Remember when we all hated that Marlon Byrd was our starting left fielder? That was a pretty grim couple of weeks—a period of time when folks like Kevin Gregg and Burke Badenhop were effective double-agents for our NL Central rivals taking what hope we had and dashing it one sub-90 MPH fastball at a time. Watching the Reds was a character-building affair akin to the time your mother wouldn’t let you leave the table until you finished your pile of cooked (and room-temperature) cauliflower. Those were dark days.

But happier times are here for Marlon Byrd—after starting 7-for-55 (a .127 batting average) through the first 16 games, Byrd has gone 19-for-60 (.317) in the 19 games since April 23 while hitting two doubles and seven home runs and knocking in 16 runs (if you’re into that sort of thing). It’s a marked improvement, to say the least, so we must ask if there is a tangible reason behind this.

The easy thing to conclude is that Marlon Byrd might be a slow starter. His monthly splits kind of back this up—for his career he’s averaged a .015 point improvement on his batting average in May over April and a .070 point increase of his slugging percentage as well. Last season he started much better, hitting .277 in April and .282 in May (a marginal difference, at best), but slugged nearly .100 points better in May than he did in April 2014 (jumping to .524 from .426).

His last two seasons are probably a better indicator of his tendencies than his overall career mark for a couple of reasons. One is obvious—Byrd is 37 years old and on the decline, but it’s well-documented that he has found an ability to hit for power since 2013 that wasn’t present in his younger years. The other is because of drastic changes in his swing mechanics starting in 2013, changes which have likely led to this increased power.

Eno Sarris at Fangraphs posted this fantastic article on Wednesday, explaining the hitting approach Byrd adopted in 2013 and shared with then-Mets utilityman Justin Turner. Marlon overhauled his swing entirely, adding a pronounced leg kick and challenging the conventional hitting wisdom of always staying back on the ball. Byrd (and now Turner as well) started emphasizing getting on the front foot earlier and moving the point of contact in front of the plate. There, of course, are consequences to the new approach and the additional moving parts—timing becomes an issue with the slightly decreased window for pitch recognition and the earlier transfer of weight can get them off-balance if the timing isn’t right.

So, perhaps there was a flaw in Byrd’s approach from the first three weeks of April 2015 to the past three weeks. If there was, it’s very subtle. Here’s a look at two swings from Byrd, one from April 8 against Gerrit Cole and the other being last night’s home run:

Byrd Apr 2015

Byrd May 2015

In the build up to his swing, it seems that Byrd’s hands are a little quieter now than they were at the start of the season (notice the hands rising and then initiating the swing are in sync with the kick and plant of his front leg in last night’s home run, where they seem to be lagging a bit in the groundout against Cole). The big thing you can see is that Byrd’s swing against Cole has him well out in front of the pitch—that could be his mechanics, but it could just as well be Cole’s pitch sequence against him keeping him off-balance. Regardless, it’s certainly plausible his more complicated swing takes longer for him to get his sea legs at the start of the season.

The increased power Byrd is showing so far in May is best explained by looking at his batted ball stats. Here’s his GB/LD/FB rate for April and May of this season, 2013-2014 combined, and his career:

Byrd batted ball splits

He definitely has a tendency to get more loft on the ball in the second month of the season, particularly after he changed his swing. Those last two seasons have his fly ball rate regressing as the season wears on, but compensated for by a much better line drive rate. Also interesting is the rate at which he’s pulled the ball from month-to-month—he’s increased his pull rate this year from 34% in April to 53.6% so far in May, more extreme than his 6.7% monthly increase in 2014, but similar to the 11.8% increase he experienced in 2013. This all combines to look a little something like this:

Byrd2015 spray

What does this all mean? A couple of things. First, Byrd probably is a continually slow starter due to the combined factors of his age and how his swing mechanics affect his pitch recognition and timing. Second, his power surge this month won’t be maintained throughout the year as his fly ball rate is due to decrease significantly, though it could last through the end of this month or slightly beyond. Third and most importantly, he’s not very likely to return to the poor numbers of April if his line drive rate takes the leap in the summer months his past performance suggests it will.

We might not be so bad off with Marlon Byrd in left field after all.


