David Fletcher Made a Bad Swing Decision

David Fletcher is 5 feet and 9 inches tall. By the standards of professional baseball, that’s quite short. He makes up for it a bit by standing upright in the batter’s box, but no one is going to confuse him for Aaron Judge anytime soon. That makes it all the more confusing that on Friday night, he did this:

First of all, wow! Are you kidding me? That ball was nearly five feet off the ground. Halfway to home plate, it was unclear whether Fletcher was taking a swing at a major league pitch or a piñata:

If you’ve been paying attention throughout his career, Fletcher making contact with that pitch will be less surprising. He’s a singular player, a contact machine who will defend the strike zone at all costs when the count reaches two strikes. So far this year, he’s swung at 51 pitches outside the strike zone and only missed nine of them. That 87.3% out-of-zone contact rate is higher than the league contact rate on pitches in the strike zone.

Even if you know Fletcher, you wouldn’t expect that quality of contact. Sure, he defends the zone well, but that pitch was 18 inches above the strike zone, closer to the top of his head than to being a strike. No one swings at that pitch, let alone makes contact with it. This is the highest pitch Fletcher has ever swung at, and the list before that wasn’t particularly impressive:

Fletcher’s Highest Swings
Pitch Height Result
4′ 4.8″ Whiff
4′ 4.2″ Foul
4′ 3.6″ Whiff
4′ 2.9″ Foul
4′ 2.8″ Foul
4′ 2.5″ Foul
4′ 2.2″ Whiff
4′ 1.2″ Pop Out
4′ 1.2″ Foul
4′ 0.9″ Single

A single isn’t a bad result on a pitch that misses by that much, but that single was eight inches lower than Friday’s double, which came across the plate at 4 feet and 9 inches. Eight inches is half the width of the strike zone. Comparing that single to this pitch is like watching someone hit a home run on a middle-middle pitch and saying he has good coverage of the outer corner of the plate — it’s hardly relevant.

How do you go about hitting a pitch at tooth level? It helps to have a swing like Fletcher’s. He’s geared maximally for contact; he boasts all of three barreled balls in his major league career, because he simply doesn’t swing hard enough to barrel the ball. His hard hit rate is in the second percentile league-wide, and that’s on all pitches; with two strikes, he shortens up even more and almost looks like he’s playing fast-pitch softball.

That’s how Fletcher could hit the pitch, but it doesn’t explain why he’d swing at it. After all, it’s four inches higher off the ground than any pitch he’d swung at before, and while the reason we’re talking about this play is the contact, the right call there was surely just to take. Fletcher might be a contact hitter, but he also has an excellent batting eye; his O-Swing% is only 22.4% this year and 25.8% for his career, both of which rank in the top 25 players in all of baseball over the relevant time frames. How does a selective hitter end up swinging at that?

Mike Fiers set him up is how. After a first-pitch fastball for a called strike (Fletcher almost never swings at the first pitch), Fiers bounced a curve:

On 1-1, he came back with another curve, this one in the strike zone (ignore the score bug, because the operator forgot to add the previous pitch all at-bat). Fletcher wasn’t fooled:

Now that he’d seen Fiers’ curve twice, Fletcher had it dialed in. Fletcher has excellent pitch recognition, and he defends the edges of the plate aggressively with two strikes. In his career, he’s swung at 83.2% of pitches in the strike zone’s shadow — the edges of the zone and just outside — with two strikes.

If that 1-2 fastball Fiers threw had been a curveball, it likely would have ended up just below the bottom of the zone — his two pitches have roughly 45 inches of vertical separation when they cross home plate if thrown at the same initial trajectory. That’s the idea behind all those Pitching Ninja gifs of batters swinging through a superimposed fastball and curveball; guess wrong, and you’re going to be wayyyyyyyy off.

Fletcher guessed wrong. There’s no other way to say it: he thought that pitch was going to be a curveball. Baseball is hard. Here’s roughly where I imagine Fletcher made his swing decision on 1-1:

Curveball, middle of the zone, good pitch to swing at. Here’s the 1-2:

When you look at it that way, Fiers got robbed. This should be a highlight for the pitcher! He fooled Fletcher badly. The poor sap got stuck in the previous pitch, dreaming of curveballs when the plot had moved on to heaters. Fiers is an effective pitcher (or at least he was before this year) despite a sluggish fastball, and he gets away with it by fooling batters like that.

This time, Fletcher didn’t cooperate. He’s a hard guy to fool, and he’s hard to beat even if you fool him. He didn’t need to hit the ball with authority or try to drive it into a power alley or over the wall: he was almost certainly just trying to get the bat on it and block it foul, as he did to this Wandy Peralta pitch last year:

In that at-bat, Fletcher fouled off four two-strike pitches before finding a pitch he could hit (not hit well — he flied out to shallow center). On Friday night, he was surely angling for more of the same, only to unexpectedly find a double.

That’s baseball for you: sometimes you carefully wait for a ball in the strike zone to drive and end up with a weakly hit out, and sometimes you take a piñata swing and end up standing on second.





Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

newest oldest most voted
Lunch Angle
Member
Member
Lunch Angle

Amazing

but how was that pitch “only” 4’9″ high? It’s helmet high! and Fletcher is pretty darn upright when he swings at it

averagejoe15
Member
Member
averagejoe15

He’s not that upright. The split in the batting stance alone brings height down a decent amount and is lower (wider) still as he extends to swing. His front knee is also bent during contact. So 4’9″ or ~1 full foot below Fletcher’s listed height makes sense.

D-Wiz
Member
Member
D-Wiz

Yeah I was thinking the same thing! Must be a bit of an optical illusion at play due to the camera angle or something.