Ranking the 10 Most Unique Batting Stances in Recent MLB History

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMay 12, 2020

Ranking the 10 Most Unique Batting Stances in Recent MLB History

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Some MLB players have classic batting stances and elegant swings that embody the Platonic ideal of a big league hitter. Others are...different.

    With that latter group in mind, let's rank the 10 most unique batting stances in recent history. For our purposes, that narrowed the field to guys who've played in the 21st century.

    How does one judge the uniqueness of a batting stance? It involves a ton of subjectivity.

    But we started with the basic stance everyone is taught in Little League—feet roughly shoulder width apart and parallel, knees slightly bent, hands together and near the back shoulder, back elbow slightly up, bat behind the head and relatively still—and found 10 stances that deviated most strikingly from that configuration.

    As for ranking them, that was almost purely a matter of taste.

    Some of these stances produced Hall of Fame careers, and every player on this list was at least a productive hitter. We aren't knocking their unorthodox approaches.

    If anything, this is the kind of stuff that makes baseball fun.

No. 10: LF Moises Alou

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    Brad Mangin/Getty Images

    Moises Alou's stance was most notable for the disparity between his feet, which were spread well beyond shoulder width with his toes pointed in, and his knees, which he pushed together so they were almost touching.

    He also kept his bat out front and perpendicular to the ground, adding another unusual angle to the configuration.

    While this was not part of his stance, Alou eschewed batting gloves, a rarity in the modern era. What did he do to toughen up his hands to keep a good enough grip on the bat to hit .303 and launch 332 home runs during his 17-year career?

    Why he urinated on them, of course.

No. 9: RF Gary Sheffield

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    Gary Sheffield's whip-quick swing produced 509 career home runs. And his bat was almost never still.

    As he awaited the ball, Sheffield's lumber was in constant motion, waving and wiggling at the pitcher like a threatening helicopter blade. All that movement seems like it could disrupt a hitter's timing, but it worked.

    "You can do that in high school and get away with it, but I never thought he could get away with it in rookie ball, let alone the big leagues," Sheffield's minor league roommate and ex-MLB center fielder Darryl Hamilton told Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. "But he knows what he's doing. It may look strange, but when that bat head goes through the strike zone, it's perfect."

No. 8: LF Rickey Henderson

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    Rickey Henderson, baseball's all-time stolen base king, is best known for what he did on the basepaths. But his unique approach at the plate was a big part of his Hall of Fame success.

    Henderson was listed at a modest 5'10", but he shrunk his strike zone further with a pronounced crouch that involved bending his knees to an extreme degree and leaning his torso forward.

    In addition to the stolen base record, Henderson ranks first all-time with 2,295 runs and second all-time with 2,190 walks. And his crouch didn't impede his hitting, as he swatted 297 home runs with an .820 OPS in a career that began in 1979 and ended in 2003 when Henderson was 44 years old.

No. 7: 1B Jeff Bagwell

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The top half of Jeff Bagwell's swing was run-of-the-mill. Once you got below the waist, however, things got interesting.

    Bagwell spread his feet about as far apart as possible without heading toward the splits. A big league batter's box is six feet long, and Bagwell nearly spanned that distance. Go ahead, get out your tape measure and try it at home. 

    Now, try to hit a 95 mph fastball.

    It certainly produced results for Bagwell, who hit 449 home runs with a .948 career OPS and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017.

No. 6: CF Aaron Rowand

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    Len Redkoles/Getty Images

    Aaron Rowand's stance can most simply be compared to someone with a really straight back sitting on an invisible stool (or some other thing one might sit on) with their feet pointed out.

    For a longer description, here's Robert Rubino of the Press Democrat, writing in 2011 when Rowand was a member of the San Francisco Giants:

    "First, as he settles, bowlegged, in the batter's box, he does some sort of retro homage to Elvis the Pelvis (now there was a nickname) as he bends his knees and seems to slowly gyrate his hips.

