The Worst of the Best: The Month’s Wildest Swings by Jeff Sullivan May 2, 2014 Hey there, people who were six once, and welcome to the second part of the year’s first edition of The Worst Of The Best. Here is a link to Thursday’s first part, and here is a link to the complete series archive. If you were to explore that archive and go back to 2013, you’d find several apologies for how the second parts tend not to feature very much event diversity. This is the part about wild swings, and by my methodology, the overwhelming majority of the wild swings come on two-strike swings at stuff in the dirt. Here’s an excerpt from a post from the middle of last August: With the wildest swings, almost invariably we end up with five swings at two-strike breaking balls in the dirt. That’s just the way it is, and of course all those swings are ill-advised, but part of the fun is supposed to be the surprise, and here we don’t really get many surprises. I don’t know what to do about that and it’s too late in 2013 to just up and change the methodology. […] I am sorry. I’ll have to figure some stuff out before 2014. I never got around to figuring any stuff out. So you’re going to see the same stupid predictable crap as always. I’ll have to figure some stuff out before 2015. Below, the wildest swings of the season, up through the end of April. Featured in some detail is a top-five list. Provided with less detail is a next-five list, and there are also two bonus inclusions. It’s all based on PITCHf/x data, so I can only work with what I’m given, and I don’t count checked swings or swing attempts on hit-and-runs. I only want to highlight hitters who decided to swing on their own, and who didn’t think better of it in the middle. These are swings at pitches furthest from the center of the strike zone. I repeat this every time but I’m sure you got the message ages ago. Let’s load some .gifs and laugh at some millionaires. 10 Batter: Billy Butler Pitcher: Heath Bell Date: April 7 Location: 37.7 inches from center of zone 9 Batter: Freddy Galvis Pitcher: J.P. Howell Date: April 22 Location: 37.9 inches from center of zone 8 Batter: Giancarlo Stanton Pitcher: Alex Wood Date: April 22 Location: 38.0 inches from center of zone 7 Batter: Ichiro Suzuki Pitcher: Jon Lester Date: April 22 Location: 38.2 inches from center of zone 6 Batter: David Freese Pitcher: Rick Porcello Date: April 20 Location: 38.3 inches from center of zone —– A couple inserts, for your enjoyment and for no other reason. Bonus Batter: Peter Bourjos Pitcher: Hector Rondon Date: April 11 Location: 38.3 inches from center of zone Bonus Batter: Elvis Andrus Pitcher: Dan Otero Date: April 21 Location: 59.7 inches from center of zone You know why it’s excluded. I already told you why it’s excluded. This was, hands down, the wildest swing of the month, so maybe on that ground it should count, but this wasn’t a swing like any other swing — this was a swing specifically to protect an advancing baserunner. If I had put this first, I would’ve given it an asterisk, and better to just nip said controversies in the bud, because this is very important and seminal work. The next-wildest swing was at a pitch nine inches closer to the center of the zone. I wouldn’t feel right ranking this No. 1. I also wouldn’t feel right not showing this to you guys at all, so this is a compromise. Also, I’m not done. Let’s keep talking about Elvis Andrus. That’s a picture of a swing attempt in a major-league baseball game. This isn’t some Harry Potter wizard shit. Andrus was trying, desperately, to put the ball in play. When his swing was halfway complete, his entire body was off the ground. It kind of looks like there’s an invisible tractor beam, pulling various articles of baseball equipment. Andrus’ bat. Otero’s hat. John Jaso’s glove. Let’s just say Andrus knew better. Let’s just say he swung because he was instructed to always swing during a hit-and-run attempt. Obviously, there should be some threshold, but maybe the idea is that, by swinging, even if the pitch is awful, you can disrupt the backstop. So while you put yourself behind by a strike, maybe you make it more likely that the runner advances without getting gunned down. Now, the run value of whiffing at a ball far away is about -0.14. Does it increase the run value of the baserunner by that much? I doubt it. Maybe I’m wrong, but this seems like a terrible baseball play. It’s sufficiently infrequent that it doesn’t draw complaints, but why, actually, swing at this? Why not just take the ball and whatever else happens? It would be one thing if there were evidence, but there isn’t much. During the PITCHf/x era, baserunners have stolen with 46% success against pitchouts. With swinging pitchouts, like the one above, runners are 5 out of 14. A swinging pitchout is part of a hit-and-run, and a regular pitchout generally isn’t, so they’re not directly comparable, but one thing you can take from this is there have been 14 swinging pitchouts since 2008. So this probably isn’t worth two paragraphs of text. Moving on. Here’s how the at-bat began: There was an attempted hit-and-run on the first pitch, but Andrus bounced a ball foul. On the next pitch, Andrus nearly bunted: And then came the busted hit-and-run from above: All the Rangers wanted to do was exchange Elvis Andrus for getting Michael Choice to second base. They probably didn’t realize it would be so damned difficult, even with a guy with such good bat control. What took place was a disaster. …followed by that disaster, and Choice wound up with his first career big-league stolen base. On the next pitch, Andrus successfully grounded Choice to third. That’s where he was