The Worst of the Best: The Week’s Wildest Swings by Jeff Sullivan June 14, 2013 Hi! This is a post. You either want to read it or you don’t. This is last week’s edition of this post. You either wanted to read it or you didn’t. I really don’t care what you decided because I get paid just the same, and I’m just in it for the big FanGraphs take-home. If you don’t read these posts, you’re not reading this introduction. This introduction is selective for those of you who follow this series, so, thanks for your support. You are wasting your time reading this paragraph. Here come the five wildest swings, from between June 7 and June 13. These are the swings at pitches that PITCHf/x says were the furthest from the center of the strike zone, which is one way of measuring this. There are other ways, but this is by far the easiest for me to investigate every Friday. In theory I exclude hit-and-run swings, but I have yet to encounter one. In practice I exclude checked swings, and that always makes this post take an extra while, because turns out there are a lot of those at really wild pitches. These posts consequently go up late, meaning you might well be reading this on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday. If it’s a weekend, don’t complain about the .gifs. You’re not in a rush. Slow down, take a breath, we don’t take enough breaths. Onward! 5 Batter: Michael McKenry Pitcher: Jean Machi Date: June 13 Location: 34.7 inches from center of zone Look at what we can observe from this .gif. It’s late in a game between the contending Giants and the contending Pirates. The Pirates have the bases loaded and two outs when McKenry whiffs at a breaking ball, and then McKenry looks skyward, frustrated with himself. Machi slams his glove in celebration and points to the heavens, having escaped a major jam. The guy in white in the first row behind home plate appears to slap his leg or something like that after being let down. Another fan behind home plate sees the whiff and just looks up, trying to find serenity in a mental cloud of bad words. There’s intensity and emotion afoot, and it’s almost enough for you to forget that the score is nine to nothing. In the course of writing these posts, I’ve grown accustomed to stumbling upon Clint Barmes. Barmes seems to make a bit of a habit of swinging at breaking balls way outside, thrown by righties, and that’s one of the reasons why Barmes is a really bad hitter. Or, it’s indicative of the main reason, I don’t know, you can analyze this as deeply as you feel like. On this day, for the Pirates, Barmes had the game off. Jordy Mercer started in his place at shortstop. But McKenry took a classic Barmes two-strike swing. Genetically, Clint Barmes didn’t play. In another sense, he basically did. And Mercer went 0-for-3. The Pirates can’t shake themselves of Clint Barmes, even when they try. 4 Batter: Tim Hudson Pitcher: Andrew Cashner Date: June 11 Location: 34.9 inches from center of zone Observation #1: bad swing, Tim Hudson! Observation #2: way to walk into an out and then walk into the out again, Tim Hudson! Observation #3: I wonder if Andrew Cashner is another guy like Dan Haren where they look really weird and uncomfortable in short sleeves. Cashner doesn’t quite measure up to Haren in this regard, but to me, it’s close. Cashner, at least, needs long sleeves rolled up to the elbows. This isn’t a look he’d ever choose on his own. Maybe this is why Cashner has spent so much time injured. The less he plays, the less he has to wear short sleeves. Observation #4: guy just getting back to seat behind home plate at the end of a half-inning. Observation #5: do any of those fans actually give a hoot? Like, at all? It’s a one-run game in the seventh inning! Observation #6: Hudson seems almost annoyed and inconvenienced by the tag. “Please get out of my way, you can have the out, you don’t need to fulfill the rest of the out, you can just have it.” It feels a little dirty to include pitchers on this list, even pitchers who aren’t completely embarrassing hitters, like Tim Hudson. They’re not trained to hit very well, so of course they’re going to be over-represented on a list of the worst swings of the week. But then, they do hit, and their plate appearances do count, and they do take some really ugly hacks a lot of the time, so I think the way you feel about pitchers showing up on this list mirrors the way you feel about pitchers having to hit in general. If you support the DH, you might feel like pitchers should be excluded, since they can’t and shouldn’t hit. If you’re all about NL superiority, you don’t see the problem. One thing’s for sure: if you have a strong opinion about the designated hitter, shut up about it, you’re obnoxious. You are probably very opinionated about many things, and that’s an off-putting quality. People don’t misunderstand you. People understand you. That’s precisely why people try to stay away from you. 3 Batter: Colby Rasmus Pitcher: Yu Darvish Date: June 13 Location: 35.4 inches from center of zone This is one of those swings that’s sneaky-bad. In these lists, we see countless whiffs at offspeed pitches down in the dirt. This belongs in that category, but notice that this is in a 1-and-0 count, and Rasmus doesn’t even take a confident hack. Rasmus looks entirely defensive when he’s the guy who’s supposed to be in control, but now that I think about it, to be honest, I don’t know who could possibly stand confidently in there against Yu Darvish. It’s a miracle to me he’s allowed home runs. It’s a miracle to me he’s allowed hits. Darvish has a career .281 BABIP and a normal HR/FB%. He has an ERA. I think there’s something to be written about the home runs Darvish has allowed, and how they were possible, given the quality and diversity of Darvish’s repertoire. I haven’t quite figured out the angle, but now it’s out there for anyone else. Anyhow, to get back on track, Colby Rasmus does this a lot. It’s not getting better and he’s not getting younger. During this plate appearance, the Toronto broadcast was going on about how Darvish isn’t much of a fastball pitcher, even though he possesses a fastball that sits easily in the mid-90s. Buck Martinez seemed put off by Darvish pitching backwards, and repeated the old bromide about the necessity of pitching off your heater. Darvish, definitely, throws more offspeed stuff than most starting pitchers. He has more