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The swing is the thing for Rays’ Yandy Diaz, and here’s why it works

PORT CHARLOTTE — Yandy Diaz said it all begins with his hands.

Having them ready and relaxed at the right starting point, guiding the 31-ounce Victus bat his fingers are wrapped around to the moment of decision and, often, point of contact.

In breaking down the swing that produced an American League-leading .330 average and career-high 22 home runs last season, that is Diaz’s biggest key.

“When I look at it, I’m really paying attention more to my hands,” he said, via team interpreter Manny Navarro.

“When I’m going good, the hands are coming out perfectly, coming out how I want them. That’s how I know.”

There is more, of course, to the success of the Rays’ hulking first baseman and, against traditional casting, leadoff hitter. He stands 6-2, weighs 235 pounds, and bulging biceps highlight a chiseled frame.

His career-best 2023 performance included a .410 on-base percentage that was second in the league, a .932 OPS that was fourth, a Silver Slugger award, and a sixth-place finish in the American League Most Valuable Player voting (matching the best in franchise history) to go with his team MVP honors. He also ranked near the best in the majors in average exit velocity (93.4 mph) and hard-hit percentage (54).

His eyes (and what he said is 20-15 vision) are a big part, coupled with exceptional strike-zone knowledge, which dates back to his time playing in Cuba.

“I won’t always just give credit to my eyes,” Diaz said. “I think just more so the knowledge of the game and how I pay attention to the game.”

All together, his zone judgement is so good that he says when he disagrees with an umpire calling a pitch a strike, “about 95% of the time the next day they’ll apologize to me.”

Diaz ahas tremendous discipline in determining which pitches to swing at, given the ability to let the ball get deeper on him before deciding. And he has become increasingly willing, in the biggest change from his early career, contact-oriented approach, to take chances at elevating the ball to drive it out of the park.

For perspective on Diaz’s performance, we asked other Rays what they see when watching him swing.

Brandon Lowe, second baseman

“To keep it to one word, consistency. … He knows exactly what he feels he needs. He knows exactly what he’s trying to do up there at the plate. He’s not trying to be anybody that he’s not. He’s a big body, but he’s not trying to do things that he’s not supposed to do. He knows what kind of hitter he is. He knows what kind of hitter got him to a batting title last year, and he’s going to continue to be that guy. And it’s one of the things that makes him such a good leadoff hitter and such a good hitter in general.”

Jason Adam, reliever

“A lot of muscle, (but) I think the most impressive part of his game is his eyes. I feel like his eyes are like a walking, talking TrackMan (data collection device). He knows the zone better than anybody I’ve ever seen. When he swings, even if he gets out, its like 105 mph-plus off the bat. If it’s a hit, it’s 105 mph-plus. Everything he hits is squared up. I don’t know how he does it. It’s discipline plus power, which is crazy.”

Kevin Cash, manager

“Consistency and balance. … It’s what you don’t see. You don’t see Yandy take a swing where here’s caught out front and fooled. When you do, you’re like, ‘What the hell happened?’ because he’s so balanced at the plate. The key is that he’s really talented, and his eyes are good. The pitch recognition, I think it’s as good as anybody and may be the best in baseball. I put him up there with (Yankees outfielder Juan) Soto. Soto has more power underneath, but as far as bat to ball, what Yandy does is really impressive.”

Zach Eflin, pitcher

“He looks like a man amongst kids, to be honest. Everything is so professional about what he does — his approach, his swing. Just watching what he did last year hitting .330 was incredible. And it was consistent. I saw a stat where there wasn’t a month last year where he hit under .300, which is freakin’ incredible. That’s unbelievable. Like, there wasn’t one month where he was off. He’s the model of consistency. And he’s a great teammate.”

Chad Mottola, hitting coach

“I see a massive human swinging a baseball bat. But just the grace he moves with, the way he’s able to get to pitches in a unique way and just the comfort in his own skin. He has a unique way of staying inside the ball, despite all his mass — it’s hitting it deep, it’s hitting it the other way, it’s waiting longer to make your decision on it. And some of that we’re actually working on it a little bit to take some more chances at some more power, which we dabbled with last year. As he says, we’re just going to keep taking a step forward each year.”

Harold Ramirez, outfielder/DH

“He’s always ready to kill the ball. He’s always behind the ball. He’s always going to look for a very good pitch, because he has very good eyes. And he tries to kill the ball.”

Pete Fairbanks, reliever

“He gives himself room for error. He has the ability where if something is not perfect he can still barrel the ball. The decision-making is really good. When you’re a good decision-maker and you can cover a lot (of pitches), that typically lends itself to being a productive hitter.”

Jose Siri, outfielder

“He makes it look easy. He’s always chilling and you see him being calm at the plate, but he hits it hard. He hits it hard every time. He has good eyes, and when he doesn’t like a pitch, he lets it go.”

Josh Lowe, outfielder

“You see a very strong human being swinging a bat but also a strong human with a plan. His swing is very compact. In a way, it’s very simple but also extremely repeatable. What I see is someone who’s always under control and swinging with a purpose and a plan, and trying to execute that every time. There’s a lot of consistency. You can’t hit .330 not being consistent.”

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