And now we’re to the second part of the second edition of The Worst Of The Best. In this part, as in the second part of the first edition of this series, I encountered a problem where I logged into MLB.tv too often in too narrow a window of time. What happens then is you get your account suspended! Very temporarily. So it is something of an inconvenience, hence the delay in getting this post up on the page. So be prepared if you’re ever going to load a bunch of different MLB.tv archive games all willy-nilly. Don’t load them from Gameday or from the scoreboard page; load them through the actual MLB.tv window itself. Having had this problem twice, it’s clear that the penalty after the first infraction wasn’t enough of a deterrent to teach me a lesson, but I won’t worry about my cognitive function until or unless it happens a third time.
Incidentally, when I did something like this last year, sometimes people would write in about really ugly swings, wondering why those didn’t show up on the list. Like, swings where the batter fell down, or something. Those are bad swings, but these are the swings at the wildest pitches, which is different and which is based on PITCHf/x instead of observation and judgment. Someone, probably, should keep track of all the swings where batters fall down. But because that information isn’t easily recovered on a computer, I’m not going to worry about it, myself. Here are wild swings at pitches way out of the zone. That’s all this is, and nothing more. Off to the top five, or the bottom five, depending on your perspective.
A word of warning: this is going to be a series composed almost exclusively of swings at breaking balls with two strikes. That’s when you get the biggest hitter zones and the most putaway pitches, and if you’re sick of seeing these now, consider that it’s April 12. We’ve got a lot of these left to go, and so there’s a certain significance put on finding other things to observe, within the .gifs of the same swings over and over. Like in this case, okay, Scott Hairston chased a two-strike breaking ball in the dirt. He looks stupid but it happens, to everybody. It’s not that big of a deal. But then look what happens afterward. Hairston misses and looks behind him, checking to see if the ball got to the backstop. It was in the dirt, after all, and maybe, just maybe, Hairston would be able to make it to first base despite having struck out. Then Hairston turns, opportunistically, to try to advance, but he finds that the baseball and catcher are just right there, waiting for him. In this .gif, in Hairston’s mind, he’s not out, then he’s out, then he’s not out, then he’s out again, all in the span of a couple seconds. That is probably the nearest to home plate anyone has ever been tagged out by a catcher after a strikeout, selecting for players who didn’t just immediately turn around and return to the dugout. Hairston’s expression of realization is ephemeral, but it’s there, right before he gets tagged on the butt. Could’ve tagged on the back. Went for the butt.
Not long ago I saw Starlin Castro turn a pitch and swing like this into a base hit. Starlin Castro is on the Cubs. Scott Hairston is on the Cubs! Is Starlin Castro having an influence on the rest of the Cubs hitters? No, that’s a coincidence.
- Batter: Brett Wallace
- Pitcher: Brett Anderson
- Date: April 7
- Location: 34.4 inches from center of zone
Do you remember Shaq Thompson? He was a thing not very long ago. He was drafted in the 18th round last year by the Red Sox, and he played a few games in the Gulf Coast League. Thompson batted 47 times, and he drew eight walks. That’s not the bad part. The bad part is that he had 39 at-bats, zero hits, and 37 strikeouts. He was genuinely about as bad as a blind person, and people started to wonder about Thompson’s mental state, given that this was happening to him and he was just 18 years old. How would Thompson handle such adversity? Was that enough of a reason to conclude that Thompson would just never make it as a ballplayer? How does something like that even happen in the professional ranks? How does a player strike out almost every single time he doesn’t draw a walk, over a small yet meaningful sample? Was Thompson’s the craziest stat line ever?
