Ranking Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and the 10 Sweetest Swings in MLB Today

Ranking Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and the 10 Sweetest Swings in MLB Today

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesX.com LogoFeatured Columnist IVApril 15, 2024

Ranking Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and the 10 Sweetest Swings in MLB Today

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    Los Angeles' Mike Trout

    Los Angeles’ Mike TroutMeg Oliphant/MLB Photos via Getty Images

    We all know Ken Griffey Jr. had the sweetest swing in MLB history, and that trying to compare anyone’s stroke to that of The Natural would be blasphemy.

    But who does have the sweetest swing in today’s game?

    I’ll tell you right now, this was one of the toughest player rankings I’ve ever done. There are mountains of data to be found between Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Statcast and the like, but there’s no column in a spreadsheet for “swing sweetness.” That makes this ranking much more anecdotal than empirical; more personal preference than irrefutable evidence.

    All the same, there’s a reason that the consistently great hitters are consistently great, and it’s their sweet swings.

    So let’s count down the top 10, ranked in ascending order of greatness.

    Honorable Mentions: Cody Bellinger, Xander Bogaerts, Adolis García, Matt Olson, José Ramírez, Julio Rodríguez, Adley Rutschman, Corey Seager, Juan Soto, Alex Verdugo

10. Luis Arráez, Miami Marlins

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    2024 Stats: .259 AVG, .328 SLG, 0 HR

    Career Stats: .324 AVG, .424 SLG, 24 HR

    For the most part, we’ll be focusing on sweet swings that generate a lot of power.

    But how could we put together this list without including the modern-day version of Tony Gwynn?

    Luis Arráez was the reason Aaron Judge didn’t win the Triple Crown in 2022, finishing five points ahead of the Yankees slugger with a .316 batting average. And after getting traded to the Marlins, he won another batting crown with a .354 average in 2023—the highest such mark in a 162-game season since Josh Hamilton hit .359 in 2010, and the first undisputed*, full-season** winner of both an AL and NL crown.

    It all starts with Arráez’s impeccable ability to, you know, hit the ball. He struck out in just 5.5 percent of plate appearances last season, which was the lowest rate by a player in a season with at least 500 plate appearances since Jeff Keppinger in 2008. And in each of his six seasons in the majors, Arráez has made contact on at least 90 percent of his swings, which is highly uncommon.

    Not only does he make contact, but he’s also elite at putting it where they ain’t. He can pull a home run on occasion, but he’s so good at inside-outting a slap single or depositing the ball into no-man’s land behind second/short with his compact level swing.

    He’s just the ultimate nuisance to opposing pitchers.

    *Ed Delahanty’s 1902 AL batting crown is disputed, with some records crediting it to Nap Lajoie.

    **DJ LeMahieu won the 2020 AL batting title, albeit in a 60-game season.

9. Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies

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    2024 Stats: .204 AVG, .426 SLG, 3 HR

    Career Stats: .280 AVG, .520 SLG, 309 HR

    Of all the players on this list, Bryce Harper’s is the swing I most try (and miserably fail) to emulate as an old man playing slow-pitch softball—and I don’t even bat left-handed.

    What’s interesting about Harper, though, is that he doesn’t always do the same thing when he’s loading up. Sometimes he’ll bring his front foot back and place it on the ground for a split-second before almost restarting the swinging motion. Other times, he’ll cock that right knee back, but without putting his foot back on the ground.

    It’s probably more of a subconscious timing thing than a premeditated decision on how much he feels like coiling before the pitch, but with both approaches, the effect is like pulling back the plunger on a pinball machine before coming back through with a ton of force.

    With all that forward momentum, by the time he hits the ball, Harper is often barely even keeping contact with the ground with his back foot. Back in his Washington Nationals days, it wasn’t uncommon for that back foot to be a good inch or two in the air when bat met ball, as all of his force and then some had been transferred to that front leg.

    Regardless of whether he’s resetting that front foot or staying on the ground with the back foot, everything above the waist is picture perfect. He gets his hips around so fast and generates so much bat speed. When he finds the sweet spot, forget about it.

8. Aaron Judge, New York Yankees

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    2024 Stats: .204 AVG, .407 SLG, 2 HR

    Career Stats: .280 AVG, .583 SLG, 259 HR

    There’s no question Aaron Judge has one of the most powerful swings in the history of baseball. He’s one of just five players with a career ISO (SLG-AVG) of .300 or greater, alongside Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Josh Gibson.

    All that tells you is what you already knew about Judge: When he hits the ball, it usually goes far.

    It’s unfair what he is able to do with his 6’7″, 282-pound frame.

