The Five Most Overrated Swings In Major League Baseball

Sifting For the Great Swings

The purpose of this blog is not to be mean.  It's to shed light on a big problem in swing instruction right now - the arbitrary choosing of mechanical models.  If he's a good hitter, people reason, then his mechanics must be worth emulating.  People need to learn how to separate the great from the good.  You can't just choose any "good hitter" and declare that his swing mechanics are ideal because he is good, or has had a few very good years.  You have to pick players who are great and great over a period of many years.  Guys like that, guys who are on a different level year after year after year - hitters like Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, could not have done what they did without near-perfect swings.  It's just not possible, no matter how great your vision or how much athletic ability you have. 

There's more to good hitting than just swing mechanics, and unless the player is great over a period of many years, he could be "getting away" with sub-par mechanics, if he has high levels of say pitch recognition skills, mental game skills, or hand/eye coordination.  

When you sift out the hitters who hit on another level for many years, you have a group of guys who really couldn't have done what they did without near perfect swing mechanics.  Does that make sense?  In other words, to hit like Babe Ruth hit, the best hitter of all time, every skill must be nearly topped off.  

So these five players that I mention in this video, let's be clear, are great players, obviously.  I have the utmost respect for what they've all been able to accomplish in Major League Baseball, and feel a bit like a slimy armchair quarterback criticizing their swings.  But looking at it objectively, their swings are just not ideal.  

The common problem among all of their swings is the hand path to the ball.  The front arm bends and the hands ride too close to the chest en route to contact.  This pushes their position at contact too far out in front.  Some might say, "Well that's just the kind of hitter he is.  He's a gap hitter.  Slaps the ball to all fields."  Nah, I'm not buying it.  When I first started working with MLB hitters I'd hear this all the time.  Guys would try to convince me that I just didn't understand - that they had to know their role and their role wasn't to hit home runs.  I had many conversations with hitters trying to make them understand that with a great swing, you don't need to sacrifice power for consistency.  How do you think all the greatest hitters were able to lead the league in homers and also have extremely high averages as well?

I say this over and over again, but it's really important: As a community, those of us in baseball instruction must get on the same page as far as what players had the ideal swings.  In baseball, we like it when it can be widdled down to a single stat, so I have done that.  I created the pound-for-pound hitting stat, which is body weight - career OPS+.  The lower the score, the better your swing mechanics.  There's only one guy who's ever been as low as a 0, and would have to be crowned the best pound for pound hitter of all time.  That's Rogers Hornsby.  

There's also a common tendency of people to favor present day hitters just because they are more familiar with them than hitters from say the early 1900s.  This is due to the "mere exposure" cognitive bias in humans - the tendency of humans to favor something just because they are more familiar with it, either because they are closer to it in space or closer to it in time, or both.

The five swings in this video are examples of the "modern swing," which I have argued many times is simply not as effective as the swing that was produced by the sandlots in the early 1900s.  The sandlots were the perfect breeding ground for great hitters.  It was absent of parents first of all, which meant kids were free to experiment and play, which is always a good thing, especially in the first few years of playing the game.  And secondly, they used heavy wood bats, not these light plastic bats that kids use nowadays in their first few formative years of hitting a ball.  Third, kids played for hours upon hours back then.  Not like they do now - going to the batting cages for a half an hour and then rushing back home to play video games.

I'm not saying we need to go back to the sandlots.  That ship has sailed.  But we need to take from them the one thing that they did better than we do now - their swing mechanics.  The swing of Griffey and Ruth that you see in this video are examples of the sandlot swing, and as you can see from their positioning, it's a very different way of attacking the baseball - and a way that can have even the smallest hitter in the lineup hitting the ball over the fence consistently.

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