The Worst of the Best: The Week’s Wildest Swings by Jeff Sullivan May 31, 2013 Hey there, people I’ve almost certainly never met before in my life, and welcome to the second part of the eighth edition of The Worst Of The Best. This right here is a link to the second part of the seventh edition, from last Friday. Here’s a link to all of the posts in the series, if you want something organized. In the earlier post today, a probably attractive commenter asked why I even bother with these introductions, instead of just getting right to the list. There are a few reasons! One, these posts include HTML jumps, and we don’t want to have .gifs right on the FanGraphs front page. We actually do care about load times. Two, because I never like to repeat introductions, I’m curious to see how I’ll be starting these things in September. I’m experimenting on myself. And three, it’s convenient to have a little explanation of what’s going on in each post, just in case someone is new to the series. Sure, I could just post a link to an explanation, but I hate links. The Internet relies too heavily on links. It’s more reader-friendly to provide all the necessary details in the same place. I care about you. We care about you. We’re going to talk about wild swings, or swings at pitches that weren’t close to being strikes. What you see below will be a top-five list of the wildest swings, from between May 24 – May 30. It’s based on PITCHf/x and there are screenshots and .gifs, albeit fewer images than in the wildest-pitches post. Eliminated are checked swings and swings on hit-and-runs, because I’m a scientist and these were scientific determinations. This week, I’m also providing for you a bonus! That’s one fewer bonus than last week, but one more bonus than you should rightfully expect. Cherish this. Off we go. BONUS This is a bonus because it’s not an actual swing. Nothing resembling a swing was ever attempted, nor does it seem like the act of swinging was even fleetingly considered. But in the books, this is a swing, because it is a foul ball. “Can you ever swing without swinging?” would be a terrible riddle. “Kind of, yes,” would be an answer. We saw this last week, too. That’s twice in two weeks a pitcher has generated a foul ball by throwing a pitch accidentally over a batter’s head. Now, this isn’t unprecedented. Like I literally just said, we’ve seen this twice in two weeks. But this is outrageously uncommon. We’ve also twice recently seen double plays where it was determined that the first baseman caught the ball, even though the pitcher actually caught the ball when their outstretched gloves overlapped. That was a brand new one, to me. Baseball is a game featuring almost countless repetitions. So baseball is the game best equipped to showcase the improbable. With so many repetitions, almost anything can happen once or twice. I wonder how many times this has to happen to a batter before he learns to drop the bat on the ground when a ball’s coming over his head. The only thing we can say with certainty is that the answer isn’t “zero.” All eyes on Mike Napoli. Let me know what he does the next time a pitch is thrown over his head. If he props the bat up again, instead of dropping it, that’ll be meaningful. And that could open the door for pitchers to try to do this to him on purpose. It’s open season on Mike Napoli’s upright bat barrel! Go get it! It’s kind of like overhand bowling! 5 Batter: Eric Chavez Pitcher: Andrew Cashner Date: May 25 Location: 33.2 inches from center of zone There are three advertisements visible behind home plate, as Eric Chavez swings through an offspeed pitch in the dirt. One reads, simply, “Chase Field,” and maybe that doesn’t count as an advertisement, but you know what I mean. Chavez is featured here because he chased, when Cashner threw him a ball. Another is an ad for a local eye doctor, complete with convenient and memorable URL. If Chavez had a better eye, he probably wouldn’t have chased this delivery. Finally, we see a white logo on a red background, and text reading “University of Phoenix.” In 1996, Chavez was drafted by Oakland out of high school, so he never attended college. With swings like this one, Chavez might want to think about getting a higher degree. All of this, of course, is a reach, but the way it comes together is that Chase Field was making a timely and critical statement. That’s how Eric Chavez got trolled by a stadium, after a career of getting trolled by his own body. I just visited teameyedoc.com. It re-directs right to schwartzlaser.com. Featured are a pair of celebrity testimonials, from Grant Hill and Ice-T. Says Hill: “I couldn’t be happier with my 20/20 vision.” Says -T: “I can see again!” I was hoping this would lead me somewhere but it’s turned into a dead end. Taking a step back, why is the Diamondbacks logo on the advertisement? Why is it where it is, sized about the same as the rest of the letters on the board? That reads as “ASCHWARTZ.” How did nobody see this before the ad went up? Someone needs to go to an eye doctor! 4 Batter: Jonathan Lucroy Pitcher: Samuel Deduno Date: May 29 Location: 34.4 inches from center of zone There were two strikes on Lucroy, with a runner on third. This was a good opportunity for a low-away breaking ball, but the Twins would want to be cautious, lest the ball get in the dirt and lead to a run. You can’t call pitches the same way when a baserunner is just 90 feet away from scoring. We haven’t actually measured this yet, to my knowledge, but it’s on the big project board. With the right slider, Deduno could get Lucroy to swing without putting his own team in danger. But Deduno would have to be careful. Throw it too high or in, and it could get smashed. Throw it too low or out, and it could escape. Deduno threw a worse slider than he wanted to. He threw a bad slider, in this situation. The catcher had to make a desperation stab. Deduno started charging to home plate, anticipating a wild pitch. The two Twins players reacted as if Deduno screwed up. Lucroy swung anyway, screwing up more. This is exactly the sort of swing this