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Recording swings helps Travis Snider stay on the ball

Recording swings helps Travis Snider stay on the ball
Travis Snider takes video of his swings with his iPad during batting practice before a spring training exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox in Sarasota, Fla. (Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

Just before his round of batting practice begins, as Orioles outfielder Travis Snider reaches into his equipment bag for his bat, he also pulls out a tripod.

Before taking his swings, he positions the tripod just outside the cage looking in, and places his iPad facing toward the left side of the batter's box. Before he steps in to take his first swings, Snider begins recording, so he can review his round later.

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The routine, rare during batting practice, goes unnoticed by most. Snider doesn't do it to bring attention to himself, and his new teammates — the Orioles acquired Snider in January in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates — haven't said much.

"It's worked for him," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It's not trying to come in and show everybody he's doing it. He's not trying to hide it, but he's not putting it out front and center. There's not a whole lot there that we don't have on tape, but if it gives him a comfort level and lets him be successful, so be it."

Said Snider: "Part of the beauty of this game is that we're all crazy individuals when it comes to processes. However you get it done, you get it done."

After one conversation with the 27-year-old Snider you can tell he takes hitting — and adjustments hitters constantly have to make over the course of a long season — very seriously. He knows how frustrating trying to find your swing can be.

Six years ago, Snider was one of baseball's top prospects, rated No. 6 by Baseball America. But he struggled to duplicate incredible minor league numbers. When he slumped, Snider found himself tinkering with his swing.

Players constantly study video of their at bats, but Snider saw his decision to begin recording his batting practice swings as an "opportunity to take ownership." He doesn't have to be at the ballpark to look at his swings. He can do it at home the night after a game, on a team flight, or anytime he wants to take a closer look at his mechanics. The program he records his swings on can be played back in slow motion and frame-by-frame.

"I've been punched in the mouth and kicked in the stomach by this game," Snider said. "But it's given me a new drive. Hitting has always been a passion of mine, and I've always loved being around the cages, doing lessons, those types of things. It was just a matter of removing myself from my own swing and saying 'how can I look at this objectively or non-objectively,' depending on your situation. This is black and white. The tape doesn't lie."

Snider can go back into the library of recordings and look how his swing compares to his best stretch at the plate, or his worst. He can analyze what's he thinks he's doing right and what he needs to work on. While other players might go on feel to evaluate how they're doing, Snider prefers visual evidence.

"I use the video on the iPad just for visual confirmation or feedback in terms of what I'm trying to accomplish with my swing, especially early on in spring training," Snider said. "We're trying to create habits with all the reps we're getting. There's a lot of guys who are trying to get their work in and with the busy days we have, it's easy to go home and look over some things on the days I want to get some film done and come to the field the next day with a plan of what I want to work on."

Snider said he won't film his swings nearly as often during the regular season. He does it the most during spring training to have a baseline. But when he feels it's necessary, the tripod will come out. It also serves as a talking point for his relationship with new Orioles hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh.

"I've filmed by swing for a number of years now," Snider said. "I've made a lot of changes over the course of my career as I've gone through ups and downs. … I taught myself how to hit when I was a kid and I've been around a lot of great hitting coaches, but when you go to the cage, you have to have a plan, and some days you can't feel what you're doing wrong. Whether it's the hitting coach or being able to sit down and watch film, getting that feedback and being able to incorporate it into your work allows you to make adjustments, at least in my situation."

Snider credits understanding his swing for the strides he made last year with the Pirates. He had his best season in the majors, batting. 264 with a .338 on-base and .438 slugging percentage, 13 homers and 38 RBIs in 359 plate appearances. In the second half of last season, Snider hit .288/.356/.524 in 60 games. A career .249 hitter against left-handed pitchers, Snider hit .381 against lefties last season, albeit in a small sample size (16-for-42).

Snider is an anomaly in an Orioles lineup full of aggressive swingers looking to hit the ball over the fence — the Orioles led the majors with 211 homers. Snider is a patient hitter; his walk rate last season was 9.5 percent, which was well above the league average walk rate of 7.7 percent. The only Orioles players last year with a better walk rate were first baseman Chris Davis (11.4) and Steve Pearce (10.4).

He saw an average of four pitches per plate appearance last season. Only Davis — who was often pitched around — saw more (4.16). Nick Markakis, who left the Orioles to sign a four-year deal with the Atlanta Braves, was next with 3.97.

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In his first few seasons in the majors, Snider didn't have a routine. During parts of 4 1/2 seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, he was shuttled between the majors and minors each year.

He dealt with various tough-luck injuries — among them a right-wrist sprain that cost him two months in 2010 and a left foot injury that sidelined him in a month in 2013 — and even a finger cut suffered when cutting sweet potatoes last spring training.

Because he never could get settled, Snider said his swing easily got out of whack. Over the course of his career, he said he rebuilt his swing four times.

"Between injuries and not playing well, it was something that when I rebuilt my swing I didn't build a foundation," Snider said. "I just went in the cage and said 'OK, this feels good.' ... (Recording my swing) the last year was big for me. It wasn't something I did constantly throughout the year, but it was something that I said, 'OK my swing feels good. I'm going to film it' or 'My swing doesn't feel good and I'm going to film it and put it side by side with when my swing was good.'"

Showalter said he can't remember a player who films his own batting practice rounds — and the manager said Snider's tedious study outside the club's video room is unique — but since he's seen it work for Snider, he's not about to interfere with it.

"You can tell he cares," Showalter said. "You can also get to the point where you get some paralysis by analysis. Every once in a while, you just go up there and see it and hit it. But it's worked for him."

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