Small adjustments go a long way for batting trio
Lotte Giants slugger Hwang Jae-gyun, and Samsung Lions’s Park Hae-min and LG Twins Lim Hun are all adjusting their batting routines which they hope will make all the difference this season.
Last year, Hwang would lift his front leg during his stride. Known as a leg kick, it allowed him to get more power into his batting. With the lead leg lifted in the air, Hwang’s weight is shifted to the rear leg. When he swings and brings the lead leg back to the ground, the weight is shifted from the rear leg to the lead leg, transferring all the power and energy into his hit.
With this batting form, Hwang recorded his personal-high of 26 home runs. But he seems to have changed his form this season. In exhibition games, Hwang lifted his lead leg only slightly above the ground and his swings are more concise than before.
“Making a big swing motion using centrifugal force is good when hitting extra-base hits, but contact accuracy is low. Also when I am physically tired, it is difficult to maintain the form. I chose to change my batting form to increase accuracy and consistency,” said Hwang when asked about his new form.
Hwang is hitting better than before with the new batting style but he is not satisfied. Hwang has a .310 batting average (BA) or 13-for-42 so far. Although he has not had a home run yet, the quality of his hits is solid. Out of the 13 hits he recorded, three were doubles and one was a triple. Above all else, Hwang is striking out less. Last season, Hwang had 122 strikeouts during 596 at-bats and, so far, in preseason games, he only had three strikeouts during 42 at-bats.
The Lions outfielder Park Hae-min and the Twins Lim Hun also have altered their batting form and got rid of the leg-kick motion. They both say their intention is to increase precision. Both Park and Lim are likely to be the table setters for their respective teams, meaning they need to maximize their on-base percentage, more so than slugging percentage.
“I often got deceived by trick pitches last season,” said Park. “So I asked for advice from Choi Hyoung-woo, which was the reason why I modified my swing form.
“For the first time in my career, I am hitting without the leg kick. I wanted to tune my form to have a better batting eye. When I transferred to the Twins, I was lucky enough to be able to observe the batting form of Park Yong-taik. I thought his form was the most ideal.”
The Lions’ Park has shown outstanding hitting sense so far. His BA at the moment stands at .392, 22 hits in 56 at-bats. Park is currently ranked fourth in BA in the KBO standing. The drop in strikeouts is also noteworthy. His average strikeouts last season were 0.21 per at-bat, 126 strikeouts during 608 at-bats, the most in his club. However, he’s only had 6 so far this season.
The common target of the Hwang, Park and Lim is to become a contact hitter, a player who strikes out less frequently but usually makes contact with the ball to put the play on.
“With a large leg-kick motion, a player’s body and vision often wobble,” said SBS Sports commentator Lee Jong-yeol who studied sports biomechanics in the United States.
“Towards the second half of the season when players are running out of stamina, the instability gets worse. Without the leg kick, players can stay stable,” KBS N Sports commentator Cho Seong-hwan said. “It is hard for players to look at the ball without taking their eyes off of it when they have a big leg-kick motion, especially during the weight shifting process. They are especially vulnerable to curve balls and breaking balls. Forgoing the leg kick can be seen as the determination to not be fooled by a trick pitch.”
Batters who attempt to fix their batting form often go through a transition period where they don’t perform as well as before. Some even return to their old form. But in the process, many of them find the most suitable swing that fits their style of play.
For Hwang, Park and Lim, although their legs will stay low this season, their expectations are higher than ever.
BY AN HEE-SOO [firstname.lastname@example.org]