Let’s Get Extreme: Swinging Strike Edition

In the last installment of this series, we looked at improbable home runs. I love a good wild-swinging home run, and Eddie Rosario and friends certainly delivered. It’s one of a small sliver of baseball moments that somehow makes the pitcher look good at the same time he gives up a home run. Likewise, the batter looks foolish and yet triumphant. There’s something for everyone.

Today, there isn’t something for everyone. This article is just GIFs of hitters looking bad. To hit a home run on a bad pitch, it has to be at least somewhat hittable; otherwise, you couldn’t hit it. If a pitch is in the opposite batter’s box, or bounces three feet in front of the plate, well, there’s no home run happening. To swing and miss, well: you just need a pitch.

There are no hidden heroes here. If anything, there are hidden goats. The pitchers who threw these pitches shouldn’t have expected to get a swing for their troubles. Almost exclusively, they missed their target. They just had the good fortune to mis-throw it to just the right guy. Let’s get started.

5. Ramón Laureano

Tyler Glasnow makes for an uncomfortable at-bat. He throws from a unique angle and also drops two separate breaking balls that complement his fastball in different ways. A few pitches earlier, he laid the groundwork for this pitch with a fastball away:

The other two pitches Laureano saw in the at-bat were no help: a high slider that he fouled off pushed the count to 0–2; a bounced fastball brought it back to 1–2. Sure, it’s Tyler Glasnow, so you know he has the curveball available, but he throws plenty of four-seamers with two strikes. You can’t let him sneak one by you for a strikeout, and hey, he was already trying to do that on the first two-strike pitch. What’s more, Glasnow got an outrageous amount of downward break on that pitch; if he hadn’t spun it so well, it might look more like a garden-variety bad swing.

As much as I want to excuse Laureano here, though, let’s be realistic. Even given the circumstances, that wasn’t a good swing. Per Statcast, if that ball had no spin whatsoever, it would have crossed home plate three inches above the ground. This isn’t one of those pitches that looked like a strike until the last second; it was a ball right out of Glasnow’s hand. But he’s such a tough at-bat that Laureano was more or less guessing. He’d have to be, to make the top five of this list, because the swings that came farther from the center of the plate were bad.

4. Brandon Crawford

There’s not that much to say about this one, really. Crawford is a pretty good curveball hitter; he doesn’t often chase bad ones and makes solid contact when he does swing. He’s not Joey Votto out there or anything, but he’s hardly swinging wildly. On this occasion, he started guessing fastball and wasn’t able to stop his swing in time:

There’s no real argument from Crawford after this one; the way we think of check swings, that’s absolutely a swing. But this doesn’t really feel like a point-and-giggle play, so I’ll throw in an honorable mention at the end to make up for it.

3. Darin Ruf

Ugh, again with the check swings. This time, though, I think there’s less defense for getting surprised by a breaking ball. Pierce Johnson only throws curveballs. He threw his curve two-thirds of the time last season. It’s not even a secondary pitch; it’s just the thing he usually throws. Ruf wasn’t taken by surprise; he just couldn’t do anything with it.

I like this one more than the Crawford whiff for two reasons. First, Ruf wasn’t early in the count, where you can take an aggressive fastball-hunting approach and regroup if you miss. This was a two-strike count — no re-do allowed. He also knew what was coming, as I mentioned above. This was the fourth straight curveball he saw, and he’d fouled the last two off. He was trying to swing at a curveball; he just didn’t expect Johnson to snap it off that much.

Finally, it might not look like much from the front, but he really did swing, and he looked foolish doing it:

It’s enough to make you walk off deep in contemplation and then check your eyes on the stroll to the dugout:

2. Nick Ahmed

Check swings at pitches that bounce? Boring! Ahmed got his money’s worth on that one, finishing out his hack even though there was no chance of making contact. Let’s not sugarcoat it: that was an awful swing. It’s not just that that pitch hit the dirt; it was also wide of the zone by a ton. Look at where it hit!

