hips a little more. He fires his hands late because of a long and slow trigger, so it takes every ounce of his quick hands and bat speed to get on the ball.
Comparison No. 4 is also not timed properly, but you can tell the difference in the hips. His 2013 hips never clear. His 2014 hips are clearing better.
The first problem with 2014 is he’s still not transferring his momentum toward the ball. He leaves his weight on the back foot, which affects power and bat speed and plane.
The second problem with 2014 is, as Ethan Purser noted, more crouch or knee bend is often just a band-aid for the problem. Upton’s swing issues from 2013 can’t be solved with a slight knee bend and hip rotation.
The third problem with 2014 is his load and trigger. His trigger is a considerable bat waggle that seems to get longer and slower. It might come across as a timing mechanism, but it kills bat speed and reaction time. His old trigger was much simpler, and he dropped his hands to the ball so much sooner back then.
As I said on Twitter, any change at all is good for Upton. He dug himself a mechanical hole so deep he lost himself last year. The knee bend and slight hip rotation is good. It’s just not what I was hoping for, though. His hands are still slow to the zone, and he’s not shifting his momentum as well as he used to. There is still work to be done.