Brent Rooker Talks Hitting

Brent Rooker has had an up-and-down rookie campaign. Demoted to Triple-A following an injury-marred April, the 26-year-old outfielder logged a 141 wRC+ with 20 home runs in 62 games with the St. Paul Saints. He’s been less productive, yet no less promising, since returning to the Twins toward the tail end of July. In 153 plate appearances, the No. 35 pick in the 2017 draft has six long balls to go with a a 91 wRC+ and a .304 wOBA.

Those numbers aren’t a mystery to Rooker, nor are the swing analytics that help dictate what he’s doing in the batter’s box. Two partial seasons into what will hopefully be a long and productive big-league career, the former Mississippi State Bulldog is more than just an up-and-coming slugger: he’s a student of hitting.


David Laurila: Do you view hitting as more of an art, or as more of a science?

Brent Rooker: “I think the best hitters are a combination of both. They’re very artistic in terms of what they feel and the way their bodies move. They know how to manipulate their bodies to allow them do what they need to do in order to accomplish what they want to accomplish in the box. But I also think the best guys know, statistically and analytically, what they do well and what they don’t do well. They use that to their advantage.

“Obviously, you have guys on both sides of the spectrum. Some guys are more feel guys, and others are more by the numbers and analytics. But again, I think the best guys — the truly best guys — are a combination of both.”

Laurila: That said, do you lean more toward one than the other?

Rooker: “I would probably lean toward it being a science. There are concrete things you can look at as approach-wise, as far as what the best guys do consistently numbers-wise and with their bodies. You can take those things and kind of apply them to yourself through experimentation. You can study a bunch of stuff and kind of formulate your own approach, and your own swing, to best fit how your mind works and how your body works.”

Laurila: Have you utilized tools such like Blast sensors and K-vests?

Rooker: “Yes. I’ve done all those things, so I’m pretty familiar with how I move — what my movement profile looks like — and what I do and don’t do well. I can take what I know from that and design a swing, and an approach, to give me the best chance to have success.”

Laurila: What have you learned about yourself in that regard?

Rooker: “I’m very rotational. I can turn very, very fast, and that’s kind of what I get a lot of my power from. Knowing that, in a lot of my training and my pregame work, I’ll work on some more linear things to help make sure that I don’t get too rotational. If I get too rotational, my swing goes bad and I start to struggle a bit.

“Again, you want to be able to formulate a plan. With both offseason training and pregame-routine work, I want to do things that both allow me to continue doing what I do well, but also things that are going to keep me from leaning too much on my rotational speed. If I lean on that too much, sometimes my swing gets very around-the-ball and I start to hook a lot of balls rather than staying center and right-center, which is what I want.”

Laurila: Has your swing changed at all? In asking that, I’m reminded that another hitter recently told me the swing itself usually doesn’t change all that much; what does change is the thought process behind the swing.

Rooker: “I would agree with that. You can watch yourself on video one day, and the next day you watch yourself again, thinking you’ve made this massive change, and it looks almost identical. But what you’re feeling in your head and what you’re telling your body to do may be completely different. That could lead to some different results, for sure, but from a physical standpoint, what your body is going to do at this stage — you’ve taken so many reps — it’s hard to make any huge, drastic changes. At the same time, those little minor tweaks to your approach, to your thought process, can be huge.”

Laurila: That said, would I see the same hitter if I compared video of you at Mississippi State to video of you now?

Rooker: “I think you’d notice a slight difference, but as a whole the movement profile is very similar. You’d notice a bigger difference between my sophomore and junior years of college, but from my junior year to now I’ve kind of stuck with the same formula. I’ve stuck with the same process to build my swing how I want it. So, I think you’d see some small tweaks, because… I mean, my body has changed over the last four or five years — the way I move has slightly changed — but as a whole, the move will look very similar.”

Laurila: What about where you start your hands? Has that changed at all?

Rooker: “Hitters’ hands will move throughout the season, even from game-to-game or at-bat-to-at-bat, based on how you’re feeling. You might also make small changes based on what the pitcher is throwing and how he’s trying to get you out. You can make small tweaks to your posture, how you’re standing, how wide you are, where your hands are — things like that — to give yourself a better chance against the individual pitcher. Those things are constantly changing. I think the best hitters are able to do that: they’ll make small changes here and there, to their approach, their setup, or even the swing itself to give them the best chance for success.”

Laurila: You mentioned wanting to stay center to right-center. Is that your primary approach?

Rooker: “You have to change somewhat pitcher-to-pitcher, but as an overarching theme, I try to hit fastballs to right-centerfield. I think that gives me the best chance to stay on breaking pitches in the zone, and to be able to hit them to center, left-center, or even pull side if I get out front of it enough. What the pitcher is trying to do is going to dictate my specific approach, but as a whole, that’s kind of what I try to do: put my body in a position to drive fastballs to right-center and trust that that’s going to put me on the rest of the stuff.”

Laurila: Is letting the ball travel part of that approach?

Rooker: “For me, it’s more the thought of where I’m trying to attack the ball. If you divide the ball into quadrants, I’m trying to attack the bottom left quadrant. That’s going to give me the best chance to drive the ball in the air to right-centerfield. That thought works better for me than trying to stay inside the ball, or just ‘hit the ball to right field.’ If I visualize where I actually want to attack the ball, that puts my swing in the best position to do I want to do.”

Laurila: It’s often said that you can’t think and hit at the same time. With that in mind, what can a hitter think about in the box?

Rooker: “I think different hitters think different amounts, and need to think different amounts. One guy might be flying up there with absolutely no thoughts in his head and just letting his body react naturally. Other guys may need one swing thought, or two swing thoughts. Maybe it’s one approach-thought to keep them locked in for that at bat. It’s whatever works for the individual.”

Laurila: Any final thoughts?

Rooker: “You can talk to 10 different hitters and get 10 different thought processes, 10 different ideas of how to train or prepare for games, or what they’re thinking in the box. That’s part of what makes our sport so cool and so unique. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy studying hitting so much. There’s always something more to learn.”


Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Jeff Albert, Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, JJ Bleday, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, Joey Gallo, Devlin Granberg, Andy Haines, Mitch Haniger, Tim Hyers, Jimmy Kerr, Trevor Larnach, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Cedric Mullins, Daniel Murphy, Drew Saylor, Fernando Tatis Jr., Justin Turner, Mark Trumbo, Zac Veen, Luke Voit, Jordan Westburg, Jesse Winker, Nick Yorke.

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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