    When he’s in the batter’s box, he looks like Will Ferrell doing a scene in Santa’s workshop in Elf, hunched down a bit, almost trying to hide the fact that he is comically larger than just about everyone else who is ever tasked with hitting a baseball. Even though he uses a larger bat than most (35 in., 33 oz.) it looks like he’s wielding a toothpick up there.

    When Judge gets full extension and barrels up that toothpick, though, mercy.

    Per Baseball Savant, Judge ranked in the 100th percentile in both average exit velocity and hard hit percentage in each of 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022 and 2023.

    But why, oh why, would you ever throw this man a fastball?

    Heading into this season, Judge was a career .320 hitter and a .670 slugger in his 1,996 plate appearances that ended on fastballs. He struck out in a modest 23.1 percent of those. Against breaking balls, those marks drop to .244, .499 and 36.8, respectively, in 1,099 plate appearances. And against offspeed stuff, even worse marks of .201, .426 and 36.6, respectively, in 470 plate appearances.

    Because of that, he lands a bit outside the top five, despite the fact that Judge’s moonshots are as aesthetically pleasing as it gets.

7. Bobby Witt Jr., Kansas City Royals

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    2024 Stats: .339 AVG, .710 SLG, 4 HR

    Career Stats: .269 AVG, .474 SLG, 54 HR

    Bobby Witt Jr. will likely be the most controversial choice on the list.

    If anything, though, I fear he might be underrated at No. 7.

    He’s not even 24 years old yet, but he has already established himself as one of the best in the business. Heck, before he even made his big league debut, his swing was already being compared to that of Mike Trout.

    There are considerable differences, for sure. Trout has much more of a leg kick and more movement with his bat before the pitch arrives, while Witt is more statuesque at the dish before bringing his sledgehammer through the zone with an impeccable amount of power.

    They are pretty similar swings from a pair of phenoms, though.

    The question early on was whether Witt would be able to supplement that power with enough on-base percentage (and glovework) to back up all of the five-tool hype. He hit 20 home runs as a rookie, but he had a 98 wRC+ and a 102 OPS+ which left him looking like a borderline replacement-level player.

    He kicked it up a couple of notches last year, though, and has been all sorts of special early in the current campaign, reinforcing the brilliance of Kansas City’s decision to give him an 11-year deal worth nearly $300 million this past offseason.

    Witt may well win his first (of several?) AL MVP trophy this year.

6. Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    2024 Stats: .364 AVG, .712 SLG, 6 HR

    Career Stats: .295 AVG, .529 SLG, 258 HR

    What Mookie Betts does better than maybe anyone in the game is tucking his back elbow in close to his body at the point of contact with the ball.

    Some guys will do it by accident if they swing at something inside of the plate, but Betts can somehow do it even on pitches that are barely in the strike zone on the outer half.

    It’s why he has been such a great pull hitter. That back elbow action almost forces him to swing in such a way that his right palm is pointed at the sky while his left palm is pointed at the ground, which is great for the ol’ launch angle.

    And, to be clear, he gets great extension with his arms before that elbow tuck.

    At the moment when his front foot hits the dirt, his back elbow is back behind his ear and the bat is a good two feet away from his body. He simply tucks that elbow as he’s coming through with the same repetitive motion that you might expect to see from someone who has bowled a few dozen 300s in his life.

    Most pitchers try to pitch Betts down and away to force him to extend his swing, but give him something down and in over the plate and he is likely going to destroy it.

5. Ronald Acuña Jr., Atlanta Braves

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    2024 Stats: .255 AVG, .314 SLG, 0 HR

    Career Stats: .291 AVG, .532 SLG, 161 HR

    Ronald Acuña Jr. has been in a slugging slump thus far this season, but it should only be a matter of time before he snaps out of it, considering he has arguably the sweetest right-handed swing in the game today.

    We all marveled at the 73 stolen bases last year, but what’s really ridiculous is that he got to that mark despite racking up 80 extra-base hits and slugging north of .550 for the fourth time in his first six seasons in the majors.

    Stolen bases are supposed to be the work of singles hitters, but this speedy outfielder is a slugger of the highest order.

    Acuña had 41 home runs last season, which is the same mark he reached in 2019. And he was operating at a 162-game pace of 47 home runs in 2021 prior to suffering that torn ACL.

    His exit velocity was down considerably in 2022, perhaps in part because he rushed back from that right knee injury. Exploding off that leg just wasn’t as feasible/repeatable for him in that first year back.

    But he was clearly all the way back last year, routinely looking like a cobra at the plate, coiled and ready to strike with some of the best arm extension for a hitter that you’ll ever see. When he’s in a groove, it’s like he’s swinging some sort of trebuchet up there, launching balls 450 feet into the seats.

4. Freddie Freeman, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    2024 Stats: .302 AVG, .397 SLG, 1 HR

    Career Stats: .301 AVG, .513 SLG, 322 HR

    Few players have ever hit as well into their mid-30s as Freddie Freeman has.

