Michael Chavis enjoyed a solid rookie season with the Red Sox in 2019. Primarily playing first and second base, the 24-year-old former first round pick slugged 18 home runs while putting up a .766 OPS and a 96 wRC+ over 382 plate appearances. Power was his calling card. Per Statcast, Chavis’ taters traveled an average of 419 feet, and his longest was jettisoned a prodigious 459 feet.
He rode a bit of rollercoaster on his way to Boston. Drafted 26th overall in 2014 out of Marietta, Georgia’s Sprayberry High School, Chavis scuffled in his initial professional seasons. Struggling to find his swing, he put up high strikeout rates, and tepid offensive numbers, casting doubt on his future. Then he began to find himself. Buoyed by a 2017 reunion with his old hitting coach, Chavis regained his stroke, turned a corner, and within a few years was once again propelling baseballs far distances.
Chavis discussed his power-packed swing — including how it was lost, and then rediscovered — at the tail end of last season.
David Laurila: Is hitting simple, or is it complicated?
Michael Chavis: “It depends on the day you’re asking me. When things are going good, it’s as simple as could be — it’s easy — but when things aren’t going well, you start trying to find an answer. You start searching for a difference in your swing. Even though you know you should keep things simple, it’s not like you can be, ‘Oh, I just don’t care; it’ll figure itself out.’ It’s kind of… I guess the weird thing about hitting is you’re constantly making adjustments and changes in order to stay consistent.”
Laurila: You’re changing in order to stay the same…
Chavis: “Yes, which obviously doesn’t make sense. But that’s what it is. One day you can think — this is a random example — ‘swing down,’ because maybe you’ve been getting long and loopy. So you think about swinging down, and your body — just how the body works — is going to make an adjustment. But at some point your body is going to make that adjustment without you being aware of it. All of a sudden, thinking ‘swinging down’ is going to become physically swinging down. Then you have to make an another adjustment.”
Laurila: Basically, one of your mental cues needs to be adjusted.
Chavis: “I naturally have a little bit of loft in my swing, so one of my cues is that I try to create backspin by mentally swinging down. What I have to be aware of is that as time goes on, my body will adjust. I’ll look at video and realize that I’m actually cutting it off, and actually getting kind of choppy with my bat. Again, that’s because your body physically makes adjustments.
“If you sit like this [an arm folded in] for a really long time, your arm is going to lose some extension. Or say you have a cast on — you’re going to lose some mobility until it comes off and you get that back. Same way with your swing. If you’re doing the same thing every single day, your body is going to adjust into that position. Then you have to find something else to adjust, to make it do what it’s supposed to.”
Laurila: Where is your swing right now?
Chavis: “I’m in a pretty good position. One of the things I was doing when I was having a little bit of trouble was… with my bat path, I would kind of just… it’s kind of funny. With how my swing works — I’m aggressive. I swing hard. When I try to be easy with my swing, try to be almost too under control, my swing kind of gets lazy. It’s not me literally being lazy, but it’s like my swing gets kind of sweepy. My back hip doesn’t fire as well.
“One of the things I have to monitor is… I call it controlled aggression. I want to know I’m swinging hard. I want to be able to swing hard, but at the same time I don’t want to over-swing. So it’s about finding that middle ground, and maintaining it every single day.”
Laurila: You’re a different hitter than he is, but Dustin Pedroia has always had an aggressive swing.
Chavis: “I actually watched his swing a lot, growing up. He was my favorite player. One thing I found so interesting about him is how he’s a smaller dude, he’s not super muscular, but he’s able to create insane power and consistency with his swing. He’s got what you would call a bigger swing. Like he’s got the big stride, and he uses his back leg real well. He was able to do that, and repeat it every single day.”
Laurila: If I looked at video from when you first signed, and compared it to now, would I see the same hitter?
Chavis: “That’s what’s kind of funny. If you look at video from my senior year of high school, that swing and where I’m at now are very similar. When I first got to pro ball, the hitting coach that we had at the time… I mean, I struggled when I first got to pro ball. He immediately changed some things, and I bought into them. I tried to change my swing and got away from myself. Then I spent all of 2015 and 2016 trying to get my swing back — my swing from high school. And then I found it in 2017. From there I’ve been pretty consistent with it.”
Laurila: Were you not hesitant to change something that worked well enough to make you a first-round pick?
Chavis: “I was 18 and didn’t really understand what was happening. It actually could have been something where I misunderstood, or that I panicked. I was having failure for the first time, and got away from myself. I’m not blaming the hitting coach, by any means. It’s more that I simply got away from my swing — I completely lost it — and began to second guess myself.”
