The Worst of the Best: The Month’s Wildest Swings

Hey there, everybody. welcome to the second part of the year’s second edition of The Worst Of The Best. Right here is the first part, concentrating on really terrible pitches. And here’s a link to the complete series archive. Now, the big story is Thursday marked the beginning of the 2014 Major League Baseball amateur draft, which is also referred to by other terms.

The draft is one of the most critical events for an organization, and when evaluating drafts, a common measure is whether a given drafted player made it to the major leagues. Keep in mind that all of the players you see below made it to the major leagues — and some of them attempted terrible swings. There are major leaguers and there are successful draft picks, and while there is overlap it’s hardly complete. Drafting is difficult and baseball is difficult.

In this post we entertain ourselves with the wildest swings attempted in May. Featured is going to be a top-five list, and then we’ll also whip through a next-five list just so you know who almost earned several paragraphs of critical commentary. It’s all PITCHf/x and I specifically exclude checked swings and swings on attempted hit-and-runs. This is how it has always been, although in this particular instance there’s something of a gray area. We’ll get to in a while. You’ll look at the swings at the pitches furthest from the center of the strike zone, and that’s the methodology until someone comes up with something better than that. Something that can be researched without watching every swing of every game. I like baseball, but I don’t like that much baseball. I like pepperoni sticks, but I don’t want everything I eat to be a pepperoni stick. I’d die. I’d die in agony. Basically, this is what we’ve got, so let’s just get into this thing.


Batter: Grant Green
Pitcher: Shawn Tolleson
Date: May 3
Location: 38 inches from center of zone



Batter: Gavin Floyd
Pitcher: Tim Lincecum
Date: May 12
Location: 38.2 inches from center of zone



Batter: Wilin Rosario
Pitcher: Corey Kluber
Date: May 30
Location: 39.5 inches from center of zone



Batter: Cameron Maybin
Pitcher: Carter Capps
Date: May 10
Location: 40.7 inches from center of zone



Batter: Jason Heyward
Pitcher: Jason Hammel
Date: May 9
Location: 41.8 inches from center of zone



Time to get busy writing! Like they say, get busy writing, or get busy being outside comfortable in the sunshine.


Batter: Eduardo Nunez
Pitcher: Vidal Nuno
Date: May 30
Location: 43.1 inches from center of zone


It’s easy to miss, because the .gif moves quickly and the video quality is far from hi-def. But this is Eduardo Nunez swinging, and also, this is Eduardo Nunez getting hit by the pitch that he swung at. Now, I don’t know if Nunez was among the May league leaders in the category. I know that Anthony Rizzo swung at pitches that hit him like two or three times, at least. But Nunez hacked at the worst of those pitches, and then he turned around and hopped around and pleaded, seeing if the umpire perhaps didn’t notice that he’d taken a full and exaggerated hack. You’ve heard of the back-foot breaking ball. The back-foot breaking ball can be a quality pitch. You don’t really hear about the front-foot breaking ball, because that pitch is bad. But, Nunez is a former Yankee. So they had some inside information on his tendencies, and it turns out he swings badly sometimes. He swings at pitches that hit him in the foot sometimes. From a psychological perspective, Nunez did a bad baseball thing and immediately got hurt. Maybe in this way he’ll be conditioned over time. Maybe every batter who takes a bad swing should be made to feel pain.


And now it’s time for Baseball Semantics. At present, 2014 Eduardo Nunez has a 0 in the HBP column. So it would be written that Nunez has yet to be hit by a pitch this season. But we know that’s not true. He’s been hit by one pitch. He just got none of the reward.


This is the face of a man who struck out swinging at his ticket to first, and whose sore foot is an active reminder of how things took place. This is Eduardo Nunez’s plate appearance in a facial expression. Now, suppose we didn’t actually know about the last pitch. Do you think we could guess what happened, just based on Nunez’s face? I think it’s not impossible. This is either “swung at a pitch that hit me,” or “there are 11 gnats in my eye.”


Of course, if a batter swings at a pitch that hits him, it’s because the batter was fooled. Because he was fooled, Nunez was almost completely done with his swing by the time the baseball actually hit him in the leg. After much consideration I’ve decided this whole sequence is worse than Upworthy.


Umpires are never above a good taunt. They’re people, just like us. They’re assholes, just like us.