stranded, as Alex Rios whiffed and Kevin Kouzmanoff grounded out. The Rangers won 4-3 anyway. Basically, Texas tried like hell to move Choice up 90 feet. They failed and Oakland bailed them out, and then Choice ultimately moved up 180 feet. But he never scored the insurance run, and Texas never needed the insurance run. It makes you think about the battles we’re fighting. We think they’re really important. They’re almost never any kind of important. We’re all going to die unremembered. —– 5 Batter: Billy Hamilton Pitcher: Alex Cobb Date: April 12 Location: 38.4 inches from center of zone This is a strange .gif. Well first of all, it’s a first pitch, and not a two-strike pitch, so that makes this different. But also, it seems like Hamilton’s bat is behind him, and then, suddenly, it’s in front of him, swing completed. You don’t really see the swing — you just see the start and the end, and everything in the middle must’ve happened with lightning-quick speed. But we also know that Billy Hamilton doesn’t generate tremendous bat speed, and that’s kind of the whole problem with his offensive skillset. The best theory I can come up with is that Hamilton’s bat teleported between two opposite positions, never occupying the transition space, and if that’s something Hamilton makes happen pretty often, that could explain why he struggles to hit the baseball with authority. You can’t have bats teleporting if you’re trying for a ball in play. You’d think they would’ve worked this out in spring training. Right before Hamilton’s at-bat, the runner on second was bunted to third, even though there was already an out. I give the Reds’ broadcast a lot of crap, in my head if not on the visible Internet, so I want to give them credit for something — they identified a reason that might not have been a bad idea. I mean, for one thing, Cobb throws a lot of that split-change and if one were to get away, then the runner could score. But what they talked about was Hamilton’s offensive profile. Hamilton is going to end up with a lot of bunt hits and infield singles. Only Billy Hamilton himself can score from second on a bunt hit or an infield single. But moving the runner up gave him a better chance of coming in were Hamilton to put the ball in play. The bunter, I should note, was the pitcher. Hamilton didn’t ultimately drive the runner home, but kudos to the broadcast for making a point that was neither obvious nor stupid. What you see is Hamilton’s bat. What you don’t see is the ball, but you’re going to see the ball after I tell you where to look. Look at the front of home plate. Look a little above it, at the white streak angling up toward Hamilton’s right shin. That’s the baseball. That’s the baseball returning to the air from the ground. Hamilton missed the ball by a shin length. I don’t know how many Altuves that is, but it’s more than the margin by which a hitter wants to miss the baseball, which is 0.0 Altuves. Real quick, and unrelated to the at-bat: this is how the Cincinnati broadcast began. You recognize the idea, because a lot of broadcasts have weird introductory shit like this, but, what in the hell is going on? Is the stadium supposed to be a Transformer? If so, what is the stadium, when it is not a stadium? Why are fans crowding so close to it? Presumably they know that this happens — it would be challenging to keep this a secret. Literally interpreted, why was so much money spent to build the Reds a Transformer ballpark? Couldn’t they have built an ordinary ballpark and then put the savings toward player payroll? Maybe then the Reds would’ve done literally anything this past offseason. Less literally interpreted, how has this sort of animation become an American broadcast norm? Who was first in a room and suggested “let’s animate a robotic ballpark and intimidate the shit out of people in the process”? Why are signs exploding through a brick wall? Why is anything exploding? Why special effects? Why these special effects? Why is Fox so god damn obsessed with robotics? How is this life? At what point will anyone in charge be like, wait, hold on a second, this is insane, why are we doing this. If the idea is to get the viewer’s heart pumping in advance of a sporting event, maybe recall that in this case the sporting event in question is a regular-season baseball game in April. And there are different ways to command attention. Why so much whirring and girders 4 Batter: Jordan Zimmermann Pitcher: Brad Hand Date: April 14 Location: 38.4 inches from center of zone One thing I am most certainly not is a good dancer. But I am pretty light on my feet, and I long ago mastered the ability to turn a misstep into something more graceful. Sometimes, I might hop, sometimes I might twist — the movement varies, but it kicks in instantaneously if I stumble over something. I remember in school I was walking out of class, and I saw this girl Lauren, who I liked quite a bit. I tripped on the top step coming out of the classroom, but I managed to turn it into a slow, controlled spin, and Lauren came up and remarked, “nice move.” It made my whole week and I obviously still remember it today. Anyway what I’m getting at is that it’s nice to see that Jordan Zimmermann is also a huge dork who stumbles too much. Brad Hand Greg Legg Barry Foote Rollie Fingers Toe Nash Ed Head Rock Shoulders Roy Face (Your turn) Jordan Zimmermann was no dummy. He’d been there before, and he’d seen others be there before. He knew he was entitled to run to first base, but he couldn’t even count the number of times he’d seen a hitter thrown out trying. Run to first and it’s an almost automatic out. With the ball so close, the catcher would have plenty of time to retrieve it and make a comfortable throw 90 feet down the line. But what if, Zimmermann thought, the catcher couldn’t get to the baseball in the first place? Zimmermann recalled his high-school wrestling training. Jarrod Saltalamacchia would be unprepared, and Zimmermann would have to make that work to his advantage. 