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Hank Aaron: everyone should stop trying to hit home runs all the time

Apr 9, 2010, 11:15 AM EDT

Hank Aaron AP.jpgHank Aaron, as almost all former players of a certain age do, shakes his head at the kids today:

Hank Aaron watches games these days and is perplexed as batter after
batter tries to jack pitches out of the ballpark, obsessed with the long
ball that made Hammerin’ Hank famous.

“I don’t think they understand the role of what they need to be doing,”
Aaron said Thursday during a visit to The Associated Press. “I’m not
saying all of them, but I think some players need to understand that
they’re never going to hit 50 home runs or 45 home runs (a year).
They’ve got to learn how to hit the ball to the opposite field and do
the little things to help their ballclub win championships.”

Cheap “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-did” irony aside, his point is a good one, inasmuch as some guys simply don’t have a lot of power and should always be trying to pull the ball out of the yard.  I think, however, that he sets the bar too high for would-be power hitters.

If I’m running a team I want almost everyone to try and hit more home runs, at least as long as they’re not messing up their natural swing and approach to do it. If someone can hit 10 homers I want them to hit 15. If someone can hit 15 I want them to hit 20. The reason is simple: home runs correlate really nicely with winning. If you have power, you usually win. If you don’t, you hardly ever do.

Aaron’s comments suggest that only those players who can be elite home run hitters like he was should concentrate on the long ball. I’d take his general idea to heart, but I’d only advise those guys who simply can’t hit it out of the yard even if they square and turn on the ball perfectly — the Nick Puntos of the world — to get homers out of their head and try to slap it the other way.

Indeed, if some teams did that during Aaron’s heyday instead of adhering so strictly to the then-prevalent orthodoxy (shortstops don’t need to hit; everyone but the cleanup hitter bunts, etc.) there probably would have been more offense back then.

  1. BC - Apr 9, 2010 at 11:23 AM

    You’re overlooking some facts here. Aaron hit over .300 for his career, won two batting titles, and had over 3700 hits. Also stole bases (until he got old) and was a Gold Glove outfielder. AND, he never hit 50 HR in a season – though he hit 40 a lot and played forever. He did a LOT more for his teams than just hit home runs. Let’s put it this way, he was a heck of a lot more valuable than Ryan Howard. Even Albert Pujols, given that Pujols can’t run (only thing the guy can’t do – he’s incredible).

  2. Craig Calcaterra - Apr 9, 2010 at 11:26 AM

    Before this train gets moving, let me be clear: nothing in this post is designed to criticize Aaron’s own approach. He’s one of the best hitters in history. To criticize him as a hitter would be beyond dumb.
    To the extent I take issue with him it is in the advice that he gives to non-Aaron=talent hitters, which is basically everyone.

  3. Jval13 - Apr 9, 2010 at 11:32 AM

    I don’t really believe that Aaron tried to hit home runs often. Guys with power and that are also good hitters, such as Aaron, know how to go out there and just hit the ball. The home runs come along with being a good hitter if you have the power. This is what he is trying to say I think. If you are going to hit homers, they will come when you aren’t trying to hit them, just put a good swing on the ball.

  4. YankeesfanLen - Apr 9, 2010 at 11:42 AM

    To answer the tag “Why is Aaron choking up in that pic?” it’s because of posed stock photography. The rule of thirds or any other composition rules are not used- simply the player centered with no ends of the bat showing.
    This is why Photoshop was invented.
    I like to think that Hank’s advise has been used by the Universe lately- A sacrifice scores a run, go for broke and if it doesn’t work get an RBI.

  5. Levi Stahl - Apr 9, 2010 at 11:44 AM

    I wouldn’t say that Pujols can’t run. He’s not a fast runner, but he’s a very aggressive and smart runner: he’s extremely good at taking the extra base, and he is a reliable, if limited, base stealer as well, taking 16 last year (to lead the team!) while only being caught 4 times. Sure, his 61 SB in his first 9 seasons doesn’t match up to Aaron’s 103, but 31 of those came in one season; for his first six seasons, Aaron was stealing in single digits.
    But good god, it’s sure fun to look at Aaron’s baseball-reference page. There just wasn’t much of anything he couldn’t do.

  6. ralphdibny - Apr 9, 2010 at 11:50 AM

    Perhaps Mr. Aaron just watches too many Braves games. I can’t think of a more pull-happy team over the past five years. The team’s announcers practically wet themselves whenever someone gets an opposite-field hit.

  7. Paul - Apr 9, 2010 at 12:02 PM

    Craig, I’m very surprised you overlook his DH comments. Coming from an executive VP of an NL team no less!

  8. ecp - Apr 9, 2010 at 12:04 PM

    Unfortunately, the all-too-common byproduct of the hit-more-home-runs mentality is a spiking strikout rate: see Reynolds, Mark, and the reason he will never be an elite player. Are you OK with a .256 career average with 561 strikeouts in 1700 plate appearances as long as that line comes with 90 home runs?

