Photo: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire
Guardians 1B Josh Naylor is having a breakout season in 2023 and deserves some recognition. Naylor is 7th in baseball in batting average (.307), 14th in slugging (.511), 20th in OPS (.856), and 26th in wRC+ (129). These numbers somehow weren’t good enough for Naylor to be an all-star.
One area that Naylor has improved in is against pitches in the lower-third of the zone (and below). These are his numbers against those pitches for 2023:
When looking at the MLB averages for low pitches, it makes what Naylor has done even more impressive. This season the league’s numbers against them are: .222 avg, .347 slg, .648 ops.
In 2022 Naylor really struggled against pitches in this part of the zone (.188 avg, .391 slg, .686 ops). He’s changed his approach against low pitches this year and it’s paid off incredibly well:
Naylor is swinging more, chasing more, but swinging and missing less. For a hitter with so much power like Naylor, being less selective is a good thing. He doesn’t need a perfect pitch to hit. He can do damage against any pitch he can make contact with.
He made some changes in his stance that have him getting to the low part of the zone quicker. The most noticeable change is closing his stance. He was way open last season and would have to step far towards the plate
Being more closed has Naylor in a more athletic position pre-pitch and there’s less movement in his swing. It’s helped him be more on time this season. If he does get out in front, the minimized movement means he can stay back and adjust easier.
Naylor is also holding his hands slightly higher. His bat is now parallel with the ground. Last season he had it at more of an angle.
Naylor’s favorite pitches to attack in the lower part of the zone are curveballs, sliders, and 2-seamers. He has 2 HRs against all three pitch types. He’s a tough out if a pitcher wants to attack him down with these pitches:
Curveball (28 AB): .286 avg / .607 slug
Slider (24 AB): .375 avg / .667 slug
2-seam(15 AB): .467 avg / .933 slug
Leg kick. As mentioned before, Naylor being more closed in his stance has changed his leg kick. Instead of a big step towards home plate he’s lifting the leg and slightly stepping towards home. He’s getting his foot down quicker but he’s still anchored on his back leg and using the strength of his lower half to build power.
Front shoulder tucked. Another product of Naylor being more closed in his stance is that he does a better job of keeping his front shoulder closed. His hips start to fly open but that shoulder stays exactly where it is until Naylor is ready to swing. Keeping his front shoulder tucked for as long as possible helps him stay back on breaking balls.
Torque. Naylor puts his entire body into every swing he takes, he never gets cheated. Every time he makes contact he wants to hit the ball as hard as possible. It reminds me of Bryce Harper.
Both of his feet are moving at the point of contact, they both end up facing the pitcher. He’s shifting the energy built up from the ground all the way to his upper body. His ability to stay balanced even with all that force in his swing is impressive.
There’s so much torque in this swing from Naylor but it’s still a controlled swing. He doesn’t have much of a load and his hands follow his lower half through the zone. Naylor sits on his back hip to generate his power then it explodes through his body.
HR vs Carlos Carrasco
Welcome Back, Naylor!
Josh Naylor returns after missing two games with a leg injury and blasts a three-run homer in the top of the first inning to give the @CleGuardians a lead over the Mets.#ForTheLand pic.twitter.com/gquCJyE2U6
— Bally Sports Cleveland (@BallySportsCLE) May 19, 2023
An absolutely beautiful swing here from Naylor. His entire body is right on time, his barrel takes a short direct path to the ball, and he crushes it. His front foot opens, almost facing towards right center, because of all the torque in this swing.
HR vs Mitch Keller
Josh Naylor gets the Guardians off to a fast start with a 3-run shot! pic.twitter.com/D6OiBhdLvf
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) July 18, 2023
Naylor stays back on this first pitch curveball so well. This is one that he probably would’ve been way out in front of in 2022 and grounded out or swung and missed. This year though, it’s a pitch he’s crushed.
His lower half starts to open up but his front shoulder and hands stay back. Taking a curveball low and away and hitting it 404 feet to right-center shows Naylor’s pure strength.
HR vs Corbin Burnes
— Bally Sports Cleveland (@BallySportsCLE) June 25, 2023
Naylor turns on this 97 mph fastball with ease. He has incredibly quick hands and that’s on full display here. The barrel of the bat follows his hands through the zone giving it the shortest path to the ball. Even with 2 strikes, Naylor is taking his most powerful swing.
Josh Naylor didn’t make the All-Star team but he’s definitely playing at an All-Star level. A few small changes in his stance and approach have made him one of the most consistent and dangerous hitters in baseball, particularly against pitches in the lower part of the zone. Pitchers and fans should take heed.