Marlon Byrd on His Career Arc and Mechanics

Marlon Byrd has been around. Drafted by the Phillies out of Georgia Tech in 1999, the 38-year-old outfielder is in his 15th big-league season. The Indians, who inked him to a contract in March, are his 10th team.

Byrd has never been a star, but he’s had a solid career. His slash line over 6,066 plate appearances is .275/.329/.429 and he’s recorded 504 extra-base hits, including 156 home runs.

Eno Sarris wrote about Byrd a year ago this month, largely through the lens of former teammate Justin Turner. Last week, I caught up to Bryd to get his own perspective on the notable adjustment he made in 2013, and the overall arc of his career.

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Byrd on playing at age 38: “What’s different is that I have more confidence and a higher baseball IQ. It’s knowing instead of trying to figure out. It’s the same process as far as the way I go about my work. I’m just better at it now, because I have more experience.

“Baseball isn’t harder because of the way I feel. That’s not the way it works. Of course, I can’t run like I used to. Coming out here and feeling great like I did at the age of 25… that’s not going to happen. With age, you slow down and have a regression. But you can slow that regression down with how you work out, how you take care of yourself, how you get your rest, your supplementation and all that.

“I don’t go out there and feel like I’m 38. There’s a difference. If you talk to David Ortiz, he’s not going to tell you he feels exactly the same as when he was 30. But he knows what the pitchers are trying to do. He can see what pitchers are tipping. You do your homework in other ways.

“I don’t think you ever ‘get it.’ You can get better mentally — you can have a better idea of what you’re doing — but as far as ‘getting it’… that doesn’t really happen. Maybe you do if you’re Barry Bonds. I’m never going to say ‘I’ve got it.’ I will say I have a better understanding than I did when I was 23-24.”

On why he’s been better in some seasons than others: “It’s mechanics and understanding. I lost my mechanics in 2012 and hit .210 with one homer. The year before I got hit in the face, so I didn’t really get the at-bats I wanted. The year before that I made the All-Star team. From 2007 to 2009, I changed my mechanics because of Rudy Jaramillo, my hitting coach. Prior to that, from 2004 to 2006, I was searching.

“From 2013 to 2015, my numbers were 20-plus homers. I changed my mechanics, which made it easier. I understood my swing better. The process never changes. If you’re not trying to get better, you’ll be out of the game.”

On losing his mechanics in 2012: “It happened because I was working on the wrong thing. It was as simple as that. I was working on staying back and trying to get on top of the ball. That’s not the way we actually hit. To get backspin, you have to hit the bottom of the ball and be on the same plane as the ball, to get the ball in the air. I was working on hitting hard line drives and hitting hard ground balls.

“Now I’m working to hit line drives and balls in the air. To do that, you have to have the right mechanics. You can’t stay back. You can’t have your front hip coming out, because you’re staying back. You have to stay through the ball and have that first move to the ball linear instead of rotational.

“I wasn’t wanting to do what I was doing. I was trying to stay through the ball, but again, it was the old-school thinking of hitting, as far as ‘get on top; let the ball get deep and get on top.’ When I was doing that, and doing it correctly… but it was the wrong swing, so I wasn’t getting any results. What I was doing before… if you look at my swings, I was actually catching the ball out further. I was making a more linear move as far as my first move to the ball instead of rotational.”

On making the mechanical correction: “To fix something, you have to go to the right person. I started working with Doug Latta, who works at The Ballyard. He gave me different ideas about hitting and it started working. This was an offseason thing in 2012, when I went to winter ball, all the way through 2013.

“You have to get rid of the bad mechanics you’ve developed, and it can be hard to get rid of bad mechanics. But once you fix them… you hear about pitchers throwing 90-92 and all of a sudden they get their mechanics back and they’re throwing 95-96. Scott Kazmir was 88, then he was 92-94 again because he fixed his mechanics.

“Guys go through spells where their mechanics just aren’t right. It can be mental. It can be physical. There can be something wrong with your knees, something wrong with your back. Some guys may have just been working on the wrong thing for so long that it takes awhile to get out of them. Some people are just stubborn and won’t change.”

On his mindset following the 2012 struggles: “I assumed that it was because of age. You start getting older and I thought I had to cheat to get to pitches. I didn’t think I had it anymore, and the game had passed me. But again, I was incorrect. Mechanics were the whole thing. Once I changed that, everything started making more sense. It wasn’t easy, but it got easier than it was.

“Again, there is a regression that happens. But it’s not as though you have to go from hitting .290 to .210. That’s what I did. When that happens, you start thinking, ‘Maybe I need a shorter bat,’ or ‘Maybe I need to work out less and get more sleep.’ But it’s not that. You need to get your mechanics right and you have to really focus on getting everything better. Anything you did know, you kind of throw out for a little bit and then bring back the things you know work.”

On his future: “I’m taking it year by year. I have this year with this team and we’ll see what happens, and I’ll go from there. I’m not sure what happens after I’m done, but what I’d love to do is to be a head coach at a university, so I have to go back and get my master’s. I have 23 more credit hours for my undergrad, at Georgia Tech, and I’ll have to do that first. That’s my plan. Finish school, get my master’s, and go from there.”





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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KYLE BROWN
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KYLE BROWN

Really enjoyed that…great stuff.