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

Hello there, people who wish their best qualities were more widely appreciated, and welcome to the second part of the seventh edition of The Worst Of The Best. Here is a link to the second part of the sixth edition, from last Friday. You should click on that link for purposes of brushing up. Once it’s open, you should click on all of those links. Every last one of them. You should click on all of my bold text, just to see if it’s a link. Maybe I inserted some jokes in there! Only one way to find out! Probably, there are multiple ways to find out, but this is the easiest. Just get clicking. Click click click. Click on FanGraphs links. You could learn, or something.

So where earlier we looked at wild pitches, like usual, here we’ll look at wild swings, like usual. Specifically, swings at pitches far away from the center of the strike zone, from between May 17 and May 23. Excluded are checked swings, which is always frustrating, because a lot of the crazy swings I see in the data end up being checked. Also excluded are hit-and-run swings, but so far those have just been excluded in theory, since I have yet to encounter one. It’s all based on PITCHf/x, there are .gifs and things to follow, and I hope you have an appetite for misjudged secondary stuff. We move on to the top-five list, and also, we have two bonus .gifs! Free bonus .gifs! It’s your lucky day!

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These are not real, true swings. They just look like real, true swings in the data, which is what caught my eye, which is what took me to the video. Though these don’t belong in this particular series, I still feel like you should be made aware of them, if you weren’t already. So, behold: a foul ball, and a ground out.

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Up top, we have Clayton Mortensen hitting Josh Willingham‘s bat, in a demonstration of either incredible inaccuracy or incredible accuracy. Down below, we have Mike Leake grounding out against Jon Niese, even though Niese threw a pitch that bounced in the dirt. Leake checked his swing, but the ball bounced off the barrel when the barrel was its most forward, and into fair territory it went. By my own arbitrary rules, I can’t include this half-attempted swing, but your life is better for having learned of it. Trust me, you’re doing great.

5

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Remember what was going on earlier with Rick Ankiel? He started the year with the Astros, and in April he slugged .528. But in April he struck out 32 times in 54 plate appearances, which is more or less what you would do against a talented high-school freshman, and not long after that Ankiel was removed from the roster. Since then, he’s wound up on the Mets, and so far in May he’s slugged .600, but with 11 strikeouts in 44 plate appearances, which is more or less what you would do against a talented seventh-grader. Split Ankiel’s season to date arbitrarily, and he’s more than cut his strikeout rate in half. That’s nothing short of remarkable. But he still strikes out a lot and here he is striking out. Ooh, way to strike out, Rick Ankiel, you almost had him there. Never seen you do this before. That was a really great idea to swing at that pitch. I’m being sarcastic, in case you’re as bad at reading people as you are at reading pitches.

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If only that pitch were a little bit higher, and Ankiel might’ve stood a chance of grounding out. Keep reaching for the stars, Rick Ankiel, where by “stars” I mean Anthony Rizzo, at first base for the Cubs, who were the opponent here.

4

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Let’s generate a statistical setting, here. Since 2002, 608 batters have batted at least 1,000 times in the major leagues. Kelly Shoppach ranks first, or last, in strikeout rate, at 33.4%. In one third of his career plate appearances, Kelly Shoppach has gone down on strikes. Okay, you probably had an inkling. Now then. I also looked at pitchers going back to 2002, and 871 different pitchers have thrown at least 50 innings against both righties and lefties. Vinnie Pestano has struck out 42.3% of righties, and 16.3% of lefties. That’s a platoon difference of 26.0%, which has been the biggest difference in baseball, ahead of Josh Outman‘s 20.7% difference in the other direction. So, Shoppach strikes out a lot, and Pestano has been far, far better against righties than lefties. Here was Pestano facing Shoppach, a righty. Above is the first pitch of the at bat. Below are the second and third pitches of the same at bat.

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One thing they say about Kelly Shoppach is that he doesn’t get cheated. They mean that he’s always got a powerful swing, and he’s always swinging with confidence. One thing they seldom say outright is that Kelly Shoppach strikes out all the time. But, I mean, he does. He strikes out a lot. We can acknowledge it. We don’t have to be nice. We can be nice about his positive attributes, which exist. We don’t have to pretend that his ability to make contact doesn’t suck.

