What happened to Gordon Beckham?

There is no way to sugar coat it: This season has been a disastrous one for Gordon Beckham. Coming off a strong first year, Beckham was expected to make the leap from Rookie of the Year to possible All-Star, especially when you consider he moved to a position—second base—where premium bats are scarce.

Heading into the All-Star break, Beckham’s OPS placed him close to the bottom in the American League in slugging percentage. Now, I have to point out that Beckham has come back from the break on fire and, in looking at some very recent video of him, he seems to have fixed the mechanical problems that plagued his swing in the first half of the season.

While I may follow up with an article on the adjustments Beckham has made to get his old swing back, this article will focus on what went awry with his swing for much of this season. Below we see him from the center field camera angle. The clips below are in their entirety and are both synchronized to the pitcher’s release of the ball and to the point of contact. On the left is Beckham in 2009 on an 81 mph pitch, while on the right you see Beckham in 2010 on an 80 mph pitch.

imageimage
*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

Let’s break down his swing in segments. The first segment is from the pitcher in mid-windup until the pitcher’s release. The 2009 version is on the left and the 2010 version is on the right:

imageimage
*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

What I want you to notice first is the angle of the bat at the start of the clip. It’s more upright in 2009. Then you look at the arms in the same graphic, and they’re also a little closer to the body.

Take note of how the bat loads in each swing. See how much more movement he has now compared to 2009, how the load is much deeper? And then notice the angle and position of the bat at the point of the pitcher’s release—which version’s swing takes the longest path to get into his hitting zone? Here’s a hint: it’s not 2009.

Now let’s look at the next segment of Beckham’s swing, which is from the release of the ball out of the pitcher’s hand through contact. Again, 2009 version is on the left, 2010 version on the right:

imageimage
*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

I pause each clip at frames 10 and 11. You can see in the 2010 clip that Beckham’s hips have already opened and because his swing is longer, he’s forced to start his swing earlier.

imageimage
*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

Looking at Beckham from the side, we see similar elements. You see a deeper load with a longer swing and more complicated movements. The timing doesn’t seem to all be there. Instead of a quick-trigger hitch, which he had in 2009, he now has a long, deep load that in theory might be better for his power production, but in actuality seems to have impeded his overall timing and made his swing longer as well.

He used to just uncoil on the ball with a whip-like swing helped in part by that quick-trigger hitch. But since Beckham’s timing had been disrupted, he didn’t trigger the same bat speed he generated in 2009. Unless Beckham could restore that whip-like swing, the ball would continue to come off his bat less crisply and the power he supplied would continue to be less than sufficient. Luckily for the White Sox, Beckham seems to have made the proper adjustments at just the right time.

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Comments

  1. MikeS said...

    While I think you are absolutely correct, it seems that the pitch you are focusing this year came from more of a side arm pitcher.  Don’t same-sided hitters tend to open their hips earlier and bail out against guys who throw sidearm?

    As I said, I think you are spot on with the analysis but perhaps the pitcher you selected magnifies the problem?

  2. Todd said...

    I think you may be about a month late with this article. He’s raised his season batting average more than 40 points in the last three weeks alone.

    You probably shouldn’t write an article about Ubaldo Jimenez’ early season success either.

  3. Todd said...

    Okay, my comment came off as rude when it was meant to be playfully kidding.

    The point is sometimes you miss the boat and have to scrap an article that is out of date. No point in forcing it when it isn’t quite relevant anymore.

  4. ChisoxfanPurdue said...

    This article is very informative.  The use of video helps explain his struggles.  I noticed his longer swing but this side by side video is a great way to see the issues.  His swing has shortened up again, and I hope he has come out of his funk.

  5. Paul E said...

    I guess I missed the Aaron Hill / Adam Lind analysis. During the course of 162 games it certainly appears this type of slumping is not uncommon. Excellent explanation and analysis with the overswinging – I think all three are trying to make the Hall of Fame in each at bat by hitting the ball 600 feet.
      Surely a month or two in the tank is worth being on ESPN…

  6. MM said...

    Love to see a similar analysis for BJ Upton.  He seems to have a hitch that won’t let him catch up to anything over 91 mph.

  7. Alex Eisenberg said...

    Mike, what you say may be true, but I have other clips of Beckham from this year showing the same thing.

    Todd, no need to scrap it.  I thought readers would find it interesting to know what exactly was going on with Beckham.

    Paul, I haven’t had a chance to look at Lind and Hill…in fact, I had no I idea Hill was struggling so bad.  I’ve only seen Hill play against Baltimore this year and that seems to be who he’s done the most damage against.

    MM, I actually tried to find something on Upton in the offseason, and I couldn’t find any major differences in his swing.  However, I’ll go back, find some clips from this year, and see what I can find.

  8. Kevin said...

    I think Beckham has been vastly overrated with his bat solely because of one good month last year. On August 15 last year he was batting .316, yet he finished the year at .270.  Such a precipitous drop in average in such a short period came because he got only 43 hits in his final 191 ABs of the 2009 season.  In that two-month period from August 5 through October 4 he batted .225.  His June of 2009 was of course even worse, and had he not had than one torrid five-week period from June 29 to August 4 we’d all be thinking he was just another Brian Anderson or perhaps a missing Nix brother.  Isn’t it just possible that that is in fact what we’ve got on our hands?  A guy who breezed through every level of baseball his entire life, only to reach the majors and absolutely hit the wall?  Seven months in the majors, and six of them sub-par.

  9. Big Oil said...

    Absolutely reasonable to print.  If nothing else than if he begins to slump again, fans have one probable explanation of his struggles.  Just because players learn from their mistakes post-poor performance doesn’t mean fans can’t.

    Well done.

  10. the Flint Bomber said...

    I love this stuff.  I hope Beckham has figured it out.  I often imagine how hard it must be to adjust to major league pitching (or hitting) and the amount of pressure players must put on themselves to figure it out and be able to have a career.

    I think that Todd’s second post came off as rude, also. Hey, maybe he’s just a rude guy.

  11. Alex Eisenberg said...

    Flint Bomber,

    The ability to consistently hit Major League pitching has always been fascinating to me.  To be able to process so much information in determining whether to swing or not—pitch type, location, spin, velocity, etc—in such a short period of time and then to actually center the ball is amazing to me.

    It’s easy to see how a slump can snowball on a player and that’s why I feel one of the best ways to get out of a slump is to take a break from the game, to clear your mind.  Of course, players don’t have that kind of luxury during the season unless you consider All Star weekend an extended break.

  12. Mike said...

    Alex,

    He looks like he is staying coiled longer and it appears his back side is dragging which would mean that bat is dragging. Being a Sox fan and watching him all year he has been way off. It is suprising it has taken this long to somewhat fix it.

  13. Mike said...

    Alex,

    He looks like he is staying coiled longer and it appears his back side is dragging which would mean that the bat is dragging. Being a Sox fan and watching him all year he has been way off. It is suprising it has taken this long to somewhat fix it.

  14. John Alves said...

    I think Gordon Beckham is going to be fine in the future. He is having an offseason. He was a great player at Georgia, and he will improve in the future. I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on him to succeed. There are a lot of young players that need a couple seasons to get used to the major leagues. Then they take off from there and start producing.

  15. Alex Eisenberg said...

    Good observations, Mike.

    As for how long it’s taken him to adjust, it’s very hard to adjust mechanically and hit big league pitching at the same time.  It’s hard enough to hit Major League pitching, but it’s near impossible to do if you’re over thinking your mechanics.

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