Inside the revolutionary hitting program behind LaMonte Wade Jr.’s success

07/11/2023

'It's going to change baseball': Inside the revolutionary hitting program behind LaMonte Wade Jr.'s success

BY Evan Webeck | San Francisco Giants Reporter

SAN FRANCISCO —

Ever since he can remember, LaMonte Wade Jr. has had an innate ability to track the baseball.

That has manifested this season in the best year of his career. He is one of four players in the majors to get on base at a 40% clip or better and sees more pitches, on average, every time he steps to the plate than all but nine players in the National League.

In the rare instance he is called out on strikes, manager Gabe Kapler said, "I believe LaMonte deserves the benefit of the doubt because of how good he's been at making swing decisions. … It's not passiveness; it's controlled aggression.

" Only recently, however, has Wade begun to learn why.

Through a series of tests, Wade learned that his right eye — the one closest to the pitcher — was his motor eye, one of many permutations that make up his personal motorpreference profile. This little detail allows him to track pitches deep into the zone before switching at the last split-second to his left, or dominant, eye.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg, according to Matt Swope, the hitting coach at Wade's alma mater, the University of Maryland.

"Every time I give this presentation and people see it, they're like, 'Oh my god, this fills in so many gaps that we just never knew and were just guessing on,'" Swope said. "It really is that special. I really think it's going to change baseball in a couple years, like change the whole landscape."

After the 2020 season, Wade was in need of a change. Farhan Zaidi, taking note of his elite walk-to-strikeout rate amid middling other minor-league numbers, provided that about three weeks before the start of spring training in 2021, acquiring him from the Twins in a one-for-one swap that now looks like one of his top fleecings.

But Wade had already set the wheels in motion that would alter the trajectory of his career, in San Francisco or otherwise.

He sought out Swope, a trusted voice from his time at Maryland, and reconnected that winter.

Going on three years later, Swope watches every one of Wade's at-bats and texts with him daily. He described Wade as "almost like a son to me." "He changed the scope of my career the way he fixed my swing that offseason going into 2021," Wade said. "He really changed the direction my career was going."

In 2021, Wade hit a career-best 18 home runs, including so many in the late innings that he earned the nickname "Late Night" LaMonte. His breakout season was essential to the Giants' 107-win campaign, and it can be traced back to the work done with Swope that offseason.

Wade made two changes that allowed him to elevate the ball more: His swing plane was too flat, and he was creating too much separation between his hips and his shoulders. Now, they know it's all about getting Wade "into profile." But back then, Swope admits, "When I look back I was actually lucky that a lot of the stuff I was doing back then actually fit his profile." As Wade packed up for his first spring training in Arizona, Swope was about to begin his own journey.

At his Maryland home, Swope hosts clients and presents them a slide deck. He's shown it to representatives from about half the 30 teams in MLB, including some general managers, he said. (But nobody from the Giants, besides Wade.)

He believes motorpreferences will revolutionize baseball the same way as biomechanics

. "I'm telling you," he said, "it's literally like taking the red pill in the Matrix." Swope was turned on to motorpreferences popularized in Europe while studying brain types in 2021 through a mutual LinkedIn connection. It was David Genest, a French ex-pat now living in Canada whom Swope called the "godfather" of the industry. That sent him down a rabbit hole and eventually took him to Switzerland to visit the Volodalen SportsLab, which has been studying motorpreferences for the past 15 years.

"The specificity and the training and the cues and the drills, everything is surrounded around the individual," Swope said. "I'm literally just finding where you're best balanced and coordinated and what your body wants to do in movement."

With the rise of biomechanics, through millions of data points created by wearables and other tracking technology, players are throwing harder and hitting the ball farther than ever before. In other words, generating more torque.

But not all bodies move the same, and not everyone is built to optimize for maximum torque. "Just because you can create more force doesn't mean you can be balanced and coordinated," Swope said. "That's the problem. … The information from the biomechanics data is a tool. It's all a tool and it all needs to come together. The problem is we're doing it backwards. Everything is ass-backward. The tail is wagging the dog without knowing what the human wants to do.

" Wade, for example, is "associated," which means he doesn't want to create too much separation between his hips and shoulders. He's also "terrestrial," so he prefers the weight more in his heels. And he is "axial," which means his elbows are better off close to his body. The knee injury Wade suffered last spring was especially damaging, Swope explained, because "his type of profile, he needs really strong legs and he needs really strong core, glutes and hammies. … His legs are extremely important to the way that he plays baseball and the way that he moves.

" This is all gleaned through a physical assessment that lasts about an hour. There are no wearables or algorithms, only Swope's hands and his partner, Genest, weighing in over Zoom. It takes a few hours to build an individual profile. In a 22-page packet, they tell clients information ranging from the ideal angle of their chin to the area of the strike zone they should look to attack. "Before, it felt like I was fighting my body," Wade said. "Whereas now, once he told me my profile and told me what I need to focus on, everything kind of synced up and felt freer and more consistent.

It would be impossible to match his heroics of 2021, when he had more game-tying or go-ahead home runs in the ninth inning or later than any player in the past 40 years.

But perhaps more impressive is his consistency: Wade hasn't gone consecutive games without getting on base all season. "It's tough nowadays with how good these pitchers are," said injured outfielder Mitch Haniger, who recently turned Wade on to Westside Connection after a long run of Wu-Tang Clan on his omnipresent headphones.

"He makes it look easy." When something is going wrong, he has multiple sets of eyes watching him.

Now, they know what buttons to press. "Now it's not guessing; it's just, this is what you're doing. You're out of profile, you've gotta get back to profile," Wade said.

"We're not robots, it's just how fast you can get back into profile."