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

Hey there, deliberate or accidental viewers of FanGraphs, and welcome to the second part of probably the year’s last edition of The Worst Of The Best. Here’s Monday’s post, on the season’s wildest pitches. Here’s a full series archive. Some people have asked whether I’ll do an edition of this for the playoffs, and to be honest I haven’t decided yet. I mean, it’s baseball, important and trackable baseball, but reviewing the season also brings a certain finality and playoff stuff isn’t going to measure up. “We’ll see,” is the point. For now, if this is the last edition, I want to thank you guys for following along. I know these posts are long, and I know they can take a long time to load. I know they don’t quite feel FanGraphs-front-page appropriate, once you get past the PITCHf/x bits. I know these are a lot more silly and a lot less analytical. Thank you for accepting them, thank you for not complaining about them, and thank you for allowing me this occasional slide into the ridiculous. Baseball is pretty serious business, and we treat it as such, but even funeral homes have casual Fridays. I mean, probably, but I’m not going to call one.

What we’re going to do in this post is review the five wildest swings of the 2013 regular season, by which I mean the swings at pitches furthest from the center of the strike zone as determined by PITCHf/x and squaring and adding numbers. Excluded are checked swings, because at least those demonstrate an awareness, if sadly delayed. I only wanted to capture guys who went all-in. Also excluded, in theory, are swings during hit-and-runs, but I didn’t encounter one of those. I did encounter Andrew Romine throwing an attempted bunt at a wild pitch-out with a runner sprinting home from third. The bunt missed, the catcher missed, and the runner scored standing up. You won’t see that below, but you also don’t need to — how you imagine it is at least as satisfying as seeing it for yourself. Maybe more, and who am I to stomp on your imagination? Joe Saunders was pitching, incidentally. Remember Joe Saunders?

A wild checked swing by D.J. LeMahieu was left out. A wild checked swing by Nolan Arenado was left out. A wild checked swing by A.J. Ellis was left out. Below, five full swings. Of additional note, four of them came in July, and all five of them came between June 25 and July 27. Coincidence? Yes, of course, what else would it be? What is it about July that you assert leads to a greater frequency of terrible, undisciplined swings? Brighter suns in the sky? More matinees? Well, actually, maybe that’s a little sensible. But you can’t base a theory on so few wild swings. This doesn’t prove anything, except that these five wild swings were attempted. Behold, embarrassing moments in the lives of the privileged!

5

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Do you want to know something about the power of lists on the Internet? I’m going to tell you something about the power of lists on the Internet. I wrote about this swing before, in one of the previous editions, because it was very bad. That’s precisely why you’re looking at it right now. Very bad swing, where Cuddyer goes too far around chasing a curveball in the dirt. Shortly after publishing, I received an email from someone who turned out to be a Rockies fan. That person argued that Cuddyer didn’t belong on the list, because he was clearly trying to check his swing, hence the awkward slow-down, and therefore by my own methodology Cuddyer should’ve been excluded. Keep in mind that nothing bad happens if you show up on this list. You don’t even know about it, presumably, and these lists are self-contained, in that they don’t have an effect on anything else, literally at all. They exist within a FanGraphs online quarantine, and there weren’t even any statements about Cuddyer or the Rockies, in terms of how good or bad they might be. All that existed was a bad Michael Cuddyer swing within a weekly list of bad swings. This was enough to make somebody upset, and sufficiently upset to take the time to craft a personal message. This is the power of lists on the Internet. Also the power of sports fandom when held in the hands of the stupid.

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Don’t believe for a second that pitch is headed for the dirt. That pitch is bouncing up from the dirt, having already made contact with the earth. You can see a little puff where the ball left a miniature crater that appears miniature to us but positively massive to area microbes. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill ordinary bad swings. These aren’t your grandpappy’s bad swings. These are the bad swings remembered longer than the birth dates of loved ones. Are bad swings like this the reason strikeouts keep going up and up across both leagues? No.

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The very instant a veteran role model recalls that one of his responsibilities is to serve as a veteran role model. This is Welp Face. Look for it and you’ll see it a lot.

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An aside: this game was delayed by rain. The man circled in red appears to be shirtless. It’s not at all uncommon to see a baseball fan with an umbrella when it’s raining. It’s not at all uncommon to see a male baseball fan not wearing a shirt. The game-time temperature this day in July was a perfectly comfortable 79 degrees. Individually, what’s captured makes sense. But has anyone ever gone shirtless and held an umbrella? Like, ever before, outside of right here?

