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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