Brett Wallace was a first-round pick in 2008. The middle of the first round, and then not long after, he was ranked the No. 40 prospect in baseball. The next year, he was ranked the No. 27 prospect in baseball. Wallace, in the big leagues in 2011, was about a league-average hitter. Wallace, in the big leagues in 2012, was about a league-average hitter. He posted the same wRC+ as Michael Bourn, Jose Altuve, and Mitch Moreland. Coming into this season, Wallace didn’t look like he was on the verge of a breakout, but he looked like he could be a decent contributor, maybe something of a role player. At this writing, Wallace has batted 22 times. He has a single, and 17 strikeouts. The single was a grounder in his second at-bat, and it came in an 0-and-2 count. Wallace has whiffed with more than half of his swings. By the numbers, so far this season Brett Wallace has hit like career Matt Garza. With some slumps this early, you say “well nobody would really notice if this were happening in June.” You’d notice if Brett Wallace were happening in June. Brett Wallace is having the sort of slump you feel bad about. Brett Wallace is playing like us, and it’s heartbreaking.
Whoever Alberto Gonzalez is led off this half-inning with a four-pitch walk. The Cubs desperately wanted to advance Gonzalez to second base. Up came Jeff Samardzija, and he bunted the first pitch of the at-bat foul. Then Tim Hudson made a couple pickoff attempts. Then, after a ball, the Cubs put on the hit-and-run, and Samardzija hit the ball foul. With Samardzija in a two-strike count, the Cubs didn’t put anything on, and Samardzija struck out flailing at a breaking ball nowhere close. To review: Gonzalez couldn’t advance on a bunt. He couldn’t advance on a steal. He couldn’t advance on a hit-and-run. And he couldn’t advance with Samardzija swinging away. There was a whole lot of strategy going wrong in that at-bat, and the inning would ultimately end with the Cubs getting blanked.
The best part, for me, is Samardzija’s little fist-clench after he whiffs and turns around. Samardzija was very disappointed in himself for failing to get the job done with a runner on first. He shouldn’t have been, because he’s Jeff Samardzija. When you get all the way to the big leagues you believe that you’re capable of anything, because you play baseball at an impossibly high level. But just because you play baseball at an impossibly high level doesn’t mean you hit at an impossibly high level, or even at a normal high level. By big-league standards, Jeff Samardzija completely sucks at hitting. That should dawn on him after a few more of these.
- Batter: Josh Hamilton
- Pitcher: Derek Holland
- Date: April 5
- Location: 34.9 inches from center of zone
This day, Josh Hamilton finished 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. In the top of the second, he struck out swinging at a slider away, off the plate. In the top of the fourth, he struck out swinging at a slider low and away, off the plate. In the top of the sixth, he lined out on a slider away. In the top of the ninth, he lined out on a curveball away. Earlier this past week, I nearly wrote about Hamilton’s series against the Rangers, figuring I would check to see the Rangers’ pitch patterns in his plate appearances. Who would know Hamilton’s weaknesses better than his most recent employer? But then I remembered that everybody knows Josh Hamilton’s weaknesses. That Hamilton can still produce is a testament to his raw ability, but it’s no secret what he does. What he does is swing, at pitches like these.
It doesn’t look like Josh Hamilton is swinging. It looks like some strong invisible ghost is tugging on the other end of Josh Hamilton’s bat, and he’s trying with all his might to keep it in his possession. Instead of being figuratively haunted by the low-away quadrant, he might be literally haunted by the low-away quadrant.
Underappreciated part of the sequence:
While the baseball was rolling on the ground I’m surprised Josh Hamilton didn’t swing at it.
- Batter: Shane Victorino
- Pitcher: Brett Cecil
- Date: April 5
- Location: 37.2 inches from center of zone
Drabek: Right there!
Romero: I know!
Drabek: That’s all I’m ever trying to do!
Romero: I’m just the same way!
Drabek: I throw the exact same pitch over and over and over and over
Drabek: and over
Romero: -and they’re like, noooooo, you need to go to the minors
Romero: But this guy
Romero: This guy
Romero: This guy gets away with it?
Drabek: It’s not even in the same universe as fair.
Romero: I throw this pitch way more than Cecil.
Drabek: I throw it even more than you!
Drabek: Nobody gets us.
Anthopoulos: Ricky there?
Anthopoulos: Thought so.
Anthopoulos: Please stop hanging out.
And now that is a screenshot that has appeared on FanGraphs.
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