A gentle and courteous young reader named Ian suggested that I take a look at Jesus Montero's front foot when he's swinging. Ian thought that he had observed an adjustment and asked that someone investigate. This is my investigation, which features .gifs but which also isn't very thorough. Credit for the idea goes to Ian; credit for the execution goes to me. Just call me The Executioner, on account of all of the things that I execute.
The Seattle Mariners' hitting coach is Chris Chambliss. He's officially referred to as the batting coach because "batting" and "hitting" have different connotations. If you say that somebody is batting, then that player is up to bat. If you say that somebody is hitting, then either that player is up to bat, or that player has been producing at a high level recently. "Player X has really been hitting in August." Obviously the Mariners don't want to suggest that Chris Chambliss is the hitting coach because of their being the Mariners.
People often wonder exactly what a batting coach does. I think batting coaches are considered to be more mysterious and more difficult to evaluate than pitching coaches, even though the responsibilities are the same: identify potentially helpful adjustments that players can make to become better. We have absolutely no idea who is and isn't a relatively good batting coach, and we may never will, but it at least stands to reason that a batting coach will have a bigger effect on a younger player than on a veteran. The younger player's trying to learn a new level. The older player's been at it for years. The older player will be having to make adjustments to account for age-related decline, but this is the conventional wisdom and let's run with it.
What has Chris Chambliss been doing? He's been presiding over a pretty young offense that this season has managed an 85 OPS+. That's not super, but it's also not entirely Chambliss' fault, and possibly not at all Chambliss' fault. Let's look at something more specific: a subtle change to Jesus Montero's swing. This was probably Chambliss' idea, not that I presently have any way of knowing. There are .gifs to follow and in the .gifs, Jesus Montero looks different. That's the most I can say for sure.
This is Montero hitting a home run as a Yankee last September. Watch his front foot. Watch his front foot in all four of these .gifs. Here you see Montero take a little step forward, then take another little step backward and lower his heel. Okay, moving on.
This is Montero hitting a home run as a Mariner in April. Little step forward, little step back. Same mechanics. The first home run went to right field, and this one went to dead center. It was Montero's first home run of the season.
Montero hitting a home run as a Mariner in late July. You get the step forward, but the step backward has been eliminated. Montero is given better control of when he plants his heel.
Montero hitting one of his two home runs on Sunday against Jered Weaver(!). The step forward is practically gone, too. Montero basically lifts his heel and plants it without taking a step. There is essentially no time during which Montero's front foot is off the ground. He has total control of when he plants his heel. In large part front-foot behavior is all about timing, and Montero's front foot is less active. In Montero's other home run yesterday, he took more of a step, and looked a lot like he did in the .gif from late July.
It certainly looks to me like Jesus Montero has made a change. When? Montero took the second step when he homered off Tim Lincecum in the middle of June. He didn't when he homered off Will Smith in the middle of July. Before the All-Star break, Montero posted a .657 OPS, and struck out 23 percent of the time. Since the All-Star break, he's posted a .923 OPS, and struck out 12 percent of the time. Before the All-Star break, Montero posted a .553 OPS against righties, and struck out 23 percent of the time. Since the All-Star break, he's posted a .770 OPS against righties, and struck out 14 percent of the time.
Montero's also killed lefties even more since the break, although we're dealing with some really miniature sample sizes that include a lot of the Royals.
It's something. It's very encouraging. Regarding Montero's front foot, here's Keith Law from around when the trade was made:
"He's so strong in his upper body that, even though he kind of hits off his front foot, he's still got tremendous power, not just to pull but really to all fields."
Now, pointing out adjustments is tricky. Just because a player is making an adjustment doesn't mean everything's going to work out. Players are constantly making adjustments and some of them fail to help. Some of them even make matters worse! It's not as simple as "Jesus Montero has made a change and if he gets comfortable with this he will become awesome." Keep that in mind. But the early returns are very promising, obviously. I wrote about Cameron Maybin making a similar adjustment at the very start of July. Before his change, he had a .570 OPS. Since then, he's posted a .740 OPS. It's interesting. It's also not Jesus Montero, and all we care about here is Jesus Montero.
Jesus Montero might be blossoming before our eyes. His swing mechanics have changed, and there's a correlation between that and way greater offensive success. Is there causation? Don't know yet. Can't know for a while. Might never know. But if Jesus Montero is figuring things out, then the Mariners' long-term offense looks a whole hell of a lot different than it did a month or two ago.