Bad Early-Season Swings And Who’s Coaxing Them

Title: Bad Early-Season Swings And Who’s Coaxing Them
Date: April 24, 2014
Synopsis: This was originally supposed to be a Fangraphs post but contained a bit of overlap with something someone else was working on, so I posted it here instead. The GIFs are worth it.

If you were watching the game between Oakland and Texas on Monday night – and I can’t think of a good reason why you wouldn’t have at least had it open on a computer window, considering Yu Darvish was on the bump – you may have borne witness to the worst swing of the entire MLB season so far.

Leading by a run with a man on first base and nobody out, Elvis Andrus squared to bunt an 0-1 offering from A’s reliever Dan Otero. The pitch missed high and Andrus pulled back the bunt, but catcher John Jaso was tipped off that Michael Choice could be on the move from first. On the next pitch, Jason called for a pitchout and Otero obliged.

As it turns out, a hit-and-run was on, and Andrus valiantly flung at the pitch to try and save his teammate.

Obviously, Andrus missed. Badly. PITCHf/x data shows that the pitch was not only 5.4 feet off the ground, it was also 3.9 feet from the center of home plate, making it the worst swing of the season in terms of distance off the plate.

But that’s not really fair to Andrus, who was simply trying to keep the hit-and-run from being foiled. It did, however, make me curious as to what the worst actual swings of the season were.

Unlucky Bunter Category
Much like Andrus, Starling Marte was the victim of circumstance on April 2 when Pedro Strop fired inside as Marte squared to bunt. The ball was 2.75 feet off the center of the plate inside, and try as he might, Marte was unable to get out of the way, being charged with a foul ball instead.

Like Andrus, though, Marte wasn’t really all that at fault here.

High Heat Category
April 11 was a day for tricky high heat, it seems. In the 11th inning of an eventual Cubs win, Hector Rondon fired an 0-1 pitch to Cardinals centerfielder Peter Bourjos. Like Marte before him, Bourjos tried to get his bat out of the way but failed, popping a foul up right over his head.

That’s hardly embarrassing, though he’d follow it up with a strikeout on a pitch in the dirt. Far more embarrassing was the swing that David Freese – who coincidentally was traded for Bourjos in the offseason – offered at a 2-2 pitch from Dillon Gee.

That fastball clocked in at 89.8 MPH, fooling Freese more with location than heat. Gee threw it right down the gut but 4.8 feet off the ground. Freese is 6-foot-2 and I’m 5-foot-10. A pitch four feet and eight inches would come up to about the top of my sternum (I have a big head), so a little north of letter-high for Freese. Here’s the freese-frame (sorry):
In The Dirt Category
I hope you like Blue Jays highlights, and you shouldn’t be surprised to see a pair coming up. The batter we’ll see in the next category has a career swinging strike rate of 13.7 percent and an O-Contact mark of just 29.4 percent this season. Sergio Santos, meanwhile, has coaxed whiffs on 60.6 percent of swings at his slider as a major leaguer, tops of anyone who’s thrown one 200 or more times since 2007.

On April 5, he embarrassed Alfonso Soriano with that slider in the dirt for the lowest strike of the 2014 season. Rather, the strike that bounced earliest.

Worst Swing, Period
Take a bow, Moises Sierra. Not only was this Justin Masterson pitch below the knees, it was also 2.6 feet off the middle of the plate outside. Count this one as the strike furthest off the plate this season.

Early Leaders in Embarrassment-Inducement
There have been 94,502 pitches thrown this season. There have been 16,932 that have come outside of this hastily drawn zone within which there’s a relatively fair chance of getting a swing (higher than four feet, lower than one foot off the ground or more than 1.5 feet off either side of the plate).

Outcome Count Rate
Swinging Strike 1439 8.50%
Called Strike 6 0.04%
Missed/Fouled Bunt 21 0.12%
Foul 420 2.48%
In play 200 1.18%
Hit By Pitch 177 1.05%
Ball 14669 86.63%

So perhaps those in the GIFs above shouldn’t feel too bad, considering 8.5 percent of these would-be waste pitches end up being swung on and missed, nearly the mark for the entire league regardless of location (9.4 percent) or the league on pitches within this imaginary zone(9.6 percent).

So which pitchers are doing the best job of coaxing these terrible swings this season? The table below shows the raw leaders and rate leaders through April 23:

Pitcher Pitches Swing&Miss SwStr%
Tanaka, Masahiro 89 20 22.47%
Hernandez, Felix 107 18 16.82%
Fernandez, Jose 75 17 22.67%
Liriano, Francisco 100 15 15.00%
Ross, Tyson 110 14 12.73%
Keuchel, Dallas 105 14 13.33%
Lackey, John 80 13 16.25%
Richards, Garrett 92 13 14.13%
Strasburg, Stephen 83 13 15.66%
Miley, Wade 118 12 10.17%
Greinke, Zack 91 12 13.19%
Darvish, Yu 81 12 14.81%
Pitcher Pitches Swing&Miss SwStr%
Alvarez, Jose 1 1 100.00%
Beliveau, Jeff 2 1 50.00%
Putnam, Zach 14 5 35.71%
Melancon, Mark 14 4 28.57%
Boxberger, Brad 11 3 27.27%
Cecil, Brett 27 7 25.93%
Smith, Will 40 10 25.00%
Petit, Yusmeiro 36 9 25.00%
Workman, Brandon 12 3 25.00%
Luetge, Lucas 4 1 25.00%
Jennings, Dan 33 8 24.24%
Tazawa, Junichi 29 7 24.14%
Jansen, Kenley 30 7 23.33%
Wooten, Rob 13 3 23.08%
Fernandez, Jose 75 17 22.67%

Jose Fernandez, embarrassing batters.

You know who else should be embarrassed? Bartolo Colon. He’s thrown more of these “wasted” pitches (46) than any other pitcher without getting a single swinging strike. Jered Weaver is right there with him, notching just a 2.83 percent swinging strike rate on the 106 pitches he’s thrown out there.

For what it’s worth, this article was originally intended to be a deeper dive into how pitchers and hitters handle “waste” pitches, including sequencing and more robust 2013 results. It proved a bigger project than time allowed for this week, but if you’re interested, there will be more specific data in this space next week.

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