How Would You Produce if You Never Swung the Bat?

You. You, specifically. The person reading FanGraphs right now on your machine. Haven’t you ever thought about yourself as a player? You shouldn’t, you’d be terrible. You definitely wouldn’t want to even try to swing the bat. But, what if you were a batter, yet you never swung the bat? What might your numbers eventually look like against big-league competition?

It’s fun to think about the worst player possible, who would show up as essentially having the WAR of the complete absence of a player. The WAR of a vacuum, as it were, provided it weren’t such a strong vacuum that it attracted all batted balls in the field. A related thought project is putting yourself in the major leagues, and often, when people do this, they just comfortably assume a .000 wOBA. I mean, you’d never get on against a qualified big-league pitcher, right? That’s very kind of you to assume, but it’s also untrue. You could get on base sometimes. You’d just have to not swing the bat. How often could you reach if you followed that simple, single instruction?

Obviously, this is going to require some assumptions and approximations. Obviously, we’ll never be able to actually put this to the test. But what I want to calculate is the expected batting line of someone who never swings, not even once. That hypothetical individual might as well be you. There are, however, two requirements, which I think are necessary for this to kind of work:

  1. You have to be in at least some kind of shape, and not too young or too old. Basically, you have to not look like total crap from 60 feet away. This way, pitchers might figure they’re facing an athlete. Let’s set our threshold at Bartolo Colon. You have to be as athletic-looking as Bartolo Colon, or better.
  2. You have to have a bat in your hands when you stand in the box. If you just stood there without a bat, pitchers would throw you easy lobs. Pitchers need to be aware that the threat of a bat being swung is present, even if they know full well you’ve never swung before. It would probably help to take some practice cuts outside of the box, in the on-deck circle and in between pitches. Practice cuts would demonstrate that you are indeed capable of swinging. So you could conceivably swing at any pitch. You just don’t, time after time.

The whole foundation of this is that pitchers aren’t as good at throwing strikes as you might expect them to be, being the best pitchers on the planet. They are, absolutely, amazing, and some of them are even more amazing than the others. But the strike zone is small and the baseball is small and it’s just a difficult thing, pitching, even against a nothing opponent. The zone is an ever-changing little rectangle that’s more than 60 feet away from where the pitcher has to stand. There are accuracy limits, and by not swinging, that’s precisely what you’d be looking to exploit.

Let’s assume, for simplicity, that pitches in the zone would go for strikes, and pitches out of the zone would go for balls. Forget about framing, forget about umpires, and forget about handedness. In every plate appearance, you would either strike out, walk, or get drilled. You’d post a batting average of .000, and a slugging percentage of .000. We’re entirely concerned about OBP, and the trick would be drawing four balls before drawing three strikes. Or, you could get hit by a pitch. All we need are some expected frequencies.

And I think we have approximations. The last six years, pitchers have batted 1,223 times with the bases loaded. Three times in those plate appearances, the pitcher has been hit. It’s very rare, of course, because pitchers don’t want to hit pitchers with the bases loaded, but the frequency isn’t 0.0%. It’s a hair over 0.2%. Granted, one of those HBPs drilled Micah Owings, and another was done by R.A. Dickey, but everything counts here. This is the HBP component of the OBP.

Now for the walks. All we need for walks is an expected strike rate, or an expected ball rate. Which means an expected zone rate. Where is this going to come from? The answer, naturally, is PITCHf/x. During the PITCHf/x era, pitchers have thrown about 62% of pitches in the zone with the bases loaded and the count 3-and-0. But, that’s against all hitters, some good and some bad. They’ve thrown about 67% of pitches in the zone when facing pitchers with the count 3-and-0, no matter the base state. If you’ll pardon some little samples, they’ve thrown about 64% of pitches in the zone when facing pitchers with the bases loaded and the count 2-and-0. They’ve thrown about 66% of pitches in the zone when facing pitchers with the bases loaded and the count 3-and-0. That’s automatic strike territory. You have to throw a strike there. Pitchers have thrown strikes, two-thirds of the time. So.

The highest zone rate belonging to any hitter during the PITCHf/x era is 63%, with pitchers facing Brandon Webb. Of course, sometimes pitchers threw him pitches out of the zone on purpose. Pitchers have thrown about 58% of pitches in the zone when facing American League pitchers. Of course, sometimes pitchers threw them pitches out of the zone on purpose.

I’m going to set an expected strike rate of 70%. It’s higher than any of the numbers above, because I think some of those numbers are selective for pitchers going through spells of wildness. It’s basically a guess on my part, but let’s proceed with it anyway. There’s one way for you to walk on four pitches. There are four ways to walk on five pitches. There are ten ways to walk on six pitches. (There are zero ways to walk on seven pitches, given no swings.) Combining walks and HBPs, an expected strike rate of 70% would yield an expected OBP of .073.

Which means you’d have a batting line of .000/.073/.000, good for a wOBA of about .050. That would beat Aaron Heilman. That would beat Jon Lester and Justin Verlander. If you had a bat, but never swung it, you’d be expected to reach base a little more often than once per 14 trips. Sounds kind of amazing, when you put it that way.

And it’s easy enough to calculate different numbers based on a different expected strike rate. Boost the expected strike rate to 75% and you end up with an expected OBP of .040 and an expected wOBA of .028. You’d reach once per 25 trips to the plate. Knock the strike rate up to 80% and the expected OBP plummets to .019, with a wOBA of .013. You’d reach once per 52 trips to the plate. You would still reach though, is the point. Pitchers can’t throw strikes all the time. Not when there’s someone with a bat standing at the plate. Remember how pitchers threw 66.9% of pitches in the zone in 3-and-0 counts against other pitchers? Plug that in as the expected strike rate and you get an OBP of .100. That’s inflated and unrealistic, but it isn’t unrealistic by that much.