    Then again, few players have ever looked as perpetually comfortable, confident and as in the zone at the dish as the 34-year-old has throughout his career.

    Freeman has posted an OPS+ of 132 or better in each of the past 11 seasons, typically with a batting average north of .300. Outside of a couple of injuries in 2015 and 2017, he plays almost every game of every season, and he never seems to endure any sort of lengthy slumps.

    What Freeman does as well as anyone in the business is simply taking what the pitchers give him.

    Pitch him away and he’ll lace one to the opposite gap, where he deposited a dozen home runs just last season. Alternatively, he might flare it right down the third-base line for a double, which we saw a ton of in 2023 en route to his MLB-best 59 two-baggers. But godspeed if you want to pitch him on the inner half and allow him to turn on one.

    A big reason he has been able to use the entire field throughout his career is his ability to keep his head locked in almost over the plate. He kind of falls toward/over the plate with his back leg after he swings, but he isn’t off-balance. It’s just what his momentum does while he’s watching the ball into the bat better than anyone.

3. Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros

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    2024 Stats: .328 AVG, .574 SLG, 4 HR

    Career Stats: .296 AVG, .588 SLG, 133 HR

    If you had to sum up Yordan Alvarez’s swing in just two words, what would you go with?

    Lethal lefty?

    Houston hammer?

    How about we abandon the alliteration and go with: Controlled violence.

    For most mere mortals, trying to replicate Alvarez’s swing would be a fine way to pull several muscles in your core and/or end up flat on your face in the dirt. Yet, he makes it look so good.

    By the time he makes contact with the ball, he’s already starting to roll his front ankle to the point where he really just has the outside of his right foot firmly planted in the dirt. He also has his back toes barely on the ground and sliding toward the outside of the batter’s box behind his body.

    It’s almost like he’s levitating while throwing his sledgehammer at the pitch, but he has so much upper body strength and pulls his hips open with so much force that the pop of the ball off Alvarez’s bat is second to none.

    And while the taters (especially his propensity for hitting them in October) are the primary draw, averaging 44 per 162 games played in his career, he’s also darn near a .300 career hitter who’s happy to flare one down the third-base line for a hit if you’re going to try to pitch him away.

2. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

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    2024 Stats: .283 AVG, .679 SLG, 6 HR

    Career Stats: .300 AVG, .583 SLG, 374 HR

    Because of the amount of time Mike Trout has spent on the IL over the past three seasons, we occasionally need reminders of how outrageously talented he can be when healthy.

    Thus far this season, he’s providing that reminder by leading the majors in home runs and striking out at a drastically lower rate than he had been in recent years.

    Through all the injuries, Trout’s swing has always been a thing of beauty.

    He has much more of a leg kick than most players these days, but it’s such a great timing mechanism for him. As soon as the pitcher’s plant foot is hitting the ground, Trout is lifting his front leg to start that powerful stride.

    What doesn’t move even a little bit, though, is his head. While he’s loading up and getting into that picture-perfect stance, his chin is practically glued to his left shoulder. That’s how he’s able to connect the barrel of his bat to the incoming ball better than basically everyone on an annual basis.

    Per Baseball Savant, Trout’s xSLG (expected slugging percentage) has ranked in the 97th percentile or better in eight of the past 10 seasons. The lone exceptions were in 2021 when he didn’t play enough to qualify (but did slug .624 for the 36 games he played), and last season when he was still in the 92nd percentile despite a .490 slugging percentage that absolutely paled in comparison to what he had done over the previous 11 years.

    Fingers crossed for a healthy campaign for a change. Baseball is just better when we’re getting to watch Trout do his thing.

1. Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    2024 Stats: .343 AVG, .686 SLG, 4 HR

    Career Stats: .276 AVG, .570 SLG, 175 HR

    The Dodgers gave Shohei Ohtani $700 million without knowing for sure if he’ll ever pitch again.

    So, yeah, he’s got a pretty sweet swing.

    With Ohtani, there’s no wasted movement. Some sluggers have a nice big stride that they generate power from, but he doesn’t even lift his front foot all the way off the ground most of the time. He just kind of rises up on those front toes almost like a ballerina before dropping his heel right back down where he started. Meanwhile, he’s opening up his hips, shifting his weight from his back leg to his front leg and not even moving his upper half until it’s time to explode on the ball.

    It’s textbook.

    It’s gorgeous.

    And it’s why he has consistently ranked top 10 in the majors in average exit velocity.

    Ohtani does strike out about a quarter of the time, but, heck, that’s just baseball in the 2020s. It’s a small price to pay for a phenom who can hit a ball 450 or more feet to the opposite field when he’s in the zone.

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