Hi everybody and welcome to the second part of the first part of a new recurring Friday series. The series began with the week’s wildest pitches, and now we move on to the wildest swings because batters need to be ridiculed for their humiliating failures too. So often, we celebrate these players for being extraordinarily talented, for regularly doing things of which we’re not even capable. Consider this your weekly reminder that ballplayers are humans and sometimes, if only for fleeting instants, humans suck. Consider this also your weekly reminder that, the overwhelming majority of the time, ballplayers are terrific.
As with the wildest pitches, identifying the wildest swings is done using PITCHf/x and basic math. I confirm everything by going to the video, and I’m not going to include checked swings, because I’m looking for full, ill-advised commitments. I’m probably also not going to include swings during hit-and-run attempts, since the hitter generally feels like he has to swing at everything so the decision is practically out of his hands. I don’t want swings attempted because the hitter feels like he has to swing. I want swings attempted because the hitter thought the swing would be productive. Each week, there will be featured a top-five list. Each week, starting RIGHT NOW.
- Batter: Todd Frazier
- Pitcher: Garrett Richards
- Date: April 3
- Location: 33.5 inches from center of zone
There are two things, I think, to notice about this .gif. One is the might with which Todd Frazier swings. A by-the-book announcer would probably remark that Frazier “doesn’t get cheated” even though I’m still trying to figure out just exactly what that means. Frazier doesn’t want to hit the baseball — Frazier wants to destroy the baseball, he wants to break the late tie with the most impressive dinger anyone in Cincinnati has ever seen. Frazier’s heart is in the right place, but good intentions never got anyone anywhere. Actually that’s entirely untrue, but good intentions aren’t enough to stand on their own. Good intentions matter only if you can follow through, and Frazier doesn’t look like he had a reasonable plan of execution.
The second thing to notice is Chris Iannetta. Giving Iannetta the double-screenshot treatment:
Iannetta is covered, head to toe, in protective equipment. Over the course of a lifetime, he has caught so many thousand of pitches in so many thousands of places from so many thousands of pitchers (or something). Here, instead of just dropping down and blocking the pitch with his body — there’s no one on base — Iannetta responds as if he’s never caught before and can’t believe someone just threw something so hard in his direction. You know what’s hard to control? Your instinct to be afraid of things coming at you fast. Catchers, and hockey goalies, are amazing. Except for in this instance. In this instance, Chris Iannetta was one of us, except with a super pick.
- Batter: Daniel Descalso
- Pitcher: Ian Kennedy
- Date: April 1
- Location: 34.4 inches from center of zone
Oftentimes, we see players express disappointment in themselves after the fact. After a pitcher throws a really wild pitch, he’ll usually look at the ground and then apologize to the catcher. If a pitcher coughs up a dinger on a mistake, he’ll make a face. If a defender commits an error, he’ll do any number of things, but most of the time you’ll be able to tell he just screwed up. It isn’t uncommon to see a player acknowledge that he screwed up. But that’s after the pitch, or after the swing, or after the play. After the mistake. Here, Daniel Descalso realizes in the middle of his swing that his swing is a really bad idea. That’s why he pulls up only after his bat does a near-270. In the course of this one swing — this one fraction of a second — Descalso travels the range of emotions from confident to regretful. Did he pass directly from one to the other, or did he pass through all other transitional emotions in between? We’re going to need a physical chemist.
Also, hey look, another weird receiving job by the catcher.
Iannetta caught the ball low and dragged the ball high. Miguel Montero caught the ball inside and dragged the ball outside. From these behaviors we can conclude nothing. They are probably completely meaningless and pointless to even point out.
