Guest post by Travis Leonardi
(All GIFs courtesy of @domhunt18 on twitter)
Stellar defense and a bright personality made JaCoby Jones a fan favorite in Detroit since his debut in 2016. He has shown flashes of the power-speed prospect that was advertised when the Tigers traded Joakim Soria to acquire him in 2015. However, Jones’ offensive production left much to be desired in his first few years as a professional. After leading MLB in defensive runs saved in 2018, Tigers GM Al Avila stated Jones could be a future All-Star if his hitting improved.
More after the jump
Posting a 70 wRC+ in 129 games in 2018, Jones retooled his mechanics this offseason to follow a more level swing path. This change is designed to make more contact and improve on his 30.4% strikeout rate from last season. The first example is Jones’ swing from July 25, 2018 against the Royals compared to April 17th, 2019 against the Pirates.
There are two key points here. In 2018, Jones is using a noticeably open stance. In 2019, the stance is still slightly open, but the front leg is now offset by just a few inches. This simplifies his loading step and increases consistency with an easy motion to repeat. The second change seen is that pre-pitch movement has been toned down. In the first GIF, we see Jones tap his foot and wiggle his bat simultaneously before starting to load. With his struggles at the plate, this movement is unnecessary and is a likely cause of timing issues. In the second GIF, the foot tap is eliminated and there is less movement of the bat. The hand path and follow-through appear unchanged. For a player struggling with a high strikeout rate, the simpler the better. This is a step in the right direction.
Mechanical improvements unfortunately do not guarantee results as Jones posted a .137 AVG, 33.9% strikeout rate and -0.5 WAR over 15 games in April to start the 2019 season. On the verge of being demoted to the minors, something had to change. Jones made a not-so-subtle adjustment that reversed his fortune. On May 1st, he again debuted a new swing.
This GIF is a 2-run home run off Noah Syndergaard from May 24th. In the previous two examples, Jones holds the bat high near eye level. Here the bat is seen resting on his shoulders with the hands close to his body in a ready position. Jones has been praised as a prospect for his lightning-quick hands. The lowered bat position and hand placement result in a quick transfer to the loading position, allowing him to take full advantage of his bat speed. This change creates more reaction time for pitch recognition and less moving parts that complicate the swing.
In the month of May, Jones turned the tide on his offensive woes posting a .271/.344/.494 slash line in 28 games. His walk rate improved from 3.6% in April to 9.4% in May and his strikeout rate decreased to 30.9%. The new stance significantly improved his pitch recognition and he began crushing baseballs. A strikeout rate above 30% is still a concern but if improvements continue to be made Jones is turning himself into an All-Star caliber player.
Jones soared to greater heights with a dominant June. In 25 games, he slashed .291/.351/.547 with a strikeout rate of 25.5%. His simplified swing led to premier offensive production over the past 2 months. According to Baseball Savant, JaCoby Jones currently ranks 30th among all hitters with a 48.3% hard-hit rate.
Most players enter their peak offensive seasons around age 28. Having recently turned 27, Jones seems to have found himself at the plate. It is important to recognize these are small samples and a broad range of data is necessary to come to concrete conclusions. However, if the current trend continues the sky is the limit.