The Worst of the Best: The Month’s Wildest Swings

Hey there everybody, and welcome to the second part of the year’s fourth edition of The Worst Of The Best. Here is a link to the complete series archive, for you to bookmark and never revisit, like most of the rest of your bookmarks. And here’s a link to Monday’s first part, covering July’s wildest pitches. I’m sitting on a patio right now, and as I’ve been writing this, a large number of crows has been pecking around in a nearby field. Then the crows lifted off, save for one, who remains on the field with what appears to be an injured wing. So, apparently I’m going to be writing this while sad. And a little confused. How did the crow join up with the group in the first place? How recently did it injure its wing? Has it been in the field the whole time, and the other crows just came down to hang out and keep it company? Were the other crows actually being compassionate? Nevermind, apparently I’m going to be writing this while hopeful?

You’re going to see the wildest swings attempted in the month of July, as determined by distance from the center of the strike zone. As a consequence of the method, all the swings are pretty much similar, because nobody swings at a pitch that misses three feet high or outside. So the fun’s in the little distinguishing details, provided any can be identified. There’s a top-five list and a next-five list, and this list of lists also includes a couple bonus entries that I couldn’t in good conscience leave unincluded. I always make sure to leave out checked swings and swing attempts during hit-and-runs, but by the latter I mean I’m willing to show those as bonuses, like I am right here. Those swings shouldn’t count toward the official countdown, but they should also absolutely be displayed so we can all have a good laugh. Laughter is the best medicine, if you aren’t actually sick with a disease.


Batter: Giancarlo Stanton
Pitcher: Madison Bumgarner
Date: July 18
Location: 39.5 inches from center of zone



Batter: Jayson Werth
Pitcher: Jake Arrieta
Date: July 6
Location: 39.6 inches from center of zone



Batter: Alcides Escobar
Pitcher: Grant Balfour
Date: July 8
Location: 39.9 inches from center of zone



Batter: Jose Molina
Pitcher: Lance Lynn
Date: July 23
Location: 40.9 inches from center of zone



Batter: Billy Hamilton
Pitcher: Dellin Betances
Date: July 20
Location: 41.0 inches from center of zone




Batter: Rougned Odor
Pitcher: Brandon McCarthy
Date: July 29
Location: 44.4 inches from center of zone


It’s pretty well established at this point that McCarthy’s never really been able to find a consistent changeup that works for him. This year he’s thrown just one per 100 pitches, with no strikeouts and a double and homer allowed. At 89 miles per hour, the pitch above had the velocity of a Brandon McCarthy changeup. At eight inches, the pitch above had the horizontal movement of a Brandon McCarthy changeup. At six inches, the pitch above had the vertical movement of a Brandon McCarthy changeup. The pitch, though, was officially classified as a pitchout, so McCarthy’s changeup doesn’t get any credit for the swing and miss. As a matter of fact it’s not really there at all on McCarthy’s record. It’s a sad story, if you’re willing to buy McCarthy’s changeup’s statistical profile as a sympathetic character. It would be a non-traditional lead, but you could say the same of Cameron Diaz.


Batter: Steve Pearce
Pitcher: Scott Baker
Date: July 3
Location: 48.4 inches from center of zone


There were two people who knew, right away, what happened here. While the catcher scrambled around and the runner from third broke home and the umpire backed off to let the play play out, Pearce knew the ball hit his bat, and Baker knew the ball hit Pearce’s bat. So what this was was a test of Pearce’s integrity. Baker approached the plate unconcerned, not sprinting to cover because he knew the ball should be dead. Pearce could either own up to the foul ball, admitting to the umpire he let his bat get in the way, or he could wave the runner home and hope to benefit from a foul unseen. Pearce could be an honest man, or he could elevate the competition above the level of honesty. After a brief pause to consider his options, Pearce elected to wave the runner home, pretending like the ball had instead nicked off the outstretched glove of the catcher. Pearce, then, failed the test: he revealed himself to be a situational liar, rather than a man of truth and probity. Ultimately the pitch was ruled to be foul anyway, and the runner was returned to third. For Pearce’s dishonesty, there was no reward, only embarrassment. Liars and cheaters never win, is a statement that we all wish would more often be true.



Batter: Billy Hamilton
Pitcher: Gio Gonzalez
Date: July 26
Location: 41.0 inches from center of zone


We see Hamilton here, at No. 5. We also saw Hamilton above, at No. 6. Back in April, we saw Hamilton another time, at No. 5. It would be unfair to suggest that Hamilton is becoming a regular character in the series, but I’m not surprised to see him show up — this year, Hamilton has swung at 54% of offspeed pitches low, below the level of the zone. With two strikes, he’s swung at 69% of such pitches. I don’t know about the league-average rates, but Hamilton isn’t disciplined enough to lay off of those little nuggets of awful temptation, and what really impresses me is the speed with which Hamilton begins his permitted sprint to first. In no time at all he’s moving as fast as he can, despite extraordinarily low odds of being successful. Nearly every time, these runners get thrown out, but Hamilton has clearly been programmed to get as much out of his speed as is absolutely possible. On offense, speed is only a minor component of success, but Hamilton tries to get out every last drop. He knows how to use his one remarkable tool. He’s like a guy who’s really, really good at using a compass. Usually, you’ve little need for a compass, but should a situation arise, that guy knows the shit out of a compass.


