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

Hey there everybody, and welcome to the second part of this edition of the series I wish I didn’t schedule for Fridays, when working Americans are supposed to be able to mentally check out in the early afternoon. I remember, at my old biotech, when Friday rolled around, the workday was basically over by lunch time. Now, not only do I work a full Friday — by the time this post goes up, much of the audience has already mentally and/or physically begun the weekend. One thing I could do is just not work on these things very hard, but I think I’m at the point at which I’m addicted to writing underneath images. I don’t know what I’m going to do in November. Tremble a lot, probably. Here’s a link to the series archive, to change the subject.

Wild swings are what we have, at breaking balls intended to hopefully generate wild swings. This edition comes with five wild swings and a bonus non-swing that still makes it into the post for reasons you might or might not be able to guess. Basically everything is something you might or might not be able to guess. That covers just about all the options. Today’s research excluded a bunch of check-swing strikes, from players like Matt Wieters, Ryan Zimmerman, Mike Moustakas, and Chris Davis. Players very much like them. Players so much like them, in fact, they are them. We’ll get going now to the five wild swings and the bonus. The sooner we all start, the sooner we’re all done.




Obviously, there is no intended swing here, which is why this doesn’t count as the week’s wildest swing. A wildest swing has to involve both wildness and a swing, and without both of those, you have a non-candidate. But I ran across this in my research because it was a pitch thrown far away from the strike zone that resulted in a strike — in this case, an accidental foul ball. It has nothing to do with the subject matter, unless you loosely determine that the subject matter is “baseball”, and I figure you guys would appreciate having something like this brought to your attention. This, I think, is the third or fourth instance of such an accidental foul on the year. I can recall it also happening to Mike Napoli and Josh Willingham. This is, without question, the least repeatable sort of strike to generate, if you’re a pitcher. But it might also be the most satisfying, because you have a hitter who’s afraid he’s being thrown at, and then at the end of everything the hitter doesn’t even get a ball or a time on base. Ian Kinsler ducked below a curveball and came away behind in the count 0-and-1. If this happened to someone in an extended hitting slump baseball might see its first on-field murder/suicide. Or at least, its first in a while. I’m not real up to speed on baseball’s on-field criminal history. Something like this might have evaded my attention.



Something I’ve learned more about, from writing these posts every week, is the relationship between the catcher and the umpire. Though I never really thought about it before, the umpire depends on the catcher to block pitches that might otherwise hit him, because it’s not like the umpire can jump out of the way if there’s a high heater or something in the dirt. The umpire needs to stay stable, so he needs the catcher to catch and not whiff. A ball that hits the umpire makes the umpire hurt real bad. From watching Nationals clips, there’s been a surprising amount of talk about how Kurt Suzuki is unusually courteous. How Suzuki would go out of his way to block pitches just to make sure the umpire was protected. In terms of friendliness, that would score Suzuki points, and maybe it would earn him an extra pitch or two in the long run. Above, you see not Kurt Suzuki, but Wilson Ramos. Ramos blocks this pitch in the dirt, but only by picking it; he turns his body to the side, and this pitch easily could’ve gotten by and struck the ump. Suzuki, I’ve been led to believe, would’ve gotten his body in front of it. What I presume is that Ramos is consciously or unconsciously less courteous with umps than Suzuki is. So now I get to pretend like I have a bit of inside information, that I came up with by myself. Now Suzuki’s back with Oakland and from what I’ve read I guess he just makes friends with everyone. Ramos, meanwhile, has lost his courtesy role model.


Sometimes, hitters swing through baseballs by as much as a foot, or more. When that happens, we don’t really think about it, at least outside of these particular posts. It’s uncommon but it’s not rare — you’ll see it in almost every game. But, now, stop and really think about that. Dwell on that. Sometimes, hitters swing through baseballs by as much as a foot, or more. Which makes it seem like an absolute damned miracle that sometimes hitters hit the ball perfectly. On purpose! With a little wooden dowel. Baseball is not a game of inches. Baseball is a game of even littler units of measurement. And several times in every game that’s played, the batter will make near-ideal contact with a small round ball thrown by a guy trying to deceive him. Baseball really ought to be impossible. There’s no other way around it. It’s not just that Ichiro’s magic, or that Miguel Cabrera is magic. They’re all magic. Every last one of them.