After three consecutive near-100-loss seasons, Ron Gardenhire has been reduced to giving the sarcastic thumbs-up. It isn’t good for team morale, but then, neither is being the Twins.


Batter: Starling Marte
Pitcher: Tim Lincecum
Date: May 7
Location: 43.9 inches from center of zone


What gets me about this is the immediacy with which Marte puts his head down and starts booking it to first. He takes his first step right after completing the whiff and he quickly ends up in a sprinting position, aided by his having already been leaning forward. Usually what you observe is some sort of delay, but what you get from Marte is that he’s done this enough times before to be intimately and autonomically familiar with the routine. From one .gif of one pitch you can get a pretty good idea of Starling Marte’s strikeout-to-walk ratio.


I don’t know if that shows it enough. I feel like this might show it enough. From head-on, you might not realize just how badly some of these swings really miss.


It’s all just very specific timing, and what we’re looking at are some thousandths of a second, but Marte’s bat clears the zone before the baseball is even with the batters’ boxes. It’s obvious, on television, when hitters flail at a pitch off to the side. The space by which they’ve missed is perpendicular to the viewing angle. From center field, it’s much harder to tell that these swings miss pitches by literally feet. This curveball was enough to get Marte to swing, even though Lincecum was presumably trying to bounce it off the plate. How bad could a curveball be and still get a whiff? What is the worst possible swing-and-miss curveball? It’s not this, but how much worse is there?


Completely out of context, just as its own standalone screenshot, this makes it look like multiple players are really messing up. This makes Marte look like the worst player on Earth. Granted, the full context also makes Marte look like the worst player on Earth.


Some catchers specialize in receiving, some catchers specialize in game-calling, and some catchers specialize in making hitters uncomfortable by giving them that unsettling feeling they’re being stared at.


Gregor Blanco just assumed that, with Tim Lincecum on the mound, the proper defensive shift was to wait in the bleachers.


Batter: Rajai Davis
Pitcher: Trevor Bauer
Date: May 20
Location: 44.2 inches from center of zone


I want to remind you of something, from last year:


That’s Rajai Davis, and that was the third-wildest swing of the whole 2013 regular season. It was a swing at a pitch about four inches wilder than this post’s 2014 entry. It came immediately to mind, and something I’ve come across is a number of repeat names. Like, in the wildest-pitches posts, I see a lot of Tony Cingrani, trying to throw something that isn’t his fastball. I see a lot of Lincecum’s curveball, and I see a lot of John Axford‘s curveball. With swings, I’ve grown accustomed to names like Davis’ or Marte’s or Jean Segura‘s. There are guys who just make these lists more and less often, and though the samples are small even in the most extreme of circumstances, I’ve picked up on these patterns and I really want to be able to make something of the information. I’ve seen, in my time, a handful of really bad Rajai Davis swings. What does it mean? Does it mean that Rajai Davis isn’t a good hitter? Has anybody ever reached that conclusion before? I feel like I’m exploring exciting new territory.


“Ohio’s premier rocksino” is one of the most unpleasant sentences I think I’ve ever read in my life.


I feel like there should be a Tumblr devoted to short stories written around baseball screenshots removed from game context. I probably wouldn’t read it very much, because it would be too much of the same thing, but the concept would be fun and it’s not like other websites aren’t successful peddling a bunch of stupid repetitive bullshit. For all I know, I suppose maybe that Tumblr already exists. Or maybe these posts are that Tumblr. Hold on a second.


Interesting electronic warfare on the part of Progressive Field. Not only is there a display reading “the perfect pitch” visible out of the corner of the batter’s eye — it’s bright and red and flashing and distracting and vaguely hypnotic. Umpires give calls in the Indians’ favor, subconsciously influenced to believe they’re all perfect pitches, and opposing batters helplessly flail, there being a bright red flashing distracting electronic display within the field of vision. “How did Corey Kluber get so good?” you might ask. Half the time he pitches to effectively blind people, judgments rendered by hypnotized drones.


Batter: Alexei Ramirez
Pitcher: Yordano Ventura
Date: May 20
Location: 45.3 inches from center of zone


There’s a beautiful synchrony, here. Ramirez, smoothly, slows down his long swing, while the catcher, smoothly, slows down his extended arm after making the pick. The two end up with backs to one another, and though in one reality they’re opponents, vying for the same win in the same competition, in a different but equally legitimate reality, they’re teammates, actors in the artistic playing of a baseball game. Baseball is sport, and sport is art. According to the sub-rules of the sport, Ramirez lost. According to the umbrella rules of the demonstration, Ramirez played a crucial, starring role. In drama there are good guys and bad guys, winners and losers, but one is nothing without the other.