Probably. Maybe. I don’t know. Adam Greenberg struck out on three pitches. But he swung, and he was facing one of the best pitchers in baseball, and that was one plate appearance. Here’s an inconceivable four-pitch walk, from a few years ago, by a major-league pitcher facing a major-league relief pitcher with clearly zero interest in doing anything but getting out of there as quickly as possible without getting hurt. That happened, which means it can happen. It can probably happen a lot more often than once.

How would you do as a big-leaguer? Terrible. You wouldn’t even believe how terrible. You suck, even if you don’t suck among your friends. But as a hitter, you could still reach base, at least provided you never once swung the bat. Because even the best pitchers in baseball don’t throw strikes 100% of the time they want to throw strikes. Most of your outs, you’d make at home plate. But some of ‘em, God bless you, you’d make on the basepaths.




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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.

169 Responses to “How Would You Produce if You Never Swung the Bat?”

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  1. DrBGiantsfan says:

    I went 2 for 5 on my comapny’s co-ed softball team one Saturday this summer. Translated to MLB numbers, over the course of my expected 20 year big league career, that would be like 528 HR, .329 BA, 1,753 RBI, barring injury (which is doubtful, because I’m built like a fucking rock.

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  2. dang says:

    The linked article has one of the greatest lines I’ve ever read -

    “His only challenge was to throw three strikes to a plant that posed zero threat on account of its plantness.”

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    • Carson Daly says:

      Very Cistulli.

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    • srpst23 says:

      Everyone should scroll down into the comments and watch the clip of a Korean pitcher vs. Randy Johnson. It is a pure gold ending to that article.

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      • Ben says:

        Dae Sung Koo. He’s down (here) in Australia playing in the ABL right now, I actually play with him at club level when the ABL is off season. He is only a decent hitter, even at my lowly level and he has a career .500/.500/.1000 line, that double coming off Randy. His other AB was a 3 pitch K with no attempt offered.

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    • Zach says:

      I love how it succinctly ends. “In the same inning, Ceda retired Aaron Rowand, Eli Whiteside and Cody Ross, and kept the Giants off the board.”

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    • J-Rock says:

      This just made me spit out some of what I was drinking:

      “The pitch has a ton of tail on it. Lots of sharp, lateral break. That’s a good pitch to throw when you have two strikes on a right-handed hitter. That’s a bad pitch to throw when you have zero strikes on a plant.”

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  3. Sombo says:

    How much will I be getting paid?

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  4. Eddie Gaedel says:

    Been there, done that.

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  5. baron says:

    I really have trouble believing this.

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  6. The Humber Games says:

    I wonder how these percentages would change if I chose to wear gladiator style elbow armor (a la Barry Bonds)?

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  7. That Guy says:

    A couple of years ago, The Sacramento Rivercats arranged a batting practice session with a a bunch of nobodies (like myself) through a local radio station. A few of those that showed up actually shot balls into the gap and all that. I’ve never played any organized baseball. Even I, after never seeing a live action organized pitch after tee-ball got one I could loop into the outfield.

    Not saying my MLB line would be much different, but with an eye towards stroking a few middle of the plate FB offerings, I could do better than .000/.073/.000.

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    • Catoblepas says:

      I wonder if that’s true! Jeff, follow-up study suggestion: assume that the above person is a fool and decides to take the bat off his shoulder once in a while, for dead-red fastballs, and has a z-contact% in the 50s, and a BABIP on those hits of like .100 (or whatever your average-human-who-is-awful-at-basball assumption is, .100 is probably too high). Maybe trying to figure out when he swings is too difficult, since when a pitcher throws a pitch down the center depends on a lot of things. But maybe he swings once per at-bat. Does that help or hurt his line? I feel like I would probably be worse if I tried to swing at all — see Jon Lester, with his 19 strikeouts and 0 hits in 38 PAs, meaning every swing was nothing more than cutting an at-bat that could become a walk short.

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      • Catoblepas says:

        Well crap, five of Lester’s at-bats ended in sacrifices, so swinging may have been beneficial once in a blue moon. But the general point remains.

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      • Franco says:

        There are some pitchers who clearly have less hitting skills than your average high school player. I’m not sure how you’d objectively pick that sample to come up with average Joe BABIP, but I always figured I could match some of the worst pitchers’ “skills”.

        I think the only qualifications
        1) Is male
        2) Is youngish
        3) Decent amount of muscle mass

        I have those 3 qualities, damnit.

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    • Wally says:

      I think if you want a rough guess of what a generally athletic 20-30′s something male can hit against major league pitching with basically zero preparation, you just take the average of American League pitchers and be done with it. Remember, pitchers don’t hit at any level of baseball anymore until the National League, unless they are also position players at some point (which some certainly are). So, they are probably a pretty good guess of how Joe-Blow goes to the guy but hasn’t picked up a baseball bat in years would do.

      And this is what American League pitchers did in 2013 over 154 PAs:

      .086/.129/.095

      Which is a hell of a lot better than never swinging ever, but not by a ton.

      Though that’s not really the question being discussed above.

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      • Ian R. says:

        Thing 1: AL pitchers aren’t just generally athletic 20- and 30-something men. They’re professional athletes with extensive experience playing baseball, even if they don’t hit much.

        Thing 2: Many AL pitchers used to be NL pitchers. Many hit in college or in the low minors. They have MORE experience than your average Joe, even if they don’t have much more.

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        • professional athlete in skill sport says:

          Yes, but they aren’t physical athletes but skill athletes. A lot of them aren’t very athletic but just have a bazooka attached to their R arm. If you brought almost every major league pitcher to the track to race a 100 or 200m sprint, it would be UGLY. Or have them bench against professional weight lifters.

