Chris Taylor Interview

January 21st, 2018

Chris Taylor was drafted as a shortstop out of the University of Virginia in the 5th round of the 2012 MLB first-year player draft by the Mariners. Chris made his MLB debut in 2014 and was up and down between AAA and the MLB from 2014-2016 until getting traded to the Dodgers in 2016. Last year Chris enjoyed a breakout campaign. Chris emerged as a versatile star for the Dodgers slashing .288/.354/.496 in 586 PA. Entering 2017 Chris only had one career home run. He would set a new career high with 21 home runs and recorded a .361 wOBA with 17 stolen bases. Chris’s versatility, excellent baserunning, an impressive .850 OPS culminated in him having 4.7 fWAR. That ranked 22nd among all hitters last season! We were lucky to talk to Chris, and hope you all learn from and enjoy what he has to say!

MD: There are a ton of guys around baseball changing their swing and seeing better results. Is this a common conversation across baseball, with elevation being a key factor for success?

CT: I wouldn’t say it is an everyday conversation. There are a lot of one on one conversations between players. I try to talk to guys who have succeeded as much as I can and pick their brains. Justin Turner was a great guy to talk to for me because he was up and down. He was in the same situation I was at one point, up and down from the MLB to AAA for a few years before he made that swing change. He says his game was very similar to what mine was two years ago. Where he stayed on top of the ball, hit the ball the other way, more of a contact guy. He made that swing change, and now it is the complete opposite. He thinks about getting the ball in the air to the pull side. Just having conversations with him, the couple of months I was up in 2016, and I picked his brain and talking to other guys as well. I do not think it is something that is a universal conversation like you said. I think the best discussions about hitting you have are one on one where you can get more personal.


MD: You were with the Mariners before getting traded to the Dodgers.  It is a little more well known to the general public that the Dodgers are all in on analytics and player development.  Looking back at your time with the two organizations, do you believe this difference between the clubs player development systems affected your personal development?

CT: Yeah, when I think of the differences as far as analytics go, the Mariners were just starting to get into it in my last year with them. I can’t speak to where they are now and how advanced they are with it. I think the Dodgers are as advanced as anybody in the game regarding analytics. They have guys that run every study you can think of and have all the numbers, and they take all that information and are good about relaying it to all of us (the players), where we can kind of take it or leave it. They give us the information, and we can choose to utilize it or not. For example, at one point towards the end of the year before the playoffs, I was struggling a bit. They told me the first few months when I was playing well the percentage of balls out of the zone I swung at was one of the best in baseball. Over that month-month and a half where I was struggling, those numbers had gotten pretty comparable to the league average. That was useful information for me because I realized I had to zone back in. Not be more patient, but zone in to look for the ball over the heart of the plate, and look for something I can do damage with.  Not be overly aggressive where I’m swinging at pitches on the black early in counts, and rolling over or not making solid contact.
This graphic shows Chris’s swing % in each quadrant April 19th to August 1st.

This graphic shows Chris’s swing % in each quadrant from August 2nd to the end of the season.

MD: You worked with Robert Van Scoyoc and a little with Craig Wallenbrock.  Can you elaborate on your experience with them, and what they had you work on?

CT: There was a lot, I’ll try and start from the beginning.  In October of 2016, I got sent to Arizona to stay hot while the Dodgers were in the playoffs. That is when I started working with Robert.  We just clicked. He approached me and saw I was trying to make some swing changes, and I didn’t really know what I was trying to do at that point. I had read some stuff with what Donaldson had done, and a few other guys. I knew I wanted to make a change; I just didn’t really know how to go about doing it. That’s where Robert came in. We worked together for a few days. The first thing we worked on was creating a better bat path. That was getting my bat in the zone earlier, and a focus on lifting the ball. That entire week we worked together all I was trying to do was hit deep fly balls to center field. I think that mindset got my bat in the zone earlier and got me on plane better. My whole life I thought about staying on top of the ball, and I think that gives you a tendency to be a little pushy as a hitter. Getting your hands out in front causes your bat to not be in the zone for as long as it could be. So working with him I got that path down, I worked on that bat path for probably a month or so. During this time, I did not make any other changes. All my batting practice I was hitting it to the top of the net in the cage. Once I felt comfortable with that, I went out to LA and worked with him for about a week. We added some rhythm with my hands. Before my hands started from a dead-stop, so there was no momentum of the barrel. Raul Ibanez talks about how you don’t want to be 0-100 where your hands are starting from a dead-stop and you get them going as hard as you can, and it is a max effort type swing. You would rather have a slow to fast move, where your hands have some rhythm to where you are getting the barrel going. Then the barrel gradually accelerates through the ball. That is more of an effortless move. That was the second part, where I added the balance behind my back shoulder. He would run us through a bunch of different drills to work on this. That whole week we worked on that. I went back home sent him some videos, kept working on it. Then I went back out there about a week before spring training was about to start up. We got more into the lower half. Then I added that step back move with the leg kick. The leg kick was to sync up my lower and upper half, where I was thinking knob to the knee.


