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Remarkable baseball graphic

Some superb technical graphics from the New York Times on hitting the baseball:

[link updated March 2005]

-- Edward Tufte

As someone who understands very little about the mechanics of hitting a baseball, I am left with the following questions. First, is it just the vertical stripes or do Giambi's legs look thicher (more muscular) in the A's uniform? Second, does the fact that he is wearing protective gear on his right foot in the Yankees photo need to be addressed? These are probably trivial, but the thing that really bugs me is that in the A's photo he's swinging at a pitch that appears out of the strike zone, while in Yankees photo the pitch is right between the knees and the belt. If in the latter he was just protecting the plate, and made any kind of contact, the swing could be considered successful, no matter how awkward.

-- Jeff Haney (email)

When Giambi came into the majors, he wasn't really a power hitter; he developed into one while with the A's, largely through an intensive weightlifting program. From what I can tell in this A's photo, that is his body-shape at the end of his tenure with the A's, which is the body shape he has now with the Yankees.

There are three things in the side-by-side photos that are revealing, and are only obliquely hinted at in the commentary. First, compare the positions of his front foot. You'll note in the A's photo the sole of his front foot is upright, with only the side of his foot making contact with the ground. In the Yankee photo, the sole of his front foot is somewhat more planted. The reason for that is he now has to put more weight on his front foot because the rear leg can't bear the weight it used to.

This difference in foot position then leads to a difference in knee position of his front leg. In the A's photo, the knee is virtually facing the pitcher; in the Yankee photo, the knee is sideways on.

Now, as a result of his inabilty to "stay back on the pitch" and keep the vast majority of his weight on his rear leg in order to generate torque, the third and final flaw appears: the inability to get good arm extension on the swing. Note how in the Yankees photo his left arm is crooked at the elbow; he's not getting his "top hand" left arm extended fully. In the A's photo, he is.

The position of the ball in the strike zone is therefore secondary to the flaw in his swing.

So while the NY Times is graphic is excellent, the commentary is not complete. I have tried to fill in the gaps in this regard.

During the season, many teams played Giambi with a Ted Williams-like shift, purely as a pull hitter. With his recent hitting problems, you saw the Marlins in last night's final world series game playing a more traditional infield set up against him. And they were right to do so, as his inability to get extension on his swing meant hitting to the opposite field, for an easy out, as he did in his last at bat in the series.

Not with a bang, but a whimper.

-- Karl Keller (email)

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