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Lucroy (to self): He’s up to something.
Lucroy (to self): He has to be up to something.
Lucroy (to self): That was a terrible swing at a curve…
Lucroy (to self): …smart thing to do would be to call another curve…
Lucroy (to self): I don’t think he’s seeing the curve…
Lucroy (to self): He’s up to something, though.
Lucroy (to self): He has to be up to something.
Lucroy (to self): But if we just called a cur-
Lucroy (to self): augh
Lucroy: GOD DAMMIT CUDDYER
Cuddyer: Oh don’t you get on me too
Cuddyer: I’m already hearing it from all sides
Lucroy: WHAT ARE YOU DOING

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Ever seen a chyron in disbelief?

4

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Just to review the rules: if you swing and miss at a regular pitch with two strikes, and the ball is caught, you’re out. If you swing and miss at a way worse pitch — a pitch that’s virtually impossible to catch cleanly — you become an eligible base-runner, and you can reach base without making an out. In other words, as a hitter, it’s possible to make a decision so bad it actually becomes good. Jean Segura reached base, here. He took the fourth-wildest swing of the entire regular season, behind in the count 0-and-2, and instead of making an out to lead off the top of the eighth, he got to first and became a threat to the Diamondbacks’ lead. How far does it go? Can you get an even better result by making a decision somehow even worse? According to the rules I just pulled up, if you attempt a full swing at a pick-off to second base your team is awarded an automatic grand slam. Boy do I hope this doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Also, I have an idea for the Mariners.

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Everybody knows about batters corking bats, and while it seldom ever happens, and while the benefits are dubious, we can all remember instances of there being suspicious splinters after a batter gets jammed. Corked bats are a part of baseball folklore. Something far fewer people know about are sanded baseballs. That is, decoy baseballs that the pitchers fill with sand, so that any contact is certain to be weak and harmless. It’s a difficult trick to pull off, but it’s doable, as Heath Bell demonstrates. And as Heath Bell demonstrates, the one thing you don’t want to do with a sanded baseball is bounce it. Whoops! You’re outta there, Heath Bell! Cheat smarter, not harder.

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Just so that you can properly appreciate these things, that little white pixel in front of the plate is the baseball right after it hits the ground. The usual broadcast camera angles can be super misleading. They make it seem like there’s no distance at all between the mound and the catcher, and they make it seem like any pitch in the dirt is just like any other pitch in the dirt. No no — sometimes pitches hit the dirt literally feet in front of home. Sometimes those pitches are swung at. See this pitch from the usual angle and you might think, okay, I see how that happens sometimes. See this from overhead and you might instead want to throw Jean Segura in prison.

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The Brewers’ first-base coach comes to terms with the fact that he’s about to have to congratulate a moron for being too much of a moron for the other team to throw out. Segura, meanwhile, learns that there’s a fiesta in his future.

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The last time I looked at this, I showed it again in slow motion. I think I had the right idea last time, so let’s do it again this time:

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What this is is the third-wildest swing of the 2013 regular season. There were two other wilder swings, at pitches further from the middle of the strike zone. But this is probably the worst swing of the 2013 regular season, and maybe of the last few regular seasons. The reason? The two wilder swings both came with two strikes. Not only were there not two strikes on Davis — there were two balls, and one strike. Davis was actually ahead in the count, and he decided to swing at a breaking ball feet low and feet outside, and he decided to swing with all his might with the bases empty in a two-run game, and Davis has 27 career home runs. It seems to imbue Davis with an odd sense of confidence. “Yeah, I did that. That was all me, it was.” Davis struts as if to say “I’d like to see you do better,” and “I know by the rules you can’t actually come up here and show that you can do better.”

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Sam Miller wrote some months ago about a theory that Mark Reynolds is blind. I would like to submit the hypothesis that Rajai Davis is also blind. My first bit of evidence is the swing above. My second bit of evidence is Rajai Davis indicating that he is blind, in his eyes.

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My third bit of evidence is the pitch right after the pitch right above:

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They say Rajai Davis is a guess hitter, and they’re damn right that he is, but what choice does he have? Literally, the best that he can do is guess, guess pitch spot and pitch timing, because he is a baseball player who cannot see. For his career, even a blind Davis has been worth a handful of wins over replacement level, but that’s expansion and talent dilution for you. Ever feel like you could’ve done something better in a baseball game you’re watching? You could’ve, and you should try out, because the league-wide talent level these days is deplorable. Thanks, Selig.

