A little over a week ago, Dayton manager Donnie Scott and hitting coach Darren Bragg told their team that everyone was going to choke up on the bat. Tired of seeing inopportune strikeouts and looking for a way to speed up bats that were dragging in the August heat, the coaches thought choking up could help fix some bad habits.
Drew Stubbs and Juan Francisco can be thankful for the switch.
The turnaround has been remarkable for Stubbs. The scouting report on the former Texas center fielder has been consistent for years–he has all the tools to be an above-average center fielder with above-average power and above-average speed, but his struggles with strikeouts could limit his potential.
A year and a half into his pro career nothing had changed; Stubbs had struck out 190 times in 161 games. But since choking up a week and a half ago, Stubbs has struck out twice in 42 at-bats. He had a stretch of seven consecutive games without a strikeout–before that he had never gone more than four games in a row without a strikeout as a pro and had only had three streaks of more than two games without a whiff (two streaks of three games and one of four games).
As simple as it may sound, choking up seems to have helped Stubbs gain the bat control that he’s lacked. It’s only a 10-game stretch, so it’s too early to declare Stubbs cured, but his .524 average (22 for 42) with eight extra-base hits in his past 10 games makes it clear that something is going right for the center fielder.
“He’s getting a piece of things, fouling off tough pitches,” Scott said. “He’s shortened his swing and using his hands better. It’s only been a matter of an inch, but he’s only struck out twice since we started this . . . He’s driving the ball. It’s working.”
After a few games the Dayton coaching staff let Dragons hitters go back to their normal grip, but Stubbs stuck with choking up. When you’re hitting like this, you don’t mess with success.
While Stubbs is still choking up, Francisco is back at the bottom of the bat. But the emphasis on bat control seems to have paid off for him as well. He’s hit .351 over the past eight games and cranked three home runs on Sunday. As a 20-year-old, Francisco now leads the Midwest League in home runs (21) and is second in RBIs (82).
“He hasn’t been scuffling bad, but he slowed down a little bit over the last couple of weeks,” Scott said. “It’s nice to see him get back on track and it’s a nice time to get hot.”
Francisco’s three home runs all came on the first pitch he saw–two fastballs and a breaking ball. That sums up the biggest task on Francisco’s to-do list. He has the bat speed to hit bad pitches, but he gets too much practice at it because of his habit of swinging at pitches out of the zone–he has 22 walks and a league-leading 138 strikeouts in 120 games.
“There’s no question he’s a free swinger,” Scott said. “He’ll swing from the top of head to his toes. He’s really improved in that area, but he has to get better.”