          There are exceptions like Carl Crawford. Out of HS he was recruited to be the PG at UCLA, the option quarterback at nebraska, and I think he may have run track at a very high level in HS too. He chose baseball for the guaranteed money and lower injury risk.

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        • Wally says:

          Ian,

          1) I don’t think “extensive experience playing baseball” as a pitcher translates that well to hitting. Its the same sport, but its a grossly different skill set.

          2) I did mention that (pitcher that have had some hitting experience), but I don’t think that’s the norm. Most pitchers I see in college ball are not hitters as well. And I wouldn’t put too much stock in the 50-200 PAs an American league pitcher got in the NL a few years ago, where he was basically instruct how to bunt.

          Taken together, maybe you can shave a little off the top of that .086/.129/.095 line for average athletic joe, but not much. Just couple somewhat non-random examples (I’m an A’s fan, can you tell?):

          A) Barry Zito looks completely lost at the plate and was never a hitter at any level, but his career line is .102/.146/.102.

          B) Tim Hudson was also a hitter in college, and not a terrible one. His career line in the major as a hitter is .170/.206/.224.

          I think this illustrates roughly what kind of difference having some hitting background can do for average joe going against major league pitching.

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        • Paul says:

          As someone who has trained with multiple minor league pitchers, I can assure you they are much more physical than a generally athletic person even if you don’t see it. It didn’t use to be the case, but now that extensive weight training is widely accepted, players’ physicality has improved considerably.

          The VAST majority of minor league pitchers are very athletic; just because it doesn’t correlate to speed or world class weight lifting doesn’t mean they aren’t athletic. Watch them do their training and you’ll see they have much more strength, coordination, body control, explosiveness than a generally athletic person. They have the ability to time the pitch much better than a non-baseball player since they play catch with 90+ mph throws and breaking stuff everyday.

          I would say a generally athletic person, if they sat dead red, might have a Zcontact % of 20 if they’re lucky. Until you have actually faced a 90 mph fastball, you don’t realize how damn hard it is to hit it. And that’s assuming the person can actually distinguish between fastballs and breaking balls, which is literally 0% if they don’t have much baseball experience. I would guess a babip of .040 if they don’t have much baseball experience.

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        • Wally says:

          Paul,

          A heck of a lot of generally athletic people spend 1-2 hours at the gym 5-7 days a week. And unlike 20 years ago where people just went to they gym and ignorantly pushed big weights around, they are training for things like explosiveness, balance and body control, even if they don’t know it. They aren’t getting payed to train for a sport, so pitchers surely have the capability of putting in more time. but the vast major of that time is doing thing relating to pitching, not general conditioning.

          I think you probably overstate the helpfulness of just practicing with pitching at 90MPH. Sure, you see it and feel it, but you’re rarely trying to time hitting it as a pitcher. That skill of getting your body moving to get the bat to make contact with the ball is very different than just putting your glove in the way.

          And the 20% zContact you mention is pulled from your ass. You’re entitled to your own guess, but don’t pretend numbers you pull from your butt mean anything to anyone but yourself. Pitchers have pretty high zContact largely because they are swinging at pitches that get grooved in there when the opposing pitcher is taking it easy with a pathetic batter. Average Joe would see the same kind of treatment. And BABIP of .040? That’s 4%. You really expect only 4% of balls that do get put in play to turn into hits? Barry Zito has a career BABIP of .143. Remember, the ball is already in play, and you think average joe hits it so much weaker or is so much slower of a runner that they would see about 1/4 that of Barry Zito?

          I also think you underestimate the ability of many people to recognize changing pitch types. I remember the first time I saw a curveball was from a neighbor’s father who was a minor league pitcher. He didn’t tell me it was coming and I put good wood on it at maybe 11 or 12 years old. I don’t pretend think that means I could hit a major league curve when the pitcher was really trying to get it by me, but I suspect that means I have non-zero chance of recognizing a curve ball. Zero is a powerful number and I don’t think you have any thing but your butt hole to suggest that’s true.

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        • Paul says:

          Wally,

          You’re right I was guessing at those numbers. It’s pretty damn obvious I was so you can save your snarky and immature “butthole” remarks.

          Yeah, I’m thinking that babip would be somewhat less than expected. Maybe they could get around a .80-.100 babip.

          What exactly do you think “pitcher specific” training is? Have you ever seen a professional pitcher’s workout? Sure, some of the stuff is arm care, but the majority is built on explosiveness that allows them to rotate their torso around their hips. That action is very similar to the movement used in hitting. What you call “pitcher specific” training correlates very well to hitting for power (bat speed).

          Your anecdote about hitting a minor league pitcher’s curveball at age 12 does nothing. You even mention he wasn’t trying to throw it by you. I can say I have also hit off a minor league pitcher, but hitting BP off one does nothing for the argument.

          A batting cage by me throws multiple pitches. I was getting some instruction a few years from a professional batting coach who wanted me to try some curveballs. He started it up and I swung and missed on probably 9 out of the 12 80 mph curveballs even though I knew they were coming. My instructor told me that looked like a legitimate major league curveball (he should know). I was not a professional prospect or even a Division 1 prospect, but I was a good high school hitter and played for a highly ranked D3 team.

          Professional hitters–whose talent was developed over an extreme amount of practice over years and was considered so good they were 1st rounders–struggle because they can’t pick up curveballs. You really think a generally athletic person with no baseball experience could distinguish between pitches at all? I stand by my statement that 0% of people with no baseball experience could distinguish between 90 mph fastballs and 80 mph curveballs.

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      • That Guy says:

        No, it’s not really the question being posed, exactly.

        Jeff likes to express how hard the game of baseball is to play by referring to us, as a group, and figured that’s an interesting question (how well we’d do in the aggregate) in the comment.