From Walker’s Wikipedia page:

Walker’s father, a former teammate of Roberto Clemente, reflected about his son’s career when discussing Clemente’s death in 1972. Before taking off on the flight that he would die on, Clemente insisted that Walker’s father not join him on his humanitarian mission. Walker’s father said Clemente saved his life and allowed him to have his family, including Neil Walker.

And we were that close to not having this .gif in front of us. Or maybe we’d still have this .gif in front of us, because maybe things would’ve gone differently had Walker’s father been on the plane. Butterflies flapping their wings and all. Now I’ve gone and made myself uncomfortable by talking about something maybe I shouldn’t be talking about. Is it still too soon? It can’t possibly still be too soon. We’re well more than Neil Walker’s entire life away from when that all happened. And Neil Walker is a major-league baseball player, featured in a .gif.


“Be sure to have fun out there, like a kid,” people have always told Joe Thatcher. So every time Joe Thatcher throws a pitch, for a split second he makes sure to play airplane.


What this was was an uncaught third strike, making Walker an eligible base-runner. What this was, additionally, was an uncaught third strike with two outs and the bases loaded, meaning the catcher didn’t have to throw down to first base if he didn’t want to. All he had to do was simply step on home for the force. And the ball didn’t even roll far from the plate, making this just about the easiest possible uncaught-third-strike out conversion. The only easier conversions occur when the batter doesn’t go anywhere and submits to a tag or just goes right to the dugout. This play, basically, was automatic. But because humans were involved, this play wasn’t genuinely automatic. There existed some tiny but real probability that the catcher would blow this and everyone would be safe. If this were repeated a billion times, maybe once or twice, the Pirates score. I’ve elected to sit here and imagine just what a blown conversion would’ve looked like. How might the catcher have messed this up? Is there a way that doesn’t involve him collapsing and dying? Possibility 1: he strays off-line and trips over his own mask. Possibility 2: forgets rules, throws to first, throw is wild. Possibility 3: bees!



That’s it. That’s all we have. No alternate angle. No alternate broadcast. No instant replay. Instead of showing this again from the front, ESPN decided to talk about CC Sabathia. In a close game, broadcast nationally, Shane Victorino struck out swinging and we couldn’t tell how or why. We didn’t know what the pitch looked like. We didn’t know what the pitch was. All we knew was the velocity and the result. For this one pitch, and maybe for this one pitch only, one would’ve been better off and better informed following along by radio instead of TV.


What’s particularly interesting about this is that Shane Victorino is a switch-hitter. Here, we see Victorino batting right-handed against the right-handed Kelley. It’s not because Victorino was trying to neutralize Kelley’s changeup or anything. Victorino, rather, is kind of hurt, and his injury restricts his swing from the left side, so for now he figured he’d be better off going full righty. Batting righty against righties, he’s gone 11-for-34 with a .910 OPS. That’s not surprising, because we know that Victorino has always had a capable swing from the right side. That is surprising, because as a righty against righties, he’s seeing pitches moving completely differently from how they always have in the past. Fastballs bore in. Breaking balls slip away. As a righty against righties, Victorino has, somehow, been successful, right from the get-go. In this at-bat, though, it all made sense. In this at-bat, what was supposed to happen happened. I think. Still can’t see the pitch. Will never be able to see the pitch.