3 Batter: Josh Reddick Pitcher: Cody Allen Date: April 2 Location: 38.9 inches from center of zone As the play carried out in predictable fashion, the Oakland broadcast remarked that one could see why the Indians were trying Carlos Santana at third base. As shown by the block, Santana has some quick instincts and the ability to knock a short-hop down with his glove. What the Oakland broadcasters ignored was that, as Santana moved his glove, he shifted his entire body out of the way like the baseball was on fire and his body was gasoline. Santana waved at the baseball even while wearing full body armor and knowing what the baseball was going to do. Santana’s below-average at third in DRS. I think you can get a good idea of Reddick’s offensive profile, just by watching this one ugly whiff. He’s pull-happy, with little consideration given to the opposite field. His best spot is down and in, where he can get extended and get the bat head out in front of the baseball, and yet his discipline leaves much to be desired, limiting his ceiling. He probably gets tied up by good fastballs and is vulnerable to lefty-on-lefty showdowns. You’d think Reddick connects often enough for his power to make up for some of his shortcomings. And all that would be correct, except for the power part. Apparently Josh Reddick doesn’t have power anymore. He just has this .gif and 80% singles. Reddick was thrown out running to first. It was an easy play, so there wasn’t any controversy, but maybe in retrospect the umpire was a little too happy to see the Indians succeed. Fist pumps are for fans, blue. Maybe baseball does have it out for the A’s. 2 Batter: Jason Heyward Pitcher: Will Smith Date: March 31 Location: 43.1 inches from center of zone Describing the action using only Will Smith lyrics from the Big Willie Style album: Cause you got to have cheese for the summer Cameras zoom, on the impending doom My eyes roll in my head Even though I’m real shy, real shy I attempt to look my best for you Now as a man there’s certain things I’m lackin’, for sure It’s a chase we gotta make together, forever My mom said the lynch pin of love is trust I wanna stay with you forever And I’m a papa, my son Trey, haha Livin’ lovin’, lovin’ livin’, it’s all good I’m lovin’ livin’, it’s all good You got your dads ears an all I gotta study just to keep with the changin’ times 101 Dalmations on your CD-ROM See me, I’m tryin to pretend I know On my PC where that CD go Bring it Whoo Uhh, uhh, uhh, uhh (Hoo cah cah) Hah hah, hah hah Bicka bicka bow bow bow Bicka bow bow bump bump What, what, what, what (Hah hah hah hah) Uhh He didn’t rap a lot about baseball Once you notice the umpire’s hand, you can only notice the umpire’s hand. Heyward, clearly, didn’t pick up on what was coming, or else he wouldn’t have swung. But Smith and Jonathan Lucroy must’ve tipped the pitch to the umpire, because he knew the ball was going to the dirt and he knew full well where the ball could go after the dirt. It’s funnier if you imagine that Lucroy got crossed up by a 100 mile-per-hour fastball. This is what that screenshot would look like. This is also what it would look like to photoshop a baseball into an image of Lucroy catching a cannonball in his loins. During a baseball game. With Jason Heyward swinging at the cannonball. Probably shouldn’t swing at cannonballs. I imagine, best-case scenario, it’s pure hell for the hamate bone. Umpire: Don’t forget to throw to first. Lucroy: Thanks, helpful umpire! 1 Batter: Alfonso Soriano Pitcher: Sergio Santos Date: April 5 Location: 50.8 inches from center of zone There is, I think, an important point to understand with pitchers. Let’s use the slider as an example. It’s not like there are guys with good sliders and guys with bad sliders. Every pitcher in baseball, more or less, is capable of throwing a good slider. The whole issue is the consistency and frequency. If a prospect throws a good slider, it doesn’t mean he has a good slider — it means he threw a good slider, and you need to see more of it before you can be sure. There’s knowing how to throw a pitch, and there’s being able to harness it, and it’s the second bit that turns a potential weapon into something reliable. Sergio Santos, it could be said, throws a good slider, because he throws good sliders more often than he throws bad sliders. In this case, he threw a bad slider. It doesn’t mean Santos has a bad slider. It means he isn’t perfect, with his slider. And Soriano swung at the bad slider anyway because Alfonso Soriano hasn’t learned a single lesson in 15 years. All Santos did was not throw the ball literally backwards. Soriano took care of the rest. Now, this is confusing. This is a screenshot of the pitch to Soriano, but the baseball is completely hidden. It could be anywhere behind Santos’ leg, or butt, or midsection, or shoulders. The one thing all those locations have in common is they’re bad locations for a baseball that a hitter has decided to swing at. The one thing we know for sure is that the baseball isn’t visible. What is visible is Soriano’s entire reasonable hitting zone. Alfonso Soriano has 410 career home runs and 2,070 career base hits. In Soriano’s defense, the ball looked like it could’ve been a strike when it was literally just out of the pitcher’s hand, not yet having decided upon a trajectory.