  9. Trevor B - Apr 9, 2010 at 12:14 PM

    I do agree with Aaron that too many guys now-a-days try and clobber every ball. Mark Reynolds and Ryan Howard are 2 of the games better batters yet they both hold lower Avg and higher K rates. Don’t get me wrong, both these guys can come play for the Twins anyday (I even picked up Reynolds in my fantasy baseball keeper league back in 2007 knowing he’d blossom). But these two guys could easily be twice the ball player they are now just by being more patient and drawing more walks, playing more conservative and slapping it to the opposite field, and just refining their swing in general.
    Take Joe Mauer now. The guy (up until last year) never really crushed a lot of homers. Between the 2008 and 2009 season he refined his (already beautiful) swing; little tweak here, lower this there. Did Mauer possibly go into 2009 thinking, “It’s clobbering time”? Possibly, but a lot of those extra homers came from that refined swing. Just look at the Avg he posted as well.
    There are alwayas going to be the Nick Puntos and Carlos Gomezes of the league who just try and crush everything but not all players will be up there with Pujols, Han-Ram and Mauer who just have that naturally graceful swing that lifts most balls over the fence it almost seems effortless. If more hitters took less of a Ryan Howard approach at hitting and more of an Ichiro approach you’d have more pitchers shaking in their boots in this league.

  10. BC - Apr 9, 2010 at 12:24 PM

    Didn’t realize Pujols had stolen that many bases. Never thought of him as having any speed at all – which isn’t saying much because he has everything else.
    I think the bottom line on this whole thing is… do what you do best. If you can hit home runs but will never be a great hitter for average (Mark Reynolds, Adam Dunn), then yeah, try and hit home runs. If you’re capable of hitting home runs but are better at hitting for average (Ichiro, Todd Helton) than do that. All depends on what you’re best at.
    Well… Helton’s actually hit his share of dingers, Ichiro is probably the best example. Joe Mauer was as well, until last year.

  11. Matt - Apr 9, 2010 at 1:18 PM

    Come on, you know that these players know they won’t get paid unless they have a high SLG, OPS, ISO, and whatever else they’re evaluating players by these days!!
    /get off my lawn

  12. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Apr 9, 2010 at 2:05 PM

    I do agree with Aaron that too many guys now-a-days try and clobber every ball. Mark Reynolds and Ryan Howard are 2 of the games better batters yet they both hold lower Avg and higher K rates. Don’t get me wrong, both these guys can come play for the Twins anyday (I even picked up Reynolds in my fantasy baseball keeper league back in 2007 knowing he’d blossom). But these two guys could easily be twice the ball player they are now just by being more patient and drawing more walks, playing more conservative and slapping it to the opposite field, and just refining their swing in general.

    Aaron – Career OBP – .374
    Howard – Career OBP – .376
    Aaron – Average BB/162 – 68
    Howard – Average BB/162 – 90
    Howard is a far more patient hitter than Aaron ever was, but Aaron had a much higher BA so that’s why their OBP are similar. Yes Howard strikes out a lot, but saying he needs to be more patient is wrong.

  13. LOL - Apr 9, 2010 at 2:34 PM

    Did Aaron stay long past his prime to get the HR record?

  14. Craig Calcaterra - Apr 9, 2010 at 2:35 PM

    Not in the slightest. He was coming off a 40 HR season the year he broke the record (and did that in the first week of the season). He hung on a year too long in my estimation, but it was after the record.

  15. Malcohm - Apr 9, 2010 at 2:49 PM

    Trying to paint Aaron with a double standard is rather silly. I had the pleasure of watching Henry Aaron for years. He seldom hit a towering home run. The overwhelming majority of his home runs were line drives. That is why we called him “Hammerin Hank” This man could hit.

  16. MVD - Apr 9, 2010 at 2:50 PM

    Everything I wanted to say about Aaron has been said already, but he’s a career 300 hitter and has the third most hits all time, so hitters should probably hit like he says to.
    Ryan Howard is not more patient than Aaron, he just doesnt get anything to hit. Today’s pitchers are p*ssies. If The Hammer played today, he’d hit 350/425/650 every year.

  17. JayT - Apr 9, 2010 at 3:40 PM

    What exactly is Aaron’s point? Does he think that there will be more scoring if players stopped swinging for the fences? If that’s what he thinks, then he’s just wrong. Scoring has gone way up over the last 20 years largely because everyone is swinging for the fences.

  18. Tracy - Apr 9, 2010 at 3:53 PM

    “Ryan Howard is not more patient than Aaron, he just doesnt get anything to hit. Today’s pitchers are p*ssies. If The Hammer played today, he’d hit 350/425/650 every year.”
    Don’t know about that last, but it is worth noting that Ryan Howard’s career best OPS+ is 167 (in 2006). Aaron bettered that figure seven times, the last when he was 40.
    That’s how good Hank Aaron was.

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