Consider the angle we’re seeing this pitch from. We’re over Will Harris’s right shoulder, and he stands on the third-base side of the rubber. That means he’s throwing right-to-left, so not only was it wide of the plate when it bounced, but it was heading even wider. In the end, it was nearly a foot outside the zone, nevermind the fact that it had bounced.

If that pitch was middle-middle, Ahmed might still have missed it. As you can see in the screenshot above, the head of his bat was already in the zone when the ball bounced. Off on timing. Off vertically. Off horizontally. The only consolation I have is that he had just taken a similar pitch, so he’s at least capable of holding off:

But uh… he didn’t here, and the way baseball works: the pitcher gets a few shots at the strikeout when he does the early work of getting ahead in the count. The end result is the second-worst swing of the year. Good work, Will Harris, and thanks for playing, Nick.

1. Pablo Sandoval

This swing is the reason I wrote this article. Is it another check swing? Sure. But it’s a check swing on a pitch that was so far inside it easily could have hit Sandoval, in addition to so low that it bounced well in advance of the plate. Take a look at the dirt this pitch kicked up:

To his credit, Sandoval had battled in the at-bat merely to reach this point. In a 1–2 count, Joe Kelly missed over the middle of the plate with a sinker, and Sandoval took a solid cut:

He fouled that one off, and he wasn’t done playing defense. Kelly came back with a changeup on the same plane as that sinker, and again Sandoval managed to get a piece of it:

Those two pitches are a good demonstration of how Sandoval operated at his peak. Does he swing freely? He sure does. But due to his elite bat control, those swings were a feature rather than a bug. For six straight full seasons in his first stint with the Giants, he ran a strikeout rate below 15% (and a 122 wRC+) despite chasing nearly half of the pitches outside the zone he saw.

That’s not really happening anymore, as this swing demonstrated. Kelly’s curveball was wild. It bounced, but if it had continued on its path, it would have crossed home plate 4.25 feet from the center of the strike zone. I’m partial to this freeze frame, which shows how much this pitch missed by. It hit the ground so early that it had time to bounce back up near his knees:

From this angle, you can’t tell, but the pitch was also in the lefty batter’s box. This is the kind of pitch that Kelly uncorks once in a while, the type that got him a reputation for breaking his own stuff at home. He didn’t draw any swings at worse pitches this year, because no one drew swings on worse pitches this year. That pitch was a dud, plain and simple, and Sandoval turned it into the most extreme swinging strike of the year.

Honorable Mention: Aledmys Díaz

Hoo boy. This pitch holds the distinction of being the second-widest swinging strike on the year, and the widest was a pitcher hitting (Adbert Alzolay, if you’re curious), so I’m giving the “worst wide swing” title to Díaz. Look where the superimposed dot showed up for that slider:

That pitch was more than a plate’s width off the plate. It was more than two feet off the edge. Forget the swinging strike; merely receiving that pitch in the air was an impressive play by Kurt Suzuki.

I also love Díaz’s despairing follow-through. Everyone — Díaz, Raisel Iglesias, Suzuki, and the umpire — knew that pitch was nowhere near the zone. Díaz was already committed; there was no way to stop the bat’s momentum. And yet, he didn’t fully follow through either. He just left it out there — hey, here’s my bat, it missed your pitch by a ton, just thought you should know:

Are these the most absurd swinging strikes of the year? Who knows. By my strict definition, though, they’re the most extreme swinging strikes of 2021, and isn’t that what counts? Anyone could take a desultory check swing at a bounced pitch. Anyone might windmill through something in the opposite batter’s box, or go around on a pitch that nearly hits them. And hey, if you do at least two of those things, you might end up on this list next year.





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

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Bryzmember
9 months ago

IIRC, I think past “extreme swinging strike” posts from Jeff Sullivan usually excluded the check swings.