Jared Walsh Studies His Peers

© Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Jared Walsh is a studious hitter. He’s also a productive hitter in the middle of the Los Angeles Angels lineup. In just over 1,000 big league plate appearances, the 28-year-old first baseman has 50 home runs to go along with a .269/.325/.499 slash line and a 122 wRC+. This past Saturday, Walsh went deep for the 11th time on the season while hitting for the ninth cycle in franchise history.

A two-way player at the University of Georgia who has also taken the mound in pro ball — including five times for the Angels in 2019 — Walsh lasted until the 39th round of the 2015 draft. To say he’s gone on to exceed most expectations with the bat would be an understatement.

Walsh discussed his watch-and-learn approach to hitting when the Angels visited Fenway Park last month.

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David Laurila: Let’s start with your M.O. as a hitter. What are you looking to do when you’re in the box?

Jared Walsh: “In my perfect world, I’m a line drive into left-center and a line drive into right-center kind of hitter.”

Laurila: Is that an approach you’ve always had, or have you evolved over time?

Walsh: “As hitters, I think we both evolve and devolve. Ups and downs come with being a hitter, and for me, when things are going good, it’s those line drives into the gaps. When things aren’t going good, sometimes it’s too many pull-side groundballs.”

Laurila: What typically causes that fluctuation, particularly the downturns?

Walsh: “There are a few things. There is the way they pitch you, the way that your body moves, natural tendencies… I think if you watch a lot of hitters, they have a lot of the same problems they had when they were nine years old. They also have the same positives.”

Laurila: Can you elaborate on what’s happening when you’re not going well?

Walsh: “I think my direction gets a little pull-side happy. I get a little east-west with my shoulders, a little rotational. I could do a better job of staying within myself, down a line toward the pitcher, and a line toward the center field wall.”

Laurila: Is a lot of that mental — you’re maybe trying to do too much — or is it almost entirely a physical issue?

Walsh: “It’s almost all physical. Mike Trout is a great example; he’s a little bit tighter than I am. I’m hyper-mobile. I have a lot of flexibility in my legs, and in my thoracic spine, so sometimes I have a tendency to counter-rotate. That messes up my direction.”

Laurila: When did you learn that about your body, and your swing?

Walsh: “I didn’t know it until I got into professional baseball. K-vest helped, but also just watching hitters… Mookie Betts is a guy who seems to be hyper-mobile. He’s got a lot of hip-to-shoulder separation. So, it’s evaluating hitters, certain guys that are very tight and are MVP-caliber, and certain guys that are very loose who are MVP-caliber.”

Laurila: Is it possible to train yourself out of being too hyper-mobile, or do you simply need to be super focused on staying through the middle?

Walsh: “I think there are things you could do. I think that being able to stop and decelerate as a hitter is why Mike is one of the best in the game, year in and year out. So yeah, I think there is stuff that you can do, both in the weight room and in the cage.”

Laurila: Elaborate on “stop and decelerate.”

Walsh: “If you went on YouTube and watched Mike Trout highlights, you’d see a lot of videos of him. He gets his front foot down, and if he’s a little early, and he gets a breaking ball, [he] stays back and does a scissor behind his front leg. That’s how I recognize being able to decelerate. He’s a little bit fooled, but his body is in such a good position — so strong — that he can scissor behind his front leg and square up the ball.”

Laurila: Is that mostly a matter of keeping the hands back, or is there more to it?

Walsh: “I always follow my hands as a hitter. I have a pump — my hands work up and down — so for me, it’s hands. But I’ve talked to Josh Donaldson, and all he thinks about is rotating. He’s got a pump with his hands, so it’s all subjective. Some guys think lower half, some guys think upper half, some guys think posture. I’m a hands guy.

“I picked up a bat when I was seven years old, and since then I’ve always thought one way. I’ve tweaked my mechanics along the way, but I hit a baseball with my hands. Even though it might not look like that, that’s my thought.”

Laurila: What have been your most notable tweaks?

Walsh: “When I first got drafted, I was kind of across the ball. I had a flatter bat path and didn’t really stay through the ball very long. So, I focused on working up through the ball to create length through the zone. And then I’ve worked on getting on top of the ball. It’s more so what I feel I need at a given time, judging by my misses.

Jeremy Reed, my hitting coach now, was my hitting coordinator in the minor leagues. He and I discussed some of the adjustments that I’ve made, and I’ve been encouraged to continue with those.”

Laurila: Are you generally trying to hit the ball in the air?

Walsh: “I try to take what the game is telling me, so it depends. But I hit the ball pretty hard, so if I can hit it in the air, that’s going to help me with my slug. I’m a first baseman, so I want to at least hit a line drive. Another thing is that if you’re just swinging on one plane every time, it’s going to be a struggle. Training variability with your swing is pretty important.”

Laurila: That’s something I’ve talked about with hitters recently, having a variable swing as opposed to a grooved swing. How do you go about that variability?

Walsh: “There’s so much tech out there now. When Tommy La Stella was here, we had this little red machine. It was about as tall as this chair, and it would shoot these foam baseballs. It could simulate facing Gerrit Cole or Justin Verlander, guys who can spin fastballs at the top of zone. The balls are foam, so if you don’t barrel it up, it’s not going to hurt your hands. Working on staying on top has really been beneficial. You’re not just swinging one plane, regardless of the pitcher.”

Laurila: From what you said earlier, it sounds like you watch hitters who are similar to you, trying to learn from what they’re doing.

Walsh: “Daily. I usually watch left-handed hitters, but I would say that Donaldson is a guy I’ve found some similarities with. When we get into our power position, we both tend to counter-rotate a little bit more than the average hitter. So, he’s a pretty interesting guy. He does a really good job of staying behind the baseball.

“In terms of lefty hitters, José Ramirez is probably my favorite to watch. I also watch a lot of Max Muncy. I’ve watched Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Cody Bellinger… all of those guys. I think it’s interesting to see how guys go about hitting baseballs. Kyle Schwarber is another one I watch.”

Laurila: Muncy stands out for his plate discipline. Is that something that can be trained, or is it an innate trait?

Walsh: “I have a few thoughts on that. I think some guys are a little more predisposed. For instance, I don’t know if I’m ever going to be a Joey Votto type, or a Juan Soto type, regardless of how much I study. But I do think that if you get into a good position consistently, you’re going to give your eyes and your brain the best chance to make a decision. If you’re struggling to get to that position, or you’re doing it too late, that’s when your chase rate is going to go up. The more consistent you can be getting into that power position, the better.”

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Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Jo Adell, Jeff Albert, Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Alex Bregman, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, JJ Bleday, Bobby Bradley, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Josh Donaldson, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, Michael Fransoso, Joey Gallo, Devlin Granberg, Andy Haines, Mitch Haniger, Robert Hassell III, Rhys Hoskins, Eric Hosmer, Tim Hyers, Josh Jung, Jimmy Kerr, Trevor Larnach, Doug Latta, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Daniel Murphy, Brent Rooker, Drew Saylor, Fernando Tatis Jr., Justin Turner, Mark Trumbo, Josh VanMeter, Robert Van Scoyoc, Zac Veen, Mark Vientos, 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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tokenpadre
3 months ago

Awesome interview! Thanks David