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      • blue says:

        Totally disagree. The notion a random athletic guy could achieve that at the MLB level is insane.

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      • Derb says:

        I play slow-pitch softball with a former AL pitcher. He’s in his 40′s and doesn’t look especially athletic anymore. Everyone else fits your criteria of being generally athletic 20 and 30 somethings. Granted, it’s slow-pitch, but he’s clearly heads and shoulders above everyone else when it comes to swinging the bat (and in throwing out runners from the outfield, but that’s to be expected).

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    • B N says:

      For a good example of this, one could examine Randy Johnson’s last season with SF. Particularly after he started having some wear and tear during the season, you could tell that basically every at bat had the same strategy: Don’t hurt yourself out there. Easily 95% of his at bats involved watching strikes with his bat on his shoulder, but he did take one or two hacks during the year. Total wOBA? 0.092

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  8. ralph says:

    I’m only 5’3″. Please rerun the calculations. When compared to the rest of these non-swinging players, I would be non-swinging freaking dominant.

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  9. attgig says:

    oh yeah? what if my name was Eddie Gaedel, 3’7″ tall, and had a sharpshooter pointing his gun at me with instructions to shoot if I too the bat off my shoulder?

    I’d be an On Base MACHINE

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  10. ralph says:

    I also wonder how the numbers would change if you decided to make a ridiculous, over-the-top, cause-a-scene swing at a first pitch once per week just to keep fresh in everyone’s mind that it’s a possibility. It seems like that might tick the numbers up slightly.

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  11. Ryan Dempster says:

    Adam Greenberg didn’t swing in his first MLB at bat.

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  12. DNA+ says:

    I honestly believe I could at least bat .100. I really do honestly believe that. In fact I would be disappointed if I didn’t do better. …I’m probably deluded.

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    • DNA+ says:

      I also actually believe that if I was given a full season’s worth of at bats by some madman, I would at least knock a few out. Basically I believe I could be Dan Uggla if given the opportunity.

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      • Billy says:

        30 Home Run power? That’s bold. I agree most people who’ve played baseball could get away hitting .100-.150 in MLB over a full season. But 30 HR’s? I like your confidence sir! :)

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        • rogue_actuary says:

          “Most people could get away with hitting .100 – .150 in MLB over a full season.” …?

          You realize that most pitchers were probably the best hitters on their HS teams, right? To what level of baseball are you referring, because the difference between facing pitchers in high school (and even college) seems to be … dramatic.

          I would think that most MiLBers would be hard-pressed to crack .200 for a full MLB year. As kids, almost all of these guys were absolute beasts in their towns/schools.

          I think your assertion is irrational.

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        • Franco says:

          Of course he’s irrational. This type of post is practically begging for delusional responses.

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        • Wally says:

          I call bull shit.

          Now way in hell most pitchers were the best hitter on their high school teams.

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        • DNA+ says:

          When I was a kid I played with a guy who went on to become a pretty respectable big leaguer. I could play with him then. He was definitely on the right tail, but not crazily exceptional at that age (14-15). …but then again, he was named in the Mitchell report, so perhaps he had a little help later on. …the best baseball player I played with as a kid went on to become a professional soccer player. He was so good at baseball he wasn’t allowed to pitch in Little League because the coaches thought it would be unsafe for the other kids. It was probably good thinking because he must have gone through puberty at about 7.

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        • blue says:

          Absolutely not.

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        • blue says:

          Wally, virtually all MLB players were the best player on the field at any position at least until they got to college.

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        • wally says:

          A) Best player on the field /= Best Hitter

          B) In high school, what end up being professional athletes often aren’t even the best at what ever specific thing they made it pros doing.

          I’ve seen too many counter examples to what you’re saying to simply believe you without any data.

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      • Go Nats says:

        does the plus stand for steroids?

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      • blue says:

        The level of delusion some people have is profound.

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  13. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    I actually tried this when I played little league for a season at age 9. I was terrified of the baseball, so I only swung twice in an entire season – once a whiff and once a pop fly. But because 9-year-olds are not good at pitching, I had an on-base percentage somewhere north of .350 and typically scored every other game.

    I hit 9th, behind a girl, and our team won the local championship.

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    • DNA+ says:

      You, sir, represent the soul of FanGraphs.

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    • gnomez says:

      I had that approach (or at least 90% of it) in high school. A lot of 18-year-olds don’t have that much better control than 9-year-olds, just enough more muscle mass to ensure that the horribly aimed pitch actually makes it the distance it’s intended to go.

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    • tz says:

      WBE – did you also play left field (under the assumption that almost none of the kids would be able to pull a pitch)?

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  14. Jon C says:

    This was a fun article with decent methodology behind it.

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  15. Jon C says:

    Actually, I wonder if the hpb should be higher: We don’t react as quickly as pro baseball players.

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    • TKDC says:

      But most of us (and I’ll include myself) would be up there “Rookie of the Year” style. That is, as close to out of the box as possible while still being in the box.

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      • Billy says:

        Ya, you wouldn’t catch me dead standing in there facing 95+ MPH only 3 inches from the plate lol.

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        • tz says:

          I’d have Biggio-style armor over my whole body. As well as a double layer under my batting helmet.

          To honor the (almost) HOF’er, of course.

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        • DNA+ says:

          Haven’t you ever gone to the batting cages and dialed it up to the upper 90′s? You can hit the ball, I promise. Once you’ve got the timing, you rarely miss. Once you’ve got the timing, you are working on squaring it up rather than just making contact. And when you really have the timing you almost always square it up. I find I am usually a little off in my timing, thus, making weak contact.

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        • Drew says:

          They only go up to 75-80 at the cages around here.

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        • Paul says:

          Okay, DNA+. We get it. You almost never miss upper 90s fastballs unlike every other hitter of all time. You don’t have to rub it in our faces.

