The four greatest home run hitters of all-time: a video analysis of their swings

With Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez approaching career milestones, I thought it would be interesting to match up their swings against two of the all-time greats: Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. The main goal of this article is to demonstrate that despite the fact that these sluggers played in different eras, they share similar swing mechanics. Let’s get right to it.

Bonds and Ruth

In several of the articles I’ve written, I’ve mentioned the term “carrying/loading the hips into footplant” for both hitters and pitchers. In short, by leading (carrying) with the hips and translating momentum into footplant, the hitter is able to establish a better power base to transfer into the rotational part of his swing. Bonds and Ruth both do this well, with the Babe the more extreme example of it. Also notice how well they powerfully rotate, with the hips and hands turning together (staying connected) around a fixed axis of rotation as the front leg firms up. Bonds also shows you why he is probably the best example of a hitter who stays “behind the ball.”

Another component of pre-loading power occurs when both Ruth and Barry “load their hands.” Consider this next clip:

Quite simply, as the hips move forward, the hands move back toward the back shoulder. Actually, what they’re doing is “loading the shoulder” (scap loading) with the hands and the back elbow being the indicators of that move. As you can see in that clip, Ruth is more aggressive with this move than Barry. I’ve read that Ruth began his career by using a 54-ounce bat. Yeah, that’s roughly three and a half pounds of wood. According to Louisville Slugger, Ruth used a 42-ounce log, much heavier than Barry’s 32-33 oz. model. Here’s the right-handed Babe Ruth:

Ex-pro and hitting guru Will Hoover (of Pro Advantage) and I agree that it would be very difficult for Ruth to pull off this aggressive of a hip and hand load (while swinging a tree) in today’s game, but he serves as an excellent example of loading up for a powerful hack.

(I would bet that you would see the same aggressive hip move in Ruth’s pitching motion.

One more Ruth hack (Caution: violence):

Aaron and A-Rod

One thing you’ll notice with A-Rod and Aaron is how their swings are more level than the “uppercutty” Bonds and Ruth. Much like Bonds and Ruth, Aaron and A-Rod are excellent at transferring their weight forward and hitting against their front leg. Jeff Albert wrote an excellent piece on A-Rod’s swing earlier this year. An excerpt:

“His hips are now carrying more of his weight into footplant, much like in his MVP season of 2005 and his old “Texas” swing (remember, one of Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo’s five keys is weight shift and transfer).”

Aaron is also an excellent example of “rotational hand path.” You’ve heard me before talk about players that are “handsy” and “pushy” with their hands before. Ideally, the hands should follow a circular path with the hands not getting too far out in front (pushing out in front) of a hitter’s center of gravity. Aaron was great at letting the ball get deep and then turning his body and hands together with the hands “following” the rotation of his hips. I prefer hitters who let the ball get deep so that they can turn with their hands and arms closer to their center of mass. You’ll see this phenomenon with figure skaters, as they turn faster when they bring their arms and legs closer to their center of mass.

In part two of my draft review, I came down pretty hard on Peter Kozma’s swing (18th overall pick by the Cardinals). I then did a podcast comparing Kozma to Matt LaPorta (seventh overall to the Brewers) that explains “hand path” in simpler terms (plus, you get to hear the mysterious voice behind these articles, right?).

Here’s Aaron showing us how it’s done:

1) Notice how he doesn’t push or “throw” his hands at the ball. Instead, he “turns the knob” of the bat quickly as his hands (and bat) follow their rotational path.
2) Check out how “tight” he is, especially on the clip on the right. That pitch was right down the middle of the plate, yet Aaron hits it like a pitch thrown inside. That’s keeping everything close with his arms and hands close to his center of mass.
3) Note how well he firms up his front leg.

Barry, the Babe, Hammerin’ Hank and A-Rod. Four different swings with many of the same general characteristics. Barry and A-Rod are excellent examples of great swings today. And although Aaron and Ruth belong to different eras and competed under different circumstances, we stand to learn a lot from analyzing their powerful swings.

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