Laurila: What specifically were they initially looking to change?
Chavis: “In 2014? Man, I don’t know if I even remember. I went something like four for 56, so they probably wanted me to change everything. They wanted me to simply hit the ball.”
Laurila: Who most helped you regain your swing?
Chavis: My hitting guy, Casey Smith. I’ve talked about him a lot. I’m very open about how much he’s helped me. I started hitting with him when I was something like nine years old. And just because of how travel ball works, I would go away and then come back. My junior year, I started hitting with him every single day. That’s when I realized I had a chance to go to the draft, and was becoming well known.
“About a month, maybe two months, after working with him consistently, I went out to the All-American Game and won the Home Run Derby. From there I kept working with him pretty much every single day, preparing for the draft.”
Laurila: How would you describe the swing he helped you get back to?
Chavis: “It’s kind of a combination of things where the load and the [bat] path kind of go hand in hand. When my load gets out of sync, I tend to get long with my bat path. Like I was saying earlier. In order for me to tighten up my bat path and get into the right slot… a lot of it has to do with how I get into position to fire.
“It’s a timing mechanism thing. It’s also just the moves that get you in position to fire. If those moves take a longer time than usual, you’re going to be late. If you get your foot down late, you’re going to be late. A lot of it has to do with sequencing. That can be kind of difficult, because you’re trying to have the right sequencing to be on time with the pitcher. That’s just hitting.”
Laurila: And as we talked about at the top, hitters sometimes get out of sync and need to not only make adjustments, but make the right adjustments…
Chavis: “Something that was happening two or three weeks ago… this is real nit-picky. I would load. I would get into position to fire, and my front and back elbows would move as one piece, instead of having a little bit of a delay where my back elbow fires, and then they get connected. Just by having that little bit out of sequence, I was inconsistent with my swing. I felt forced. I was trying to fight just to get to contact, instead of having the freedom to get there.
“Something as subtle as that can make a huge difference in your swing, and the results. It can be the difference between catching a ball perfectly for a home run and getting fisted for a groundball to second base.”
Laurila: I assume you’re looking to catch the ball out front as opposed to letting it travel.
Chavis: “I am, although the whole idea of letting the ball travel is misinterpreted by a lot of people. You can let the ball travel, but I don’t like the idea of letting it get deep. I want to let it come to me, because I don’t want to go get it. In my swing, I don’t want to try to go get it with my upper body, or fall out of my back hip to drift forward. What I want is to let it travel, so that it comes to me. Does that make sense?
“A lot of people get confused with the difference. So many coaches, when you’re younger, will say, ‘Let it get deep and go the other way,” and stuff like that. When you’re hitting the ball the other way, you’re still catching it up front — it’s just that you’re staying behind it. When I was a kid, everybody was talking about letting it get deep, so I was trying to hit pitches off my back hip to go the other way. That’s not the right, or beneficial, way to do that. That’s where the ‘let-it-travel’ versus ‘get deep’ thing kind of gets misunderstood.”
Laurila: Is your swing more rotational, or more linear?
Chavis: “I’ve never really considered which one it would be. That’s not something… I guess I wouldn’t say rotational would be the right word. But I wouldn’t say it’s linear either. I definitely get on plane to create loft, but it’s not rotational in a way where everything is rotational and toward third base.”
Laurila: One last thing. Do you see yourself as having one swing, or as having multiple swings?
Chavis: “Had you asked me that last year, I would have said I have one swing. But now that I’ve been in the big leagues and have grown a lot… yeah, you’ve got to have different swings. I didn’t used to understand what that meant. Earlier in my career, people told me that I needed multiple swings, and I didn’t understand why. I thought, ‘If this swing works well, why would I try to do something else?’
“I’ve come to realize that guys up here are nasty. They’ve got good stuff, they’ve got good command, and they also have a scouting report on you. Facing a bunch of guys who have more information on me than I’ve ever experienced, I need to have different swings. You can’t just go up there with your one A-swing and be like, ‘This is all I’ve got, and if it doesn’t work, I’m stuck. If your A-swing isn’t feeling good, you have to be able to go to that B, C or D swing just to stay afloat. I mean… like I said, the pitchers up here are really good. They’re nasty.”
Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Cavan Biggio, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Joey Gallo, Mitch Haniger, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Trey Mancini, Daniel Murphy, Drew Saylor, Fernando Tatis Jr., Justin Turner, Mark Trumbo, Luke Voit, Jesse Winker.
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.