The Worst of the Best: The Month’s Wildest Swings by Jeff Sullivan September 4, 2014 Hey there everybody, and welcome to the second part of the year’s fifth edition of The Worst Of The Best. Here’s a link to the complete series archive, for you to print out and turn into a volume for your coffee table. And here’s a link to the first part, from several hours ago. This is the right place for you to be, if you’re fixing to see a bunch of bad missed swings. This is decidedly the wrong place for you to be, if you’re hankering for a bunch of sweet dingers. If it’s neither of those things that you seek, well what am I supposed to do, I’m not a mind-reader. Just say what you’re thinking for God’s sake and don’t make a guessing game of your preferences. There are more important things than communication, but most of them, like breathing, are automatic. So, wild swings, month of August, PITCHf/x, distance from the center of the strike zone. All the usual stuff. Clearly checked swings are excluded, and so are swing attempts during hit-and-runs. Hits-and-run? Regular readers presumably skip right over this paragraph because it never introduces anything new. One of these days I’ll throw in a little twist and then we’ll see who benefits from skimming. I’m just kidding, I’m forever stuck in my ways. Still to come is a top-five list and a next-five list. Also, there are two bonus entries, which I couldn’t include in the countdown but which I also couldn’t ignore. There are basically three sorts of events that could qualify a play for a bonus entry. Here come two of them. By the way, congratulations, you’re not dead, and you have a computer! How great is life? 10 Batter: Anthony Recker Pitcher: Jordan Zimmermann Date: August 7 Location: 40.4 inches from center of zone 9 Batter: Adam Jones Pitcher: Samuel Deduno Date: August 29 Location: 40.4 inches from center of zone 8 Batter: Curtis Granderson Pitcher: Mike Minor Date: August 28 Location: 40.4 inches from center of zone 7 Batter: Christian Vazquez Pitcher: Kevin Jepsen Date: August 8 Location: 40.9 inches from center of zone 6 Batter: Adrian Gonzalez Pitcher: Garrett Richards Date: August 4 Location: 41.0 inches from center of zone ===== Bonus Batter: Rene Rivera Pitcher: Tyler Matzek Date: August 13 Location: 41.7 inches from center of zone Javier Baez makes contact 62% of the time that he swings and tries to hit the baseball. Rene Rivera made contact without swinging, and without trying to hit the baseball. Every so often, people talk about hitters who might have some special ability to foul pitches off with two strikes. When you see something like this, you wonder: could this be a learnable skill? Could players learn to barely tap tough two-strike pitches in the dirt? Could they do so without committing to full swings, as Rivera did? To some degree it has to be possible. And a really bad idea for spending time during practice, since if you can identify pitches in the dirt, the best thing is to not move the bat even a little. What a dumb drill that would be. The San Diego Padres are brought to you by Toyota, and StubHub, and State Farm, and Subway sandwiches, at least, and if you ask them, they’ll all indicate to you that one of the other ones is the official sponsor, and, wouldn’t that be embarrassing? As far as the ticker is concerned, #toyotatalk takes up 8% of Twitter’s established character limit, so I’m guessing that within the questions and comments, Odrisamer Despaigne and Kevin Quackenbush are underrepresented. It would be funny to have a Padres broadcast overlap with a distant and entirely unrelated Toyota shareholders meeting. ===== Bonus Batter: Michael Taylor Pitcher: Dillon Gee Date: August 14 Location: 47.0 inches from center of zone Look at how quickly all the fans snap to attention. Previously they were doing something else, anything else, and then they immediately turned their attention to the field, thinking a baseball player had just been hit in the head. It became clear rather quickly, though, that Taylor had not, in fact, gotten brained by a fastball, and so the fans resumed doing what they were doing, ever so slightly disappointed. They paid attention when they thought a player got beaned in the skull. They were subsequently uninterested when they realized he was fine. Monsters. Let’s not pretend like we wouldn’t watch enslaved gladiators fight animals to the death. The only reason we don’t is because someone with some network has the good sense to not let that even be an option. In Michael Taylor’s first game, he singled and homered. In his second game, he struck out three times. In his third game, he got a fastball behind the head, and more than that — he got a fastball behind the head that counted as a strike. Michael Taylor didn’t go to college, but at 23, he’s at the age where post-grads are getting accustomed to the real world. And just like Michael Taylor had always heard, the real world is a dick. I’m trying to imagine something more intimidating than having a fastball snap a bat you never tried to swing in the first place. Maybe a haka, but if it were only the pitcher, it would probably look really silly. Maybe a full-lineup haka, before each batter steps up to the plate. But is