By John Perrotto
When Clint Hurdle starts talking about hitting—a subject truly near and dear to his heart–he can sound like a college physics professor.
Thus, the Pirates manager had some interesting explanations when giving reasons why his team has struggled at the plate for most of the season despite being two games over .500 at 35-33, the franchise’s highest watermark since July 2, 1999.
The Pirates are scoring just 3.79 runs a game, which is 14th in the National League and 24th in the major leagues. They had scored just 11 runs in seven games until breaking through with 12 in the final two games of a three-game of the Astros in Houston on Wednesday and Thursday.
For example, this is how the Pirates’ manager explained his team’s recent hitting struggles earlier this week: “I do believe we’ve just got to hold our backsides better.”
That sounds awfully weird on the surface, to be sure. However, Hurdle then gave a layman’s explanation to “holding the backside.”
“If you are going to throw a punch and try to make it an impactful punch, you would not have more than 50 percent of your weight on the front side of your body,” Hurdle said. “You’d want more weight on your backside, so you could put more strength into your punch. Too many of our hitters are not holding their backside and it’s causing them to go into a soft spin.”
A “soft spin” seems like a term right out of the world of figure skating, something Dick Button might say breathlessly during a Winter Olympics telecasts.
Not so. A soft spin, according to Hurdle, is a symptom of not holding in the backside, in which a hitter is unable to generate proper bat speed because too much weight on his front foot when he is when a hitter gets too far out on his front foot during his swing,
Hurdle believes that once the Pirates’ hitters hold their backsides better and stay away from soft spin then they will begin “banging it up the middle and to the oppo gap.”
Again, explanations are in order. “Banging it up the middle” means hitting the ball hard in the center of the field. “The oppo gap” is left-center field for right-handed hitters and right-center field for left-handed hitters.
Not surprisingly, Hurdle had a unique way of expressing why second baseman Neil Walker has hit .225 with a .289 on-base percentage and a .375 slugging percentage in his last 32 games after opening the season with a .293/.365/.444 line in 35 games.
“He’s a ‘handsy’ hitter,” Hurdle said. “You need separation between your hands and your front leg. If not, it’s going to be hard to drive the ball.”
Translated, Hurdle was saying is that Walker keeps his hands moving before his swing and needs to make sure they are moving backward while his front leg is moving forward.
“You need to get it all together or else you’re going to have trouble making consistent hard contact,” Hurdle said.
Just like when a hitter doesn’t hold his backside and goes into a soft spin.