To normal people, a professional baseball swing is an unknowable thing. Honed over years of repetition, triggered by superhuman reflexes and propelled by muscles unrecognizable to the average person; a pro’s swing seemingly starts before the pitch is released and lasts just an instant.
Most of us just see the end result and marvel at the majestic drives the swing produces. Rarely does the swing itself warrant much mention. Unless your name is Vladimir Guerrero Jr, and you do this:
The above home run swing seems to happen in slow motion. The pitch thrown by Wade LeBlanc was, conservatively, terrible. He almost escaped with a pitch so bad as to be harmless. But Guerrero’s swing in this moment was so singular, it produced an awe-inspiring highlight and punished LeBlanc for the sin of missing his spot by a mile.
Toe-tap, short stride, hands back and then whoosh - Vlad Jr yanks the entire hitting apparatus inside the ball, keeping a very slow off-speed pitch inside the foul pole by will alone. It’s a wondrous thing, a moment anyone watching would acknowledge as atypical in today’s game, where metronomic swings punish high velocity fastballs, generating one long bomb after another thanks to a seam-free ball free from the evil forces of drag.
Swings are dynamic in nature, ever-changing beasts that even the greatest hitters tweak and adjust based on feel, results or a combination of both. Countless variables inform the success or failure of a player’s swing, with everything from fatigue, mindset, injury and even geography factor into how the round bat impacts the round ball on a given day. To say nothing of the observer effect looming over every video session and round in the cage.
Fans notice the broad strokes but players live in their swings, stewing over tiny details and making adjustments after dry cuts in hotel rooms or frame-by-frame video breakdowns. Over an at-bat, a game, a home stand, a season or a career: what worked at the beginning might look drastically different from what works in the end.
Nothing out of the ordinary for Guerrero, who told reporters through a translator “I saw the ball and I swung and just hit the ball, to be honest with you,” later adding “…I guess I looked like my dad” for good measure.
In the homer-happy world of Major League Baseball in 2019, it’s hard for a home run to stand out, even harder for a hit to be more than the sum of its exactingly measure parts. No exit velocity or distance measurement captures the thrill of an eye-popping swing like this one.
It’s the rare space Vlad Jr operates within - an aesthetic and arithmetic pleasure for baseball fans of every stripe. He hits the ball hard and far, but he can also do so when the conditions aren’t quite right, leaning hard on the innate baseball abilities which player development programs cannot teach, showing off skills that make even the best in the game take note.
After a scare on the weekend, it’s good to note how tenuous all this is. Knees have their share of complicated parts. We don’t think about anterior cruciate ligaments are until one frays or tears. It could all change tomorrow.
One day the hands will weaken, reaction times will slow, joints will creak and fast twitch muscles will relax. For now, we can and will enjoy the show. The future is very bright but the present is good, too.