Well isn’t this convenient? At No. 5, we have Hamilton running out a dropped third strike batting right-handed. At No. 6, we have Hamilton running out a dropped third strike batting left-handed. So, which way gets him to first quicker: the way where he starts closer to first, or the way where his body is facing toward first? Based on my calculations, left-handed Hamilton got to first in about 4.1 seconds, while right-handed Hamilton got to first in about 3.9 seconds. In conclusion, who knows the truth! This is a sample size of one swing each. But at the very least, it wouldn’t appear that left-handed Hamilton gets down the line significantly quicker.


Here we have Wilson Ramos acting casual, throwing out Billy Hamilton like he thinks he’s throwing out Billy Butler. The Nationals broadcast noted how calmly Ramos responded to what could’ve been a bit of an anxious situation. The trusting way of looking at this is that Ramos didn’t panic and executed a routine play without freaking out about the identity of the guy booking it down the line. The less-trusting way of looking at this is that Ramos forgot the identity of the guy booking it down the line. So, it’s all up to your opinion of Wilson Ramos’ situational awareness. How many people here have a fully-formed opinion of Wilson Ramos’ situational awareness?


Batter: Pedro Alvarez
Pitcher: Mat Latos
Date: July 11
Location: 41.0 inches from center of zone


Jose Molina was at No. 7, and no words were written about him. Billy Hamilton was at No. 6, and no words were written about that particular swing. Hamilton was also at No. 5, where he got the word treatment. Here’s Alvarez at No. 4, where he’ll also get the word treatment. Here are the distances from the center of the zone:

  • Molina: 40.926 inches
  • Hamilton: 40.967 inches
  • Hamilton: 40.978 inches
  • Alvarez: 40.995 inches

As it happens, I’m writing about the latter two, but realistically these could’ve come in any order. The difference between opposite extremes is seven-hundredths of one inch. Well within the PITCHf/x error range — a difference of seven-hundredths of one inch is no meaningful difference at all. Unfortunately for Pedro Alvarez, the way the numbers shook out, he’s going to get written about and made fun of. I wonder when that’s going to start. So far I’ve just written about the details of the process, but the rest of the material could be just over the next ridge! Keep your hopes up!


Something interesting about Pedro Alvarez: he hasn’t actually been a total hacker. Over the PITCHf/x era, 421 different players have batted at least 1,000 times. Alvarez ranks tied for 124th-highest in swings at pitches out of the zone. He’s even with Manny Machado and Miguel Montero. The issue is contact on swings at pitches out of the zone. His contact rate on those swings ranks tied for ninth-lowest out of the same pool. It’s a lot easier to notice that a guy is hacking when his swings come up empty. And perhaps they come up empty because Alvarez attempts a number of swings like this? I wonder if his bad-ball swing rate is more negative than his out-of-zone swing rate. Contact is an issue Alvarez just hasn’t been able to solve. Thankfully, he’s making people forget all about that, by also now introducing a couple dozen throwing errors. Pedro Alvarez found a way to make Pirates fans wish they had the old version back.


Here we just get to pretend that Alvarez took a big cut at an inside fastball. He missed, but he was trying to cheat and jump on the first pitch, and, no matter, he’s still got another two strikes to work with. Isn’t it fun to imagine? Even in our imaginations, Pedro Alvarez is an aggressive slugger who whiffs a lot. Our imagined version of Pedro Alvarez is a lot like Pedro Alvarez, so maybe there is something to the idea that television and computers are causing our imaginations to deteriorate.


A worthwhile fact to remember is that, when you look at the swings featured on these lists, they’re mostly mistake swings at mistake pitches. Pitchers don’t really mean to bounce pitches in front of the plate, certainly not by this much. Naturally, it’s better to miss in this direction than to miss over the heart, so it’s not like these are really that embarrassing for the guys on the mound, but mostly they’re being bailed out for doing what they didn’t mean to. The first pitch Mat Latos threw to Pedro Alvarez had to be tossed out because the ball got scuffed up by the dirt just beyond the lip of the grass. 0-and-1. What the hell kind of feedback is that for a pitcher? That can’t be good for them in the big picture, psychologically.


