The Worst of the Best: The Week’s Wildest Swings by Jeff Sullivan June 21, 2013 Hey there, Internet users, and welcome to the second part of the 11th edition of The Worst Of The Best. This is the second part of the tenth edition, from last Friday, which you might have already read. If you haven’t already read it, maybe go ahead and keep it that way because I can never predict when I’m going to have to start recycling jokes and other material. Every single week I start conducting my research and I worry that I’m not going to have anything to say. Every single week so far, words have produced themselves, but I don’t know how it happens so I can’t just take it for granted. As I type this, I’m nervous. I’m nervous about whatever is going to happen down below. What if it sucks? This is where we look at bad swings, which basically means this is where we look at two-strike swings at breaking balls in the dirt. Exceptions are special, but they’re also rare, which is what makes them exceptions. I am looking forward to showing you something about a particular matchup, but I won’t spoil the surprise in the introduction. You should also know that I’m writing this in an aggravated mood, because a bunch of the swings I looked at on video wound up being checked swings and I exclude those and that drives me crazy because it’s lost time. Stop going halfsies, hitters. You make my Fridays worse. The window examined: June 14 through June 20. Let’s look at some fools. 5 Batter: Yasiel Puig Pitcher: Mark Melancon Date: June 16 Location: 32.6 inches from center of zone Melancon throws this curveball, see. Likes it in two-strike situations. It’s a curve that dies, that lands near the plate, and I’ve seen a lot of Melancon when researching the wildest pitches. The curve is why, and you can expect to see him some more the rest of the year. You can also expect to see him some more on the lists of the wildest swings, because he throws that curveball for a reason — it’s unhittable but it can induce fruitless and futile swings. Melancon’s curve makes him destined to show up on both lists, and maybe that means someday I’ll have something else interesting to say about Mark Melancon. Right now all I’ve got is that he throws this curveball and he looks like someone who likes baseball but isn’t very good at it himself. He looks like he’d be comfortable in polo shirts. Also I guess this should be about Puig and not Melancon, so, hey, in case you hadn’t noticed, Puig still hasn’t drawn an unintentional walk. There’s nothing to complain about when a guy is running a four-digit OPS, and the walks will come when Puig gets pitched around, but if you want a thing to worry about, that’s it. The over-aggressiveness. Yasiel Puig is probably obnoxious in crowded parking lots. So here’s an interesting thing. Puig whiffed at strike three, and took off, having become an eligible baserunner due to the ball not being caught cleanly. He was thrown out in routine fashion, but not without some kind of incident. That’s Puig looking somewhere on his way to first base. It’s not clear what he’s looking at. None of the Pirates seemed to be talking trash. Gaby Sanchez hardly even acknowledged Puig’s existence. But something got on Puig’s nerves. Now Puig is turned around. It’s not like he’s disputing the umpire’s call, since he was thrown out easily and unquestionably. Sanchez isn’t looking at him. No one else is in the picture. Puig was annoyed. Unclear, and unremarked upon by either broadcast. Has anybody considered the possibility that Yasiel Puig might have something of a short temper? Might there be a correlation between the over-aggressive and the over-aggressive? Puig, they say, gives the Dodgers an edge, but that can mean a few things, and it does mean a few things, some good and some bad. Puig seems to be an argumentative fellow, and though there are plenty of adjustments he might make going forward — he’s still brand new, remember — personalities seldom change much, once they get to a point. Puig, probably, is going to get thrown at more than average. So, why was Puig annoyed? It doesn’t seem like Sanchez said anything. I don’t know what the catcher might’ve done, especially since he was so far away when Puig first turned. I can’t even imagine Melancon raising his voice. By process of elimination, I’ve identified this as the cause of Yasiel Puig’s instant anger: You’re not the only guy who gets to celebrate, Yasiel Puig. And while, sure, this is obnoxious, you’re in America now. The kids suck here. 4 Batter: Robinson Cano Pitcher: Matt Moore Date: June 20 Location: 32.8 inches from center of zone This happened with one strike, and not two. This happened with the bases loaded, with Cano representing the tying run. This, taken as a simple bad swing, is irresponsible hitting. But all of the runners moved up on the play, with the guy from third base coming all the way home. Usually, if you take a miserable hack, you’re going to be a little embarrassed, because everyone saw and now everyone’s talking about it. But Cano got his hack hidden within a run-scoring event sequence, meaning people thought about the swing for about half a second before thinking about the runners instead. There is no good time for a swing like this, but there is a least bad time, and Cano might’ve found it. Though Cano screwed up, on paper the Rays screwed up worse, and people are only going to talk about the one biggest screw-up. This plate appearance ended with a sacrifice fly, as Cano made an out but the runners moved up, one trimming the deficit to 4-2. It’s called a sacrifice fly out instead of a fly out because in theory Cano gave himself up to help his baserunning teammates. Nevermind that the best thing he could’ve done for them was drive them both home, and buy them cakes. There are sacrifice outs and selfish outs, and Cano’s wasn’t selfish. Given that a run scored on strike two, now, might we want to consider that Cano also registered a sacrifice whiff? Cano’s situation was made worse, but the situation of his teammates was improved, and we can’t know for sure that the ball would’ve gotten away had Cano kept the bat on his shoulder. Should we chart sacrifice whiffs? Who would be the league leader in sacrifice whiffs? Current leader, based on one observation: Robinson Cano. The argument against keeping track of sacrifice whiffs is that this is stupid. 