- Batter: Jason Heyward
- Pitcher: Jonathan Papelbon
- Date: April 4
- Location: 35.5 inches from center of zone
Look at the exaggerated reactions of some of the fans. This swing ended the game, a 2-0 loss to the Phillies by the Braves. It was a two-strike count, there was nobody on base, and Papelbon is one of the league’s best closers. The Braves had already won the first two games of the series. By this point, one should’ve simply assumed a loss and been content with the series win. The win expectancy for Atlanta when Heyward stood in 2-and-2 would’ve been microscopic. They’d almost never come back, and indeed Heyward whiffed to end it. But then arms go up, faces contort to express anguish. “This, of all things?!” As if Heyward were a disappointing player who choked in a critical spot. You know what: it was cold and awful in Atlanta this night. This particular pitch was never close to the strike zone, horizontally, and Papelbon doesn’t really ever throw a slider to lefties, so anything coming was going to break away. Still, Heyward swung to conclude the action. Heyward’s a perfectly intelligent hitter, so I can only conclude that he did this on purpose to allow everyone to go home and get warm. Jason Heyward did all the fans a favor. And they thanked him by issuing a collective groan. Some gratitude.
Just so you understand exactly how wild a swing this truly was:
Heyward’s brain (to self): You are not Ichiro.
Heyward’s brain: SWING
Heyward’s body: /swings
Heyward’s brain (to self): You are not Ichiro.
Heyward’s brain (to self): Not Ichiro.
Heyward’s brain (to self): Did I stutter?
- Batter: Giancarlo Stanton
- Pitcher: Gio Gonzalez
- Date: April 3
- Location: 36.5 inches from center of zone
I’ve talked before about how it’s going to be interesting to look at Stanton’s numbers, given that he has zero in the way of lineup protection. Keep in mind, the Marlins have scored one run in three games, and Stanton’s been followed by Placido Polanco. If there’s anything to the protection idea, it follows that Stanton should see precious little to hit, since no one else in the order represents much of any sort of threat. Stanton should often be pitched around, if not outright walked intentionally. But then what about the rest of the numbers? What if Stanton feels pressure to deliver all the offense on his own? Is he going to try to put the team on his back and over-extend himself? Is he going to be over-aggressive because he figures if he doesn’t do the job, no one will? Is Giancarlo Stanton going to try to do everything, and if so, how will that be reflected? What could it do to his value? Because less than a year from now, he’s going to get traded. This is a fascinating experiment, mostly at Stanton’s expense.
The absolute best part of this sequence: the rest of this sequence.
Umpire: Run to first!
For Stanton, it’s going to be a year of navigating the thin boundary between trying to do everything and total indifference. To be completely honest, perhaps Mike Redmond‘s greatest challenge will be trying to keep Giancarlo Stanton motivated all summer. Other young guys on the Marlins will be trying to establish themselves as big-leaguers. Stanton knows he’s a star, and he knows he’ll get traded somewhere regardless of how he performs. He doesn’t care how much the Marlins get back. I’m not saying that Stanton can’t motivate himself, since he did get all the way to where he is today, but this Marlins team is going to try his drive. Stanton might occasionally need a little help.
- Batter: Garrett Jones
- Pitcher: Michael Bowden
- Date: April 3
- Location: 39.7 inches from center of zone
A lot of the time, you’ll see these swings attempted in two-strike counts, when the hitter is forced to expand. Here Jones was even in the count 1-and-1, and still he swung at this, from an opposite-handed pitcher:
Jones responded with frustration in himself, because he knew he swung at a bad pitch. He flipped his bat to himself, he tucked it into his armpit, he walked out of the box, and he made a grimace. He probably figured he gave Bowden a break. In reality, it was all by design. Watch Welington Castillo:
Bowden didn’t accidentally bounce a changeup in a 1-and-1 count. Bowden deliberately bounced a changeup in a 1-and-1 count, at Castillo’s suggestion, because Castillo figured Jones was guessing fastball. One of the broadcasts talked about Garrett Jones having “premeditated swings”, and this would be compelling evidence in support of the theory. Garrett Jones appears to be a guess hitter. Garrett Jones owns a career 111 wRC+, and last year he slugged .516. Is it that difficult for pitchers and catchers to out-think Garrett Jones? The only reasonable conclusion is that Garrett Jones is some sort of impossibly perceptive genius.
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