Free swingers roam the earth despite the earth shift toward working the count and raising your on base percentage. The fact is that such players always existed and always will. For every Mickey Mantle, there was an Andre Dawson. For years, the free swinging champion was Vladimir Guerrero. Everyone knows that Vlad will swing at anything. He had his competitors. Ivan Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano, Miguel Olivo and A.J. Pierzynski come to mind as challengers and as expected, for the last three years, all of these players are in the top ten for the highest O-Swing in baseball. Vlad is on top, of course. But he was beaten in 2011. Who dethroned the Impaler? Pablo Sandoval.
Leave it to someone with just as much of a cool nickname as the Impaler to finally beat the great Vladimir. Well, a Panda is quite a bit more warm and fuzzy as an Impaler is. But anyway, the Panda beat the old man and it wasn't as if the old man wasn't trying. Vlad swung at 47.4 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. It was the "best" mark of his career. Guerrero's always been known as a free swinger. But he's gotten freer the older he has gotten. Heck, when he was younger, his rates were in the mid-thirties for a percentage. But age apparently has made Vlad even less patient than his younger years.
And so Vlad had his most impatient season ever. But he was defeated by Pablo Sandoval. The Panda swung at a mind-numbing 47.6 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. Well, sure, it's only two small percentage points different than Vlad's, but still. You have to celebrate what you can in baseball.
Despite all the swings, Sandoval had a very good year. In 117 games (he had a large stint on the DL) he compiled an OPS of .909. The slimmed-down dude also had his best year with the glove at third and compiled the highest WAR of his career. He hit over .300 for the third time in his four year career. So somehow, Sandoval makes it work.
And perhaps that's a point to be taken here. Guerrero is a borderline Hall of Fame player. He's compiled a lifetime OPS of .931 despite being a free swinger his entire career. Now that he is older, it works less for him of course and anyone who continues to employ him is probably a little daft for doing so. But for the most part, Guerrero has made his free swinging lifestyle work. Sandoval seems to be his heir. It's not a lifestyle that pleases the analysts, but those swings deliver contact that more often than not, find a safe haven among or over the fielders.
Tomorrow we'll have part two of the free swinging life (sounds kinky doesn't it?) as we examine free swingers and post season success.