3 Batter: Robinson Cano Pitcher: Matt Moore Date: June 20 Location: 32.8 inches from center of zone You better believe it! Moore and Cano in consecutive at-bats! Here, we see Cano striking out for the second out of the inning. We also see Cano thinking it’s the third out of the inning, which might be our first indication that Cano’s head wasn’t really in it, which might explain how this happened. You can tell Cano thought it was the third out because he started to undress, and hitters always undress after the third out, and inning breaks are timed and limited because if they went on forever hitters would just end up completely naked. They would systematically remove all of their clothing, and then a team employee would have to come over and hand them back all of their clothing. God bless the limited-duration inning breaks. Baseball’s just fine without casual, inexplicable nudity. This is a two-strike whiff at a pitch in the dirt. It will not be — and is indeed not — caught cleanly. Cano will become an eligible baserunner. The umpire, ever helpful, signals to Cano that he is free to try to run to first base. It’s in the rules! And though maybe it’ll be an easy, routine out, it’ll at least be less easy than just standing still and taking your clothes off. You know what makes sac bunt run-expectancy calculations complicated? The frequency of defensive misplays. Sometimes, a sac bunt leads to no outs because the defenders make a mistake. “Make them make a play,” basically, because some shot is better than no shot. If Cano does nothing, he’ll be out. If Cano runs, he’ll probably be out, but he might be safe, and nothing worse could happen. It’s not like there’s an extra out to be gained. The umpire signals to Cano, and Cano looks right at the umpire. Cano goes nowhere and takes his clothes off. The umpire was just trying to help. Cano didn’t want his help. Cano consciously decided against following the umpire’s friendly and helpful advice. The umpire stands, suddenly helpless and feeling rejected. The umpire takes pleasure in this. Cano takes pleasure, too, the sort of pleasure you get out of knowingly doing the wrong thing when you’re in a mood. We don’t lash out because it’s in anyone’s best long-term interests; we lash out because it feels good at the time and in the moment we’re blind to the consequences. Cano lashed out by looking the umpire in the face and disobeying him. Cano looks stupid to observers, but everyone who’s in a mood looks stupid to observers. When you’re in a mood, you are stupid, and you just don’t know it. Or you do know it and you still act stupid anyway. Hell is normal life and negative emotions. 2 Batter: Neil Walker Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw Date: June 15 Location: 32.8 inches from center of zone Initially I almost excluded this because it looked like a checked swing, and I’d encountered a steady stream of checked swings. Then I realized it was just a weird-looking mostly-full swing, which is why you’re reading this paragraph and looking at that .gif. It’s a casual, less-than-max-effort swing that Walker attempts. He then takes off for first base, like he’s allowed to do, but instead of sprinting for a couple of seconds, he jogs like this is a cool-down lap. Neil Walker doesn’t exist within the hustle and bustle of today’s American society. Walker goes at his own easy pace, at every moment of every day, and though friends make fun of him behind his back for his mellow and non-ambitious attitude, secretly, they’re all envious of Walker’s ability to stay composed and within himself no matter the circumstances. Walker always makes himself breakfast and wants to have a good long chat. “We don’t have the time,” say his friends. Walker has the time. Walker always has the time for a good long chat. See that’s why his name is Neil “Walker” not Neil “Runner”. Neil is always “walking” through life while those around him sprint. Neil doesn’t understand why everyone’s in a hurry to get to the finish line. The course is so beautiful. Also, geez, what a bad baseball swing. 1 Batter: Trevor Crowe Pitcher: Nate Jones Date: June 17 Location: 33.0 inches from center of zone I get frustrated when I encounter checked swings at pitches in the dirt, because it takes time to look them up and these things already take a while to produce. A checked swing is the result of a hitter feeling regret in the process of his swing attempt. At almost every bad swing, I imagine the hitter feels some regret. He just usually can’t stop himself. Trevor Crowe, though, doesn’t seem to feel any regret in the least. This is the very opposite of a checked swing at a bad pitch — this is a full-confidence swing at a bad pitch, and when it’s over, Crowe pauses for an instant to realize he didn’t beat the snot out of the ball and send it into the right-field bleachers. “I’m gonna get you, pitch!” “Whoa how did that happen?” Crowe: Dang Crowe: But wait! Crowe: I can run to first! Crowe: I can make something out of this! Crowe: Sure, maybe it’s a long shot Crowe: But first base is only 90 feet away Crowe: Crowe: as the Crowe flies. Crowe: /puts on sunglasses Umpire: Maybe you would’ve made it if you didn’t put on those sunglasses.