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Pitching sure is easy in theory. Man, it’s easy to develop a plan to get hitters out. If you’re a righty facing righties, you throw sliders down and away, with the occasional inside fastball. If you’re a righty facing lefties, you throw changeups down and away, with the occasional inside fastball. You can just do the same thing over and over and in theory you’ll get plenty of hitters out. Pitching sure is easy in theory. Man, it’s hard to repeat good mechanics.

3

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You know the problem with the Marlins is they all swing this way. Nobody’s noticed because nobody’s watched, but this is what all of their swings look like. This is a terrible swing! This isn’t ever a good swing! Yet this is the swing they taught in camp, and this is the swing they still use in the regular season. It’s no wonder the Marlins can’t score any runs. They all swing the bat like they’re trying to chip the ball out of the rough. This is what you get when you have nine dollars and a leftover half-sandwich to spend on a hitting coach. You hire the guy who washes your windshield at an intersection stoplight. I don’t know why the Marlins all elected to listen to that guy and practice his recommendations but that guy was probably in a coaching uniform and we all know about the Milgram experiment. One should hope this doesn’t continue much longer, but on the other hand, I don’t care.

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I had never before heard of Will Harris. I still don’t know anything about him, aside from the obvious. Here’s an incomplete list of other 2013 relievers I don’t know anything about:

Scott Rice
Hector Ambriz
Dane de la Rosa
A.J. Ramos
Cody Allen
Justin Wilson
Alex Wilson
Bryan Morris
Michael Roth
Jose Cisnero
Preston Claiborne
Robert Carson

And, among pitchers, Scott Rice is the league leader in appearances. Every Tuesday during my FanGraphs chats people think I’m some kind of baseball expert. I know so much less than you think. I might even know less than you. (Well, not you.)

2

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This was an uncaught third strike with two outs, meaning it was a running situation. Immediately, when the ball hit the dirt, David Wright became a baserunner. Now, lots of times, guys won’t put much into this. Sometimes they’ll very casually jog to first. Sometimes they’ll turn to look at the catcher or ask a question of the umpire. Sometimes they’ll be frustrated with themselves and just go right back to the dugout. But Wright did something different. As an active baserunner, Wright spun, stopped, and bent over to start taking off some of his equipment. There was no interest on Wright’s part in trying to advance to first. Quite the contrary; he presented his butt to be tagged by the catcher right behind him. This might be the easiest tag ever applied to a runner who hasn’t yet strayed from the baseline. Either Wright didn’t care, he forgot how many outs there were, or it was part of a trick to see if the catcher would neglect to tag him, thinking if Wright didn’t move, maybe it already counted as a strikeout. If the latter, it very nearly worked!

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Pixelization is watercolor for the 21st century. Glance at that screenshot and, whatever, it’s a kind of fuzzy screenshot of a baseball pitch. Now look at David Wright’s face. Look at David Wright’s face! Look at it! Look only at it!

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David Wright took the batting glove off his right hand in two moves. He took the batting glove off his left hand going finger to finger. I made this .gif not yet knowing what I would find to say about it. Apparently this is what I found. How disappointing. I wonder if David Wright’s left hand is bigger than his right hand. Or maybe he just has gloves of different sizes. Maybe he accidentally left one in the wash. This is very uninteresting.

1

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Add this to the list of potential bat-flip occasions. We’ve all seen bat flips on home runs. We’ve all seen bat flips on long fly outs, and balls off the wall. When he was a Mariner, Jack Cust occasionally had a bat flip for a walk. Here we have a Matt Wieters bat flip for an uncaught third strike. But this, presumably, is a bat flip not out of celebration, but rather out of frustration. Wieters flipped his bat angrily out of the way after whiffing at a pitch in the dirt. Now the good bat flip has been tarnished. We can no longer think of bat flips the way we did before, unsullied. The door’s been opened for more and more bat flips to be done out of anger. Which means we could start seeing a lot more bat flips. In this way, is Matt Wieters a pioneer? Probably more than he’s a pioneer in other ways. I don’t know much about what Matt Wieters does with his life.

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The advertisement in the background might as well say “Everything gets old and eventually dies, like you.” This was a nice pitch, Brett Cecil. I hope you enjoyed it, because you won’t throw many more of them when you’re dead.



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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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