Jordan Walker's recent comments went viral on social media, but fans are missing some important context about the adjustments he is making
Yesterday, a video began picking up steam around the internet where Jordan Walker was talking to reporters about some changes the St. Louis Cardinals asked him to make to his swing in Memphis. Here is a link to the full video, but there are the comments that people are latching onto:
"“There’s no point if I’m trying to hit the ball in the air if I’m not hitting the ball at all. I might as well hit the ball hard. If it’s on the ground, it’s on the ground. Trying to find the hole. Maybe drive a run in. I feel like as I go through the season, it’s going to get more in the air just like I did last year. So I just have to trust myself and trust how my swing has been in the past three years within the organization. That’s just what I have faith in.”"- Jordan Walker
Yes, I understand that at face value, the quote seems to be in conflict with the instructions that the Cardinals' front office gave Walker when he was sent down to Memphis, but if you look at reporting close to the situation, that is not the case.
Jordan Walker is making mechanical changes in Memphis
Daniel Guerrero of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch posted a story this week detailing Walker's time in Memphis. While Guerrero was in Memphis, was able to speak directly to Walker about what he was working on, and there are real changes he is making to his swing that have helped him get hot as of late. Here is some of what Guerrero reported in that story,
"More of a “feel guy” when it comes to his swing, Walker has spent time working with first-year Memphis hitting coach Howie Clark to make minor mechanical tweaks to his swing. Some of that includes avoiding overloading and over-rotating, which created some issues with seeing the ball. Recently, Walker has placed a focus on trying to make contact with pitches when he’s “more out front” on his swing, which he said leads to more loft."- Daniel Guerrero
So, how does one reconcile both of these statements? The video sounds like Walker is kind of just doing his own thing, while the reporting from Guerrero indicates that Walker is making some adjustments.
Honestly, it's not that difficult to break down, and I think the overaction from fans has clouded the purpose of Walker's quote he made to the media.
All hitters, every single one, are constantly making adjustments to their swing in order to work on issues that arise and get their "feel" back. Some hitters are very analytically driven, while others may be more "feel" driven like Walker. Either way, hitters work with the coaching staff to get comfortable in the box and do damage. For Walker to say he's not "focused" on hitting fly balls isn't going against what the front office asked him to do. It's just him getting comfortable and getting his feel back.
When the Cardinals said they wanted more fly balls from Walker, it was not an attempt to get him to completely change his game or to value launch angle over hard contact. The Cardinals still want Walker to mash the ball, and they'll take a higher ground ball rate if that is what is required. The issue was, Walker had a 60.4% groundball rate, which would be the highest in all of baseball right now. No other player has above a 60% groundball rate this year, and only 18 have a rate above 50%.
If you look at guys like Aaron Judge, Nolan Gorman, Matt Olsen, Pete Alonso, Mike Trout, and so many of today's best hitters, they all range between a 29% and 37% groundball rate. Now, there are some really great hitters who have above a 50% ground ball rate this year, namely Ronald Acuna Jr., Xander Bogaerts, Juan Soto, Lars Nootbaar, and Tommy Edman, but those guys also have some of the highest hard-hit rates in baseball this year. You'll also notice that outside of the truly elite hitters like Acuna and Soto, those guys haven't hit for a ton of power this year.
Since making the adjustments in Memphis, Walker's ground ball rate is now down to 45.6%, with his line drive percentage rising to 25.3% (up from 17% in St. Louis) and fly ball rate up to 29.1% (22.6% in St. Louis). He has also seen rises in his pull percentage and opposite field percentage, with a decline in balls hit up the middle, which is interesting to note. The one concerning rate that has come up is his infield fly rate, which is up to 17.4% from the 8.3% he had earlier this year. That seems to be negatively impacted by his slow start in AAA though.
At the end of the day though, Walker, the front office, and the Memphis coaching staff are working together to get the best out of Walker, and like Walker said, he just needs to trust himself to get there.