From a Failed Quest For More Power, Rob Refsnyder Has Evolved as a Hitter

Rob Refsnyder
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Refsnyder is having a career-best season with the Boston Red Sox. Playing in a reserve role, the 31-year-old journeyman outfielder is slashing .304/.380/.462 with four home runs and a 143 wRC+ in 129 plate appearances. He’s done most of his damage against lefties, boasting a robust 1.056 OPS versus opposite-handed hurlers.

He’s followed a meandering path to success. Since debuting with the New York Yankees in 2015, the University of Arizona product has played for eight different organizations, seeing big-league time with five of them. Along the way, he’s worked with numerous hitting coaches in an attempt to turn the proverbial corner as a hitter. Refsnyder entered this season with a .224/.310/.308 slash line, and six of his 10 career home runs, in 614 MLB plate appearances.

A failed quest to produce more power is part of his story. Six years ago this month, Refsnyder was quoted in a Sunday Notes column saying that he was “going to try to hit home runs… I’m going to try to completely change my game.”

Earlier this summer, I reminded Refsnyder about that conversation, then asked if he could take me through his subsequent evolution as a hitter. Here is what he had to say.

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Rob Refsnyder: “In 2016, I had about 150 [big-league] at bats without a home run. That was kind of when a lot of get-the-ball-in-the-air stuff was going on, so I saw a hitting coach and we worked on getting more loft. That backfired. In 2017, I was pretty much dog crap. I felt really off in the box. I had no chance up there.

“Basically, I was out of sequence. I was too tilted back — my head was behind my core — and I was entering the zone way underneath plane, which made my room for error miniscule. I couldn’t stay on the off-speed. My barrel was rolling up through the hitting zone. My swing wasn’t flat, at all. I think if you look at guys of my stature, they usually need to have a flat-through-the-zone swing. I stopped trying to launch in 2017, but my mechanics were still messed up the following year. My swing still had a lot of loft in it, even though I wasn’t looking for that. I’d basically created a lot of bad mechanics.

“In 2018, I got DFA’d by the Rays, so I started simplifying a lot of things. In 2019, I was with the Reds in Triple-A. Then I met Cody Atkinson, who was the hitting coordinator with the Texas Rangers. I signed with them [in December 2019], and that’s when I starting moving through center a little bit better. A lot of credit goes to Cody. If it wasn’t for him, I’d probably be out of baseball. He helped me gather underneath myself a little bit better, and to move through centerfield better. I’d been stuck back and was just spinning, with no bat path through the middle of the zone. From 2017 to 2019, I was strictly in baseball because I could understand [pitch] sequences. But I couldn’t do any damage. I rolled over a lot of stuff — it was six-hole, a lot of topspin — and Cody got me working through center.

“Last year, I worked with Borgs [Matt Borgschulte]. He’s now the hitting coach with the Orioles, but he was the Triple-A hitting coach for the Minnesota Twins. I had him at the alt site, and we changed my mechanics. I had seen Craig Wallenbrock and Rob Van Scoyoc in 2018, and I’d worked with Cody a bunch. Then last year I worked with Borgs.

“Borgs and I completely changed my sequence. I was starting to get some results at the alt site, and then in the big leagues, but I still wasn’t competing against right-handers at all. I wasn’t doing much damage or even getting the ball out of the infield, so I went to Driveline this past offseason. They opened up a smaller gym in Arizona, and I worked with Conner Watson and Tanner Stokey. We worked on trying to increase my workable bat speed. We worked on bat-speed training, with bat tools and stuff like that.

“Some of [the recent success] has been going back to what I was doing in the minors. It’s been understanding why I had successful swings when I was younger, and from there understanding how to maximize it. I wouldn’t say that I’ve gone full circle, though. Not at all. Some of the thoughts are the same — what I want to try to do to the baseball — but mechanically it’s completely different.

“I really don’t know why [it’s taken so long]. I mean, I’ve never stopped working along the way. I’ve always understood that I had to be objective and recognize when my swing wasn’t good, or that my results weren’t good. I’ve always known that I had to improve as a hitter.”





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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Davidmember
2 months ago

Sorry to be “that guy,” but name is misspelled in headline

cantpredictitsusan
2 months ago
Reply to  David

Oops

Last edited 2 months ago by cantpredictitsusan