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        • DNA+ says:

          Look, just go to the cage and try it. Last time I was there, a kid about 12 years old was making regular contact in the fast cage. He was stepping backwards to compensate for the speed, and wasn’t making solid contact, but he was hitting the ball most times.

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        • Paul says:

          I have tried it. The thing is that the fast cages are generally 80 mph, not upper 90s. You really believe a 12 year old kid was making regular contact on a pitching machine throwing in the upper 90s???

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        • DNA+ says:

          Well, that’s awkward…. ….the sign at the cage says equivalent to mid-90′s fastball (94-96). I don’t know if the pitch is actually moving that speed or if the machine is closer than a typical pitcher’s release point, or if the sign is just complete bullshit. My experience as the batter is that that cage feels VERY fast. I’ve faced live 80mph pitching, and that doesn’t feel so fast, though I also think it is easier to track a ball out of a persons hand, than it is to track the ball that shoots out of those two spinning wheels. I watched the kid hitting the ball, so if the sign on the cage is correct (and I have no reason to believe it isn’t, besides your incredulity that humans can hit fastballs), it happened.

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  16. DD says:

    Jeff- what if you only faced relievers? I know that cuts the sample down significantly, but they are notably more wild than starters. Also, should we exclude 3-0 non-fastballs? It’d be hard to believe you’d ever see anything but 4 seamers.

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  17. Johnhavok says:

    “If you had a bat, but never swung it, you’d be expected to reach base a little more often than once per 14 trips”

    Or, almost twice as often as JP Arencibia walked in 2013.

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  18. Steve says:

    Can you rerun this entire article, but with me batting only against Carlos Marmol?

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  19. Visitor says:

    Well, I’m really eliminated by needing to be as athletic-looking as Bartolo Colon anyway, but I would bet that I would have a line of .000/.000/.000.

    The first time a pitch came in, it would scare the crap out of me so much that I would wet my pants and run away. I can’t imagine I’m the only one who would do that, but maybe I’m the only person who will admit it.

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    • Doug Lampert says:

      When Matsuzaka first came to the RedSox, they very publically told him, “During spring training at no time and under no circumstance does the bat leave your shoulder.”

      He struck out 4 times, walked once.

      .200 OBP when the pitcher knew there was no chance there would be a swing. Of course it was spring training, but I have no trouble believing in .100 for me, and I’m not going to scare any MLB pitchers.

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    • tz says:

      If I was athletic-looking as Bartolo Colon, I’d stand in the back of the box and hope to get hit right in the gut.

      I’ll boldly go with a .250 OBP estimate. To go along with -98 baserunning runs per 162 games.

      +14 Vote -1 Vote +1

  20. The Stranger says:

    Obvious next question, but probably too hard to answer – how often would one of us get major league hitters out if we took the mound?

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    • Brian says:

      Your arm would fall off before even being able to complete an inning.

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    • Pirates Hurdles says:

      With a MLB defense behind you, it shouldn’t be too awful (relative to trying to hit). MLB hitters will hit enough balls at players. These guys make outs in HR derby’s with coaches throwing soft.

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      • gnomez says:

        Bear in mind what “soft” means though: batting practice is usually 60-70mph. Two years ago, a minor league team had a promotion giving away free tickets to anyone who could top Jamie Moyer’s 78mph fastball velocity. According to the news reports, only one fan even came close. I doubt many of us could hit 78+, even in our primes.

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        • Visitor says:

          I actually have no conception of how hard “average” people would throw and I wonder if there is a place to find out. I’ve thrown in front of a radar gun a few times and I’ve gotten to 90, so I would have thought throwing at least into the 80s was normal (at least for those under 40), but maybe not.

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        • tz says:

          I broke 90 on a radar gun in my early 20s. Unfortunately this was at an amusement park in Montreal using km/h, so I really threw about 55 mph.

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        • TKDC says:

          @Visitor

          You are wildly wrong here. Almost nobody can get into the 80s. I’d say if you could hit 70, you’d be in the top 5-10% of males aged 18-40. I’d bet less than 1% could hit 80 and the percent that can hit 90 is tiny.

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        • Bip says:

          I don’t have a very good conception of how hard I can throw. However, I know that MLB pitchers can throw the ball well over 200 feet on the fly during long-toss drills, and I know I can’t throw the ball nearly that far, though that is also related to the amount of backspin you can put on the ball (which creates lift).

          I also know that it’s very important that MLB catchers and pitchers are on the same page about what pitch is coming and where it is going to go, because if they aren’t on the same page, the catcher may not have time to adjust to where the ball is actually going. I also know that when I play catch, even when I throw as hard as I can, the person catching is unable to track where the ball is going in time.

          This leads me to believe that I can throw maybe 60 mph at the absolute most.

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        • Bip says:

          I meant to say that a person catching me is never unable to track the ball, meaning that my ball goes slow enough that the person always has time to react to where it is going.

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        • Visitor says:

          @TKDC

          I am just shocked to learn that I apparently have some sort of semi-athletic skill. Since I could throw that hard, I would never have guessed it was that small of a percentage of the population who could.

          I did say I had no idea what an average person’s velocity would be, after all.

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        • Go Nats says:

          my X boss and current friend could throw 91 MPH at least 10 years ago when I last say him pitch. But onlu for a few pitches. he used to make me catch for him in bets with guys swearing they could hit him. unfortunately I only had an outfielders glove and he would not kick out the money for a catchers glove. I do not recommend anyone catch a 91 mph pitch with an outfielders glove ever. it hurts like hell! Also I never wore anything other than a suit and tie. He wont lots of bets and I got free beer. anyway, he never pitched professional ball because he blew out hia shoulder in HS and it never healed right. Went on to be a senior officer on Wall Street then at Amazon.