whole post series is about. Deduno: Deduno there were two strikes? Deduno: Deduno that slider was out of the zone? Deduno: Deduno you couldn’t possibly have hit that pitch? Deduno: Deduno it was several inches off the very end of your bat, at full extension? Deduno: Deduno you’re out, now? Deduno: Deduno you’re out with a runner in scoring position? Deduno: Deduno the runner’s only 90 feet away? Deduno: Deduno: Deduno that? Lucroy: SHUT UP Based only on this .gif, my read is that Jonathan Lucroy is not ordinarily a happy man. He might come off that way, and he might not be unhappy, but from time to time he’s probably plagued by regret and self-doubt. He’s probably an easy worrier, and frequently overwhelmed, and even his smiles might look sad in his eyes. Jonathan Lucroy doesn’t know how he got to 26, and he feels like he’s 26 going on 50. When his mind is clear, Lucroy has the right perspective. He has the right appreciation, and he has the right insight. His mind is seldom clear, and the world doesn’t stop just to let him clear it. 3 Batter: Lance Berkman Pitcher: David Hernandez Date: May 27 Location: 36.9 inches from center of zone As backwards as this is, I’m left kind of impressed by Lance Berkman. Yeah, he swung at a ball in the dirt and got struck out in a hurry. He’s featured right here, on this list, and this is a list of mistakes. Berkman would love to have this swing and this at-bat back. But look at the swing itself. It’s so quick, so smooth, so level. And now notice the timing. Berkman was right on the velocity of this pitch. He had it timed, and he swung with excellent balance. He just thought the baseball would be in a different place. That’s no small error, but somehow Berkman can strike out without taking a ball and still remind everyone that he’s one of the best hitters of his generation. Or, remind me. He reminded me. And in fairness, I was looking desperately for something to say about this .gif. I hope that all worked. But seriously, the worst OBP Lance Berkman has ever posted was .368. Juan Gonzalez beat .368 once. His worst wRC+ was 114, and he’s never walked less often than once per nine plate appearances or so. Berkman was drafted one pick after Jason Dellaero, two picks after Brandon Larson, three picks after Kyle Peterson, four picks after Aaron Akin, and five picks after Chris Enochs. He shredded the minors, and he shredded the majors, and though Berkman is going to be a borderline Hall-of-Fame candidate when his playing days are through, he’s had that ability, and he’s still more productive than most with a 37-year-old body that plays older than that. Berkman is a hell of a success story, making this pitch a success story for David Hernandez. It’s good for pitchers’ egos to pretend like the odds are against them instead of very greatly for them. Outs are so easy to come by, relative to non-outs. 2 Batter: Ryan Flaherty Pitcher: Jordan Zimmermann Date: May 29 Location: 40.7 inches from center of zone There’s a lot that’s going on here in a short span of time. Flaherty thinks to swing. Then he thinks better of it, but it’s too late to stop. Then he pauses as if he thinks he might have achieved a foul tip. Then he notices that he’s struck out, but the ball is on the ground. Then he starts to run, then he notices that the ball is right in front of him. Then he stops where he is, then he looks up, annoyed and resigned. All this in just a few seconds. This is a .gif of a whole lot of Ryan Flaherty indecision, and in a way, it’s kind of like watching the baseball equivalent of a guy with a stuttering problem. Throughout the .gif I can hear Flaherty doing a Hugh Grant impression. It’s like, “do something already!” and then the catcher just gets impatient and cuts Flaherty off. The important thing is that I know what I mean by this paragraph. I don’t think I explained it well. Ryan Flaherty missed this pitch, swinging this bat. Based on the image, Ryan Flaherty would’ve missed this pitch swinging the bat factory. Flaherty: Is that really necessary? Suzuki: Actually yes. 1 Batter: Lance Berkman Pitcher: Oliver Perez Date: May 26 Location: 42.1 inches from center of zone 18 minutes. I went back and forth on this swing for 18 minutes. After 18 minutes, I decided to include it, but I’m still not sure if I made the right decision. As I always note in the introduction, I’m excluding checked swings from these lists. I like a swing to which a hitter fully commits. But a checked swing is subjective, and it’s all about gray areas. Some checked swings are more checked than others. Some are basically full swings without a wrap-around. This is not a full swing by Lance Berkman. But it’s basically a full swing, occupying the weird space between full and checked. There’s no question that he went too far before stopping himself. At one point the bat is more or less pointing back to Perez on the mound. Berkman held up, but he held up about as late as you can possibly hold up, and after 18 minutes I decided, what the hell, yeah, this belongs. It was agonizing. I don’t want to be wrong, because I don’t want to look like an idiot, but then I made my own rules and no one’s here to hold me accountable. No one’s job depends on this. No one’s tallying all of this up. No one cares if I include a borderline checked swing. This doesn’t matter. And still I agonized over the decision, and I remain unconvinced. I also agonized over a two-sentence email to my mother the other day. EVERYTHING IS IMPORTANT. This seems to be my brain’s guiding principle. That’s good, for things that are important. That’s obnoxious, for most things. I care so deeply about this. There is not one reason to. I’m not losing my marbles. I know exactly where they are. The Mariners are basically the Coors Light of baseball teams. Except that Coors Light is wildly popular, and always available, and cheap to consume. The Mariners are basically the somebody’s home-brewed approximation of Coors Light of baseball teams. The Rangers are the Speedway Stout of baseball teams. The Angels are Stella. The Marlins are a shattered glass Corona bottle.