Same deal as before. Let’s just:


Approximate the distance between Ramirez’s hands and the tip of his bat. By roughly that distance did he miss making contact with the pitch. And this wasn’t even a two-strike pitch, where Ramirez would’ve had to protect. He was behind in the count, sure, but he was behind 0-and-1, under no obligation to fend off possible strikes at all costs. Ramirez was still in a place where he could be somewhat selective about his chosen pitches. This is what he did. This is what batters think about Yordano Ventura’s secondary stuff. Why would he ever throw it when he has that kind of fastball? Might as well just swing blindly and automatically, because a fastball is guaranteed. I said “batters”, but what I meant was “Alexei Ramirez.”


One thing batters don’t like is when pitchers visibly celebrate a big strikeout. Nobody likes being shown up. Another thing batters might not like is when pitchers respond to a swing and miss with eye contact and an expression of sympathy.


Say this for Ramirez — he doesn’t get too down on himself. He doesn’t beat himself up for swinging wildly at such a terrible pitch. He’s able to take it in stride without internalizing it, and he prepared for the following pitch with a smirk, having owned his own actions. Alexei Ramirez is not easily embarrassed. Probably this is because he does this all the time. Maybe the White Sox would prefer that he internalize it.


Batter: Everth Cabrera
Pitcher: J.J. Hoover
Date: May 15
Location: 50.1 inches from center of zone


And here’s why I’ve been wrestling with myself. I make it clear, in every single one of these posts, that I exclude checked swings, because I only want swings where the batter is committed to the attack. What we have here is a borderline case, and while I could rest easily with a borderline case somewhere else in the list, this is the No. 1 spot, for a whole month of the year. And I’ll probably have to revisit this later on if I end up doing something like a full-season review. Everth Cabrera definitely did not complete a full, regular swing. If that’s where I draw the line, then Cabrera is nowhere to be found. But this also wasn’t a conventional check-swing. If it was, it was perhaps the worst conventional check-swing of all time, because Cabrera went around and then some. I don’t know. I’m open to your suggestions. I feel bad that this posts concludes with an asterisk. But it is what it is and I haven’t been able to make a final decision. This was most of a swing. Was it enough of most of a swing? I’m being challenged on my own rules. I’m stuck and this is you observing my struggle. I’m going to sleep worse tonight, because of something this irrelevant. It’s not about the post anymore. It’s about the uncertainty. If I can’t be certain about my own rules and regulations, of what can I be certain in this world?


Now look at this. The screenshot above is where an ordinary hitter would check a swing. That right there is a check-swing judgment call. But Cabrera didn’t stop around the front plane of the plate. No, Cabrera kept going:


That’s why this might be the worst check-swing ever. Cabrera didn’t just point the bat at the third-base umpire — he almost pointed it at the pitcher. I’d say he swung the bat, and then stopped everything short of the follow-through. It’s arguable whether Cabrera should count for this post. It’s completely inarguable whether Cabrera swung, by the rules of the game being played. He swung. Everybody knew it. And, the most incredible thing yet — after the check-swing, after maybe the worst check-swing I’ve ever seen, Cabrera still tried to sell that he’d walked, that he’d held up and not offered at ball four.


That’s not Cabrera sprinting toward an open first base — that’s Cabrera backing off and tossing his bat, behaving like a guy who’d walked. That level of hubris and denial is borderline sociopathic. Everth Cabrera didn’t steal a chip when you weren’t looking. Everth Cabrera looked you in the eye, slowly took a chip from your plate and raised it to his mouth, and bit down while holding his steady gaze. And then Everth Cabrera requested a chip, saying that they look good, and insisting that he hadn’t yet tried one.


None of us are strangers to the Strikeout: C-1B. All of us are strangers to the Strikeout: C-P-1B. That is, you might ask the Strikeout: C-P-1B for directions, but you wouldn’t ask it to watch your kids. You could say that, in the course of a few seconds, J.J. Hoover threw Everth Cabrera out twice.

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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.

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Oh, Everth, That made me think: what is the best (or worse, depending on how you see it) “false walk” that has actually been ruled a walk simply because the batter acted like he had walked when, in fact, he had actually gone around?