Batter: A.J. Pierzynski
Pitcher: Jake Arrieta
Date: July 26
Location: 42.3 inches from center of zone


A point that always makes me laugh is that catchers should have a better understanding than anybody of how pitches are sequenced, so why are there regular catchers who go to the plate and act all undisciplined, when in theory they ought to know how they’re being approached? A.J. Pierzynski regularly runs extremely high swing rates because he thinks he understands what the pitchers are going to do. A.J. Pierzynski has a below-average career wRC+ because he doesn’t actually understand that.


Sure, it’s good as a screenshot, but we can do so, so much better:


A.J. Pierzynski swung so far over the top of the baseball that, if the baseball were an airplane and if the bat were another airplane, air traffic control would’ve been like, carry on, business as usual, no near-catastrophe here to speak of.


This is a subtle thing. It’s not odd to see Pierzynski step out between pitches. Every batter steps out between pitches and goes through a little habitual routine. But other batters will step out of the box, away from the plate. Pierzynski stepped into the space vacated by the catcher who went to retrieve the loose baseball. He also somewhat entered the umpire’s territory behind the plate as well, not doing anything disrespectful other than just being there in the first place. It’s just looking for ways to make people annoyed. What a dick.


Batter: Mark Reynolds
Pitcher: Carlos Contreras
Date: July 21
Location: 42.5 inches from center of zone


Today I learned there is a Carlos Contreras. Now, this is good on its own, but it’s better in context. This is a 1-and-1 pitch. This was the 0-and-1 pitch:


Ahead in the count, Contreras threw a low-away breaking ball, that Reynolds just about committed to. But while Reynolds gained a ball, he also kind of showed his hand — he demonstrated a willingness to think about chasing that pitch. What Reynolds might’ve thought, after holding up, was that Contreras would return to the strike zone in an even count. But what the Reds figured was, hey, why throw strikes? Reynolds swings hard. It’s not easy for him to hold up. If he’s going to be that tempted once, why not try literally the exact same thing again? Reynolds held up at 0-and-1. At 1-and-1, his weakness, having been revealed, was taken advantage of. Congratulations to the Reds on figuring out how to retire Mark Reynolds. They’re such geniuses, I don’t know how they did it!


Mark Reynolds swung and missed at a pitch. In the major leagues he’s done that just about 3,000 times. More interesting: from 2011 – 2013, Reynolds ranked as one of the worse overall defensive players in baseball. This year he has the same Defense rating as Matt Carpenter and Adam Jones. Perhaps you can teach an old dog new tricks. Not that that’s in any way relevant here, since Mark Reynolds is a person.


Reynolds: aw come on man
Reynolds: we’re throwing move-y balls now?


A televised baseball game is a sequence of strategic baseball activities, interspersed with footage of grown men spitting. If the camera holds on a player for more than three seconds, the likelihood is that you will see something come out of his mouth.


Batter: Matt Adams
Pitcher: Hector Rondon
Date: July 27
Location: 43.8 inches from center of zone


The first thing you notice, of course, is the pitch and the swing, but as a .gif loops, you start to look around for other details. You can look wherever you want whenever you want, because it’s all just going to re-start again in a second or two. I’m now most fascinated by what’s taking place in the upper right. As Rondon throws a breaking ball to Adams, it would appear that a little girl has fallen from above but landed on her feet. Calmly and unhurt, she walks down the row to the staircase, perhaps to return to wherever she fell from. This is what happens should you ever decide to start a family with a cat. You have little human-shaped offspring you can drop safely from the upper deck. It’s like a party trick — impress your friends! Drop your daughter from high places! It might be so amazing that people totally forget about how you started a family with a cat just to see if you’d be able to drop your mutant kids.


I wouldn’t recommend that Matt Adams wear horizontal stripes anywhere on his body, but I suppose there are worse places than the calves, if we accept the necessity of stripes in the first place. Meanwhile, Rondon looks like one of those nasty alternative berry-flavored candy canes. We don’t need everything to be able to taste like everything. We can just have the traditional candy canes. We don’t need berry candy canes any more than we need berry pork. People who are that insistent on having something that tastes like berries can buy a different sort of berry snack. If they don’t like not having berry-flavored candy canes, tough shit, you shouldn’t be able to have everything you want. We’re making ourselves more and more insufferably entitled by the day. Look no further than berry-flavored candy canes.


Sometimes pitchers will look in to make sure that an uncaught third strike is successfully converted into an out. Other times the suddenly eligible baserunner is Matt Adams.

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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9 years ago

not only is McCarthy’s pitch a pitch-out, it’s also a hit-n-run play, so the swing is not optional.

9 years ago
Reply to  Tim

That’s probably why he included it as a bonus.

9 years ago
Reply to  Tim

Yeah, I think that’s why it’s a bonus and doesn’t count here. I imagine if Jeff thought Odor made the decision to swing he would be all over him.

9 years ago
Reply to  Izzy

ok thanks guys