As I watched Brett Gardner extend his hot start in Spring Training last night, I wondered how the slap hitting outfielder could be making such good contact. I watched a few of his 2013 at bats, and then went back to 2012, and then I realized that he's made a key change. Take a look at the GIF below and see if you can spot it.
Gardner is no longer keeping two hands on the bat, and is taking a one-handed follow-through immediately on point of contact with the pitch. In 2012, Gardner's two-handed approach at the plate was more reminiscent of a power hitter, rather than the contact and speed he usually uses at the plate. Prior to 2012, Gardner used this same one-handed approach, and it's a mystery as to why he ever changed.
At first I thought it had to do with injury, but he was keeping both hands on the bat prior to his injury in 2012. Perhaps it was to get more power, as it's understood that you can generate more energy from your hips with a two-handed follow-through. The benefits of the one-handed approach include keeping your head steady on contact, and thus a better ability to keep your eye on the pitch, as well as keeping your torso in the hitting zone. Coach Dan does a great job of explaining the benefits here.
Over at Bio-Kinetics, they compared a 3D skeleton swinging the bat with the one-handed approach (in this case Mark McGwire), and that of a two-handed approach. Although the timing is different, you can see that in the follow-through, the head area stays in a much more stable position.
What's the better approach? It's been debated, but in the end it's about the batter's preference. For Gardner, a one-handed follow-through makes the most sense since he's looking for contact over power.
The outfielder is now 11 for his last 19,. Yes, it is Spring Training, but there are few hotter hitters. Correlation does not imply causation, and we can't assume that his decision to go back to the old swing has made him a .579 hitter. This hot streak obviously won't go on forever, but at least he looks incredibly comfortable with the change in his approach. Hopefully it'll help him return to 2010 type numbers.