Ranking Shohei Ohtani and the 10 Sweetest Swings in MLB TodayApril 12, 2022
Ranking Shohei Ohtani and the 10 Sweetest Swings in MLB Today
If you missed it, Sunday marked the 30th anniversary of Ken Griffey Jr.'s first major league home run. If nothing else, it's a good excuse to pause your day to take in the Hall of Famer's oh-so-sweet swing.
It also got us to think: With Griffey now long gone, which hitters have the sweetest swings in Major League Baseball?
Inevitably, this led us to narrow all the candidates down to a top 10. We could say we had a scientific method for doing so, but...nah, not really. For all that can be said about qualities such as fluidity and mechanical efficiency, the sweetness of any given swing is in the eye of the beholder.
For the sake of variety, however, we did lay down the following ground rules:
- An even split between left-handed and right-handed swingers
- No two players from the same team
- Only one of MLB's foremost All-Star Jrs.
As we count 'em down, keep an eye out for bolded honorable mentions and historical figures.
10. Bobby Witt Jr., Kansas City Royals
One Word to Describe His Swing: Trout-esque
As his name appears in this article's headline, you know we're eventually going to talk about Shohei Ohtani. Per the rules we laid out in our introduction, you might have deduced we therefore would spurn his Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout.
Courtesy of Kansas City Royals rookie Bobby Witt Jr., however, it happens that there's a convenient backdoor for singing the praises about Trout's swing.
There isn't a lot to say about the hacks Trout takes, save for that they're perfect. Following an exaggerated leg kick, his swing is so quick and mechanically efficient that you'd swear he's an android sent from the future with a primary directive to destroy all pitches.
As for what any of this has to do with Witt, well, look at it from this perspective: His swing is so much like Trout's that the two are practically indistinguishable.
We're not saying this means Witt will also annually post OPSes in the 1.000s and win a handful of American League MVP Awards, yet we're not not saying that either. In any case, it's likely just a matter of time before he joins MLB's cadre of All-Star Jrs.
9. Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants
One Word to Describe His Swing: Underrated
For the 11 years they spent as teammates, Brandon Crawford had to settle for having the second-sweetest swing on the San Francisco Giants after Buster Posey, who had a real beaut.
Not anymore, now that Posey is retired.
As Crawford doesn't usually come up in conversations like these, us tabbing his swing as one of the sweetest in baseball today might sound like a hot take. Yet it is indeed a good-looking swing, with precisely the fluidity and statuesque follow-through that you want out of a left-handed power stroke.
Maybe the real reason that the sweetness of Crawford's swing flies under the radar is that there's been a mismatch between its aesthetics and its results for much of his career. He only put up a 95 OPS+ and averaged 13 home runs per 162 games through his first 10 seasons.
However, Crawford adjusted his swing to be simpler and longer through the zone for the 2021 season. Lo and behold, his results also changed, as he built an MVP-caliber season on a 141 OPS+ and 24 home runs.
8. Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
One Word to Describe His Swing: Effortless
The New York Yankees have three sluggers who are alike in size but less alike in how they swing. As strong as they are, Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Gallo leave nothing to chance by choosing violence with their swings. They hack at baseballs like they want them to feel pain.
Not so with Aaron Judge.
To be sure, the sheer danger posed by his swing is easily quantified. In addition to averaging 46 home runs per 162 games since 2017, he has been a regular atop the leaderboards for Statcast's batted ball metrics. Namely, Judge has been the gold standard for exit velocity with an average of 95.2 mph.
His actual swing, though, is more about mechanical efficiency than brute force. It's specifically about balance, which he achieves by anchoring his 6'7", 282-pound frame on his back hip and then getting the bat to the ball.
To really get a good sense of how sweet Judge's swing is, just imagine how it would look if he was swinging from the left side of the plate. Or you could eye this GIF to see it for yourself.
7. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
One Word to Describe His Swing: Loose
Sticking in the American League East, there are some good swings on the Boston Red Sox. We like J.D. Martinez's barrel-oriented cuts and especially the extra-base hit machine that is Rafael Devers' hack.
Yet neither of those looks as pretty as the one possessed by Xander Bogaerts, and we think we can even explain why.
For one thing, his swing is less noisy than it used to be. There was a time when he had a pronounced leg kick and something of a flat bat path. It was effective, but one side effect was inconsistent power.
Watch Bogaerts swing it now, and you'll see he's toned down his leg kick and swapped his flat swing for one with a delightful loopy undercut. His power has benefited, as he's gone from a high of 21 home runs through 2017 to an average of 30 per 162 games from 2018 to 2021.
And is it just us, or does it seem like Bogaerts is barely even gripping the bat as he swings? He makes the bat look less like a tool for bludgeoning cowhide and more like a proper extension of his body.
6. Juan Soto, Washington Nationals
One Word to Describe His Swing: Quiet
As Juan Soto is the hardest out to get in baseball these days, this is probably lower than you'd expect to find him on this list.
Yet one of our hangups with praising Soto's swing is that the Washington Nationals star often doesn't swing. Of all hitters who had at least 700 plate appearances across the 2020 and 2021 seasons, his 35.2 swing percentage was by far the lowest.
