There were a few times during the ALCS when I looked at the game and mistook Chas McCormick for Jose Altuve. Why? Both he and McCormick don’t put their feet in the box like a striker. Instead, they have a different placement that puts them shoulder to shoulder with the right fielder instead of a relationship with the center fielder. In McCormick’s case, it’s more pronounced than Altuve’s. And that’s not just in the setting; it includes the Astros outfielder strides close as well.
Every hitter, player, person, etc. has a different body. Depending on one’s body and its strengths and limitations, different adjustments should be made to get the most out of the body when it comes to swinging the baseball. You might think it’s weird or ugly, but that doesn’t matter. McCormick’s closing set and stride opened up a part of his game that he may not have. During the ALCS, I grew to realize that he was a dangerous hitter when he drove the ball to the outfield. If you force him to play his way inside, then he can take the ball and pepper a short time in Minute Maid Park.
I didn’t watch McCormick too much this season before the playoffs, but when I did, I didn’t remember the closing announcement. I’ll have to check it out more to find out if it was updated mid-season, or if I wasn’t looking hard enough. Here are a few swings from the Yankees in July against both righties and lefties:
The two swings make the barrels go in different directions. In the first one, he scorched a line out of Jordan Montgomery’s above-average conversion in the bottom of the zone. This is not an easy sound to get your bucket under, but it has been done. Similarly, McCormick laced Jonathan Loáisiga’s monster 2-seam fastball that most hitters have trouble hitting hard, let alone into the opposite direction. These are not normal opposite-field line drives; The goal in the mechanics and pitch selection is to drive the ball to the right field, something you don’t see from many above-average right hitters.
A little closure is the norm, but McCormick takes it to the next level. The walk and scissor kick completes Montgomery’s final look and is perhaps a good explanation for why he is more effective against lefties. Long story short, these two swings make me passionate about his ability to shoot the ball to the opposite side. They also came close to beginning a streak of hitting that lasted through July and the second half of the season, where McCormick put up a 125 wRC+. And as his performance took off, so did his thoughts in a different direction:
Chas McCormick’s Oppo Tendencies
|The moon||Oppo Batted Balls||Total Batted Balls||Percentage||wOBA||xOB|
|April||17||51||33.3||0.196 a||0.207 a|
|Five||9||45||20||0.276 a||0.206 a|
|Jun||3||19||15.8 a||0.691 one||0.212 a|
|July||20||49||40.8 a||0.673 a||0.574 a|
|Aug||15||37||40.5 a||0.478 a||0.421 one|
|September/Oct||14||53||26.4 a||0.549 a||0.424 a|
|Autumn||4||19||21.1||1.257 He||0.839 a|
Source: Baseball Savant
It’s a quirky skill. Many hitters in the game today hit their peak when they knew how to catch the ball in the air. McCormick has been inconsistent in his first two seasons in the big leagues. Two months with 40% of his batted balls going to the opposite field would put him at the top of the Oppo% leader by more than three percentage points. And frankly, most of the other hitters aren’t sluggers; they are basketball players.
This batted ball preference and any quirk of striding close put McCormick in an interesting position relative to his friends. None of that, however, should explain why it works for McCormick and not others. There are many hitters throughout the league who stride a little closer, like his teammate Altuve, but not all of them do it very much. Why does it work so well for him?
To answer this question, I will take it back to the basics of typing. This is the easiest physics lesson you will ever get. We have the plane of the baseball and the plane of the bat. The plane of the bat must meet the bottom of the ball if the end goal is to rise. Now, in terms of the player’s mind and body, they need to get the barrel away from their body to complete this task, but it is not as easy as it sounds. When hooking up your barrel, there are several things you need to do, but I’ll stick to two for now. First, your bottom hand should be pointing up. This will keep your bat on track to drive and pass the ball. Next, your lower half should be in a strong enough position so that your hands and wrists can impact the ball and follow the law. This is a part that varies from hitter to hitter.
For the most part, this is done with your feet landing near the middle of both. By that I mean: if there is a straight line from the top to the bottom of the batter’s box, both of the hitter’s feet will land near the line with some room to the left or right. McCormick is far, far from that mark; instead, he ends up with one foot in the upper right corner and one in the lower left corner. That is as scissor as scissors can kick. This swing against Gerrit Cole serves as a good reminder of how much McCormick turned himself in the box:
By doing this, McCormick can keep his hips locked as long as they want, with his lower half balanced throughout all phases of the swing and his arms in the right direction. directed to drop the ball in the air in a different direction.
In each of the three clips shown so far, the location is in the middle of the lower third of the zone. This is the perfect spot for McCormick to take the ball to the right. His angled body changed his bat direction to where he successfully worked through the gap on the right side. This screenshot gives you the best representation of what this looks like in practice:
Even as a supporter of close matches and/or scissor kicks, this is important to see. Call me crazy, but this is the Tony Batista defense that I’ve been waiting all my life for: start close, stride close, scissor kick yourself even close.
McCormick has found himself in a special area, and it makes me wonder if this is a beauty, like a pitcher with an outlier run or ride. But there is always a flip side to special features when it comes to hitting mechanics. While this swing makes sense for McCormick, it still gives him a hole or two. After all, it’s Chas McCormick, not Mike Trout. And the playoffs are a perfect micro model for how this kind of thing can be displayed. In an attempt to analyze where the limit was exceeded, I was reminded of McCormick’s swing against Loáisiga in the ALCS:
To hit a pitch with this shape, tilt, and run in the third inning, McCormick must catch the ball so far away from the plate that it would be ineffective or impossible. There is no room in his bat to fit this hit if he is walking too hard. It makes every right-handed pitcher with this type of arm work very hard for him, and that’s why he’s so good against lefties.
I’m sure you’re asking right now: how does this affect the Phillies’ pitching strategy has been or will be against McCormick? See for yourself:
First, all of these pitches come against righties. Other than Ranger Suárez, I don’t think McCormick will face a lefty unless the Phillies have no choice (ie, they probably won’t use José Alvarado or Brad Tes against him). Second, have all the sliders down and/or down and away. One thing I hadn’t noted until now is that McCormick is abysmal against explosives; he hit .090 against sliders this year and .143 against curveballs. That is a good reason to throw them until he proves that he can be released. Speaking of fastballs, there were some forgettable mixes, but Seranthony Domínguez, Aaron Nola, and Zack Wheeler did a good job of focusing on the inner third where McCormick’s limit was. So far in the World Series, he has two hits: one a blast up the middle, the other a 63.2 mph jam shot. (It’s the red spot on the audio map all the way.)
There is one pitcher on the Phillies, too, who seems to be a bad match against McCormick: Noah Syndergaard, who is good at keeping the integrity of the park to the outfield. On the year, he allowed one second and zero home runs from his sinker to right-handed hitters into right field. That’s a small sample size, but it applies to McCormick’s swing type and approach at the plate. There probably isn’t a better Astros hitter to take Syndergaard deep to right if he makes a mistake in the hot spot, but again, the Stars should be fine.
I’m interested to see if McCormick slightly adjusts his approach in anticipation of facing Syndergaard, or if he follows what has been working and lets the game come to him. Both are good ways, but he must have full faith in it. I’m not sure if he thinks as deeply as I have in this draft, but I do know that the Phillies staff is prepared not to let him be their hitter. In order to do that, they have to pound it inside, and not let its reward come back to bite them.