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        • Paul says:

          I would guess an athletic person in his 20s who has minimal baseball experience could probably throw around 75. Someone with extensive baseball experience could probably throw 80-85. Throwing around 90 as Visitor as claimed requires a lot of throwing and is next to impossible to come close to unless you’re throwing on a regular schedule in addition to staying in great shape.

          BTW, radar guns in stadiums are notoriously offset. There is about a 8 mph error bar on both sides. Radar guns in general are often way off unless you’re having a professional scout clock you. If Visitor really thinks throwing into the 80s is normal for those up to 40, he probably doesn’t actually throw 90. Plenty of people claim to have thrown 90 but have used incorrectly calibrated guns. You probably do throw fast, but most people exaggerate their own velocity. Look at the number of D1 pitchers who barely scrape 90 despite the fact that they are in great shape, train specifically for baseball every day, and D1 coaches seek out velocity more than anything else.

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        • Visitor says:

          I have no problem at all believing that the gun was registering way too high the few times I ever threw in front of one (they were different guns, but it wouldn’t be that weird to end up in front of a few that were all calibrated badly to register high) and so I never threw even close to 90.

          I really did not mean that comment to be something about how awesome I am–it was just the reason why I would not have guessed that it was that rare to throw that hard. Apparently it did not come across well that what I was saying was (a) that I really didn’t know how hard normal people threw and so (b) I was guessing just based on my own experience and knowing my athletic skills compared to the general population. I did not mean to claim that I knew it to be normal to throw into the 80s or that I was some sort of impressive specimen.

          I should actually have just posted asking whether anyone knew of data about how hard “normal” people threw instead of trying to explain why I wondered, sorry.

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    • Rex Manning Day says:

      The vast majority would walk, because the vast majority of our pitches would be balls.

      But no pitcher’s BABIP-against is going to 1.000 as long as there’s are still-breathing defenders behind him, so we’re bound to get some lucky bounces. Plus, of the strikes that we did manage to throw, I’d imagine that many will be slow and/or oddly angled enough that we’ll get some weak contact.

      So, basically, we’d have an enormous walk rate, a K rate approaching (but, on a long enough timeline, not quite) 0, and a BABIP below 1.000. Barring injuries, you’d probably make it out of the inning after the lineup turns over a handful of times.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • ankle explosion hr celebration says:

        I hope I’m not the only one that would be absolutely terrified to try this, for fear that a line drive from an MLB hitter would wipe me out of existence (or at the least, break several of my bones).

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      • Bill says:

        I disagree – If you or I threw a pitch anywhere near the strike zone, there is no way a ML hitter would let it go. Sure, they could walk nearly every time, but there is no way they would.

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    • Allan Wood says:

      Writer George Plimpton got the chance to pitch against the AL and NL All-Stars – and wrote a book about it. It’s called “Out Of My League”.

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    • Hurtlockertwo says:

      I pitched in college, had a low to mid 80′s fastball. When I was in my early 40′s I could still throw 65-70.

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  21. Nick O says:

    For as long as I can remember (I think since Kenny Rogers got hurt in the late ’90s), A’s pitchers have been instructed not to swing during Spring Training games. They probably only get 10-15 PAs per ST, and I’m sure the opposing pitchers are focusing on executing their pitches more than getting the pitchers out, but that might be a pretty good way to measure it.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  22. OtherSideofTheCoin says:

    1200 AB over 6 years with the bases loaded. 200 per year. Let’s say 75% of that is NL. 10 times a year per team roughly. I’m not sure what the run expectancy is for bases loaded, but if you aren’t working on your hitting you are leaving runs on the table. Certainly not all 30 baserunners, but maybe about 10. That’s good enough for a win a season. Seems like the next market inefficiency to me!

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  23. A.J. Pierzynski says:

    If only I were more patient, the hitter I could become…*SOB!*

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  24. siggian says:

    “It would probably help to take some practice cuts outside of the box, in the on-deck circle and in between pitches. Practice cuts would demonstrate that you are indeed capable of swinging.”

    I would not do any practice cuts to preserve the illusion that I might be able to contact the ball. Otherwise, once the pitcher has finished laughing, he would just lob batting practice fastballs as close to the heart of the plate as he can.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Franco says:

      Are you kidding, making the guy on mound laugh would be part of my strategy of getting walked. Wearing shiny jewelry too.

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  25. Luke in MN says:

    Taking the worst 20 hitters by wOBA over the last 50 years, minimum 100 PA, you get an average line of .057/.085/.064 and a wOBA of 073. These are basically the worst-hitting pitchers. That’s just a little better than the 000/073/000. So the average terrible hitter is swinging the bat and seemingly getting a little bit of mileage out of it.

    About the closest to the complete-no-swing approach seems to be Ron Herbel, with a line of 029/065/039 and a 55 wOBA in fairly big sample size of 225 PA. I suppose the average sub-Bartolo-sized Fangraphs reader is going to be at least a little worse than that, so no-swing actually sounds like a pretty decent approach.

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  26. EmDash says:

    The worst-hitting player I’ve ever seen get semi-regular at-bats is pitcher Ross Detwiler, whose career line is .063/.079/.063, with 7 hits (all singles), 2 walks and 57 strikeouts in 122 plate appearances. That gives him a career OPS+ of -61.

    You or I would probably do even worse than that.

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    • TKDC says:

      My buddy who never played or even thought about playing above high school ball said he thought he could get hits in the bigs because he was a better hitter than a pitcher who ended up playing in the majors and got several hits (though he was pretty bad).

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    • jruby says:

      Oooh boy. Vicente Padilla was BAD. And he switch hit, and swung out of his shoes on every pitch, like he really thought he could do it.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  27. Brian says:

    Do the numbers completely turn on their head if I do that whole “square to bunt with no intention of bunting, waiving bat up and down in an exaggerated fashion” thing that I did when I was 12 years old and didn’t realize I was being a dick?

