The Worst of the Best: The Week(s)’s Wildest Swings by Jeff Sullivan August 2, 2013 Hi again, you same people that I greeted earlier, and welcome to the second part of this edition of The Worst Of The Best. Right here you can check out a whole section archive, featuring posts in this series all the way back to the first one, if you like these posts and don’t really care about the timeliness. You’ll notice that this post is going up pretty late in the day, especially for a Friday. Optimally, it would go up much much earlier. But the delay isn’t my fault — it’s actually, honestly, the fault of two old people from San Diego I’d never met before. And one other old person from San Diego I have. You don’t need to know the story, because it’s perilously uninteresting, and hardly FanGraphs-appropriate. Just take my word for it that this post is late because of the California elderly. Take my word for it and forgive me. Before, we looked at the five wildest pitches since the All-Star break, covering two weeks. Now we’re going to look at the five wildest swings, as has always followed. Next time we’ll get back to doing these on a weekly basis but for now just accept that I had to spend last Friday thinking instead about an incredibly boring trade deadline. The wildest swings are those swings at the pitches furthest from the center of the strike zone, and for this post I excluded a check-swing strike by Yan Gomes, and another by Brett Pill. What’s left are five full swings, each of them humiliating. Are you ready to see them? You’re ready to see them. This requires like literally zero preparation on your part. In that regard, aren’t you lucky. 5 Batter: Junior Lake Pitcher: Ricky Nolasco Date: August 1 Location: 39.1 inches from center of zone One of the neat things about sound-free visuals out of context is that I can pretend to see whatever I want and it doesn’t really matter what’s actually happening. For instance, what probably happened with Lake’s head is that he took a wild swing and his head jerked from the force of it all. This happens pretty often to hitters with unstable heads, and I know I used to see it all the time from Brendan Ryan. What’s fun to pretend, though, is that Lake looked up because he thought he murdered the pitch to deep left field. Then he didn’t see the ball, and he realized the ball was actually behind him, with his having missed it completely. Such foolishness! You might wonder, why would Lake look up thinking he hit the baseball, if he didn’t ever actually feel hitting the baseball? Because, I mean, you always feel it. Maybe he thought he hit it right off the sweet spot, and at that precise moment someone nearby struck a woodblock. Imagine the swing of going from thinking you hit a home run to realizing you just struck out. That’s got to be one of the very worst emotional swings, aside from those having to do with personal loss. This coming in a two-strike count, Lake followed by jogging down toward first as an eligible base-runner. That’s his right, because he swung and missed and the ball wasn’t caught cleanly. It’s right there in the rule book. But Lake certainly didn’t sprint down the line. He didn’t just turn around and submit to a tag, but by jogging instead of running, he made a mockery of the whole idea. The advantage of running is that you make the defense make a play, and maybe the catcher makes a throwing error. Lake jogged so slowly the Dodgers could’ve committed an error and still recovered with time to spare, and that might even be worse than not going to first at all. Nobody thinks they’re going to get to first safely. Everybody’s frustrated. You’re still expected to make an effort, not a cheap facsimile of an effort. Lake needs to get a better head on his shoulders, or, failing that, try to work on his own. I can’t tell if this paragraph is satire. Sometimes I really hate the effects of living in Portland. Here’s the consequence of those famous blown calls by Jim Joyce and Angel Hernandez. Lake was out. He struck out, and then he was easily thrown out at first base. Still, he jogged the whole way, and stood on first while removing his batting gloves. Lake stood there as if he were safe, because, maybe. Weirder things have happened, according to umpires, and, what if? It’s worth a shot. 4 Batter: Geovany Soto Pitcher: Ivan Nova Date: July 22 Location: 40.6 inches from center of zone I’m always interested by the idea of a catcher batting against a pitcher he used to catch. The catcher, it stands to reason, ought to be particularly familiar with the pitcher, with his strategies and with the ways in which his pitches move. So the catcher, it stands to reason, could have some advantage, outweighing the pitcher’s familiarity with the catcher’s batting style. There was a lot said about this back in 2010, when the Rangers had Bengie Molina and faced the Giants in the World Series. Molina had caught those guys, so what if Molina could impart some wisdom? What if Molina himself, at least, could seize an opportunity to do better than you’d think? There’s a lot here one could potentially examine, and it’s not like there would be no effect. There’s knowledge there, that there isn’t with other guys, and that can’t mean nothing. It’s probably worth noting though that Geovany Soto has never caught Ivan Nova so this is just a paragraph of unrelated musing. Pretty wild swing there by Soto. Most embarrassing possibility based on this screenshot The baseball bounced in the dirt right where that little dirt cloud is, and Soto still swung at the pitch and missed it because it was too far away. No big-league hitter should ever swing at that pitch, regardless of the circumstances. Most awesome possibility based on this screenshot Nova got the ball to the catcher on the fly, and Soto swung and missed at the pitch, as happens