The Worst of the Best: The Week’s Wildest Swings by Jeff Sullivan June 7, 2013 Hello there, children, we are all children. From one child to another, I would like to welcome you to the second part of the ninth edition of The Worst Of The Best. Found here is the second part of the eighth edition, from last Friday. Found here is every post in the category, from the beginning to the present. Right now, this post isn’t in that section, as I write it. Right now, this post is in that section, as you read it. So, the section has changed, the section has grown. Does that mean the section is alive? According to some definitions, yes, and according to other definitions, no, the section does not possess life, that’s ridiculous. I am pleased to answer this question for you. Earlier this Friday, we examined the wildest pitches from the past week, and now we’ll examine the wildest swings, between May 31 and June 6. Just as the wildest pitches are the pitches furthest from the center of the strike zone, the wildest swings are those swings at pitches furthest from the center of the strike zone. It seems this past week was a little less wild than usual, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still have a top-five list of hitters looking like idiots, based on the PITCHf/x data and of course their own on-field actions. There are no checked swings, and there are no swings during hit-and-runs. Those swings don’t count and that’s the last word. Incidentally, two weeks ago I provided two bonuses. Last week, there was one bonus. This week, zero bonuses. What have we learned about bonuses? They are bonuses, and by definition they are not usual. Don’t be greedy. Now please enjoy this list, at no charge to you. 5 Batter: J.D. Martinez Pitcher: C.J. Wilson Date: June 2 Location: 31.6 inches from center of zone I’m not going to pretend that I don’t play favorites. Most wild pitches and wild swings take place in two-strike counts, when pitchers expand the zone and hitters cooperate. Most of them are breaking balls in the dirt, and that’s all well and good, but it kind of gets old after a while, and I’ve looked at a lot of these. I like a wild pitch in a different count, or that misses differently, be it way outside or way high. And I like a wild swing at something different, too, just to change it up. Above, we see J.D. Martinez swinging through a really low breaking ball, and that’s pretty familiar. But this wasn’t in a two-strike count — this was the first pitch of the at bat. This was a hitter getting truly fooled, because to swing at the first pitch, you have to think you see a fastball around the center, or an offspeed pitch around the center if you’re looking for it. Martinez screwed up for no reason, and recognizing such instances is the whole point of this series. Fun fact: in the sentence above, I initially typed “Martinez” as “Mariners.” Had I left it that way, in context, it wouldn’t have made any sense. Had I removed it from context, yeah. What did you think of this, also-goes-by-two-initials starting pitcher? Look at Wilson’s cheeks, and how they’re puffed out. He watched Martinez whiff, then he turned around and puffed out his cheeks. Either Wilson was stifling laughter, or he knew he screwed up and couldn’t believe he got away with it with a strike. That second one seems more likely, and it tells you something about Martinez’s attempt. Wilson threw a slider not at all where he wanted to, and Martinez swung and missed anyway. Yeah, that swing belongs in this feature. Alternatively, Wilson suddenly had a vomit-burp. Gross! There are a lot of ways in which umpires can be jerks. One of those ways is passive-aggressively dusting the plate to drive home the fact that you, the hitter, just swung at a pitch that kicked up dirt. “Sorry, I’m going to have to tend to this right away. Home plate is filthy, after that pitch, that you swung at.” /dust /dust dust dust More encouragingly for Martinez, how often do you truly get to say that you’re observing the learning process? I guess pretty often, if you’re raising young kids, but I imagine it’s incredibly satisfying and rewarding when they indicate to you that they’ve learned, either through knowledge or behavior. Let’s look at the next pitch of this at bat! J.D. Martinez is not a fool’s fool. He’s picking up what C.J. Wilson is putting down. Who says an advanced hitter is unlikely to develop considerably improved plate discipline? J.D. Martinez is never going to swing at another low slider in his life, and it all turned in a matter of seconds. That much I know, conclusively. 4 Batter: John Buck Pitcher: Jose Fernandez Date: June 1 Location: 31.7 inches from center of zone Sometimes, batters hang their heads in shame after they strike out, especially if they strike out against a pitcher’s pitch. This, without question, was Buck striking out on Fernandez’s pitch, but there’s no shame for Buck. It’s almost beautiful how smoothly and casually he treats the whole process, flipping the bat easily to himself as he strolls back to the dugout. Note that it’s easy to flip the bat to yourself, and it’s easy to walk forward, but it’s a lot more difficult to do both at the same time. Buck did it like he’s done it a million times before, mostly because he probably has. Buck strikes out and approaches the dugout as if to say, “welp what did you honestly expect?” That is I think hands-down the most “welp” bat flip. Immediately, Buck