    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Franco says:

      What about randomly switch hitting between pitches? That would surely annoy a couple pitchers into getting my HBP #s up.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • jrogers says:

        What about gloating, talking trash, and generally “breaking the unwritten rules” of baseball so they throw at you? Could help out a bit, or a lot if you’re facing the Braves.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • TKDC says:

          The Braves rank 20th in HBPs over the past 3 years. It seems like the Red Sox and Blue Jays are the actual assholes.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  28. gc says:

    There is an exhibit at the Louisville Slugger museum where you can stand next to a screened off area where a pitching machine is said to be throwing 90 mph straight balls to dissuade most of us that we could time it. I do imagine I could Uggla the Little League WS to the tune of 5 BB, 17 K, 2 HR in 30 PA. I went 0-3 with 1 K and a DP against a girl’s FP SB team when I was allegedly in my prime half a lifetime ago.
    As far as pitching, decide whether George Plimpton’s “Out of My League” matches you- a 31 YO who has been practicing for weeks to aim enough balls across the plate to not be a total joke. If there was a real chance of losing, the batting team could easily bunt and take the chance that you couldn’t get it to 1B with your 50 MPH stuff.

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    • MrKnowNothing says:

      There’s a batting cage near me that goes up to 90. I don’t know if that’s rare or what.

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    • DNA+ says:

      I always hit in the 90+ cage when I go. Assuming that the sign is accurate, hitting a 90+ mph fastball is not that difficult once you get the timing down. The problem with actual pitching is that pitches can come many different speeds and the difference fools you. …that is what makes Mariano Rivera’s career the most remarkable thing in baseball history (in my opinion).

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      • blue says:

        On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog.

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      • Paul says:

        On the internet, nobody has to know you aren’t the first hitter in history to have no problem making contact with upper 90s fastballs. Look at major leaguers swinging at upper 90s fastballs in 2-0 counts. You think you’re better than them?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • DNA+ says:

          A pitching machine and an actual pitcher might just be a little bit different. If you watch a major leaguer in the batting cage, they aren’t swinging through pitches. Sorry.

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        • Paul says:

          If you watch a major leaguer in the batting cage, they aren’t facing upper 90s fastballs. Sorry.

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        • DNA+ says:

          I said 90+, and yes, that is indeed what they are facing. Those guys do not have a problem hitting fastballs. They prefer to hit fastballs. Even Aroldis Chapman gives up contact, and he is throwing 100+, with the threat of a slider. …every baseball game I’ve ever watched, guys are hitting fastballs. The entire reason pitchers have to change speeds is because the speed of a fastball isn’t enough. There has to be something else to disrupt timing.

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  29. Adam W says:

    The problem with never swinging is that eventually pitchers would figure this out, and throw nothing but fastballs down the pike. It would eventually become an example of game theory, where you’d be forced to swing every now and then just to remind people to account for it.

    Where’s MGL when you need him?

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    • blue says:

      Yeah, I’d probably do something like have three quarters and flip them before I went up. If they all came up heads or tails I’d swing at least once.

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    • anon says:

      You would only start swinging when the EV of a swing is >= not swing though. If your swing is sufficiently poor there might never occur.

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  30. PackBob says:

    Some pitchers can’t even throw a not-strike during an intentional walk, missing catcher and everything.

    Channeling energy to a release point that propels a baseball 60 feet 6 inches at 90 mph is hard to do with any accuracy and takes years of practice to do it at an effective MLB level. What makes it so tough for a ML pitcher to throw a simple strike is not so much the small target, it’s that they make the baseball do things an average Joe can’t even approach doing.

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  31. CecilFielderRules says:

    This is not only a great post (typical Jeff), but the first time in a long time I can remember enjoying 100% of a comment thread. They were all in some way insightful, added to the discussion, humorous, or -at worst- harmless. More of this, Fangraphs readers!

    +13 Vote -1 Vote +1

  32. Bill Brasky says:

    I’d swing a bottle of scotch.

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  33. Swfcdan says:

    Contender for most bizarre opening heading of the year.

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  34. DNA+ says:

    It occurred to me that I remembered reading an article about Ian Kennedy because he basically takes the non-swinging approach to hitting. After a bit a googling I was able to dig up the article and it was written by Jeff Sullivan:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/ian-kennedy-the-hitter-who-doesnt/

    Perhaps the most amazing thing about the article is the table that shows that Nick Johnson, an actual hitter, also never actually swings the bat (presumably for fear of breaking every bone in his body).

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  35. Metsox says:

    And they say the dog days are in August….

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  36. vikedawg says:

    In the linked article about the worst AB ever, Santiago Casilla also has the worst bat flip I’ve ever seen. His one chance, and he blows it.

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  37. pft says:

    I struck out against my 10 yo niece in softball. I am pretty sure I would be a swinging plant against MLB pitchers

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  38. Anon says:

    One of those oddball events that I still remember is Brandon Lyon drawing a walk in his 1st PA in the majors at age 27, and after only 2 PA in the minors.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/ARI/ARI200608250.shtml

    Setup: bottom of the 15th inning, DBacks out of position players so Lyon has to hit. Lyon “draws” a 5 pitch walk off of Aaron Sele and scores the winning run in front of an Orlando Hudson walkoff 2 run HR.

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  39. Guy says:

    I think the mythical beast everyone is trying to imagine was Bob Buhl’s 1962 year at bat: PA 85, AB 70 H 0…. but BB 6 HBP 1 R 2 RBI 1 CS 1 Sac 8 and the sweetest SB that extends the speculation to its logical conclusion when he stole a base by accident by slowly jogged to second on what he and the catcher and the pitcher thought was ball four, but the umpire thought was a strike. of course he was trying to hit.