38 Responses

  1. reaganspad

    I agree, I was thinking we don’t pick up his option, but if he continues this way he might be worth option money if our kids do not come along as fast (Winker) as we expect.

    Just do not play him every day in April… take the May-September Byrd.

    April not be very good to Marlon

    • Jay King

      Maybe the reason he is better in May – Sept. is because he gets all his bad ju ju out in april and finds the best approach and then sticks with it for the rest of the season.

  2. earmbrister

    Another easy thing to conclude, is perhaps Byrd was pressing too much due to playing for a new club. His lack of any walks early on may support such thinking.

    And alas, we didn’t all hate Byrd, but we got drowned out by the boo birds.

    • Kevin Michell

      Yeah, maybe, but his swing rate wasn’t up over last season either in terms of pitches out of the zone or overall (so pitchers were probably attacking him and not really giving him many pitches out of the zone). Plus, he’s been on a lot of teams in the last four seasons (Reds are his 6th since 2012)- I think he might be less fazed by new surroundings than most. [EDIT: Actually, Nick C. points out below that his April swing rate was quite high and his May has brought it back down below- so you may be right about Byrd pressing!]

      Plus, I’m with you on the non-hate of Byrd. Though I think the situation after the first couple weeks brought out some stronger emotions for most.

    • Tom Reed

      I thought Aoki was a good fit for left field since he’s a get on base type player. But I was pleased with the acquisition of Byrd from the Phillies. The Pirates took him in 2013 when he could have helped the Reds offense in the one game playoff that year. Byrd is working the count to get his pitch and also getting on base with walks. Now if Bruce can get in the grove, the Reds offense will really sing.

  3. charlottencredsfan

    Excellent, excellent analysis Kevin. IMO, it is definitely something in his hands . The second shot it appears his hands are still for just a brief moment before launching his swing. Maybe more relaxed – better bat speed? It would be great if anyone could show pitches in the exact same location but this works fairly well.

    I think you nailed it!!

    • charlottencredsfan

      The swing appears to be under much better control in second sequence as well but I’m not sure how much this might be due to the pitche’s location. Still the very best batter swinging video breakdown I have seen here at RLN.

      • Kevin Michell

        Thanks a ton, CNC! I really appreciate that!

        I’ll tell you what, the hardest thing is finding similar enough pitches that happen at the same ballpark and have the same camera angle. This was as close as I could get and I think you’re right- the slight difference in pitch location and break rules out any conclusions we can make about the follow-through of the swing.

      • charlottencredsfan

        Honestly, I think you just captured it all the way around – leg kick in sync too. Ever thought about Jay Bruce 2013 vs. 2015?

      • Kevin Michell

        I think you’ve just given me the idea for my next article…

        That one’s gonna take some deep digging, haha.

      • charlottencredsfan

        Your masterpiece! Wish you good luck, maybe Jay will get a look and help him out? Youneverknow.

    • greenmtred

      CharlotteNC, Chris Welch said much the same thing about Byrd looking quieter and more relaxed at the plate. It makes sense.

  4. Nick Carrington

    Great work as always, Kevin. Amazing things happen when you stop swinging at everything. 45.8% O-Swing% in April. 25.5% in May. He stopped swinging at so many bad pitches. Good things started to happen.

    • Kevin Michell

      Thanks, Nick! By the way, I couldn’t find monthly plate discipline splits on Fangraphs- where’d you find them?

      • Nick Carrington

        Go to the Reds batting leaders page and there is a drop-down splits menu that is defaulted at “Full Season.” Under that menu, you have an insane number of options including breaking down statistics by month. Hope this helps!

      • Kevin Michell

        Oh, nice, that makes sense. I was solely going through Byrd’s player page and didn’t even think about just going to the season leaderboard (kind of a brain lapse, haha). Thanks, bud.

    • redmountain

      Bruce is swinging at less pitches out of the zone, but still not hitting. Here is hoping he gets it turned around too.

  5. User1022

    I was always onboard with Byrd and didn’t understand why he was getting so much flak around here. You could see he was making solid contact, he just needed a few small tweaks. It’s not like he was being overpowered and couldn’t catch up to fastballs anymore, which is what happens when players seriously fall off a cliff.

    Either way, glad he’s finally hitting like I expected him to. It was only a matter of time.