MD: What is the thought process behind knob to knee?

CT: The way I think of that when you bring the knob to knee it brings everything in tight and close together. Donaldson talks about bringing everything in tight, and then when you go to attack the ball, everything separates. That’s where you get that separation or the rubber band effect. Once I got that knob to the knee move down everything synced up. I went into to spring training like that. I tinkered with it throughout the year. If you look at video of my swing from the beginning of the season to the end, there are still some pretty significant differences.

This video is from May 8th.

This video is from the World Series in late October.


MD: Throughout the postseason my college teammates and I regularly spoke about your step back move before the leg kick. Is that a timing mechanism or is there a little more to it?

CT: So that was a drill. When I first started doing the leg kick, I was having trouble staying stacked on my backside. Everything was inside my back foot. So when I was doing the leg kick, I was getting too far over my back foot to the point I was balancing. Sometimes I would be falling into the stride, and sometimes my foot would be late getting down. That back foot move was just something where I could feel the pressure on the inside part of my back foot and I keeping myself stacked on my leg kick. I took it into BP, and I liked it, so I stuck with it.

Focus on his back foot in this swing!

MD: You didn’t see any difficulty when Spring Training started with timing.  Had you done it so much that it was an easy adjustment?

CT: Eventually I got to the point where I had done it so much I didn’t even think about it. That is where I’m at with it now. It is not a move I have to think like ok, the pitcher is separating time to step back, it is just something that happens like any other move. Like your stride or leg kick you have done it so much you don’t think about that move it just happens.


MD: Yourself, Justin Turner, and Cody Bellinger all developed your power in professional baseball. Is your clubhouse a think tank about hitting, where everyone can bounce ideas off each other, or is everyone more confident in their ability knowing who they are as players and just go out and do their business?

CT: I think it is a combination of both. We all understand ourselves and what works best for us. We do have excellent communication amongst the players. I’d say not just about mechanics, but approach against an individual pitcher we are going to face. That is one of the things that makes us very successful. We have hitters meetings before every game, about how we are going to approach that pitcher. We have a pretty good group of veteran guys. Hearing what they have to say, and the approach they are going to take against that guy, and what has worked for them in the past. That is beneficial information to take in before a game. Being able to hear guys like Chase Utley, Justin Turner, and Andre Ethier. How they have had success against this guy in the past, it helps. Especially for guys like me, a lot of the guys we face I have never seen before.

 

MD: You talked about approach there. When guys look online to read about hitting from MLB guys, there is a ton of information on mechanics, but you do not really hear about approach. Do you approach every at-bat the same, or does your plan differ by pitcher, situation, or the information you get?

CT: My approach changes from pitcher to pitcher. I think of most pitchers in two or three different categories. Most of the pitchers in the big leagues have some sort of deception, that is why they are there. Whether it is they have good sink on their ball, or they have good life, and the ball appears to rise. A good majority of the pitchers have one of those two. Some of the best ones have both, and those are the ones that are really tough. As far as those type of guys who have life, whether it is high spin rate, or I don’t know all the terms like low vertical drop, but those kind of guys you might have to think about differently. Whether it is shorten the knob or be more direct to the ball, and catch it a little further out in front. That is the approach I took to those guys. Those balls get on you a little quicker than you would expect. So a guy that is 90-91 might feel like 95. With sinker guys, I take the approach of you have to lift them. You have to see the ball up and get it in the air. There are so many other aspects, like what direction of the field you are thinking. Certain guys have good angle who might pound you in, and you have to think left-center. Other guys have really good off-speed where you have to think right-center to stay on their slider. My approach definitely changes from pitcher to pitcher.