normally sometimes. The pitch is still pretty far outside. Meanwhile, as the pitch was being delivered, there sprouted in front of home plate the world’s tiniest volcano, in northeast Texas near the Oklahoma border. Look out! Volcanoes can build in size at an alarming rate, particularly when they’re new, and that which they erupt can be extremely hot! 3 Batter: Carlos Beltran Pitcher: Jordan Walden Date: July 28 Location: 42.1 inches from center of zone I’d just like to point out that this .gif begins with Jordan Walden in midair. Jordan Walden is the pitcher, the pitcher pitching to Carlos Beltran, in the game, and when Walden was pitching to Beltran, he made himself airborne. Of course, it’s pretty well-known by now that Walden’s delivery has that unusual quirk, because it’s always been there and Walden’s pitched for a few years. I remember writing about it in 2011, and it’s been the subject of much discussion. To a lot of people, it’s not new news. But, all right, you knew that Walden’s delivery had a hop. Do you appreciate that? Do you realize how weird and f***ed up that is? He jump-pitches! What is that! I’m basically prepared to excuse Carlos Beltran, as good as he is. I mean, put yourself in Beltran’s position. Beltran: I am going to hit this pitch Beltran: I am going to protect the plate and hit this pitch Beltran: /prepares to swing Beltran: holy f*** he jumped Beltran: what is that Beltran: /confused whiff Beltran: /contemplates everything If Walden owned a career 100% strikeout rate I’d probably be like “yeah”. Two-strike whiff, right? Ball not caught cleanly, right? So Beltran became an eligible base-runner, right? So he had to be tagged or thrown out at first, right? Prepare for a mystery. The world might never know what became of Carlos Beltran. Which is troubling, because pretty soon he’s set to become a free agent. Forget Biogenesis — this is what Major League Baseball ought to be investigating. 2 Batter: Michael Cuddyer Pitcher: John Axford Date: July 27 Location: 44.0 inches from center of zone I remember I was surprised when I found out Cuddyer was selected for the 2013 Home Run Derby. Not because Cuddyer sucks or anything; he’s just not a guy I think of when I think about entertaining dinger-hitters. Cuddyer’s one of those guys I mentally pencil in for a quiet, unremarkable OPS between .775 – .825, also known as Josh Willingham, or any of the best San Diego Padres. While no one really tuned in specifically for Cuddyer, though, he put on a decent show, and did well for himself in the competition. Unfortunately for Cuddyer, there were consequences. People have complained in the past that participating in the Derby can really mess with your swing. It’s a reason people have elected to sit out in the past. They felt like participating in the Derby would lead to an underwhelming second half. That rumor isn’t true. It’s an urban legend. It’s a baseball myth. The Derby didn’t screw with Michael Cuddyer’s swing. It just left him completely, helplessly stupid. Before the installation of the humidor, it probably would’ve made sense to swing at that pitch. It probably would’ve made sense to swing at every pitch. It probably would’ve made sense to swing at pick-off attempts. Sure, there was always the risk of swinging and missing — even in Coors, there were always swings and misses — but the dinger rate on contact was so high that the odds always favored aggressiveness. This is why that one day in Colorado all of the pitchers just stood on the mound and refused to throw any pitches and they had to call in the National Guard. Doubt the quality of Brian Bohanon’s stuff if you must, but don’t you ever doubt his courage. I’m not even — this is way too easy. Watch closely. That’s how wild that pitch was. That’s how surprising it was that somebody swung at it. That’s how much the result of that pitch was taken for granted. 1 Batter: Alfredo Figaro Pitcher: Edinson Volquez Date: July 25 Location: 48.4 inches from center of zone Sometimes, guys book it down to first, busting their asses even though they know they’re almost certainly going to be out. Sometimes, guys jog down to first, guys like Junior Lake, making some kind of effort without any real exertion or promise. Sometimes, guys give up and walk right to the dugout out of frustration or acknowledgment of the futile. Very rarely do you see a blend. Figaro gets a quick start out of his stance, when he sees the opportunity. He takes one aggressive step in the direction of the base, since he knows the ball wasn’t caught cleanly. Then he stops and promptly gives up. He doesn’t even make eye contact with anyone. He just decides suddenly “yeah, nope” and stares into the dugout while his out is made official. I remember in gym dodgeball, they’d line up the balls in the middle of the court, and they’d line up the teams at each baseline, and then at the whistle people would run to the middle to get the balls before the other guys. I used to take one aggressive step toward the middle before backing off and realizing there were people much faster and there wasn’t going to be any good reason for me to be out there empty-handed and exposed. Figaro wasn’t playing dodgeball, but the body language is exactly the same. I’m kind of an expert in reading athlete body language, like all journalists and broadcasters who cover the game. Say what you want about slot No. 1 going to a pitcher facing a pitcher, instead of there being a position player. I get it, it’s a little disappointing. We already expect pitchers as batters to suck. There’s a little less joy in this, maybe. But not for Edinson Volquez, not here. Volquez is the sole league leader in walks issued to pitchers. Volquez takes nothing for granted. Volquez celebrates and appreciates every success, because how many more successes will there be?