MLB Power Rankings: The 15 Most Successful “Ugly Swings” of Baseball
Courtesy of: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com
Baseball players such as Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Carlos Gonzalez have pristine strokes like the brush-hand of a Michelangelo.
Their swings are envied by most and appreciated by all, reflecting in the immense success each has experienced throughout varying career lengths.
Others though are not quite as blessed with natural mechanics and the smoothness of their superstar peers.
They may look off-balance or out of control, but these hitters compensate for a lack of aesthetics with their God-given baseball talent and hand-eye coordination.
Vladimir Guerrero was an easy choice for this list—as evidenced by the head photo of the piece—but I will go over 14 others (and some honorable mentions) who deserve similar recognition.
Feel free to add other choices that were omitted in the comments thread.
1. Luis Castillo
He chopped down on the ball and always appeared like he was trying to swing and move at the same time. Though in terms of pure aesthetics Castillo belongs on this list, his playing career is likely over, which makes it difficult to include him on the official list.
2. Juan Uribe
One of the hardest swingers in baseball, Uribe always appears out of control during his violent hacks. Nothing is more enjoyable than watching him truly run into one, and his elaborate follow-through is nothing short of unique.
3. Jonny Gomes
Gomes is a muscly, short-arming swinger, and often times looks as though he isn't completing his follow-through from start to finish. We're used to seeing the beautiful looping finishes of superstar hitters, but Gomes is another slugger focusing on violence over aesthetics.
4. Jason Varitek
It is a shame that Varitek has been reduced to an "honorable mention" player, as he was one of the best offensive catchers in baseball for a number of seasons. Though the list is not solely based on current success, he has fallen so far that even his awkward stance and finish can't sneak him into the top 15.
15. Jason Giambi
To say Jason Giambi is not the hitter he once was is the understatement of the century. The once-unstoppable MLB MVP is currently hitting .130 in 28 plate appearances for the Rockies in 2011.
For some, it has been very sad to watch the rapid and complete demise of a good-hearted man who once stood on top of the baseball world.
For others, Giambi is nothing but a pharmaceutically-enhanced monster who deserves anything bad that comes his way for cheating/wronging the game they love.
In any event, "The Giambino" became arguably the best all-around hitter in the American League with very peculiar batting methods.
He stood completely upright before dropping his hands and finishing with one of the most exaggerated extensions in MLB history—ultimately the catalyst for creating such remarkable backspin and distance on his home runs.
14. A.J. Pierzynski
There are few hitters in MLB who are as disliked as White Sox backstop A.J. Pierzynski.
Even the haters have to admit though that he has been one of the better hitting catchers in the league for most of his career.
Pierzynski’s follow-through is unconventional in the sense that he short-arms after contact—much like Nick Swisher—as opposed to a smooth, rounded finish.
Nevertheless, this has clearly not impacted his ability to generate power with his tall and powerful build.
13. Travis Hafner
At one point, Travis Hafner was a hitter who gave managers heartburn any time he came up with men on base.
“Pronk” is an enormous man, and one who was/is able to blend a high average, patient eye and limitless power. His best season was back in 2006, when he collected 42 HR, 117 RBI, 100 R, .308 AVG, .439 OBP and a dominant 1.097 OPS.
After battling a bevy of injury issues for much of three seasons, "Pronk" is having a solid start to 2011 in Cleveland with a .347 batting average and .932 OPS.
Hafner uses a very wide base and odd hand positioning with a choked-up grip, and his bat rests on a nearly horizontal plane before beginning his swing path—very rare for most hitters, but especially for a power guy.
12. Pablo Sandoval
A suddenly slimmer Pablo Sandoval was having a resurgent season in San Francisco in 2011, producing 5 HR, 14 RBI, .313 AVG, .374 OBP and .904 OPS in 24 games.
Unfortunately, a broken bone in Sandoval’s right wrist has sidelined him indefinitely, though he still belongs on a list of successful offensive players with strange swing mechanics.
Combine a big leg kick, Sandoval’s large figure and an often bumpy follow-through, and he does not provide much of a picturesque plate appearance.
None of that matters much to "Kung Fu Panda," as he will forever remain a fan-favorite and key cog in the Giants' clutch-yet-unproductive offensive attack.
11. Hunter Pence
It is virtually impossible not to like Hunter Pence and everything he stands for on a baseball diamond.
Pence works his butt off, always hustles, never makes excuses and doesn’t allow a lost season in the standings impact how he shows up to play each night.
That being said, his swing is visually a product of that aggressiveness and scrappiness—max effort, but a little rough around the edges.
He often ends up on his front foot instead of a typical weight-back, balanced stroke, though any outfielder with speed and an average of about 60 extra-base hits per season shouldn’t change anything.
Pence already has 27 RBI in just 34 games with an average (at best) talent base around him in the lineup.
10. Jason Bay
Once one of the more feared right-handed hitters in the game, Jason Bay has been derailed by a debilitating concussion and other smaller injuries since setting career highs with 36 HR and 119 RBI in 2009.
Bay has played in just 109 games since and accumulated just 7 HR, 51 RBI and 56 R.
As far as establishing ugliness in his swing, Bay tends to drop his hands very low in congruence with his stride, which opens himself up to being beaten by high fastballs.
He also has a rather strange finish to his swing and wrist movement after contact, but none of this has prevented Bay from putting together an excellent MLB career to this point.
