How Gunnar's swing is helping him chase 50 HRs

May 28th, 2024

The swing powering 's quest for a 50-homer season is short and fast, simple and elegant.

Henderson's swing is much quieter than the hitters he is going blow for blow with in the MLB home run race -- Kyle Tucker and his herky-jerk twitchiness, Aaron Judge and his Ruthian hacks. But there's a reason that swing has produced 17 homers in 52 games for the Orioles' young superstar.

Start with Henderson's bat speed, which ranks in the 94th percentile of MLB hitters. Henderson, who has an average swing speed of 75.5 mph this season, is one of 19 hitters above the 75 mph mark -- Statcast's threshold for a "fast swing." He also has one of the quickest bats of any leadoff hitter when he's atop the O's lineup.

Fastest bat speed as leadoff hitter, 2024
Min. 100 competitive swings as leadoff hitter

  1. Kyle Schwarber: 77.0 mph
  2. Ronald Acuña Jr.: 76.8 mph
  3. Gunnar Henderson: 75.6 mph
  4. Riley Greene: 74.7 mph
  5. Ketel Marte: 74.1 mph

But bat speed alone is not what makes Henderson such a threat to strike at the top of the order. It is that he funnels that bat speed into a swing that is quick to the baseball. Henderson has one of the shortest swings, from the start of his bat path to the moment he makes contact, of any of the hitters in that top tier of bat speed. His barrel fires straight to the baseball, and then his bat speed drives that baseball out.

Shortest swings among hitters with 75+ mph avg. bat speed

  • Bobby Witt Jr.: 75.1 mph bat speed / 7.0 ft swing length
  • Jesús Sánchez: 75.3 mph bat speed / 7.2 ft swing length
  • Juan Soto: 76.1 mph bat speed / 7.3 ft swing length
  • Gunnar Henderson: 75.5 mph bat speed / 7.3 ft swing length
  • Matt Chapman: 76.6 mph bat speed / 7.4 ft swing length

A lot of sluggers use bigger swings to generate the bat speed for their home run power, like Judge, whose average swing length is 8.1 feet, or Schwarber, whose average swing length is 7.9 feet.

Henderson, though, hits in the style of Soto and Witt. His swing length is right at the Major League average, but his bat speed is elite. That combination is key to how he can hit like an MVP candidate as a 22-year-old.

Henderson is already a master at the short, fast swing in his sophomore season in the big leagues. Only Witt has fired off more swings with a bat speed above the 75 mph "fast swing" threshold and a swing length shorter than the 7.3 foot MLB average.

Most fast + short swings, 2024
75+ mph bat speed and swing length under 7.3 feet

  1. Bobby Witt Jr.: 98
  2. Gunnar Henderson: 78
  3. Corbin Carroll: 69
  4. Juan Soto: 67
  5. Colton Cowser: 65
  6. Matt Chapman: 61
  7. William Contreras: 58
  8. Pete Alonso: 55
  9. Ronald Acuña Jr.: 52
  10. Wyatt Langford / Shohei Ohtani: 46

Henderson's swing path lets him square up lots of baseballs on the sweet spot of the bat, and when you do that with a high bat speed, you're going to punish the baseball. Statcast has a new stat to measure exactly that, called "blasts" -- when a hitter combines a fast swing with squared-up contact on the sweet spot.

Henderson is among the league leaders in blasts. He has 57, tied with Witt for seventh-most of any hitter. Contreras, Soto, Ohtani, Judge, Yandy Díaz and Julio Rodríguez are the only players with more.

But beyond just allowing him to blast the baseball, having a short, fast swing does two important things for Henderson.

The first is: It lets him turn on a wide array of pitches and tap into his pull-side power.

Look at the spray chart of Henderson's 2024 hits. He's peppering the right side of the field.

Henderson isn't a dead pull hitter by any means -- one of the other benefits of a short, fast swing is you can let a pitch get deeper and still swat it out to the opposite field, which Henderson has done several times this season.

But his biggest damage has come to the pull side. Thirteen of his home runs have gone to right or right-center field.

The second thing is: Henderson's short, fast swing lets him fight off fastballs so that he can unleash bigger swings against secondary pitches.

The majority of Henderson's base hits have come against fastballs. But he loves to slug secondary pitches. Eleven of his homers have come against breaking and offspeed pitches -- seven against breaking balls, four against offspeed -- the most in the Majors. He leads MLB in slugging against those pitch types.

Highest SLG vs. breaking/offspeed pitches, 2024
Min. 50 AB vs. breaking/offspeed

  1. Gunnar Henderson: .783
  2. Jake Cronenworth: .676
  3. Shohei Ohtani: .663
  4. Marcell Ozuna: .657
  5. Brent Rooker: .605

Henderson's approach is to deploy shorter, quicker swings against fastballs, then take bigger, uppercut-style home run swings against breaking and offspeed pitches middle-in in the strike zone that he can crush.

Henderson's bat speed / swing length by pitch group

  • Fastballs: 75.3 mph / 6.9 feet
  • Breaking: 75.7 mph / 7.6 feet
  • Offspeed: 76.2 mph / 7.8 feet

As high as he ranks on the blast leaderboard overall, Henderson is particularly good at blasting secondary pitches, which are a lot of the time supposed to be opposing pitchers' best out pitches. But not against Henderson they aren't. Close to one out of five swings Henderson takes against secondary pitches results in a blast.

Highest blast rate vs. breaking/offspeed pitches, 2024
Min. 100 competitive swings vs. breaking/offspeed

  1. Juan Soto: 25.4% of swings
  2. Shohei Ohtani: 22.9% of swings
  3. Ronald Acuña Jr.: 19.4% of swings
  4. Gunnar Henderson: 18.8% of swings
  5. Aaron Judge: 18.4% of swings

Henderson's swing can slash a 98 mph fastball over the wall to left-center field (that happened against Andrés Muñoz on May 18), or it can hammer a 3,000 rpm curveball out toward Eutaw Street in right field at Camden Yards (that happened against Clarke Schmidt on April 29). It is the type of short, fast swing that can do it all.