MD: You started this past season in AAA. After ten games you were called up and made the most of the opportunity. What was your mentality, and how did you stay mentally prepared for the chance when it came?

CT: I have been up and down multiple times. I started to realize you cannot worry about the things outside of your control. Once you start trying to predict what the coaches are going to do, or where you are going to be it is just added distractions and things that are going to put more pressure on yourself. I think I learned pretty quickly you have to just focus on where you are at the time, and whoever you are playing at that time. It sounds cliché, but you really do have to take it one game at a time. You cannot look too far down the line. It is a long season, and a lot of things can happen. When I got the opportunity this year, after a few guys got hurt, I was just looking to go up there and play good baseball.  Pretty much do what I had been doing since spring training. I knew I had a good spring, so I understood that I was going to get a chance eventually. I made it all the way to the last cuts of spring training. I was happy with how I had played up to that point, and I just wanted to go up there and play relaxed, and confident. Things worked out well I got off to a really hot start, and I was fortunate to get plenty of opportunities due to the injuries, and I just took advantage of them.


MD: Did you know after an offseason in which you retooled you swing and had a great spring that you would break out when you got the opportunity in the bigs?

CT:  I believed that I was going to have a good season. I had no idea I was going to hit over 20 homers. I didn’t realize how quickly it would translate. Going into every season, not just last season, the seasons before that when I struggled at the big league I was confident I was going to have a good season. It just did not always happen. This game is such a short leash, and a lot of having a great year is just getting the opportunity. I think that was half of it this year.  I got put in a great situation, I was playing for a great team, and I got off to a great start. All the work I put in and the adjustments I made just added to that, and allowed me to thrive, given that opportunity.


MD: You are very versatile. You played five different positions this year. If you could would you choose to play just one position, or do you prefer using your versatility to help your team and play wherever you are needed?

CT: Coming up I always took pride in my ability to play shortstop. I always said I wanted to be an everyday shortstop in the big leagues. Now that I am a part of this team, I like being a guy who can play all over the field. I think the main reason is it is beneficial to the team that I can do that. Being a part of this team, we have a pretty special group. I just want to do anything I can to be the best we can be, and get back to the World Series. I like being able to play multiple positions and to answer your question I want to play wherever the team needs me to play.

 

Position LF CF 2B SS 3B
# of Games played 48 49 22 7 14


MD: For younger kids, coaches often focus on playing kids at one position. For kids who are athletic like yourself, and possess the ability to play multiple positions, what advice would you offer them?

CT: At the youth level I believe kids should play multiple positions. Certain positions generally translate into multiple positions. I think shortstop leads to this; typically the best athletes play short, and it is easy to bounce off this position and play around the diamond. A lot of college players were high school shortstops and then they changed to a different position. It is helpful to be versatile, and there is a good chance you will have to move around as you get older. Playing all over the field can only help you.


MD: Would you advise all levels of baseball players to focus on elevation? Even if it is not focusing on hitting home runs and rather just trying to elevate the ball over the infield, would you give this advice to all players?

CT: Yeah, probably. I think that is the direction baseball is going. I am completely bought into elevation.


MD: You homered the first pitch you saw to leadoff the World Series. What was going through your head as you were rounding the bases?

CT: I don’t even remember. I was so excited, and there was so much adrenaline built up for that moment. To be able to jump on the first pitch, and connect like that. That was probably the best I have ever hit a ball. It was just an incredible feeling, pure excitement running around the bases, It took some of the pressure off, and I was able to play relaxed from that moment on.


MD: For you, what is the coolest aspect of a Major League clubhouse that people outside the game never hear about?

CT: As far as the team goes it is just like any other team. We are all pretty close, being around guys that often. You are going to develop pretty close friendships. We have a great group of friends. As far as being a part of a Major League clubhouse just being able to utilize the facilities. The video they have, the facilities, the coaching, and being able to play with the best, and smartest players in the game. Being able to take all of that information is probably the best part.

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