Hello friends, and welcome to the second part of the fifth edition of The Worst Of The Best. Apparently this is how I start these things now. The last edition of this was posted on April 26, and here’s a link to that, in case you want to know what you’re in for, before you’re actually in for it. The idea is to do these on a weekly basis, but there were no posts that went up last Friday. Why was that? None of your business! But to make up for the hiatus, this post will cover the last two weeks of baseball action, as was the case with the earlier post chronicling the wildest pitches.
So we’re looking at the top five wildest swings from April 26 through May 9, and by “wildest swings” I mean the swings at pitches furthest from the center of the strike zone. This always takes a lot more time to research than the wildest pitches post, because I have to exclude checked swings for this, and checked swings go in the PITCHf/x e-books as regular swings. Dear PITCHf/x: you might consider taking note of checked swings, versus full swings? Partial checked swings, versus checked swings that were still ruled strikes? It wouldn’t help many people, but it wouldn’t help no one. Anyway, here’s a post, with .gifs. I hope you like it, because that’s the whole point.
- Batter: Manny Machado
- Pitcher: Blake Beavan
- Date: April 30
- Location: 36.5 inches from center of zone
Today I learned that Blake Beavan has generated a swinging strike this year. As Machado swung and missed and groaned and turned around and walked back to the dugout, Gary Thorne on the Orioles broadcast referred to this as Machado’s worst at bat of the season. Facing a not-good pitcher, Machado quickly fell behind by two strikes before getting himself out on a breaking ball that was never anywhere close. I’ll grant that the score was 6-0, so it’s not like the stakes demanded intense concentration. And I’ll grant that Machado might not have known that Beavan has a breaking ball, since, well, I guess I’m not here to be critical of Blake Beavan. That’s kind of an unbecoming habit.
Machado’s off to a great start with the Orioles, and he doesn’t turn 21 until the beginning of July. I’m starting to see some parallels between Machado and Mike Trout a year ago — not because Machado is Trout-good, but because Machado is extraordinary at an extraordinarily young age. Trout, last year, was 20 until early August. He was the best player in baseball. Now, you might think that striking out swinging against Blake Beavan would automatically disqualify a young player from any comparisons to a star like Trout. I mean, that’s not an easy feat. But last May 25, in the top of the third inning, Trout faced Beavan in Seattle and went down swinging. So the comparison survives, legitimately. I should note that I didn’t look that up before writing this paragraph. I looked up the specific date, but I recalled off the top of my head that Trout struck out swinging against Beavan last year. I think I even wrote about it at the time. That’s how incredible I found that to be. To Trout’s credit, he wouldn’t do it again.
Nevertheless, if I were producing an anti-Machado propaganda film, like if I were taking Machado to arbitration, this clip might be the climax. This clip might be the whole movie. The whole thing might just be the .gif. I am now technically a movie producer.
I get why the catcher removed his mask. The catcher flung his mask away and recovered the baseball, because there was a runner on first, and he could’ve broken for second. That much is apparent, and it’s hardly worthy of remark, even if the mask toss seems unusually forceful. What gets me is that the umpire also removed his mask. It’s like an exaggerated dramatic reaction to Blanks’ pitch selection and swing.
Umpire: /removes mask
Umpire: My god.
Sometimes in the comments people have expressed a desire to know by how much a batter’s bat missed the baseball. That, of course, is effectively impossible for me to figure out, so we’re probably never going to have that information, but if you’re okay with having a general idea instead of a specific statistical measurement, consider the following slow-motion replay:
Blanks missed the baseball by that much. Admit it, you’re a visual learner anyway. How big is that gap? I don’t know, but you probably could have fit a sandwich in between the baseball and the bat barrel. A pretty big sandwich, too, and I’m not only saying this because I just ate a sandwich. Actually I probably am.
Blanks made something of a name for himself in 2009, when he mashed ten dingers and impressed onlookers with his considerable power. Since then, owing to injuries and ineffectiveness, Blanks has mashed 11 dingers. Some of it is because he’s been hurt. Some of it is because of decisions not unlike this one. Kyle Blanks isn’t why strikeouts keep going up year after year, but Blanks probably doesn’t mind the company.
- Batter: Henry Blanco
- Pitcher: Clayton Mortensen
- Date: May 1
- Location: 37.4 inches from center of zone
I think first we should pause to take a moment to acknowledge the fact that Henry Blanco is still playing in the major leagues. He’s the fourth-oldest active player, between Jose Contreras and Jason Giambi, and you might not have realized that Contreras is still active. You might not have realized that Blanco is still active. Blanco’s an old backup catcher who, over the course of his career, has been a less-old backup catcher, and so you wouldn’t expect to see much of his name on the FanGraphs front page. I wish, for his sake, he’d be coming up under better circumstances. But it’s not like I’m a friend of his so I’m not going to lose any sleep.