There are also elements of Soto's swing that come off more as fodder for Batting Stance Guy than as things a hitting coach would teach. His exaggerated bat waggle and that praying mantis thing he does with his front leg look cool, but one wonders if he could live without them.
That is, as long as he were to retain everything else. Once the pitch is on the way to the plate, everything about Soto goes quiet and, if he chooses, leads into a swing marked by perfect balance and uncanny head stillness. No wonder he's able to track the ball as well as he does.
And in case you're wondering, yes, we also think that the "Soto Shuffle" is worth a few bonus points even if it isn't technically part of his swing.
5. Manny Machado, San Diego Padres
One Word to Describe His Swing: Exquisite
You know you're doing something right with your swing when Mark DeRosa can look at it and see shades of Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez.
So by all means, Manny Machado, keep doing what you're doing.
Whereas some swings only become sweet at the moment when a hitter's setup and timing device give way to the actual swing itself, Machado's is sweet all the way through. The San Diego Padres star is remarkably still with his pre-swing movements before uncoiling in a single fluid motion.
As pretty as his swing is, it's also plenty destructive. Machado has registered 100 more hard-hit balls during the Statcast era than anyone else, and that's even though his hard-hit rate didn't peak at 52.2 percent until last year.
Oh, and his results are none too shabby either. All Machado did from 2015 to 2021 was average 35 home runs per 162 games with batting averages that hovered around .300.
4. Michael Brantley, Houston Astros
One Word to Describe His Swing: Smooth
Now, if this was a list of the smoothest swings in baseball, Michael Brantley would have to be at the top. He is, after all "Dr. Smooth."
Frankly, it would be impossible to do what he's done in the majors without some kind of special swing. Since 2014, Brantley has hit .300 or better six times. And in one of the exceptions, he fell just short at .299 amid an All-Star campaign with the Cleveland Guardians in 2017.
What really separates Brantley's swing is that there's not even a modicum of wasted movement in it. The rest of his body simply doesn't budge when he taps his toe to get his timing, and his actual swing is as direct to the ball as any could be.
There's also nothing Brantley can't do with his swing. He doesn't have any exploitable spots within the strike zone, and he can find the holes in the defense whether it's a ground ball, line drive or fly ball off his bat.
Also, let the record show that our "one player per team" rule caused us more consternation here than anywhere else. Among Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez and Yuli Gurriel, Brantley is teammates with quite a few players who also have sweet swings.
3. Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies
One Word to Describe His Swing: Ruthian
Ah, but the question here is which of Bryce Harper's swings we're talking about.
It is a tricky one, given that the Philadelphia Phillies slugger does indeed have two different swings. David Adler of MLB.com wrote on them in March, highlighting how Harper will use a swing with a leg kick or one with a toe tap depending on the situation. Or sometimes, just on how he's feeling.
The meat of Harper's swing, as it were, is nonetheless the same as it's always been. This is hardly a complaint given that his swing was getting Babe Ruth comparisons even when he was just 20 years old. Rightfully so, as it's not often that so much balance meets so much torque.
For a 2013 story by Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo even dropped another comp for Harper's swing: "I compare it a lot to Tiger Woods' swing with a golf club."
Whether you prefer one swing or the other, the Ruth comparison or the Woods comparison, there's no denying what Harper can do with his swing. He's not even 30 yet, and he already boasts 267 home runs and two MVPs.
2. Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta
One Word to Describe His Swing: Artful
So, about those Jrs. we referenced back in the intro. One is Vladimir Guerrero Jr., whose swing is shark-like in how it combines grace and viciousness in a single package. There's also Fernando Tatis Jr., though we dare say his swing is a bit too blink-and-you'll-miss-it to be called "sweet."
And besides, we simply prefer the swing Ronald Acuna Jr. packs.
If you were to take his swing and slow it down, it might come off as too long. Every part of him gets extended, as he stands tall and lets his hands get far away from his body. It all works, though. His closed stance keeps him from flying open, and his bat speed is preternatural.
From 2018 to 2021, this swing helped Acuna become one of only 26 players to hit more than 100 home runs by the age of 23. He's the only one to have ever done so, however, in fewer than 400 games.
Also, a quick shoutout to Acuna's Atlanta teammate Matt Olson. If he were still with the Oakland Athletics, we would have had no choice but to carve out a spot for that gorgeous uppercut swing of his.
1. Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels
One Word to Describe His Swing: [Gyorgy Ligeti music playing at full volume]
Why is it, you ask, that we rate Shohei Ohtani's swing as the sweetest in baseball?
To be perfectly candid, it's a hedge given that Ohtani's swing was the most purely effective in baseball throughout the 2021 season. He barreled more balls than anyone else, with an expected slugging percentage darn near 1.000 when he made contact.
And yet nobody should need Statcast glasses to appreciate Ohtani's swing. It is beautiful. The way he loads on his back half and transfers his weight into his swing without any wasted movement is what the phrase "chef's kiss" was made for.
Ohtani's swing also has a fascinating lineage. As Rustin Dodd of The Athletic wrote in June, the slugger came to it by studying Harper. The finishing touch was provided by Ichiro Suzuki, who suggested he ditch his leg kick for a toe tap.
In all, a special swing for a special player.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant. Videos courtesy of Major League Baseball, via YouTube.