Tigers tread lightly with Niko Goodrum’s swing-and-miss struggles

Detroit News

Chris McCosky | The Detroit News

Clearwater, Fla. – Baseball is an unforgiving game. If there is a hole in your game, it will be exposed and exploited. Over and over and over until you close it.

Nobody knows this better than Tigers utility man Niko Goodrum. Sometime in 2019, teams figured out he has a fatal flaw in his swing, particularly his left-handed swing. He can’t catch up to elevated, high-velocity pitches. Nor does he often lay off them.

Last year, albeit in a shortened season, his swing-and-miss rate was in the bottom three percentile in baseball. His whiffed on nearly 30% of the fastballs that he saw (28.5), 52% on breaking balls and 48% on off-speed pitches.

Why are we talking about his whiff rate on fastballs when he whiffs more at secondary pitches? Cause and effect. Teams know he’s jumping at anything that looks like it might be down in the zone – just to avoid having to deal with the high heat — even ones that bounce or are out of the strike zone.

It happened on Friday against the Yankees. Yankees right-hander Jamison Taillon struck Goodrum out with an elevated fastball in the second inning. In the third, he threw a 94.6-mph heater past him for strike two and then got him to chase a curveball for strike three.

Goodrum, who struck out in 38.5% of his at-bats last year, has punched out in seven of his 18 plate appearances this spring.

“He’s aware of what he’s working on and we’re aware of the swing and miss, especially from the left side,” manager AJ Hinch said. “That’s an area you’ve got to focus on.”

It’s been, Hinch said, an open topic between Goodrum, Hinch and hitting coaches Scott Coolbaugh and Jose Cruz, Jr. But, in a game as mentally dispiriting as baseball, you tread lightly.

“You can mentally turn yourself into chasing more if you lock yourself up in the batter’s box,” he said. “Pitch recognition is the key. I thought early in camp he showed better discipline. Yesterday was obviously a tough day.

“We’re probably going to have the ebbs and flows with him as he tries to make the adjustment to either being able to get on top of that ball or lay off it. He’s working on it and we’ll continue to preach patience when the ball is up top.”

Easier said than done, for sure. Easier to stand on the side and go tsk, tsk, than stand 60 feet and six inches away from a guy throwing 95-mph bullets and decide in an instant to swing or take.

“We’ve been very open and direct with that being an area of focus,” Hinch said. “He’s going to have his good days. If a (pitcher) can execute that pitch and he’s a little late, he’s going to get beat. He’s facing some of the highest velocity that’s ever been in baseball.

“Guys are throwing harder and harder and they are throwing more and more up in the zone. Recognition is the number one key.”

Twitter@cmccosky

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