I was having a conversation with some folks on Twitter last week about the sweetest swings in baseball history. Names started popping up in the conversation from all angles, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Fred McGriff, Tony Gwynn.
Notice anything with those names? Sure, they’re all great players, but they’re also all left-handed. We had this conversation over about two hours and finally someone said Hank Arron, the first righty mentioned. That struck me as odd. Not because anyone really made a conscious decision to exclude right-handed batters, but because given no parameters 99% chose a lefty on their own.
Why is that? I mean, clearly the game has had some incredible players with great swings from both sides of the plate, but the iconic grace of a powerful swing from the left side just sticks with you. I asked Michael “The Fort” McKenry and his answer really did sum up my feelings “There is just something poetic about a sweet left-handed swing.”
Sure, that’s not scientific but he’s absolutely correct. There really is something special about the effortless sweep of a lefty going down to get that curveball and almost golfing it 400 feet.
You want science? Fine, I also asked Eric Minshall, Pitching Coach for the Southern Illinois Miners and formerly of the Pirates Bristol affiliate helping to develop pitchers. He also happens to be one of the more well-spoken baseball men I’ve had the pleasure to speak to. I asked him, when you think of the game’s sweetest swings, most are left-handed. Why do you think that is? Real or perceived?
Here was his answer, “Both… highlights and replays are often centered around home runs and extra base hits. Those images get imprinted in our minds. As young kids, we went into the back yard to emulate our favorite players while playing with neighborhood friends. We took a lot of time to get their swing “down”. Today, when you see hard contact made, even if you don’t know anything about hitting mechanics, you’ll hear somebody say, “he’s got a sweet swing”. No doubt that Ken Griffey Jr and Barry Bonds had sweet swings. Perfection some would say. Would you say the same about your favorite .230 hitter? What’s even more interesting is that .230 hitter was once a star at some level and a young kid probably emulated his swing too!”
He’s not wrong. I remember growing up in the height of the early ‘90s Pirates and emulating the entire lineup. So much so that I taught myself how to switch hit so I could swing like Bonds and VanSlyke. I copied Jay Bell opening and closing his grip on the bat in his stance. I stood up straight when I was VanSlyke, I took a huge sweeping swing when trying to be Bonds. Eric is on to something here. Now, I never thought about the average much as far as the swing composition, but he surely is correct that it plays in.
Andrew McCutchen had, well he still has it I suppose, a beautiful swing from the right side, so did Starling Marte. Both were balanced and the contact was true, each had a tremendous finish too. Still, neither look as pretty as even a player like Joey Gallo who hammered some balls out of PNC when the Rangers last visited.
The best I can figure is this, right-handed batters have seen predominately right-handed pitchers as they developed. Despite the amount who make it to the Major League’s left-handed pitchers are still not the majority. The release point of a right-handed pitcher looks like it is heading for your dome as a righty in the box. This causes more of a quick, compact, well, less sexy swing. Even as I write this “explanation” I have visions of Paul Goldschmidt pounding balls off the batter’s eye at PNC.
Where do you fall here? Have an honest look and see how many of your “Sweet Swings” is left-handed. It’s interesting to say the least, I’d love to hear your thoughts.