Anthony Volpe’s Changes Couldn’t Be Going Any Better

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Volpe had a rough rookie season at the plate. He hit just .209/.282/.383, which amounted to an 84 wRC+ despite his 21 home runs. Neither his mechanics nor swing decisions looked viable. A swing tailored to consistently lifting the ball propelled his minor league success, but it was also a key reason why he struggled in 2023. He never showed the requisite discipline or contact skills on low and away breaking balls to rely on this swing style, and he failed to make up for that deficiency with plus performance in other parts of the zone.

Volpe’s .142 wOBA against same-handed breaking balls low and away was among the worst in the game. A big part of adapting to major league pitching is proving you can perform against breaking balls. Volpe never did that, so pitchers spammed him with them. Out of the 267 hitters who saw at least 1,250 pitches in 2023, he saw the 22nd-highest breaking ball percentage. He got the classic rookie treatment and couldn’t handle it. So instead of trying to make his existing swing work, he flattened out his bat path with the hope of creating strengths in other areas of the zone while mitigating his big weakness.

I’m going to offer my own video analysis here, but there already has been a lot of great work done on Volpe’s swing change. The Athletic’s Chris Kirschner spoke with Volpe during spring training about how and why flattening his swing path was an offseason priority. Daniel R. Epstein of Baseball Prospectus just provided an analysis on the swing decision part of this and how it has paired with improved contact. Volpe’s adjustments have resulted in an increase of 11 percentage points in Z-Contact%, and he has chased and whiffed significantly less often as well. Entering play Wednesday, he is batting .349/.438/.508 with a 183 wRC+ in 74 plate appearances. And while it is early and small sample caveats apply, his adjustments, as I’ll detail below, are fueling a hot start that has the juice for a real breakout.

Volpe is already showing his new swing and mindset can handle breaking balls; he has a .345 xwOBA against them, and his chase rate against them (15.7%) has decreased by over 14 percentage points compared to 2023. Given his immense struggles last season, just laying off the pitch more often would do him wonders. On top of that, having a flatter entry into the zone makes it more difficult to get to same-handed breaking balls low and away, making it even more important he lay off the pitch as much as he can. He’s off to a good start as far as that’s concerned.

This spring, Volpe told Kirschner, “… if I can still be late and shoot the ball to right field or when I’m early and out in front, still have enough to do something with the pitch, that’s the goal.” Flattening your bat path isn’t the answer for everybody, but if it helps you create more depth (positive bat angle at different depths in the hitting zone) in your points of contact relative to your previous swing, then you can create more room for error because your barrel is on plane for a longer period of time. Here’s how it works for Volpe: Against high heat, he can still be on plane to shoot the ball to right; against a back-foot breaker from a lefty pitcher, he can be early and still make flush contact in the air.

This approach doesn’t work as well for a hitter with a steep swing. If your bat head is pointing up, you have to turn your barrel over to point it down. The steeper your bat angle, the more you have to turn the barrel. It’s much easier to get your bat flat deep into the zone if you start with your bat relatively flat and rotate from there. It takes less time and less movement, hence there being a better chance at making contact more consistently. There is more nuance to it, but that is generally how the process goes. But remember, this doesn’t work for every hitter. Creating bat speed in deeper parts of the zone while maintaining an upward slope with your swing isn’t easy. Luckily that has always been a skill for Volpe.

In the shortstop’s prospect report, Eric Longenhagen said, “His swing is like a right-handed version of Juan Soto’s, capable of getting underneath the baseball in basically every part of the zone, in part because of the flexibility and athleticism in his lower half.” Soto has one of the flattest swings in baseball, but he can still elevate a variety of pitches because of the combination of his torso bend and lower-half maneuverability. In layman’s terms, he can rely on body adjustments to do the work of creating lift while keeping his bat flatter through the zone than most hitters can. Volpe can do the same: The lift will happen even with his flatter swing because he can combine body adjustments with a barrel that is on plane through most of the hitting zone.

Eric also pointed out that Volpe worked with a private instructor to re-engineer his swing before his prospect breakout. That is not an exaggeration. Volpe literally made his swing in a hitting lab with the help of biomechanical data. That process is probably a big reason why over this offseason he was able to remake his swing again, this time to flatten out his entry into the zone while maintaining the key strength of his swing: lower half maneuverability. So let’s explore how Volpe did this, going step by step through it.

Setup Into Load

First thing: Volpe isn’t a big guy. He can naturally create a flat entry into the zone just with an upright stance and high hands. Even last year, it’s not as if he had an extremely steep swing, just steeper than was ideal for him. By standing more upright, he immediately sets himself up for a flatter entry because his shoulders and torso are neutral relative to the ground.

Peak Leg Kick Into Foot Plant

Volpe’s leg kick was a bit all over the place last year, but he ended up with a relatively closed stance. That complicated things for him against inner-third pitches because opening his front hip while maintaining a deep path was a strength of his. Closing out may have put more pressure on his backside to hold his stability. He went back to a neutral start this year and now looks more like he did as a prospect. As he plants his foot, he is still able to hold his posture and start his flatter entry into the zone without putting pressure on any particular part of his body to do the work.

Swing and Follow Through

The differences here may be tough to discern at first glance, but there are two things that are important to pay attention to. First, in the 2023 clip, Volpe’s back leg starts to collapse before contact. That alters his timing and path to the point that he catches the ball off the end of the bat and skies it for a fly ball out. This year, that leg is staying strong through the swing and only dips after the point of contact. That is much more stable and controlled. It’s the difference between a fly ball and a line drive over the wall.

Also notice how his front foot withstands and then transfers energy. Against Patrick Corbin in 2023, that foot peels over and eventually needs another step to the side to catch the energy transfer, whereas against Jesús Luzardo from last week, it has the initial peel but transfers back toward the midpoint of his body without needing that extra sidestep. That indicates better weight transfer. If you can make tight turns around the midpoint of your body, you’ll always be in a better position to adjust. This swing is one example of that.

Small sample aside, Volpe looks like a completely different hitter this year. This piece mostly focused on his mechanics, but he is also showing tremendous poise and conviction in his swing decisions. His swing rate in the Shadow Zone has dropped 12 percentage points. He is taking borderline pitches off the plate with no hesitation whatsoever. Combine that with a drastically improved swing process and you have what we’ve seen so far. At some point, pitchers will adjust and Volpe will need to do the same, but a more versatile swing should help him do that.

Esteban is a contributing writer at FanGraphs. You can also find his work at Pinstripe Alley if you so dare to read about the Yankees. Find him on Twitter @esteerivera42 for endless talk about swing mechanics.

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Cool Lester Smoothmember
1 month ago

Awesome, awesome post, Esteban!!

Definitely think that the swing decisions are being aided by the swing change – switching to an all-fields approach and being shorter to the zone just straight up gives him more time to make one!

“Baseball makeup” can get overrated, but one of Volpe’s strengths really does seem to be that he doesn’t care how he hits well, just that he hits well.