This was the last pitch of a baseball game. There was nobody on base, and there were two outs, and there were two strikes, and the Red Sox were beating the Blue Jays by nine. Blanco owns a career .656 OPS and has all of 69 home runs since 1997. There was every reason to just groove a fastball over the plate and see, but instead Mortensen fed Blanco a breaking ball in the dirt to try and trick him into a swing and miss. One could consider this a distant relative of running up the score. Running up the score or generally showing off can rub people the wrong way. I don’t personally mind it, mind you, but if you don’t like when a team keeps piling on, you shouldn’t like this, either. Your dislike should just be a little less intense. The Red Sox had their boots on the Blue Jays’ collective throat and they didn’t let up, and that’s what some people call “killer instinct.”
Look back up at the .gif. This was the game’s last pitch. Blanco gave up — instead of running, he backed off and allowed himself to be tagged. He wasn’t going to make things difficult for no reason. The game is over. Look at the fans in the background. None of them make what you might call a “leaving” movement. Oftentimes in situations like this, people who have stuck around get up and go immediately after the last strike. They will have already put on their jackets. They might have already been standing. Here, the fans don’t move. The game has ended, and the fans don’t move. Are they suffering from collective Blue Jays depression paralysis? Have they gone catatonic? Are they being kept captive against their will? Do they live in the Rogers Centre? Do they live in these seats? Are they just afraid of going home and watching the Maple Leafs? There’s something fishy going on here.
I’m starting to think that baseball fans don’t do anything. At least, baseball fans in the rows directly behind home plate. Most of these people don’t even move a muscle. This is No. 2 on a list of things that are extreme. Are these even real people? Are they just projected holograms, where the technology isn’t sufficiently advanced to have them react to the gameplay? I was watching a soccer game a few weeks ago where the home team had been disciplined, and as a punishment they had to host a game in front of zero fans. Fans just weren’t allowed in the stadium, while a competitive game was going on. It was among the more unsettling sporting events I’ve watched, and I wonder now if the Mets were similarly disciplined, and all the fans were just projections in the seats made by or for the television broadcast. Note that I’ve resisted the urge to make an A’s joke, but I haven’t resisted the urge to allude to one.
Were there not a solid surface of the earth, this pitch would’ve wound up 0.6 feet below home plate at the front edge. There is a solid surface of the earth, and still Galvis thought, “sure.” He knew he struck out, but then he saw an opportunity to try to make it down to first, since the pitch was in the dirt. Within a second or so, he was tagged, before he could make it out of the opposite box. And that’s how Freddy Galvis got to feel like he made two outs, psychologically, in the time it takes you to blow your nose.
There is something to be written about Post-Strikeout Face. Among the varieties: ashamed.
After last year, I wrote about the fastest pitches that were hit for home runs. Tyler Greene topped the list, of all people. I also wrote about the slowest pitches that were hit for home runs. Improbably, Tyler Greene topped that list, too, and he only hit 11 balls out. Of Greene’s 11 dingers, one was on the fastest pitch hit out and one was on the slowest pitch hit out, and that’s one of the most extraordinary coincidences I’ve encountered in the course of my research. Now, this one doesn’t quite measure up, but it’s along the same lines. Earlier today, I reviewed the wildest pitches of the last two weeks, and the No. 1 wildest pitch was uncorked by Ian Kennedy on April 29. Here we see Ian Kennedy also taking the No. 1 wildest swing, also on April 29. In the same game, within just a few innings, Kennedy hit both extremes, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with this. It seems utterly fantastic, but I don’t have the words in me to give it a proper celebration. Let’s just take a moment, I guess. A moment to appreciate coincidence.
There’s another kind of incredible thing. Ian Kennedy doesn’t like to swing. I wrote about this here last summer, and this was Kennedy’s first swing of this at bat. Over the PITCHf/x era, Kennedy has posted the seventh-lowest swing rate in baseball. He’s swung less often than John Jaso, less often than Joe Mauer, less often than Jamey Carroll. His rate of swings at balls has been comparable to Bobby Abreu‘s. Also A.J. Ellis‘s. Ian Kennedy, usually, just kind of stands there, but in this case with two balls and two strikes, Kennedy flailed at a breaking ball he was never going to touch. Maybe he thought he’d be able to run down to first base, with the ball getting away from Buster Posey. Maybe Kennedy deserves some credit for attempted strategy. On the other hand, Ian Kennedy sucks at hitting. So.
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