A Tribute to Last Year’s Hits Off the Ground

According to legend, Vladimir Guerrero once hit a home run off a pitch that bounced off the ground. According to similar legends, he hit more than one such home run. I haven’t actually been able to find any confirmation, myself, but I’ve been in possession of this alleged memory for years, and Guerrero was the kind of hitter who at least made you believe he was capable of such an extraordinary feat. I’m disinclined to doubt any story about Vladimir Guerrero, and we do, if nothing else, have video evidence of this, a single he hit off the ground against the Orioles in 2009. Guerrero was a free swinger, and a contact swinger, and when you put those two qualities together, you can see some incredible things.

Now, Guerrero last played in the majors in 2011. There’s certainly no one quite like him, and Pablo Sandoval might be the current game’s closest approximation. No one in baseball is capable of doing all the same things Guerrero did, but that doesn’t mean Guerrero’s departure marked the end of hits against pitches that bounce. From time to time, you still see a hitter get lucky after he’s chosen to be overaggressive, and below, let’s walk through all the hits from the 2013 season against pitches that first found the dirt.


You watch that in full speed and you think, okay, Dickerson just went down to get the pitch, and he pulled a line drive. Clearly, the pitch was down, but in the .gif above I don’t think anything looks particularly unusual. However, as is often the case, the miracle’s in the slow motion.


Harris had two strikes on Dickerson, so he thought he’d bounce a curveball to put him away. He did bounce a curveball, and he did get Dickerson to commit, so in that sense Harris’ execution was successful. Where the pitch bounced was even with the front of the box. Yet Dickerson made contact with the pitch. Fair contact. Hard contact. Dickerson wound up with a leadoff double, and the Rockies wound up with a five-run inning, and Harris was charged with four hits out of five batters. It’s crazy enough that Dickerson hit the baseball. Crazier still that he pulled a line drive into the corner.

And that’s it. That’s it for 2013, when it comes to hits off the ground. That’s also it for 2012, and that’s it for 2011 and 2010 as well. Dickerson’s was the only such hit in four years. The most recent hit on a lower pitch was the Guerrero single against the Orioles linked earlier on. PITCHf/x keeps track of pitch location at the front plane of home plate. A vertical coordinate of 0 implies the pitch bounced or would’ve bounced at the very front edge. A negative vertical coordinate implies the pitch bounced or would’ve bounced in front in the dirt. The pitch to Dickerson would’ve been five inches below the front of the plate, were it not for the ground getting in the way. The pitch to Guerrero would’ve been 6.6 inches below the front of the plate. In this way, Corey Dickerson channeled his inner Vladimir Guerrero, which is a part of him no one thought to exist.

Time for some stats. This past season, there were 367 swing attempts at pitches with a negative vertical coordinate. Of those 367 attempts, 354 resulted in whiffs, be they complete or checked. Another ten resulted in foul balls. This is a representative example of those:



That leaves three more attempts. One of them, of course, is Dickerson’s line-drive double. Two more bounced pitches were hit fair into play. Kurt Suzuki was responsible for one of them:


The other came off the bat of Mike Leake:



Two more checked swings, just with less fortunate results for the hitters. Dickerson was the only guy to hit one of these pitches fair with a full swing. He might’ve been the only guy to hit one of these pitches at all with a full swing. I only looked up half of the fouls, but all those swings were stopped in the middle. Corey Dickerson tried something dumb and did something exceptional. There might be no better on-field example of bad process/good result. And, from the other side, of good process/bad result. Analysts love to talk about the role of luck in baseball statistics, but sometimes that isn’t the right word to use. In this case, yeah, it would be.

Unless you believe that Dickerson was trying to do that. He wasn’t.

“It was a fluke thing,” [Dickerson] said. “I’ll take it any day.”

Manager Walt Weiss said he was joking before the game that “you can’t throw it too low for Corey.”

“But I didn’t think he could hit one on the bounce,” Weiss said. “I told him he hit it because it took a good hop.”

Of some additional interest:

“After it bounced and I hit it, it came off really good. It came off the sweet spot of the bat, I guess,” Dickerson said.

He said he’d gotten a hit on a bounced pitch once before, a single in the minors.

Dickerson’s was one of two doubles Harris allowed against lefties all season. It was the only extra-base hit he allowed after getting ahead 0-and-2. It pains me to think about how a hit like this could one day decide a game of actual consequence, because that would be devastating, but at the same time, it would be something historic. There are less improbable dumb ways to win or lose.

Corey Dickerson pulled a Vlad. He’s the first guy to really pull a Vlad since Vlad. Many have tried; only Dickerson has succeeded. Because, technically, that at-bat was successful.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

27 Responses to “A Tribute to Last Year’s Hits Off the Ground”

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  1. tz says:

    The total intentionalness factor for these swings is 100%. 100% of which came from Corey Dickerson.

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  2. DSC says:

    Ah, Vladimir. Not only did he make a lot of contact, he did get an average walk rate, and when he hit the ball, it flew away in fear. Have to love how he played to win, not to get paid.