    "Then he holds his bat outward, at groin level, parallel to the ground.

    "And then he wags the bat, slowly, while continuing to stand bowlegged and undulate his hips.

    "And this goes on for ... well, a beat too long to avoid an NC-17 rating if it were a movie."

    We don't have much to add, except that Rowand was an All-Star who hit .309 with 27 home runs for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2007, so all that bowlegged undulating apparently did something.

No. 5: RF Ichiro Suzuki

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Ichiro Suzuki didn't so much swing the bat as he swung his entire body.

    First, he would coil with his knees together. As the pitch arrived, he employed a high leg kick followed by a quick plant of his front foot that brought his legs, upper body, arms and the bat through the zone in a kind of pirouette.

    It was a swing engineered for contact, and Ichiro sprayed and slapped the ball where he wanted while still generating some power. Playing until age 45, he collected 3,089 hits in 19 MLB seasons.

    That should make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer and cement the legacy of his one-of-a-kind plate approach.

No. 4: SS/2B Julio Franco

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    Doug Benc/Getty Images

    Julio Franco played in the big leagues until age 49 in 2007. As late as 2004, he hit .309 in 125 games for the Atlanta Braves.

    His longevity probably wasn't tied to his signature batting stance, but the plan of attack clearly didn't hurt.

    Franco would stand with his toes and knees pointed together and his backside stuck out. He held his back elbow above his ear, twisted his fingers together near the knob of the bat and pointed the bat head at the pitcher.

    As Michael J. Mooney described it in ESPN The Magazine (h/t ABC News): "From a distance, he looks like a knock-kneed pelican curiously leaning over potential prey. Up close, he looks more like a coiled snake."

    Pick your metaphor. The bottom line: That stance helped Franco hit .298 across 23 MLB campaigns.

No. 3: 2B/SS Craig Counsell

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Today he's the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, but not so long ago Craig Counsell employed one of the oddest stances in baseball.

    During his playing days, Counsell was never an All-Star. But he was a contributor to a pair of World Series winners: the 1997 Florida Marlins and 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks. In both instances, and throughout his 16-year career, he held the bat and his body like no one else.

    When the wiry, slender Counsell stepped into the box, he would stand up straight on his front foot and extend his arms nearly as high as they would go above his head.

    Dipping again into to the animal-metaphor well, he most resembled a giraffe attempting to eat a leaf that was just out of reach.

    "I don't know why I hit that way. I just tried it one day, and it felt comfortable," Counsell said, per ESPN's Tim Kurkjian. "But it looked ridiculous."

No. 2: 3B Tony Batista

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    Of all the players on this list, Tony Batista looked the most like a guy who had never swung a bat in his life.

    OK, that's unfair. When he actually got around to swinging, Batista did just fine, swatting 221 homers and making two All-Star teams over an 11-year career. But while he waited for the pitch, did he look unprepared.

    Batista planted his back foot in roughly normal position but placed his front foot on the outside rear corner of the batter's box so he was, essentially, facing the pitcher head-on.

    With his knees locked and his back straight, he would wave the bat in front of his face before pulling it back as the pitcher began his motion.

    Again, somehow it worked, though we're still not exactly sure how.

No. 1: 1B Kevin Youkilis

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Take Franco's elbow-over-the-ear, bat head-toward-the pitcher approach. Add Counsell's oddly upright stance. Toss in Batista's locked knees. Then, add a top hand that slides many inches away from the bottom hand on the bat handle and holds it lightly with a few fingertips.

    Stir it all up, and you've got Kevin Youkilis.

    "It just happened. There's no explanation," Youkilis told YES Network of his anomalous approach (h/t MLB.com's Matt Monagan). "There's no working on it. I was just trying to get rhythm. Somehow, the bat stayed there, but the hand would move."

    It produced results, as Youkilis hit .281 with an .861 OPS and made three All-Star appearances during his 10 big league seasons.

    As with all the stances listed here, your results may vary.


    All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.