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Breaking down Kyle Lewis’s swing

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It’s been an exciting week for Seattle’s first overall pick in 2016. What is driving his success? (hint: it’s his back leg)

Cincinnati Reds v Seattle Mariners Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

One of the first things that many fans do when a new, exciting player emerges on the scene is attempt to map that player onto a different player to provide a frame of reference. While “So-and-so reminds me of...” is an expedient way to Cliffs-Notes through an entire minor league career and deliver one tasty pellet of knowledge, it also at best gives short shrift to a player’s own individual quirks, and at worst can make for some lazy or disingenuous comparisons. (See: comparing Kyle Lewis to Adam Jones.) Here, we’ll attempt to break down the evolution of Kyle Lewis’s swing and maybe look for parallels to elements of other players’ swings, but it’s important to remember that the only person Kyle Lewis truly resembles is Kyle Lewis.

Before we get too far it’s important to look at the strides Lewis has already taken since his early days of pro ball.

“Noisy” vs. “quiet” or “loud” hands, if you’re not familiar with that bit of scouting parlance, refers to the amount of movement in a player’s stance pre-pitch. While batters like to “waggle” their bats through the zone pre-pitch to activate that muscle memory and help them visualize the path they want to take through the zone—something done by the greatest batters, from Mike Trout to Barry Bonds to Edgar Martinez to Griffey—by the time a batter comes set in his stance, ideally that movement has mostly stilled and the batter is ready to explode forward through the zone. However, some hitters like to keep those muscles twitching and continue wiggling the bat, which can create excess movement or “noise” in the swing. In the AFL footage above, Lewis’s bat bounds around like a bunny running on a triple-shot mocha; combined with his high leg kick, that’s a lot of wasted motion pre-pitch, energy that isn’t being directed straight at the ball. The more pre-pitch movement, the more difficult it is for the batter to consistently load their hands in the same location, meaning, much like an inconsistent release point for a pitcher, inconsistent barrel placement on swings. Furthermore, the goal of the pre-pitch bat waggle is to visualize the ideal swing plane, where the batter wants the ball (information Pedro Martinez said he used to know where to not pitch a batter). Unless KLew wants the ball at his right earflap, there’s nothing ideal about that swing plane.

Those “noisy” hands were constantly getting in Lewis’s way early in his career. Developing a consistent timing mechanism with the routine he previously had at the plate is almost impossible. That’s not to say it can’t happen (see: Alfonso Soriano/Gary Sheffield), but for a young player, it’s certainly fighting an uphill battle.

Here’s some video of Lewis in Modesto in 2017, right before he headed off to the AFL. You can see him put a pretty solid smash on a ball at about the 40 second mark, but you’ll also watch him swing and miss a fair amount.

As a power hitter, some swing-and-miss will be part of Lewis’s game, but his K% has been slightly concerning as he’s risen through the minors, rising to almost 30% this year in Double-A. However, there are some reasons to be optimistic regarding Lewis’s swing. Not only have the hands quieted down, they’re now in a much more powerful position before the pitch is even thrown.

Lewis now drops his hands lower, in a better swing-plane slot, allowing for a shorter, more compact swing. He’s now quicker to the ball. At Mercer and up until Spring Training this year, Lewis would have to rely more on his athleticism to get to pitches. That’s no longer an issue. He can now trust his eyes a little longer.

By dropping his hands into the slot, and keeping his hands inside his body, Lewis is able to engage his core, allowing him access to his plus raw power. Instead of relying on his arm strength to lift and power balls out, he’s using his lower half and core to do the heavy lifting.

Chris Taylor made a similar change to his swing in 2017. Hand position and swing plane are absolutely critical in reaching a player’s maximum power potential at the plate.

Now, that’s not to say Lewis, or his swing, is a finished product akin to Taylor. There are still inconsistencies in his swing that, given his humble nature, we’re sure he’ll continue to work on. Lewis has struggled to lock his “quiet” hands into muscle memory this season, leading to some streakiness in Arkansas, but things have looked very sound early on in Seattle. Elsewhere in his mechanics, his leg-kick varies from at-bat to at-bat, though most of his hits have featured a very minimal lift—more of a toe-tap, really.

