Nolan Arenado: Go Back to Your Old Swing

Last offseason, it was reported and discussed — to an extent — that Nolan Arenado was seeking to get more opposite field authority in his swing.

I don’t want this to sound anecdotal or as if I’m making it up. I’ve struggled to find anything more than it being mentioned in passing, but it has been mentioned all the same.

Derrick Goold tweeted this in April 2023, referencing prior reporting.

Now, I tend to consume every Best Podcast in Baseball episode, radio spot, and chat that Derrick Goold does — I recommend that all Cardinals fans should — so maybe he discussed it more within those confines and it will be harder to pull the quotes. However, here are a couple examples:

The first instance was Arenado mentioning he is seeking all fields success in this January 2023 article from Derrick Goold.

The desire to drive the ball to the opposite field was mentioned more prominently in this April 2023 article from Derrick Goold.

The interesting part of this blurb is Goold mentioning not chasing those hits at the expense of pull-side power. That’s almost exactly what has happened.

Part of that seem to involve an emphasis on keeping the right hand on the bat longer and not releasing into his signature high, one-handed follow-through as quickly. He hit two opposite field homeruns in 2023, after hitting none from 2020-2022, as well as a couple doubles off the wall. So in that way, he did add some authority on balls hit to the opposite field. However, the overall statistical gains were marginal. And it seemed to come at the cost of some production to the pull side — his overwhelming strength.

Now, this is not to ignore that he has had physical issues with his neck and back. That surely has had an impact, as well.

I liken this to 2019, when Matt Carpenter made a conscious decision to hit to all fields after several years of selling out to pull-side power. I will never forget Dan McLaughlin gushing over Carpenters intent to hit the other way over and over again after his first swing in Spring Training 2019 produced a single to left field. We all saw how poorly it turned out in the end. Sometimes these ideas of becoming an “all fields” hitter sound great in theory but do not work in practice.

I spent a few hours digging through Statcast data and video on Arenado, looking for differences between 2022 — an MVP caliber season — and 2023. I won’t bore you with every tiny detail.

What most of the statistical analysis boiled down to was a roughly 6 degree drop in launch angle from 2022 to 2023 on balls that he pulled or hit straightaway. There was <1 mph drop in exit velocity on these balls, which I don’t think is too significant. His SLG dropped from .986 to .819 on the pull side and his batting average dropped from .437 to .407.

(Yes pull-side numbers always look comically good, he still took a step back.)

He did gain 2 mph of exit velocity to the opposite field, but maintained the same launch angle. Arenado did not take the ball to the opposite field any more often in 2023, he just did so with slightly more authority. Even then, it didn’t amount to real results as his batting average and SLG to the opposite field were both lower (.167/.229) in 2023, compared to 2022 (.240/.302).

This overall drop in launch angle tracks with his GB% jumping by a little over 8% from 2022 to 2023. He simply did not hit fly-balls and line drives at the same rate.

In real world terms, hitting the ball a slightly lower trajectory means a line drive double down the line is a frustrating lineout to the 3B. A ball bound for the wall or over it travels 15-20 feet less and gets ran down by an outfielder. A one-hop single through the hole turns into a two-hop groundball that the SS can reach.

So going back to the swing. What I am theorizing is that his effort to keep the right hand on the bat longer has changed his swing path and body positioning, reducing the upward lift he was generating and causing him to hit more groundballs and/or roll over pitches he should drive.

Below are screenshots from two different MLB Network Mark DeRosa segments on Arenado. One from 2023 (left) and one from 2022 (right).

In the top picture, he is reaching for a ball low and away, and you see how he keeps the right hand on the bat. The thing about this swing is, it stops here. He doesn’t follow through any further. Many fans online noted that he was doing the same “half-swing” on Sunday against the Dodgers that he did last season. That is what is demonstrated in the first picture. The other thing I want to note in this picture is his left arm. I don’t think his swing will physically allow for him to finish with two hands on the bat. This isn’t Scott Rolen or Carlos Beltran. The right hand has to release, or he has to cut it off at a 3/4 swing. It looks unnatural.

The bottom picture simply shows his normal follow through. It’s not really comparable because pitch location is different.

I went through a lot of Statcast videos, looking for similar pitches and location between 2022 and 2023.

This first example is from 2022. It is the typical Nolan swing and results in a pop-up to the 2B. The second example is a pitch in the same location that results in a lineout to RF.

You can see the difference in swings, and yes the “new” swing produces better quality of contact to RF. But again, has hitting the ball slightly better to the opposite field negatively impacted his ability to pull the ball — previously his overwhelming strength.

2022-08-11 vs 2023-06-17

Here’s another example of him trying to pull the ball, and you can see the difference between his old swing and the new swing that has almost a chopping motion. It looks uncomfortable.

2023-07-22 vs 2022-07-08

These are imperfect examples. But essentially, he no longer takes full swings at most pitches away and his swing looks “locked up” on pitches over the middle. On pitches inside, he is forced to release the right hand earlier and those swings look more normal. But its the pitches over the middle, that he should be crushing, where he is rolling over and hurting his overall game.

I hope I have explained this well enough.

Similar to Carpenter’s mistakes of 2019, Arenado needs to stop worrying about how he hits the ball to the opposite field and just let loose with the swing that produced a top-3 MVP season and 150 wRC+ in 2022. I understand the desire to become a more “complete” hitter, but there is a season worth of evidence to show you that the changes hurt his overall game. And Just a season prior, evidence that his old swing made him one of the best players in baseball.

He looks the same the first 4 games of 2024 as he did in 2023, but there is plenty of time to correct it.

Nolan, finish high and let it fly. Please.

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Thanks for reading.


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