9. Adrian Beltre
Adrian Beltre is the typical "spin yourself into the dirt" swinger, as evidenced by his career .328 OBP and his 162-game average of just 45 BB over his entire MLB career.
These aggressive tendencies are at least partially to blame for his inconsistencies at the plate, but he certainly does not get cheated when he decides to take a healthy cut.
The most infamous examples of Beltre’s successful ugly swing stem from his ability to go down to a knee while still generating enough power to send it 15 rows deep beyond the outfield wall.
It may be his world-class defense that ultimately becomes his lasting impact on the game, but his bat will always send at least a moderate shiver down the backs of most mound men.
8. Dan Uggla
Dan Uggla has quickly become one of MLB’s best power-hitting middle infielders. He is very powerful and his stocky build helps to produce a number of tape-measure shots.
Perhaps his bulging muscles contribute to this, but his swing mechanics often look rather stiff and short-armed, resulting in high strikeout totals and a low career batting average.
Any second baseman averaging 31 home runs per season is certainly an eyebrow-raising occurrence, though players like Chase Utley and Robinson Cano have been helping to change that stigma.
Though he looks more like a personal trainer playing in a beer league softball game, Uggla has more than earned the ability to strike fear into opposing teams when he digs in at the dish.
7. Johnny Damon
Johnny Damon has undoubtedly been one of this generation’s best combinations of power and speed at the top of the lineup.
Anyone who can hit leadoff and produce 60 or more extra-base hits while stealing 30 bases deserves all the praise that Damon has received since bursting on the MLB scene in 1998.
On the other hand, everything from his batting stance, to his leg kick, to his awkward follow-through leaves much to be desired in terms of hitting principles.
Damon is known to be caught out on his front foot often, but is somehow able to compensate with his quick hands by flicking balls over the infield for tough hits.
6. Carl Crawford
After signing a seven-year, $142 million contract with the Boston Red Sox this offseason, much was expected of five-tool outfielder Carl Crawford.
Crawford responded with one of the worst starts in big-contract history, but he has finally climbed above the Mendoza Line to currently sit around .210.
His unconventional practice of dropping his hands during a high leg kick opens him up to strikeouts, but a Silver Slugger and four All-Star games are enough to keep hitting coaches from altering his approach.
Speed guys should not strike out more than 100 times—Crawford is on pace for his fourth such season—but the production speaks for itself in the end.
5. Ichiro Suzuki
Ichiro Suzuki is either the most underrated hitter in the league or the most overrated, depending on which analyst/fan you ask.
People may not think of Ichiro near the top of any "ugliest swings in baseball" lists,—his actual swing is very smooth—but he has somehow turned some forbidden habits into a bona fide Hall-of-Fame career.
In order to maximize the impact of his blazing speed, Ichiro is known to pull off the ball and "step in the bucket," essentially giving him a half-step head start to first base on any batted ball.
It is frankly unbelievable to watch him stroke a pitch breaking off the outside of the plate into left field while nearly completely out of the batter’s box upon contact. He is truly something to marvel.
4. Dustin Pedroia
Dustin Pedroia has struggled with injuries and slumps since winning the AL MVP award in 2008, but no one would question how dangerous and versatile he is any time he steps into the batter’s box.
Pedroia’s swing though is one you’d often see at a sandlot home run derby, as opposed to an MLB diamond.
The stud second baseman puts every ounce of his 180-pound frame into hacks and is one of the few "over-swingers" who is able to make consistent contact while doing so.
A career .300 hitter who has led the league in hits, runs and doubles, Pedroia is a unique player who refuses to let his shortcomings in size reflect his performance on the field.
3. Kevin Youkilis
Kevin Youkilis is a Gold Glove winner, a two-time All-Star, an on-base percentage machine and an all-around dynamic offensive player.
All of this is somewhat shocking though when first catching a glimpse at his unconventional stance and swing mechanics.
Though "Youk" is always balanced and has an uncanny knack for only offering at pitches in the strike zone, his swing is not quite how they would teach it in the school of baseball fundamentals.
He allows his loose hands (a good quality in successful hitting) to translate into very awkward-looking wrists throughout his follow-through, which only adds to the oddities of his basic stance.
2. Prince Fielder
There is no better way to describe Milwaukee Brewer (perhaps not for long) slugger Prince Fielder than big, powerful and aggressive.
All of these qualities inevitably shine through his swing, as Fielder often times ends up leaning back so far upon contact that he appears ready for a limbo contest.
In addition, his arms fight his body at times coming through the zone, resulting in a violent post-contact uncoiling that generally provokes "oohs" and "aahs" from the on-looking crowd.
I wish I could have stumbled upon a more telling video to put forth as evidence on the matter, but anyone who has watched Prince swing with any regularity knows how ferocious his swing can be.
1. Vladimir Guerrero
Vladimir Guerrero may be one of the generation’s most entertaining hitters to watch, and this is not solely a product of his light-tower power.
Another surefire Hall-of-Fame player, Guerrero will retire with around 500 doubles, more than 1,500 RBI, nearly 500 HR and a .310 to .315 career AVG.
All of this success will somehow be the offspring of a head-to-toes swing philosophy that even the great Yogi Berra would be proud of. Vlad has never seen a pitch he didn’t like—even driving bounced offerings into the outfield for solid hits.
Perhaps the most miraculous thing about Vlad’s off-balanced, swing-from-the-heels approach is the fact that he has never once struck out more than 100 times in a season.