I’ve never caught. I’ve never even put on all the gear. I have gotten down into a crouch to catch a few baseballs, but I’ve always been terrified of doing that so I try not to do it often. So, basically, I have a pretty terrible understanding of what it’s like to be a catcher. I don’t know what’s surprisingly hard about it and I don’t know what might be surprisingly easy. But look right here at how easily the catcher slides to his right. It’s something you often overlook if you’re watching a game, but catchers are doing a lot back there, and this guy just skids smooth and easy for several feet to the side. It looks impressive, and more, it almost looks beautiful, how fluid it is. I can’t imagine how long it takes to learn to do that. Also, Gonzalez reached first base safely because the catcher couldn’t find and throw the baseball in time because he didn’t actually successfully block it. Hell of a pommel horse routine. He just did it on the vault.


After Gonzalez reached, the Astros’ broadcast talked about how bittersweet it is to run the bases after reaching on an uncaught third strike. They suggested that the runner is then carrying the weight of the strikeout with him, and I suppose those guys were both speaking from experience. Almost immediately, Gonzalez broke and successfully stole second. I wonder if, by doing something positive, Gonzalez got to feel like his presence on the bases was legitimate. In so doing he’d also transfer more negativity over to the catcher, who is then mostly responsible for 180 lost feet and one lost out. In truth, pitchers are to blame for a lot of that, but catchers get it anyway because catchers are basically punching bags. If they weren’t, why are they dressed like punching bags?


I couldn’t get it perfectly, but I was hoping to capture a moment where the ball perfectly dotted the “i” in “credit” in the ad. Instead, I got it dotting the “d”, which doesn’t make any sense, in this language. Really, to make it more baseball-appropriate, the company responsible for the ad should have a baseball as the dot in the “i”. Really drive home the point that this is a baseball game, and the company enjoys baseball, just like you, the at-home viewer curious about his credit record! If there were a baseball in that ad, instead of a regular i dot, the catcher might’ve been even more hopelessly confused. “WHY IS THE BASEBALL JUST FLOATING THERE” and then Gonzalez gets all the way to third before the ump takes pity and points.



And here we can see how hard it is to slide smoothly to the side, because this slide is a lot worse. This slide, basically, is an attempted kick of an invisible assailant, as best captured in the below screengrab:


There’s something else that screengrab looks like, but I’m not going to dignify it on the front page of FanGraphs. I’m only going to allude to it, and wait for some commenter to speak up and put himself in the spotlight. That way I’m not the one being crude. Note that the smooth slide up above failed to block the wild pitch. Note that the awkward slide down below successfully blocked and deadened the wild pitch. Are results more important than visual appearance? Is it more important to be good or be smooth? That’s an honest question, because I don’t know, because I’m both.


Jason Kipnis knows he swung at a bad pitch. From time to time, he’s going to swing at bad pitches. He’s going to get tricked, and he’s going to whiff, swinging over a baseball in the dirt. But Kipnis came this close to swinging and missing at a pitch that hit him in the body. I don’t know if that’s ever happened to him before, but that seems like the kind of thing one doesn’t easily forget. It seems like, years down the road, one would be able to recall swinging at a pitch that would’ve otherwise been a painful free base. When that happens, it’s embarrassing. When this happens, it’s more fleetingly embarrassing. An inch or two is all the difference between an embarrassing moment and an embarrassing memory. On the same pitch, Kipnis could’ve struck out and fractured a toe. Maybe he would’ve lost a nail. Kipnis nearly added to his mental scrapbook, and he might not even appreciate or understand just how close he came.


What didn’t happen was Kevin Jepsen throwing Jason Kipnis out. The catcher retrieved the ball and threw down to first, like normal. But the ball did roll a fair distance back toward the mound, and Jepsen did go in pursuit before yielding to his own backstop. Which makes me wonder: has a pitcher ever converted an uncaught third strike for an out? Has a pitcher ever struck out a batter, gone and gotten the ball, and then thrown the same batter out? Would that even be allowed by the rules? I don’t know why it wouldn’t be allowed by the rules, but it would sure be pretty fun, and sometimes baseball has weird rules against fun. Maybe next time, Kevin Jepsen. For all of our sake.

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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.