Nico Hoerner Talks Hitting

Nico Hoerner
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Nico Hoerner is a mix of old school and new school when it comes to hitting. He’s also a mix of contact and emerging gap-to-gap power. Drafted 24th overall by the Chicago Cubs out of Stanford University in 2018, the 25-year-old second baseman is coming off a season where he slashed .281/.327/.410 with 10 home runs and a 106 wRC+. Possessing potential that easily exceeds his to-date performance, he projects as a cornerstone in the Cubs’ lineup for years to come.

Hoerner discussed his continuing evolution as a hitter, including how he balances an appreciation of metrics and a keep-it-simple approach, following a recent spring training game in Mesa, Arizona.


David Laurila: How have you evolved as a hitter since coming to pro ball? Are you mostly the same guy?

Nico Hoerner: “For the most part, I don’t think guys really change that much. The guys that improve a lot are often doubling down on their strengths. They’re learning what they do best and are more consistent with that. I’ve definitely made improvements — there are things that have changed over the years — but I think my foundation is pretty similar.”

Laurila: I recall reading that you made a swing adjustment shortly after you signed, the goal being to hit more balls in the air. Is that accurate?

Hoerner: “I’ve never wanted to hit a ground ball in my life, to be honest with you. A lot of it comes from the pitches you swing at, how your body is moving, and learning your own strengths.”

Laurila: That said, was there an actual adjustment?

Hoerner: “Yeah. I think what you swing at is going to be the biggest factor in the balls that you put in play. I’m looking to hit the ball hard, hit high line drives as much as I can, and swing at pitches in the middle of the plate. Over time, with more at-bats, more experience, that really comes about.”

Laurila: It sounds like your adjustment was more about plate discipline, that you didn’t really change your bat path or your load.

Hoerner: “I mean, I think those things do change. Timing plays a huge factor in that. As I’ve played more, I’ve gotten away from drills and analyzing each part of my swing. There are obviously things to work on mechanically, but my biggest improvement as a hitter is based on the pitches I swing at.”

Laurila: I was planning to ask you how much you analyze your swing. A lot of guys are getting deeper and deeper into hitting analytics, but you’re actually doing less of that.

Hoerner: “Much less, for sure. There are definitely metrics I care about — there are things I’m focused on daily. But as far as… I mean, I’m not videotaping everything and trying to understand every part of my body. For me, there’s a clarity and an athleticism that comes from having pretty simple thoughts. That said, there are definitely tons of things that I can improve on, so it doesn’t come from a place of complacency. It’s more that if I’m in a good place mentally, and I’m feeling aggressive and swinging at good pitches, I’m usually in a pretty good spot.”

Laurila: Which metrics do you care about?

Hoerner: “During the season, the amount that you chase is going to impact your production a lot. When I’m at my best, I’m not swinging and missing much; I’m on the barrel a lot and am controlling ball flight pretty well. You want your hard contact, obviously, to be off the ground. How productive you can be with your misses is also really important. Last year, for instance, I didn’t square up the fastball as well, but I hit the breaking ball better. Those things are interesting. It didn’t come about from, ‘Man, this year I’m really going to hammer the slider,’ or anything like that. There’s an ebb and flow with those things that you can’t always predict or understand every bit of, but you can take the information you have at hand and do your best with it.

“We also have a new head hitting coach this year, and I really like how he’s gone about things this spring, I feel like he’s done a really nice job of making relationships with hitters and getting to know everyone. Dustin Kelly has been great so far.”

Laurila: Do you care about exit velocity?

Hoerner: “I think every player who’s ever played the game has cared about exit velocity, whether they know it or not. Right? Every batted ball that’s ever been hit has had an exit velocity and has impacted performance. It’s definitely a separating factor. You need to be able to hit the ball hard to control your luck as best you can. There are a lot of good defenders out there, and oftentimes not a lot of space, so obviously the harder you can hit the ball, the better.”

Laurila: Trea Turner recently told me that he doesn’t care about exit velocity. To a certain degree, I’m not sure that I believed him.

Hoerner: “I believe that’s not something he’s looking at all the time, because he’s a guy that hits the ball very hard. He drives the ball and he hits for power. If he’s doing that on a consistent basis, and he’s not thinking about it on a day-to-day basis, he’s not focusing on it, there’s no reason to change. He’s a guy that’s produced, year after year after year, so if that comes simply as a byproduct of his work, it makes a lot of sense to me that he doesn’t focus on it.”

Laurila: Any final thoughts on hitting?

Hoerner: “I’d say what matters in pregame work. There are so many different ways to get ready for a game now. Nothing really matters outside of the game itself, but there are so many different ways that guys get ready to play. It’s been really interesting to see different players, at the top of their game, have success in so many different ways.

“I’ve definitely gone through a variety of different ways of preparing myself. We play so many day games [in Chicago], too, so we have to be able to get ready to play without stepping onto the field. That comes with experience. For me, prep has become less reps and better intention.”

Laurila: Have you scrapped any pregame drills? For instance, do you tee-work?

Hoerner: “I haven’t hit off the tee in probably four or five years. I find that the tee emphasizes my hands even more than tends to happen when I’m not feeling good. So yeah, that and not spending endless rounds, or trying to feel perfect in every way. I’m just trying to make sure I have good rhythm, flow and energy, and I’m attacking the ball. That and seeing the ball. I’m focusing on how well I’m seeing the ball, over and over. That’s a big factor for me.”


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, 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., Justin Turner, Mark Trumbo, Trea Turner, Josh VanMeter, Robert Van Scoyoc, Chris Valaika, Zac Veen, Mark Vientos, Matt Vierling, Luke Voit, Anthony Volpe, 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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1 year ago

I’m a bit surprised that choice of pitches to swing at matters more to avoiding GB than swing path or swinging out in front

1 year ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

I’m sure it does matter to some extent. But I think for high contact guys like Nico, so many of the ground balls they hit are because they are swinging at pitches designed to draw ground balls when sometimes it would be better to just lay off of them altogether (even in the zone).