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In general, I am in favor of employing the Designated Hitter (DH) across baseball for a variety of reasons, most of which are outside the scope of this article. One of the main reasons however, is that pitchers are dominating on the mound and the resultant lack of offense is causing baseball to become increasingly boring to young viewers. That being said, there are a few pitchers who provide some entertainment at the plate.
Before I highlight some of the pitchers with the best swings, I want to highlight a couple of my favorite funny moments involving pitchers at the dish.
There is so much awesomeness happening in this swing. I wonder if Johnny Cueto is an Adam Sandler fan as he seems to be doing his best Happy Gilmore impression here. To my knowledge this is the first time I’ve seen a hitter move so much as to step forward out of the box. Not even Domingo Ayala does this!
Earlier in the 2016 season, Bartolo Colon became the oldest player to hit his first Major League Home Run. While Colon certainly does not have a swing that we promote or teach, he does embody the following simple fact of physics: Force = Mass x Acceleration. As a 43 year old veteran, Colon stands 5’11 and weighs in at 285 lb. This measurement may be on the light side of reality. Some fans love Colon’s figure and have granted him the name “Big Sexy” while others find Colon’s build to be ridiculous for a professional athlete. Bartolo Colon may not appear in the ESPN Body Issue, but he may have eaten himself into history with the only home run of his career.
While the baseball community likes to ridicule pitchers about their hitting ability and label them as less athletic, the truth is that many of the pitchers are very athletic and were likely the best hitter on their high school team. Many could have hit at the collegiate level or even the professional level but had arm talent that was substantial enough to put away the bat. In watching some of the hitters you will see below, I noticed that they all perform many core components of the swing well but don’t seem to make their swings too complex. This is likely due to the fact that they have little time to work on their swing as their paycheck comes entirely from their work on the mound. Below are some videos along with a brief description of some of my favorite pitchers that display the ability to do some damage at the plate.
#5. Yovanni Gallardo
One of my favorite things about Gallardo’s swing is his relaxed forward load. He does a great job of gathering his energy and calmly moving forward. In speaking with our pitching staff here, Gallardo has a similarly smooth tempo to his delivery that leads to repeatable, solid pitching mechanics. As Gallardo goes into his turn, he does a really nice job of getting his front foot and knee open as well as keeping his chest and barrel resisted. This is likely easy for many of the pitchers at the plate since they make similar movements in the pitching delivery. Gallardo’s upper half mechanics aren’t quite as good as his lower half but he does mange to get the barrel going up behind the ball, which leads to powerful contact at a solid launch angle.
#4. Carlos Zambrano
Carlos Zambrano enjoyed a long career, the majority of which he spent with the Chicago Cubs. Zambrano is easily the heaviest player in this list as he was 6’4, 275 lbs in his playing days. While his weight certainly helps produce force, Zambrano has a mechanically sound swing. While he doesn’t move forward much, he does load his hips and creates great separation between the upper and lower halves of his body. If you watch closely, he thrusts his back hip well to produce some forward movement with his back foot. Zambrano also has the best upper body mechanics of this group. He keeps his elbows apart as he turns the barrel extremely well and follows through into great upward extension.
#3. Zack Grienke
Zack Greinke is 6’2 and weighs 200 lbs making him the smallest player on this list. Greinke’s build matches his swing as he shows the biggest and most visual movements of any of these pitchers. Greinke generates momentum well as he allows his body to fall forward with his stride. He also shows the ability to flow from the stride into the turn efficiently as he lands open with his belt line and front foot. Greinke’s lower half is exceptional and is actually more efficient than the majority of Major League hitters. Greinke’s upper body mechanics have some room for improvement. He bars his front arm and delays the barrel turn resulting in a lack of barrel depth. Despite this, Greinke is able to swing up behind the ball just in time to drive the ball in the gap for a double.
#2. Noah Syndergaard
Noah Syndergaard is an absolute beast of an athlete and has been likened to the Superhero, Thor. While size plays a major role in Syndergaard’s success at the plate, his swing mechanics put his size to good use. He creates some forward momentum and lands very open with his front leg and front foot. This allows his hips to fire first and begin a sequence that results in huge power. Syndergaard also displays good vision and swings up to create loft that gives him the opportunity to do damage with every swing. In watching Syndergaard’s swing, he he reminds me of Orioles slugger Chris Davis. It is rare for a pitcher to compare well with a hitter of Davis’ prowess.
#1. Madison Bumgarner
With the Home Run Derby coning up in July, there has been a push to include Madison Bumgarner in the event. When I first heard this, I thought it was a bad idea and simply a publicity stunt. However, after watching Bumgarner swing and hearing about the show he puts on in batting practice, I would actually love to see Bumgarner participate in the Derby. The view in the gif above is one of my favorites because you can see the wrinkles in the jersey change as Bumgarner is transitioning from his stride into his turn. This separation and shoulder tilt allows for a powerful swing that stays in the hitting zone for a long period of time. Watch Bumgarner’s back shoulder as it clearly drops towards the catcher as the lower half opens. While many coaches teach against this movement, it is pivotal to creating a optimal swing path in that the hands are able to remain high in the turn. Bumgarner is the best of this bunch of hitting pitchers with respect to his generation of force through his front leg. Notice how it locks out prior to contact. Bumgarner’s combination of size, strength, and smooth movement makes him one of the best hitting pitchers in history. If he ever has an injury that cuts his pitching career short (let’s hope this doesn’t happen), he may have a future as a DH or a first baseman!
At Baseball Rebellion we talk a lot about the similarities and differences between hitting and pitching movements. One of the staples of both Baseball Rebellion’s hitting and pitching teaching is the lower half landing open. While this teaching is frowned upon by many in the hitting world, it is widely accepted in pitching circles. While the pitchers highlighted in this article are less polished and have many less repetitions compared to MLB hitters, the majority of them land open better than many hitters. One possible explanation for this is that they perform this lower half movement all the time while throwing and probably don’t even realize it. Pitchers are also left alone for the most part by the team hitting coach so are more free to swing without being coached out of their movement. Perhaps hitters can learn something from pitchers after all.
Thanks for reading and feel free to answer the following question: Do you want to see any pitchers included in the MLB Home Run Derby?
Gabe Dimock- Baseball Rebellion Hitting Instructor