For his example, his first career home run:

Going back to the hand position, look at the difference at how Lewis sets up pre-pitch in Modesto vs. before his first big-league home run.

In the HR at-bat, Lewis merely taps his toe rather than the full leg kick he utilizes in Modesto. Instead he’s bending his knees more and driving harder off his back leg, allowing his powerful quads to get in on the party, while also dropping his hands closer to the zone to allow his already-quick hands to get on plane even more quickly.

Conversely, there are times he still reverts back to his old accentuated leg-kick mechanics and remains more upright:

This home run was against Sonny Gray to break up a no-hitter, and Lewis spoke postgame about how his plan was to ambush the fastball if Gray showed it to him before having to contend with the dominant breaking stuff. Going forward it will be interesting to see if Lewis’s approach varies based on his plan; when he goes with the big leg-kick swing-for-the-fences approach and when he’s more focused on making contact.

Kyle Lewis had a three-hit day yesterday, but he began his day by striking out against starter Ivan Nova. Lewis, behind 0-1, swung and missed at Nova’s 92 mph fastball, spit on a slider out of the zone and then chased another at the bottom of the zone before going down looking on another 93 mph fastball painted on the corner. After seeing another fastball in his second at-bat, which he let go by for a called strike on the edge of the zone, Lewis was ready to pounce on this belt-high fastball:

Kyle used: Big Leg Kick! It’s super effective!

Here he still has the leg kick, but he’s also still much more on his back leg than he was at Modesto. That resulted in a double; here’s the home run from the same game:

Part of what makes comping Kyle Lewis’s swing to other players difficult is it’s something he’s still refining at the big-league level, seeing how his approach will work against the best the sport has to offer. Moreover, the emphatic drive off his back leg actually lifts his right foot off the ground through contact - a mechanic famously debated in Bryce Harper’s swing but used at various stages throughout the game’s history. Another hitter Mariners fans might be used to seeing use similar tactics is a player his teammates refer to as their “champion”.

Miss you Mitch
Baseball Swingpedia on YouTube

It’s not to say Lewis is intending to emulate Mitch Haniger entirely, but there’s plenty of reason to think the organization has encouraged Lewis to emulate their organization’s best hitter.

Outside the organization, one hitter we are comfortable comparing Lewis to is Kansas City Royals OF Jorge Soler. Soler checks several boxes when putting he and Lewis side-by-side.

For starters, both Soler and Lewis are 6-foot-4, and both are corner outfielders with power/whiff profiles. Both were once highly regarded prospects before struggling with durability and hit-tool question marks during their minor league careers. Soler is listed at 230 pounds and Lewis at 210, but when Kate saw him in person at ST she thought he looked more like a lean 220 (and also towards the upper end of 6’4, maybe closer to 6’5).

Soler has already hit 44 home runs this season, and admittedly has a longer track record of in-game pop than Lewis right now. But the latter certainly runs better, and provides a better throwing arm as well. For the moment, both Lewis and Soler are average, if not a touch below-average defenders.

Statistically, Lewis also projects similarly to the Royals breakout star. Soler is currently running a .260/.340/.550 line in 2019. His 26% K-rate is also similar to what one would expect from Lewis moving forward given his slash lines over his minor league career.

We say all this with respectful pause as it would be an injustice not to allow Lewis to create his own profile/story over time.

But at the plate, the correlation really jumps off the page.

As you can see here, Soler, like Lewis, brings a nice, wide stance to the plate. Both players utilize an accentuated leg kick at times, with a longer, powerful stride. Also similar, both players hold a strong back foot, creating plenty of pre-swing load. You can see Soler’s relative low hands, as well as an uphill swing plane. The two-handed follow-through is the cherry on top. There’s a little more knee-bend in Lewis’s swing, but the analogy fits. We know from Joe Rizzo that the team does encourage looking at other MLB players of similar height/handedness to study their mechanics (Rizzo was shown film of fellow short kings Justin Turner and Kole Calhoun this off-season when looking at making a tweak to his stance), so these similarities may not be entirely coincidental. All we can say for sure is that it’s certainly been a fun week of watching Kyle Lewis’s sweet swing walloping baseballs all over T-Mobile Park, and we’re excited for many more.