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    • tz says:

      *jogging

      Seriously, once I corrected “jogged” to “jogging”, that might just be the best purposefully drawn-out sentence finish I’ve seen in quite some time.

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    • Mitchley says:

      Yet, despite Buhl’s 0 fer 85 season, his wOBA and wRC+ were better than Hank Aguirre’s that year.

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  40. Triteon says:

    Great column! As a righty, I’d have to bat left-handed on occasion until I generated a decent split in my slash lines. How about factoring in check-swings in the daft hope of getting a catcher’s interference call?

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  41. cs3 says:

    “(There are zero ways to walk on seven pitches, given no swings.)”

    If we assume that you can you be hit by a pitch then we should should also assume that there will be incidental non-swinging foul balls some non-zero % of the time.
    So a 7 pitch walk is a definite possibilty

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  42. Luis Cruz says:

    It’s tougher to get on base using this strategy than you might think.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  43. Green Mountain Boy says:

    Want to know what an athletic 20-something guy with no baseball experience would hit? Look up Michael Jordan’s stats and do the MLEs.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • blue says:

      Eh, no. No, average 20 year old guy isn’t hitting over .200 in AA.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Justin says:

      In what universe is Michael Jordan an average human? I don’t care about his baseball experience, his athletic abilities put him on a completely different level than anyone commenting on fangraphs.

      Also, given context, Michael Jordan’s AA season was a success. A guy who hadn’t played baseball in over 10 years to just walk onto a baseball field and not be completely useless (depending on your definition of useless), is amazing.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jake says:

        This exactly.

        It is absurd that so many people make fun of Jordan’s baseball performance. Hitting .200 in AA after not playing baseball for so long is an astounding achievement. Also, he started slow and was performing far above his final line by the end of his time with Birmingham.

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        • tz says:

          Amen.

          Somehow, MJ was able to simultaneously demonstrate what an amazing athlete he was as well as how difficult baseball is, even at the minor league level.

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  44. David says:

    I seem to recall Garth brooks in spring training getting a few legitimate bases.

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  45. siddf says:

    A delightfully creative exercise and fun batch of comments. Thanks for the chuckles.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  46. ESimon says:

    You (Me) would also be getting paid roughly the same amount as Mike Trout.

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  47. Chris from Bothell says:

    I wonder what the defensive equivalent is. Maybe how to be as league average as possible at 1b? Or a LF where the CF, SS and 3b are making all the plays the LF “should” make?

    And Adam’s point above about game theory is right. This scenario is pretty much impossible because a pitcher would figure this out and pitch nothing but strikes eventually.

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  48. Dave P says:

    You’d get walked once in your first 14 ABs. That’d be the first series of the year. From then on, everyone would know you weren’t swinging, and they’d strike you out every single time…usually on 3 pitches, sometimes 4 and very rarely 5.

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    • Jake says:

      Throwing a baseball accurately is harder than you seem to think.

      There is a reason Jeff chose PA’s with the bases loaded and the count at 3-0. These are times when the pitcher is most likely simply trying to throw any strike.

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      • Chris Keroack says:

        But again, those pitches are with the thought in the pitcher’s head that the batter will a) swing and b) be able to do literally anything with it at all. Average baseball player, even a pitcher or the most useless AAAA position player possible, could still bunt, leg out an infield single, or miraculously get a grounder out of the infield. Hypothetical you-or-me in the batter’s box would not inspire that “fear” and the pitcher would be able to pitch straight down the pipe.

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  49. Josh says:

    the problem I have is that you’re assuming the pitches are independent with 70% chance of being a strike.

    in reality, if a pitcher throws a ball to a nothing, it’s going to make the 2nd pitch much more likely to be a ball, and so on.

    so I believe the OBP is overstated since a minority of the pitchers (wild ones) will throw the majority of the pitches out of the zone.

    with that said, this was a fun read.

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  50. Ryan W Krol says:

    From experience, I know for a fact that you can stand with the bat on your shoulder and draw walks all day long and have a high OBP. Aside from a knee injury in my last season (age 15), which I played through and took my leg work on the mound and eventually my shoulder with it in one season, I’ve concluded over the years that my other big problem was that I grew up in the wrong era. I was a 15 year old in the mid-1990s, when batting average was still king. Being a young pitcher at time though, I understood full well that even 15 year old pitchers don’t have the command necessary to throw strikes whenever they needed to. So I would often wear out opposing pitchers by seeing a lot of pitches, and therefore drew a ton of walks. I used to butt heads with my coaches sometimes because of this. Batting average was still too important in the 1990s. But I had the highest OBP on the last 3 teams I played for (age 13-15). So there’s an example of a situation where you can stand with the bat on your shoulder and have a high OBP. Of course, in that context, I would’ve had to adjust by the time I was 17. Because at that age bracket I’d be facing more and more pitchers who can actually throw strikes on a regular basis.

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  51. Uncle Rico says:

    Back in ’84 I could hit a baseball a quarter mile.

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  52. Ride the Apocalypse says:

    “There are zero ways to walk on seven pitches, given no swings.”

    You are technically correct. But, a particularly wild pitched ball could hit an unswung bat and roll foul. Of course, by the rules it would count as a swing. But in a literal sense, it would not be a swing.

    Right?

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    • Eric R says:

      Sure. If that happens in one of 1000 pitches, then the odds are very slim that it’d still come into play.

      It isn’t 1:1000, since it would also require you to first get to two strikes before that happened *and* ultimately get four balls.

      IDK, maybe something like one in 50000 PAs, maybe one in 100k? It’d take so many PAs, that I think you just round down to zero.

      I mean, it is also possible for you to break Earl Averill’s record of reaching base in 17 consecutive PAs… :)

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