For Stewart and Rox, diagnosis is good

Updated: April 1, 2010, 12:12 PM ET
By Buster Olney
Ian Stewart, as a hitter, has been like the guy in Algebra class who knew the answers without working through the equations. Stewart got to where he needed to get to, and became one of the top power-hitting prospects in baseball.

But what Stewart has found in recent seasons is that when there's been a problem -- when he's been in a slump -- he hasn't known how to dig himself out. He didn't have the understanding of the mechanical equation so it was always hard to know why and how he had gone wrong. "I didn't know myself as a hitter," Stewart said.

He has gone to great lengths in recent months to fill in that information gap, and this should help him make adjustments pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat, game to game. "You kind of become a hitting coach yourself," Stewart said. "If you can kind of self-diagnose throughout the game, you can adjust."

Spring training is just an imperfect snapshot, but they are the first results that Stewart has since he started with his new approach to hitting, and so far, so good: Stewart is hitting .347, with a .385 on-base percentage, this spring. But the most interesting barometer on Stewart right now might be his strikeout total: he's got just five in 49 at-bats, a greatly improved ratio over last season, when the third baseman had 138 strikeouts in 425 at-bats.

During the offseason, Stewart's agent, Larry Reynolds, arranged for a get-together between Stewart and Rockies hitting coach Don Baylor, and the hitter and coach talked about Stewart's understanding of his own swing. In the past, when Stewart struggled, his instinct was to try harder, to swing harder -- and the effect was actually to slow down Stewart's swing, make it longer, and make him more vulnerable.