it possible to be truly intimidating in stretchy pajama pants? The most intimidating pitcher in baseball, whoever he is, wears pajamas and a hat. ===== 5 Batter: Ryan Vogelsong Pitcher: Jon Niese Date: August 1 Location: 41.1 inches from center of zone Something I’ve learned today: not only are pitchers bad full-swingers, but they’re also bad check-swingers. This was supposed to be a checked swing, and Vogelsong did indeed interrupt his own bat path, but the rest of his body completed the swing, so for me this is enough of an attempt to count for the list. Vogelsong knew it immediately. This is also, for better or worse, a missed opportunity. It took me several viewing of the .gif to notice the baseball among Vogelsong’s feet. We came that close to having a .gif of Ryan Vogelsong missing a bad pitch and tripping over the same baseball while leaving the box. It could’ve been bad news for San Francisco, but, the overwhelming majority of people don’t care about the health of the Giants, so, I’d barely be able to hear the violin over the sound of international laughter. You can clearly see the location of Vogelsong’s bat. You can’t so clearly see the location of the baseball, but we know from the .gif that the baseball bounced. It actually hit the dirt several inches in front of home plate. This is a whole series dedicated to hitters guessing wrong, and when you guess wrong you can miss the baseball by a whole lot of inches, but each and every instance is like its own little miracle. What would Ryan Vogelsong throw Ryan Vogelsong in a 1-and-1 count? According to Ryan Vogelsong, a fastball down the heart. That says something bad about both his hitting and his pitching. Idea: research the performance of hitters who come to the plate after the pitcher reaches with two outs. Because I know, if I were such a hitter, I sure as shit wouldn’t be actually preparing for anything in the on-deck circle. 4 Batter: Hanley Ramirez Pitcher: Justin Grimm Date: August 2 Location: 41.5 inches from center of zone What you can’t see in the .gif is that it was raining. (In California!) As the ball gets away from the catcher, Grimm wipes water off his face. Presumably, he wouldn’t have pitched with an uncomfortable amount of water on his face, so that water collected there quickly during the delivery. So, within just a few seconds, Grimm’s face got wet enough to warrant a good jersey-wipe. Given that Grimm is wearing a hat, that seems like it would require quite the downpour. So why was baseball being played in that, again? Seems like, especially in California, if it’s raining like that, you should just suspend on-field activity and be like, take this in, isn’t rain just wonderful? Good luck getting a good quote from State Farm if you like to drink Ketel One when you visit an Arco. What this is showing you is Hanley Ramirez coming to a stop halfway down to first base as he realizes he’s not an eligible baserunner. He’s not an eligible baserunner because first base was occupied, and because there were fewer than two outs. In a way Ramirez was successful in moving the winning run up into scoring position, but something tells me that wasn’t his goal when he dug into the box, and that something is the lack of awareness of the baserunner. 3 Batter: Adam Jones Pitcher: James Paxton Date: August 2 Location: 42.7 inches from center of zone At No. 9, we saw Adam Jones, flailing at a first-pitch breaking ball in the dirt. At No. 3, we see Adam Jones, flailing at a first-pitch breaking ball in the dirt. Jones this year has a higher first-pitch swing rate against non-fastballs than he does against fastballs. He’s seen almost 60% first-pitch fastballs. Sometimes, it’s helpful to look at how productive a player is when he puts the ball in play in 0-and-0 counts. Always, it’s important to remember that gives you only some of the picture. Count stats don’t tell you how often a count turns into a less-favorable count. The Mariners train all their young hitters to have certain weaknesses, so that they can be exploited after the players get traded away. An issue is that a lot of times the Mariners have forgotten to trade said young hitters away. Because, what’s more valuable than a talented young hitter? How hard could it be to correct a deeply-cemented weakness? It’s an absolute mystery to me how pitchers and catchers don’t get crossed up more often. Look at the intricacies of that signal from Jesus Sucre. Sometimes I need three seconds to tell if someone is steadily giving me the finger. Sucre: /thigh tap Sucre: /thigh tap Sucre: /finger flash Sucre: /finger wiggle Sucre: /closed fist Sucre: /thigh brush Sucre: /repeating staccato finger flash Sucre: /drags dirt Sucre: /points to shoelace Sucre: Paxton: Paxton: Paxton: WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO THROW Adam Jones swung and missed, then he took a step back. Then he took a step back, and he took a step back. Then he took another step back, then he took another step back. Then he took a step back, and then he took a step back. Following, a step back. After that, he took a step back, and after that, he took a step back. In between pitches, Adam Jones almost tripped backwards into the dugout. We’ve talked before about how often cameras catch players spitting during a baseball game. It’s something we hardly even notice anymore. Players are extremely good at it — they’re expert spitters. They might be even better at spitting than they are at playing baseball, because they’ve been spitting on baseball fields their whole entire lives. How often, really, do we see a player try to spit and just suck at it? Like, how often does the camera catch a total spit disaster? The Worst of the Best: The Month’s Wildest Spits. You’re No. 1, James Paxton. You’re No. 1 by a mile. I wonder if he’s a less-experienced spitter having grown up in Canada. 