What a historic night for Christian Villanueva of the Sand Diego Padres! With just over 40 big league at bat's to his name, the 27-year old third basemen hit a career high three-homeruns in the teams 8-4 victory over the Colorado Rockies. All media courtesy of MLB.com/video
One of the more visual elements to Christians load is the barrel tip which leads to strong barrel awareness. Barrel awareness refers to the hitters ability to know and direct the barrel of the bat through the load and into commitment. High level hitters have the ability to load their barrel efficiently, controlling the . When we look at his loading sequence, we see a few angles that are important to managing the barrel, most specifically the angle from the handle of the bat into the lead and rear forearm.
Notice the rear elbow (right arm) tilts upward as the barrel tilts. This engages the rear forearm, creating (roughly) a 90-degree angle from the handle-hands-barrel and builds tension to which the barrel of the bat can whip around the hands. This "barrel-forearm complex" is important as it allows the hitter ample control of the barrel, stronger wrist positions and a deep entry into and through the zone. While the amount of movement through this portion of the load is dependent on the hitter, the ability to then generate bat-speed deep off of the rear shoulder is a component to the high-level swing.
Christians lower body gather inward to his center of mass allows for a strong coil against his rear leg. It looks more like a compression move similar to Josh Donaldson In doing so, he can release his swing with momentum back through the center of the plate and out towards the pitcher. This momentum combined with a deep barrel path allows for deep bat-speed through contact. Also, notice how he loads "against" the inside part of his rear leg as opposed to "on top" of the thigh. This allows for a quicker release of the rear hip/leg.
Lead Arm Mechanics:
One of the aspects to Christians swing that jumps out is the barrel arc around the hands as the ball begins reaching home plate. The rearward barrel action around the hands is what creates deep, efficient bat-speed. As we discussed above, his loading mechanics allow for an efficient "release" of the barrel. However, I like to focus on the lead elbow positioning in this swing as a means to control the "hand pivot point" (said differently, the point to which the barrel turns around the hands).
If we look at the lead elbow (focus on the elbow guard) in this swing, you can see that while the lead hip begins to clear, the lead elbow remains forward towards the pitcher. As Christian begins to open (belt buckle towards the pitcher), you can begin to see the lead elbow go from pointing down towards the front of the plate to matching the plane of the pitch. This is the by product of creating good tension through the torso while keeping the hands back resisting the body opening.
Control of the lead elbow is vital to maintaining swing direction and depth. If the lead elbow begins to leak forwards towards the pitcher, the hands follow suit. In an essence, the elbow acts as the center of the swing so control over that point allows for an efficient and forceful barrel path to the ball. The longer the lead elbow remains at the center of mass, the more efficient transfer of energy through the swing sequence.