achieves peace. “Find your beach.” Right? It’s about visualizing your happy place. It’s about achieving a calm, comfortable, clear-headed state of mind. Nevermind that it’s a part of a Corona advertisement, as if Corona needs to advertise. It’s also just quality life advice, of critical importance in times of hardship and anxiety. Look at that flip of the bat. John Buck found his beach. John Buck lives on his beach. It’s his own private property, and there, there are no annoyances. There are strikeouts, sure, so many strikeouts, an unbelievable amount of strikeouts, but the strikeouts don’t annoy him. Who could worry about a strikeout? The water is right there. This has nothing to do with the pitch or the at bat, but the scene when I loaded the game on MLB.tv: I’ll try to give the guy some credit and assume he’s excited about next year’s No. 1 draft pick. “He’ll be great and ours, for almost four years!” 3 Batter: Ichiro Suzuki Pitcher: Jon Lester Date: May 31 Location: 32.4 inches from center of zone The more I watch this, the more I can’t believe this, even though I’ve seen Ichiro swing like this maybe hundreds of times. Once every game or two or three, Ichiro will look like the worst baseball player on the planet. Note that this was a 1-and-1 count, so there weren’t two strikes. Now look at Ichiro’s feet. I’ll break it down with screenshots: Ichiro preparing to swing, looking more or less normal. The ball is, I don’t know, somewhere. Ichiro looking like he’s playing tug-of-war with his bat against an invisible underground foe, perhaps not unlike a beast from Tremors. Ichiro has now leaped backwards in the batter’s box in the process of swinging. Compare the previous two screenshots. Two up, Ichiro is near the front of the box. Here, somehow, he’s wound up on the far edge, as if he were terrified of the ball and wanted to minimize his risk of getting hit. Sometimes, players move around within the box, depending on how they’re reading the pitcher and depending on the count. But they do that in between pitches, not actively during them. And nobody stands where Ichiro wound up standing. And Ichiro has turned completely around. In many places out there, young children have tried to model their games after Ichiro’s. To a person, all of those children suck at baseball. 2 Batter: John Buck Pitcher: Jordan Zimmermann Date: June 4 Location: 33.5 inches from center of zone It’s the Buckster again! This time, doing the same thing! Show up on this list once, and it’s hardly indicative of anything. Everyone takes an ugly hack every once in a while, and sometimes the pitcher just throws something amazing in the right situation. Joey Votto, I’m sure, has looked like a total idiot. It’s the reverse of how terrible players can occasionally look fantastic. Show up on this list more than once, and maybe that’s meaningful. Show up on this list more than once in the same week and people are going to get ideas. If John Buck were a young new-to-the-majors prospect, we might conclude that he has discipline and contact problems. John Buck is 32 and has more career strikeouts than Bryce Harper has career plate appearances. We don’t need these .gifs to inform our ideas. We already have an idea of John Buck. These .gifs suit it. That’s a visible bat and no visible baseball. You’ll note that first base was unoccupied, and you’ll note that the pitch was in the dirt and not caught cleanly. Buck, then, immediately became a live baserunner, and he busted his veteran ass: When you strike out swinging, you feel like you made an out. When you book it to first, it’s an act of desperation, an unlikely attempt to spin crap into gold. But as you dart out of the box, you have to be thinking, “maybe.” You have to be thinking it’s possible. And so I can’t imagine the torture of looking forward and seeing the baseball arrive cleanly, in front of you, in the first baseman’s glove. That’s the very moment at which all hope is extinguished. The swing is getting broken up with. The ball arriving at first is someone walking out the door. There’s no choice but to lick your wounds and try to find a newer, better plate appearance, one you might find more compatible. 1 Batter: Freddy Galvis Pitcher: Wily Peralta Date: June 1 Location: 33.6 inches from center of zone Yeah yeah, bad swing at two-strike offspeed pitch in the dirt. Futile attempt to run safely down to first base. We’ve been through this a million times before, and we’ll go through it a million more times before the end of the season. I don’t have anything interesting to say about Freddy Galvis. But, look in the second row, behind home plate. See the man in the light blue top, to the right side of the umpire from our perspective? Now watch him. Now watch him again. Is that man using two phones?? What the ad actually says is “a smarter way to buy a car,” as is made evident in the .gif. What the ad might say, if we didn’t have the .gif, is “a smarter way to be a car,” which would be of far greater interest. Would that mean the broadcast has a significant vehicle demographic? Would it be speaking to those talking and quirky Chevron cars? Would it be an ad from the future, in which we all become sentient cars? Would it be an ad that’s making a statement about how we spend so much time in our cars that we might as well be them? Would it be a statement about how much we pollute? Interesting questions, these, about an advertisement that doesn’t exist.