Pirates' Byrd credits high school coach with revamping his swing
By Travis Sawchik
Published: Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
MILWAUKEE — Marlon Byrd understands why his season is met with suspicion.
The recently acquired Pirates right fielder received a 50-game suspension last season after testing positive for a substance banned because it can mask steroid use. Byrd insists he never has used steroids or HGH. He said he unknowingly took a drug that contained tamoxifen after having surgery.
Byrd is friends with Victor Conte, whose BALCO lab was at the center of one of the largest drug scandals in sports history.
His breakout season — career-bests in home runs (22) and slugging percentage (.526) — comes at an age, 36, when players are typically in decline.
They are the red flags flying atop his banner season, which has continued in Pittsburgh. Since arriving from the Mets via trade last week, Byrd has 12 hits in 31 at-bats. Byrd said the career year is not the product of a chemically enhanced body but rather a makeover of his swing.
Coming off a 2012 season in which he batted .210 with one home run in 48 games, Byrd was seeking a place to hit near his offseason home in Chatsworth, Calif., northeast of Los Angeles.
Amid the sprawling industrial parks, he stumbled upon a spartan batting facility containing cage netting and a handful of pitching machines inside a simple steel-framed building. There he met Doug Latta, a high school coach who offers private lessons.
“I walked in his place and said, ‘Hey, I want to hit.' He said, ‘All right let's work,' ” said Byrd, who had signed a one-year, $700,000 deal with the Mets in the offseason. “He has an eye. He can see what you're doing wrong. He can see flight of ball. I'm open-minded. He gave me his thoughts. I said, ‘It makes sense. Let's do it.' ”
Byrd is a strong, barrel-chested man. But the power from his 6-foot, 215-pound frame had been sapped for a simple reason: He had hit too many groundballs.
In 2010 and '11, he hit 1.7 groundballs for every fly ball. Last season, the ratio was more extreme: two groundballs for every fly ball.
“I come from more of an old-school style of baseball,” Byrd said. “Coming up, the coaches I had played for in the 1970s and 1980s, we were taught to swing down.”
Latta gave lift to Byrd's swing and career.
Instead of leading with his hands, Byrd was taught to lead with his right elbow. He said the subtle adjustment creates “bat lag” and “snap.” The tweak created more lift in his swing plane and a longer period of extension in the hitting zone.
Byrd has hit more fly balls than groundballs this season, enjoying a career-best ratio (0.92). His home run-to-fly ball ratio, 16.8 percent, is also a career best.
“I was able to figure out how to get the ball in the air more consistently,” Byrd said, “with backspin.”
Teammate Garrett Jones is a believer.
“He's not any stronger,” Jones said. “It's just a little mechanical change to his swing path.”
This season, Byrd ranks seventh in baseball in average home run distance, 412 feet. But balls are leaving his bat at the same velocity as they were in 2011 and '10, according to hittracker.com. They are just airborne more often.
Latta helped Byrd remake his swing, but Byrd also is a student of the game. He speaks about subtleties of the swing like a hitting coach. He added a leg kick as a timing device this offseason.
“I watch every hitter. I'm a baseball fan,” Byrd said. “If there's a game on TV, I'm watching. If I'm fixing my swing, I watch the guys I love to watch, Manny (Ramirez) with the leg kick.”
Byrd understands the skepticism. Still, he seems to welcome the questions, perhaps because he has no doubt in the answer.
Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates’ Snider talks about surgery, rebuilding swing
- Pirates make offers to 7 players at arbitration deadline
- Cost of doing business increasing for Pirates
- Bucs acquire catcher and designate McKenry for assignment
- Film about former Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis in prestigious festival
- Cost of doing business increasing for Pirates
- Pirates awaiting Burnett’s decision
- Pirates get pitcher, outfielder in trade; Jones walks plank
- Pirates notebook: McKenry healing, awaits arbitration fate