2 Batter: Billy Hamilton Pitcher: Josh Tomlin Date: August 5 Location: 47.7 inches from center of zone Umpire: Hurry! Umpire: He’s getting away! So far this season, Hamilton has struck out 100 times. I’ve gotten pretty used to seeing him show up on this list — he does seem to have something of a weakness for low two-strike breaking balls. Of course, because of his speed, you’d figure Hamilton would still reach base fairly often on wild swinging strikeouts. Let’s take a look at the data, courtesy of the Baseball-Reference Play Index! This season, out of Hamilton’s 100 strikeouts, he has successfully reached first base safely zero times. You see Christian Vazquez, at No. 7? He reached first base safely. Christian Vazquez, this year, has reached on a strikeout. Billy Hamilton has not. I don’t know how surprised I’m supposed to be by this, but I know I am at least a little surprised. Turns out the footspeed doesn’t make him a hidden-value statistical Superman. As a rookie hazing prank, it’s Billy Hamilton in Jonathan Broxton’s pants. The Reds became baseball’s first team to bring hazing activity to the field of competitive play. They also will remain the last team to do that. Broxton observed from the bullpen in sliding shorts, because they’ve manufactured only two pairs of pants in his size, and one was on loan to an area museum as part of a life-size covered-wagon display. 1 Batter: Todd Frazier Pitcher: Edinson Volquez Date: August 29 Location: 49.7 inches from center of zone How much do people fear Billy Hamilton’s speed? Hamilton, here, was on third base, having advanced there earlier in the at-bat. On the one hand, with Hamilton 90 feet away in a scoreless game, the Pirates called for a breaking ball in the dirt. So that’s evidence that they were focused on the batter more than anything else. But on the other hand: The umpire and pitcher looked immediately to third base. Russell Martin looked almost immediately to third base. Martin darted back to the plate right after throwing to first, and the first baseman looked toward third right after catching the baseball. Volquez threw a pitch in the dirt with Hamilton on third base. The pitch wasn’t caught cleanly, but it was never separated from Martin by more than like two or three feet. Most of the time, you wouldn’t even think about the possibility of a runner there trying to score, because that would be inarguable insanity. But everyone was worried about Hamilton. Everyone immediately paid attention to Hamilton, and Frazier was just along for the ride. Billy Hamilton’s numbers this year aren’t eye-popping, but you have to imagine a lot of that is because other teams try their absolute damnedest to not allow him to run free. He’s done what he’s done under maybe the closest watch in the recent history of baseball. Josh Harrison joked with Hamilton about going. Hamilton smiled a knowing smile back. “Almost”, he thought, probably. Which is nuts. Interesting juxtaposition: the fastest sprinter in baseball on third base, and an umpire who looks like probably the slowest man in baseball to understand a clever joke. Frazier stood in in the box with one mission: score Billy Hamilton from 90 feet away. Were it any other teammate, Frazier would’ve been concentrating on making solid contact. Because it was Hamilton, Frazier didn’t feel like he really needed to concentrate at all. Billy Hamilton can practically score himself. Frazier was exaggerating, and in this way Hamilton might actually be bad for his own lineup support. In this post we speculate wildly and irresponsibly about the various effects of a baseball game including Billy Hamilton in it. I don’t even know why jerseys include half of their buttons. Players are always undoing them, and players are always accessorizing with bulky necklaces. Players are always worried about how they look on the field, because you never know when a woman might come out of the stands and volunteer to have immediate sex with you. And if there’s one thing I know about women, it’s that they go crazy for sloppy buttoning and men wearing rope. My first thought was, what message does this send to the kids? But actually, it sends a very accurate message. Pay attention, kids: this is how the world works. This is how the world has always worked, and this is how the world will always work. You can be the crippled pierogi if you want, selfless and supportive, but if you intend to go anywhere, you need to be prepared to beat the ever-loving crap out of those who mean no harm. When you’re blazing a path in the jungle, flowers and thorns get hacked at absent discrimination.