Mike Yastrzemski Talks Hitting

Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Yastrzemski became a good hitter through a lot of hard work, but it didn’t hurt that he had a good tutor growing up in Danvers, Massachusetts. The San Francisco Giants outfielder is the grandson of Carl Yastrzemski, who logged 3,419 big league hits, including 452 home runs, on his way to the Hall of Fame. A late bloomer who didn’t make his big league debut until he was 28 years old, the younger Yastrzemski may never come close to those numbers, but he is nonetheless a quality hitter. Now in his fifth season, all with the Giants, the 32-year-old Vanderbilt product has a 115 wRC+ and 74 round-trippers in 1,742 career plate appearances.

Yastrzemski — 5-for-14 with four extra-base hits so far this season — talked hitting late in spring training.


David Laurila: Let’s start with one of my favorite icebreaker questions: Do you view hitting as more of an art or as more of a science?

Mike Yastrzemski: “It’s definitely an art. You can have all the science in the world and it doesn’t make you a good hitter. You can have every angle, you can have every exit velo… again, that’s not going to make you a good hitter. Can it help you? Definitely. But I don’t see it as as much science-based as I see it as an art.”

Laurila: How would you describe your art?

Yastrzemski: “I would say the biggest thing is to be patient. That’s because there is nobody that can 100% master the art of hitting. You can be the best at it, but you’re never going to master it. That why I always tell myself that I need to have patience. When I start to get frustrated, I know that I need to get myself in check and realize how hard baseball is, and how hard hitting is. I need to give myself a little bit of grace.”

Laurila: How do you define patience?

Yastrzemski: “For me, it’s more so giving myself time to make adjustments. As hitters, we have to make adjustments in-game, but there’s also work outside of the game. During training, it’s a lot about trying something and giving it a week, two weeks, to see how it feels, to see how it works out. And if it doesn’t, then you can move on — but you have to give it a little bit of time. So it’s having patience to make adjustments, having patience with yourself, knowing that you’re not going to be perfect.”

Laurila: Scuffling at the plate for three or four games also doesn’t mean you need to change something…

Yastrzemski: “Yeah. Unless there’s something very, very clear that you need to address right away, you need to take time to figure out what is actually feeling good, what is actually feeling bad. From there it can be, ‘What are the things that I truly need to fix in order for this to work?’”

Laurila: What tends to be the issue when you do need to make an adjustment?

Yastrzemski: “A lot of it is getting jumpy, getting antsy, trying to cheat the pitches, instead of holding onto my back hip and keeping my posture. Those are the things that usually get me back to being balanced and on time.”

Laurila: Are you consciously letting the ball travel more when you do that?

Yastrzemski: “Not really. I’m always a guy who likes to hit the ball out front. Even when I hit the ball the other way, I still hit it out front. It’s more so giving my body time to work through its proper sequence. So working from the ground up, making sure my feet are balanced and in the ground, making sure that I’m comfortable in my setup. Then it’s making sure that my lower half starts my upper half.”

Laurila: To what extent is that adjustment intuitive, as opposed to what you see on video?

Yastrzemski: “Most of it is intuitive. If I can’t feel it, then I’m probably not doing it. For me, it’s trying to make sure that I have feel versus seeing something. That said, I work better when I move in the right sequence, so it’s important to check those boxes off every once in a while to make sure you’re working in the right way. You can kind of go from there and try to make sure you feel what you’re seeing.”

Laurila: Have you evolved mechanically over the years?

Yastrzemski: “Definitely. One thing I’ve learned is to use my hips. That took me two years to figure out. I had a two-year scuffle in the minor leagues where I was really trying to feel that. Once I finally got it down, things started to take off.”

Laurila: Has your bat path changed since coming to pro ball?

Yastrzemski: “Yeah. I used to be really steep, then I flattened it out, and then I eventually got too ‘scoopy.’ Now I’m trying to get back to flattening it out and hitting more line drives.”

Laurila: Looking back to when you were a kid in Massachusetts, how did you learn to hit? There’s more to hitting than simply picking up a bat and swinging it.

Yastrzemski: “Probably just wanting to hit. Like, I wanted to hit all the time. I wanted to go to the cages. I wanted to hit Wiffle balls. I wanted to hit ping pong balls. More than anything, it was a desire to be a good hitter.”

Laurila: Did you play travel ball?

Yastrzemski: “No, just high school. I didn’t really view baseball as a true career. I knew I wanted to do it, but I didn’t focus on trying to make it happen until I was in college. I thought baseball might be a way that I could get into a really good school and get a good education there, which I ended up doing. But I kept at it — I kept trying to get better — and things just worked out for me.”

Laurila: What was the primary focus when you got to pro ball? More to the point, what were you told you needed to work on?

Yastrzemski: “It was really a focus on learning how to hit velo. What was harped on was that if you couldn’t hit a fastball, then you couldn’t play in the big leagues. So, a lot of it was velo training — how do I make my swing work so that I’m able to hit velocity.”

Laurila: Your grandfather was obviously a great hitter. How similar is your swing to what his was?

Yastrzemski: “The path is probably more similar than it may seem, but our setups were very different. He had really high hands — bat over the head — but there are some similarities in the way that our hips fire and the way that our bats come through the zone. I mean, I basically learned to hit from him, so I’m sure I got some tendencies from that. And he always told me to just get comfortable. As long as I was comfortable, I was going to put myself in a good position to hit.”

Laurila: Do you still talk hitting with him?

Yastrzemski: “Oh yeah. All the time.”


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, Gavin Cross, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Josh Donaldson, Brendan Donovan, Donnie Ecker, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, Michael Fransoso, Ryan Fuller, Joey Gallo, Devlin Granberg, Andy Haines, Mitch Haniger, Robert Hassell III, Nico Hoerner, Rhys Hoskins, Eric Hosmer, Tim Hyers, Josh Jung, Jimmy Kerr, Heston Kjerstad, Steven Kwan, Trevor Larnach, Doug Latta, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Hunter Mense, Owen Miller, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Daniel Murphy, Vinnie Pasquantino, Brent Rooker, Drew Saylor, Trevor Story, Fernando Tatis Jr., Mark Trumbo, Justin Turner, Trea Turner, Josh VanMeter, Robert Van Scoyoc, Chris Valaika, Zac Veen, Mark Vientos, Matt Vierling, Luke Voit, Anthony Volpe, Christian Walker, Jared Walsh, Jordan Westburg, Jesse Winker, Nick Yorke, Kevin Youkilis

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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