Green Lights Going Wrong, 2014

A little over two years ago, shortly before I joined FanGraphs, Yoenis Cespedes faced Tyler Robertson, who is a pitcher, and got ahead in the count 3-and-0. There is no more favorable count than 3-and-0, which meant Cespedes was in the position of power, and then he went and completed what for my money is one of the most memorable plate appearances in recent baseball history. Memorable to me, if to nobody else.

3-and-0, awful whiff, awful whiff, awful whiff. I found out after the fact that parts of the Oakland organization were just as amazed as I was. Each individual pitch is somewhat understandable, but when you put everything together, it’s incredible, and it all began with the 3-and-0 chase.

You know what 3-and-0 means. You know what a green light is, and you have opinions on its strategic legitimacy. Teams are careful with their green lights, most of the time, and in order to OK a 3-and-0 swing, you have to have faith that the hitter can tell a good pitch to hit from a bad pitch to hit. You certainly have to have faith that the hitter can tell a strike from a ball, because there’s never a good reason to swing at a 3-and-0 pitch out of the zone. You want the walk. You always want the walk. This is one of those rare cases where we can actually declare something right or wrong: it is wrong to swing at a 3-and-0 pitch out of the zone. It is wrong to swing at any 3-and-0 pitch you can’t hit hard, but it is especially wrong to chase. Hitters do get fooled, and that’s understandable, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t wrong. It just means players are wrong sometimes.

So let’s watch hitters be wrong. Now that the regular season’s officially over, you should prepare yourself for a run of “Most[…]Of The Season” posts. In here, the most wild swings in 3-and-0 counts, five of them in all. These are five instances of hitters being fooled when they’re supposed to be completely locked in on just the pitch they want to see, so jeers to the hitters in these specific instances, and also cheers to the pitchers for managing to befuddle them despite the lopsided circumstances. A wild 3-and-0 swing takes a village. You’ll note that these are pretty good hitters. Swinging wildly some of the time doesn’t make you a bad hitter. Swinging wildly a lot of the time makes you a bad hitter. Swinging wildly a lot of the time makes you Henderson Alvarez?

5

  • Batter: Nolan Reimold
  • Date: September 1
  • Location: 21.5 inches from center of zone

Reimold5

reimold5

I’ll give Reimold this much: he was obviously trying to unload on the ball. He was looking fastball, and he was swinging fastball, and if he had gotten the fastball that he expected, the Diamondbacks would’ve taken the lead. Somewhere along the way I’m sure Reimold realized he wasn’t actually getting the fastball of his dreams, but something within Reimold’s brain prevented him from doing that weird mid-swing adjustment that causes people to alter their swing paths and make lousy contact sometimes. So while Reimold missed the baseball by a mile, that’s a lot better than softly tapping the ball somewhere, because at least this way it leaves Reimold ahead 3-and-1 and he gets to keep feeling like a man afterward. He took a shot. What did he have to lose? He’s Nolan Reimold, on the 2014 Diamondbacks.

Tyson Ross threw 38 3-and-0 pitches. Four were sliders. Batters swung at three of those 3-and-0 pitches, and one lucky devil knocked a heater out of the yard. One flew out, and one was Nolan Reimold.

4

  • Batter: Mike Napoli
  • Date: August 24
  • Location: 23.9 inches from center of zone

Napoli4

napoli4

Napoli, like Reimold, was looking fastball. All these guys were looking fastball. That’s the whole thing about swinging 3-and-0. That much is fine, and Napoli didn’t get a fastball, so he missed a running cutter. But, what kind of fastball was he looking for? Mike Zunino wasn’t even set up on the plate. The pitch that Danny Farquhar threw, if it hadn’t have been a cutter, would’ve been a fastball low and away. Napoli’s sweet spot has tended to be elevated, and more around the middle. He’s even demonstrated an ability to turn on the pitch high and tight. I get the pitch type that Napoli was looking for, but I don’t get the location, and maybe it was the shadows, and it was probably the shadows. Do you know about the severe shadows? Offense is down because of increasing shadows. Something about carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We did this to baseball. Big business did this to baseball, but we enabled it.

3

  • Batter: George Springer
  • Date: July 4
  • Location: 24.4 inches from center of zone

Springer3

springer3

Did you know that, this past season, George Springer was 20 runs better than average against fastballs, and eight runs worse than average against everything else? I bet you did not know that, specifically, but I bet you did know that, basically. Here’s a little peek into how you can run a 61% contact rate and still make yourself a reasonably productive hitter at the end of the day. Time your craziest swings for when missing with them will hurt the least. Springer missed this pitch by a foot, but then he immediately drew a walk anyway, so, who really cares, right? His being hurt allowed us to forget about how fascinating he is, but come 2015, Springer will fascinate again.

2

  • Batter: Hunter Pence
  • Date: June 10
  • Location: 26.0 inches from center of zone

Pence2

pence2

The .gif makes it seem justifiable, doesn’t it? And so does the screenshot. It looks like Pence had a shot here to yank an inside fastball into the left-field seats. But, see how the ball was actually in his own box? According to PITCHf/x, this pitch was more than two feet inside from the center of the plate. The edge of the strike zone is about three-quarters of one foot inside from the center of the plate. Doug Fister threw a two-seamer that didn’t stop running in, and Pence couldn’t do anything but get the slightest piece of the ball and try again. I don’t know what he thinks a Doug Fister fastball looks like. That’s what they do. Pence got what he wanted, but for the part where doing anything with the pitch would’ve been genuinely impossible.

The context makes it all the better:

pence2b

“No thanks,” said Pence to the first close pitch. “No thanks,” said Pence to the second close pitch. “No thanks,” said Pence to the third close pitch. “Hell yeah!” said Pence to the fourth pitch, way in. And for his efforts he was rewarded with a pitch literally right down the middle. Hunter Pence flailed, and Hunter Pence reached.

1

  • Batter: Marcell Ozuna
  • Date: August 6
  • Location: 29.2 inches from center of zone

Ozuna1A

ozuna1

Ozuna’s whole game is power on the inner half, and he’s great at destroying the low pitch, so when this thing came out of Jeff Locke’s hand, his eyes lit up, like he was getting exactly what he wanted. He swung like he was getting exactly what he wanted, and he followed through like he had gotten exactly what he wanted. But what he got was something else, and as Ozuna walks into the opposite batter’s box, you get the sense he doesn’t quite understand what kind of sorcery Locke had just pulled over. The pitch Ozuna wanted just vanished. It had to be magic.

So Locke figured he’d double down on the cruelty:

Ozuna1B

Marcell Ozuna was worth the same WAR this year as Jacoby Ellsbury, and he had the same wRC+ as Adam Jones and Christian Yelich. You can’t be a good hitter by swinging hard without a clue. But if you swing hard enough, you don’t need all of the clue to be there, and Ozuna’s one of the most entertaining and electric outfielders you pretty much never think about.

We hoped you liked reading Green Lights Going Wrong, 2014 by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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LHPSU

What were the final outcomes of these PAs?