weapons than most starting pitchers, and the threat of the fastball is always present. As Martinez was talking, Rasmus struck out on an offspeed pitch. The broadcast even noted Darvish’s league-leading strikeout total. He’s averaging almost seven innings a start. It wasn’t about putting two and two together. It was about putting one and one together, and instead of connecting the dots, Buck Martinez drew a crooked line in the opposite direction and then swallowed the crayon. You can’t evaluate a baseball player based on the way that he looks. It can’t be done, even though scouts have fallen in love with the concept. Baseball players aren’t bananas. But, sometimes, you can’t shut off the way your mind works, and your mind is always searching for explanations. Like, here, the TV feed showed Rasmus flailing at a breaking ball, then it cut to an image of Rasmus’ face, and for a moment it was like, oh, yeah, that makes sense. That guy probably makes bad decisions a lot. 2 Batter: Manny Corpas Pitcher: Erik Davis Date: June 11 Location: 35.9 inches from center of zone Here, not only do we have a pitcher swinging the bat — we have a relief pitcher swinging the bat. We have a relief pitcher swinging the bat, and looking like it. Initially, Corpas was going to be hit for. Then the batter in front of Corpas singled, and Corpas was sent up there in a sacrifice situation. Walt Weiss didn’t want to burn a position player if he didn’t have to. But the runner from first wound up advancing, making it no longer a sacrifice situation, making it a swing-away situation. Corpas did that, and the above happened. This was in a 1-and-1 count, and here is the previous pitch thrown by whoever Erik Davis is: I don’t know what compelled Corpas to swing at the third pitch, after taking the second, and maybe it had something to do with the fact that suddenly there was a runner 90 feet away. Corpas inherited a sacrifice opportunity, and wound up in a run-scoring opportunity. Maybe Corpas fancied himself a potential hero, and maybe he thought he could get his first career RBI. He should not have thought these things. Corpas’ job should’ve been nothing. He should’ve done nothing, and just let Erik Davis do whatever he would do until the plate appearance was over. From the Rockies broadcast: Goodman: Now it’s an RBI situation, the infield’s in, and you know it’s not a starting pitcher, you go okay, Chacin, he handles the bat pretty well. Manny never swings a bat. Frazier: Right, exactly. Frazier: Watch him hit one off the wall. Corpas: /swings Frazier: uhh Goodman: Haha, not with that…uh…that’s a swing. Corpas felt an appropriate amount of shame: Here’s the incredible thing. Corpas came up with a runner on first. On the first pitch, the Rockies attempted a hit-and-run, and Corpas swung and missed, but the runner made it safely to second anyway. The next pitch was wild, and the runner advanced to third. The next pitch was also pretty wild, and Corpas whiffed, and the ball nearly got past the catcher. Had that happened, the runner, presumably, would’ve trotted home. Corpas struck out on the next pitch, but we came that close to a runner advancing 270 feet and scoring during Corpas’ plate appearance, thanks not at all to Corpas himself. As is, the runner advanced 180 feet without Corpas’ help, so if the ends justify the means, for Corpas, that was a job well done. He went up trying to move the runner 90 feet, and the runner went twice as far. 1 Batter: Starling Marte Pitcher: Edwin Jackson Date: June 9 Location: 39.7 inches from center of zone The thing about baseball instincts is that a lot of it isn’t actually about instincts. It’s about repetition, allowing a certain behavior to just come naturally without having to think about it. It’s also about preparation, getting ready for different potential outcomes before a ball is thrown. A fielder who gets a good first step was prepared before the pitch, and he knows what different balls in play look like off the bat because he’s seen a lot of them. A pitcher who’s awesome about sequencing knows going in what the batter’s going to expect, and how he can take advantage of that. Here, Marte swings at a two-strike breaking ball in the dirt, and immediately he sprints down to first. Frequently, in these situations, the batter will pause, if only for a moment. Marte started running right away, and he made the play at first awful close. Some would say Marte showed good baseball instincts, trying to take advantage of what would otherwise be an out. But this was either because Marte has done this so much it’s coming naturally now, or he mentally prepared himself for what to do if he chased a terrible pitch. Ultimately, it’s more good than bad that Marte almost reached first base safely, but this is one of those cases where you watch the hitter and think “he did that too well.” If you show me a batter who’s good about immediately running to first on dropped third strikes, I’m not going to feel real good about that batter’s discipline. Applied to beer, “grab some Buds” suggests you should grab multiple Budweisers. Probably at least three of them, depending on how you interpret “some” versus “few” and “several.” Like all companies, by law they’ll encourage you to drink responsibly, but here they’re telling you to have multiple beers at a time. Applied not to beer, “grab some buds” suggests you should grab multiple friends. Who grabs their friends? People who don’t want to have friends anymore, that’s who. “Grab some buds. Just get on in there. Really feel ’em up.” Maybe instead of “grab,” try “have”? Better yet, how about “appreciate”? Everyone likes to be appreciated. Umpire: You’re the man, Edwin! Jackson: Thanks! The Pirates’ first-base coach is Rick Sofield. Here he observes Marte getting thrown out, and when the umpire signals the out, Sofield applauds. Maybe you could say he’s applauding Marte’s effort, getting down the line that fast and turning an out almost into a baserunner. Or maybe he waits until Marte turns around and claps in his face, claps in approval, claps about Marte deserving to be out after taking such a wild and terrible hack. Maybe Sofield doesn’t have the Pirates’ best interests at heart at all. Maybe he’s a bitter, cynical old ass. When you start to see that as sarcastic applause, you can’t unsee it that way. I guess the Pirates would be a pretty sarcastic organization, considering.