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    • Warning Track Power says:

      Vlad did not have an average walk rate. Unless you don’t factor out his intentional walks, where he ranks fifth all-time. Vlad did several things well but taking walks was not one of those things.

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  3. Alvaro says:

    IIRC Vlad eliminated the Red Sox from the playoffs with a hit like that against Papelbon

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    • tz says:

      I try not to think about that. Even at a shell of his peak self, he scared the crap out of me during that at-bat.

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  4. cavebird says:

    ESPN3 has a test match between New Zealand and India on right now. If you like hits like that, you should watch cricket!

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  5. Jerry Caveney says:

    ESPN3 has been broadcasting cricket regularly for some months now. If you’re a baseball fan with the winter blues, watch some and get hooked. (A good book to introduce you the the basics might help; I’d recommend Cricket Explained, by Robert Eastaway.)

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    • tz says:

      Does Adrian Beltre have a chapter on hitting? He and Vlad could bring the game to popularity on US soil.

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    • Ballfan says:

      I have to agree with cricket

      especially since they introduced the 20-20 game

      the 5 day matches with tea breaks probably don’t appeal, even to the most diehard, ballfan though

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    • Steve Holt!! says:

      Go the Black Caps!!

      (Like the white sox, but blacker and worn higher up)

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  6. pastlives says:

    you write some funny shit jeff

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  7. Mooky says:

    Maybe not the best, but definitely the most enjoyable FG read i have had in a while. I had kinda forgotten about Vlady. Loved watching him SWING.

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  8. Mr Punch says:

    I imagine Vlad’s heat map as sort of the inverse of Trout’s. I keep hearing him described as “a near Hall of Famer”; if he doesn’t get into the Hall, something’s really gone wrong.

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    • asdf says:

      I don’t know, he was quirky in that he could get a hit at any time on any pitch, but he only put up a couple great seasons. He was pretty terrible at playing defense. I usually think of Vlad as a less-good Manny Ramirez, and Manny’s gotta be a borderline hall candidate who (PED’s aside), probably would only get in based on his ’04 and ’07 playoff runs.

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      • asdf says:

        Or just get voted in from writers who really don’t give a hoot about defense, but I think it’s generally acknowledged that those two were exceptionally bad at defense and that it significantly hurt their value.

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        • Ian R. says:

          Uh. Vlad, bad at defense? I’ve heard dozens of commentators praise him for his tremendous throwing arm, and he was actually quite fast in his younger days.

          As it happens, those commentators were more or less right. Total Zone says he was a +43 fielder for his career, which seems about right. His bat is what’ll take him to the Hall of Fame, but his glove isn’t hurting him any.

          Manny, in contrast, is a -106 outfielder by TZ.

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  9. TKDC says:

    The only thing quirkier than this is when the ball hits the bat behind the players head. When I was in little league, I once got two strikes that way in one inning (I was not a good pitcher).

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    • John C. says:

      Even better: I wasn’t the pitcher (or, thank goodness, the hitter) for this, but I saw it in a local baseball game: pitcher throws up and in, batter jackknifes backwards from the waist to avoid it … leaving his bat straight up in the air for just a moment as he goes over backwards. Ball hits bat, trickles slowly out to the pitcher while the batter is laying flat on his back on the ground. The pitcher could have just walked in and tagged him while he lay there, but was nice enough to flip it to first instead. My team laughed about that play for weeks.

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  10. Franco says:

    Didn’t Ichiro have a couple early on in his career?

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  11. asdf says:

    It pains me to think about how a hit like this could one day decide a game of actual consequence

    We all know this is false and that you already have the article written, just waiting for GIF’s and names. And we will eat it up.

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  12. John C. says:

    Third most surprised person on the field for that Dickerson hit: the catcher. He does a classic textbook breakdown for a bouncer – knees pinch in to block the 5 hole, soft chest, arms at the side to bring/keep the ball in front … and the ball never gets there.

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  13. bada bing says:

    I remember Brad Ausmus getting a hit like this when he was on the Tigers. At least I’m pretty sure that this happened.

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  14. DNA+ says:

    As an American expat in the UK, I’ve taken to playing cricket. Just like in fielding ground balls, it is easy to hit balls that bounce early, and easy to hit the short hops. It is the in between hops that are difficult. Also, the cricket ball has a single seam that runs around it, and the bowlers try to make the ball bounce of the seam which causes an erratic bounce. …then there are the spin bowlers where the ball bounces every which way!

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  15. snack man says:

    I don’t understand the Suzuki play. It looks like he doesn’t swing at a ball in the dirt, then the catcher acts like he dropped strike three and Suzuki takes off for first. Also, does the catcher have the right of way in the base path if he’s headed towards fielding the ball?

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  16. Llewdor says:

    I’m sure I remember Vlad hitting a liner off the wall on a bounced pitch, but that was back in Montreal.

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  17. David K says:

    “Two more checked swings, just with less fortunate results for the hitters”

    Well, Leake DID get an RBI for his effort, so it wasn’t that unfortunate.

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