Mancini resets mind, simplifies swing

March 15th, 2023

MESA, Ariz. -- There are adjustments that is working on behind the scenes with the Cubs' hitting group. There is a tweak to the setup of his stance and an approach focus that centers around driving the ball more often to the opposite field.

Really, though, Mancini is searching for a return to simplicity.

"I need to be still in the mind," said Mancini, standing at his locker at the Cubs' complex on Tuesday afternoon.

Mancini has been using his first spring with the North Siders as a kind of mental reset. So far, it has been paying dividends in terms of Cactus League results. Mancini connected for a hard-hit single in Tuesday's 5-2 loss to the Rockies, giving him a .481 average in 10 games.

Spring Training statistics do not net regular-season wins, but they can go a long way in helping a player's confidence. Coming off a tough second half last year, and working on a few offensive alterations this spring, every hit cements a belief in Mancini’s daily process.

"I don't think we can ever underestimate," Cubs manager David Ross said, "we don't talk about this enough, just confidence. And real confidence, rather than cage work and drill work and batting practice -- when you can really see results in-game against real competition.

"It's hard to fool yourself and talk yourself into having some kind of false confidence. You need results."

When the Cubs had their initial Zoom conversations with Mancini this offseason, the team's hitting group wanted to hear Mancini's insight on last season. The first baseman had a .751 OPS with the Orioles, but then hit just .176 (.622 OPS) in 51 games after a trade to the Astros.

Not only did new hitting coach Dustin Kelly want Mancini's perspective, but he wanted to hear the words the veteran hitter used to discuss the last two months. It was Kelly's way of learning right away the best ways to communicate certain concepts to Mancini this year.

"He felt like he just kind of got away from what he was really good at," Kelly said. "The ball out over the plate, he drives balls to right-center really good, and he just felt like he was a little bit pull-happy. So then, we kind of dive into some of the mechanics: ‘OK, what changed?’"

The Cubs sent Mancini some simple images of his stance that showed the biomechanics of his setup. It was an easy way for Mancini to visualize how he had closed his feet and, in turn, altered the weight distribution of his swing. It was the type of information that supported what Mancini was already thinking about on his end.

"I tried to get my legs into it more the last couple of years," Mancini said. "But I think I did that just by almost squatting a little lower. Just because I'm standing tall, doesn't mean I'm not going to get my legs into it, too. You have to feel comfortable, so it becomes, ‘How can I naturally get my legs into it?’"

Mancini was not just "pull happy" last season. He started pulling balls at rates far off his career norm.

2022: 45.0% 
2021: 36.7% 
Career: 38.3%

2022: 22.9% 
2021: 28.0% 
Career: 26.4%

The problem reached an extreme level in the second half, when Mancini pulled pitches at a 49.3% clip, compared to just 19.7% sent the opposite way. During his best season in '19, when Mancini belted 35 homers and boasted an .899 OPS, he pulled the ball at a 35.8% rate and went oppo 26.7% of the time.

Mancini feels much of that issue can be corrected by focusing less on trying to "cover the whole plate" this season. Mechanically, he has reverted back to a more upright swing with a slightly open setup. He is also working on keeping his head still for improved pitch recognition.

All of this combined is aimed at a return to comfort and consistency, rather than Mancini constantly feeling like he is stuck in a cycle of hunting for quick fixes.

"At the end of the day," Mancini said, "I realized that the last two years, I came in almost every day trying to figure it out. I'd try something new, thinking that I would find an epiphany, almost. And I just kept catching myself saying, 'I'm trying to do this, trying to do that.'

"And I was like, 'Maybe I need to try less.' I've been saying the word 'try' so much. I work hard. I try hard, but maybe I need to just go back to relaxing, feeling like I'm at ease in the box and not really thinking."