  6. renbutler

    “Remember when we all hated that Marlon Byrd was our starting left fielder?”

    Most, not all. Every hitter will slump at some point of the season. He just picked the FIRST TWO WEEKS. Of course he wasn’t going to stay that bad. However, it was “confirmation” to all the GMs here that, as expected, he was a terrible pick-up.

    That said, I didn’t expect him to break out of his slump with this kind of torrid recovery…

    • charlottencredsfan

      Ren – one thing you have to admit, for the most part, we are equal-opportunity bashers.☺

      How’s the weather in Indy?

    • Jay King

      I have been ok with Byrd since spring training. The lack of walks worried me the first month but that was it.

  7. WVRedlegs

    If you watch the first video against Garrett Cole, you see a small hitch in his hands that is a little pronounced with his back (right) arm as he readies for the pitch. In the second video against SF, you can notice a little smoother motion in his mechanics. In the first video, the hitch, or lifting of his hands, is about 3-4 inches. In the second video, it is about maybe an inch.
    Its a small adjustment, but maybe that was messing with his timing.

  8. WVRedlegs

    It’s the shoes, Money. In the first video Byrd is wearing black shoes. In the second, he is wearing white shoes.
    Also, That subtle bouncing he does with his feet. In the first he seems a little more flat-footed and more on the front of his feet in the second.

  9. WVRedlegs

    BP starting tonight at 2B. His foot must be feeling better. That is good news. They’ll need him against Bumgardner.

    • Matt WI

      BP’s foot is either better or we’re about to experience a slump that he will later attribute to “playing through it.”

    • jdx19

      Makes me wonder… does or doesn’t he have turf toe? (I’ll be honest, I don’t even know what turf toe is).

      If he has it, what I’ve read suggests rest is the option. What is misdiagnosed and he’s completely fine?


  10. Doug Gray

    April: 1 walk, 25 strikeouts.
    May: 13 walks, 11 strikeouts.

    He took the Joey Votto approach and, shocker, it actually works.

    Not all hitters can take that approach, you’ve got to be able to read the spin on the ball quick enough to not swing at bad pitches, but those that can do those things quickly enough…. stop swinging at non-strikes. This is just another example of how that approach works.

    • Shchi Cossack

      Doug, I’m with you (for whatever that’s worth!) regarding the change in Byrd’s approach. While his footwork is the same he is keeping his weight and hands back, enabling him to read the pitch before commiting, then using the push off his rear leg to drive through the ball.

      The Old Cossack attributed Byrd’s early approach with his diminished bat speed and the necessity to start his swing early in order to get the bat through the zone. His approach now looks very Vottoesque. I like Price’s decision to move Byrd down in the lineup from the #2 hole where his big bat will be more effective. I just wish Price would resolve himself to move Hamilton’s speed and lack of OBP out of the leadoff position.

    • Kevin Michell

      Yup, that would be the other half of it, much like Nick C. pointed out above with the O-Swing rate. He’s definitely seeing the ball better.

  11. WVRedlegs

    Don’t look now. Jon Moscot is 5-0 in 5 G’s at Louisville. A 2.35 ERA and 3.69 FIP. Lets see where he is at come about June 10, and it might be time for a discussion for him to replace Marquis.

    • IndyRedMan

      I’d bet money Marquis couldn’t get down to 2.35 in A ball

      • old-school

        No one would take that bet. maybe the GCL.

  12. charlottencredsfan

    Watching the video again: in the first example, he leaves the batter’s box almost as he finish’s his swing. In the second he takes a full-cut. Watch his front shoulder at the end of his swing. This may not help bat speed but I would think it would generate more power. Again, this could be due to pitch locations.

    • WVRedlegs

      I saw that too. Against Cole it was what looked like a change up. Byrd made contact just as the bottom was dropping out of it and pounded it in to the ground. The second pitch stayed mostly on and even plane and stayed up about mid-thigh. He busted that one.

      • charlottencredsfan

        Looks like if he would have driven the pitch by Cole right back thru the box, he may have been better off. It is so easy from my office chair. I could have been the greatest!!☺ No question though, watching video is invaluable.

  13. Steve Schoenbaechler

    Yep, just looking at Byrd’s splits, you can tell he doesn’t start very well.