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Above, we saw Jean Segura reach first base safely on an uncaught third strike. That’s legal, according to the rules, but it’s a little weird, and it’s a little humiliating. Here, we see what looks like Segura teammate Figaro just giving up and declining the opportunity to become an eligible base-runner. Figaro spent some time pitching in Japan, and you might figure this is just him doing what he thinks is the honorable thing, giving himself up after making a fool of himself. But really, this is just Figaro following directions:

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“Go to the dugout,” says the umpire. “Under ordinary circumstances, I would be pointing at first base, indicating that you’re allowed to run, but in this instance, I command that you go to the dugout. I refuse to allow you to potentially reach base safely after attempting a swing like that, official rule book be damned. Hence, go to the dugout. Go to where I am pointing, right now.” So Figaro went to the dugout. There are times to follow the rules. There are times to do what you’re told. Generally, the two will overlap, but when they don’t, trust the authority in front of you, instead of the authority unseen.

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The San Diego broadcast circles the area where they think Volquez should throw the next pitch. Alternate joke: the San Diego broadcast circles the area where they think Volquez will throw the next pitch. Pick whichever joke you prefer and laugh accordingly. Yes yes, thank you, you are welcome for the joke.

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If you saw only this screenshot, and if you wanted to give Figaro the benefit of the doubt, you could argue that Figaro’s bat had a mind of its own and tried to swing, and Figaro did everything he physically could to try to hold the bat back, but the bat was too strong in the end. Maybe you’ve never considered the idea of an automated batbot, but, I mean, there are cars in development that drive themselves. It’s the year 2013. This is the future. Why wouldn’t there be computerized baseball bats that do everything but hold themselves? If anything here, Figaro’s the victim, according to the hypothetical excuse.

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Everyone just wants to find Figaro’s missing contact lens except the home-plate umpire, who’s kind of an ass.

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This doesn’t look as bad as it was, and it’s all because of the ground. The ball takes a decent bounce off of the ground, skipping straight ahead instead of continuing on its lateral trajectory. Also, the ball bounces off of the ground, instead of going below it, which would’ve been impossible. Imagine, if you will, that Rasmus were standing on a platform, and the catcher were squatting on a platform. Around the platforms, empty space, aside from the columns holding up the platforms. I don’t know how the rest of the baseball would work under these circumstances but bear with me. Had this pitch been allowed to continue without touching dirt, it would’ve crossed the front plane of home plate more than two feet outside from the center, and more than a foot below. This shot, I think, better captures just how badly Rasmus truly screwed up:

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Freeze it:

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Do you see how much worse that looks than this?

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I mean, that already looks bad, but that doesn’t give you enough of a sense of how outside the pitch was going to be, and how early it reached the dirt. No need to be nice, here. No need to be polite. No need to give Rasmus the benefit of the doubt, or to claim that PITCHf/x malfunctioned or whatever. No, no, this was the very worst swing of the entire regular season, featuring more than two thousand games. Colby Rasmus swung at this pitch, and he swung with the full, uninterrupted confidence of a man who couldn’t believe pitches could do that and go there. All Colby Rasmus might ever see, in his head, are fastballs over the plate. All he saw here was a fastball over the plate, even though he was behind in the count against a same-handed pitcher. He got a breaking ball outside in the dirt. Maybe Colby Rasmus is also blind. Are both Colby Rasmus and Rajai Davis blind? I think I might have an idea of why the Blue Jays so badly underachieved. They didn’t underachieve — they just neglected to replace two blind players.

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I know I’ve talked about this before, but look how close Jose Molina came to drilling Rasmus in the face with his pick-off attempt to first. Rasmus came away just fine, but the ball would’ve come within, I don’t know, a foot, and though it’s less funny now given how Rasmus’ season finished, I can’t help but daydream about Rasmus whiffing with this swing and then immediately getting pegged in the kisser. It would represent immediate cosmic justice, and it would also make for the .gif to end all .gifs. So I guess in that sense I’m thankful it didn’t happen, because then what would I do for FanGraphs? Write *words*? Blech.

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Rasmus: This is where this goes.
Rasmus: This is where this is.
Rasmus: This is where this goes.
Guard: /doesn’t make eye contact
Gibbons: /doesn’t make eye contact
Teammates: /don’t make eye contact
Gatorade cooler: /doesn’t make eye contact
Bench: you don’t even deserve to sit on me
Bench: I’m gonna put a splinter where your butt is
Rasmus: /prepares to sit



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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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