Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 9/20/13
Hey guys, and welcome to a post to which you don’t need to be welcomed. This isn’t property or a residence — no one resides here. This is a post, weighing literally nothing, figuratively little, with no doors and no walls. I’m not inside of it, allowing you in. I’m not even greeting you, as you’re reading this — my words are, but my words are old, having been written in advance of this post being published. So, hey guys, and here’s a post. Did you know that these introductions have become the trickiest part of composing this series? Maybe you can tell. Neat thing about wild swings and wild pitches is that they provide a jumping-off point. You can look for things to write about in the video or the numbers. A completely open introduction? The hell am I supposed to say? I don’t have many strong opinions about things, and this isn’t the place to talk about potential Breaking Bad spoilers. Although that gives me an idea, so check back next week. I’m just kidding, I’m not going to do what I thought of, so you’ll never know what I thought of. Thank goodness, this paragraph is finished. This is the part where we talk about wild swings and share many laughs because the swings were ugly and irresponsible. Our window of observation this time around goes from September 6 through September 19, and as always, I’ve elected to exclude checked swings and the nearly-always-hypothetical wild swings on hit-and-runs. Authors of excluded checked swings for this edition: Marc Krauss, Brian Bogusevic, Junior Lake, and whoever Chris Rusin is. I’ll warn you that one of the wild swings below was attempted by a pitcher. But to compensate for that, this post also features among the neatest of chance quirks, so, keep your eyes peeled for what I will make a point of bringing to your attention. Get ready for fun! Or get ready to browse the series archive. Now get ready for fun! 5 Batter: Edinson Volquez Pitcher: Trevor Cahill Date: September 10 Location: 39.4 inches from center of zone Obviously, Volquez is one of the wildest pitchers around. Even when he was pretty good, he featured unreliable strike-throwing ability; now he’s taken that up to 11, and he’s awful. Awful in the major leagues, but, awful. League-leader in walks issued to opposing pitchers. That kind of stuff. What I’ve noticed, now, is that, as a hitter, Volquez’s O-Swing% isn’t really all that far away from his Z-Swing%. Pitchers, of course, aren’t supposed to have particularly good approaches at the plate, but Volquez is the wrong kind of aggressive, swinging at too few strikes and too many balls. That’s the kind of thing that causes a guy to have a .235 OPS over more than 250 trips to the plate. The natural, unavoidable question: could Edinson Volquez throw a ball so wild even Edinson Volquez wouldn’t swing at it? Study is the only reason I can think of for why the Dodgers picked him up. They haven’t yet perfected cloning or on-demand temporal manipulation, but they’re working on it. Not sure why they’re pitching Volquez in the meantime, but what do you mean one walk and 16 strikeouts Volquez has made four appearances with the Dodgers — three starts — and in three of those appearances, he didn’t walk a batter. One time this year, before joining the Dodgers, did Volquez last a game without walking a batter. Volquez has nine career walk-less appearances. Three of them have come since August 30. In one of them, Volquez faced zero batters. In another, he faced five. In two others, he hit a guy. I was joking above about the Dodgers being scientists, but, now the evidence is pretty compelling that they’ve dramatically altered Edinson Volquez’s DNA, to turn him into a pitcher who doesn’t suck a lot. Maybe that’s not in the DNA. Maybe that’s in the brain. The Dodgers futzed with Edinson Volquez’s brain, figuring that no one would miss him if the experiment didn’t work. It worked. And based on all that swimming-pool stuff, the Dodgers have also futzed with other brains. I know I’m supposed to be talking about bad swings right now, but how can I talk about a bad swing when Edinson Volquez has one walk in four games? How is this not literally the only headline? Earlier this season, Volquez hit a home run against Ramon Ortiz. That happened on June 2, and it was the first home run of Volquez’s big-league career. It was his 221st career plate appearance. To that point, he had three walks and 97 strikeouts. 28 sac bunts, meaning 50% strikeouts in plate appearances that didn’t end with a sacrifice. On June 1, the Padres’ batting coach thought he might finally be getting through to Volquez. Volquez was tiring of his strikeouts, and he was open to other ideas. The batting coach had plenty of them. Discipline. Choking up. Shortening up. Sitting on a pitch. In batting practice, the day of June 2, Volquez looked like the beginning of a new man, on the verge of turning over a new leaf. Then he faced a bad pitcher and muscle memory kicked in. For the first time, it paid off, and Volquez went deep like he was always trying to do. At last, Volquez had his proof of concept. He knew he didn’t need to change after all — he just needed to swing as hard as he could, and hit the baseball with his bat, because he possesses the strength to hit a ball out. The Volquez of today is the Volquez of a year ago. The Padres’ batting coach of today is a broken, weaker man. It is one thing not to be heard; it is another thing not to be listened to. Pitchers hitting is funny. I get it. Pitchers suck at hitting. They’re terrible at it, and yet they still have to do it all the time, half of the time. Nobody expects them to do anything good, except maybe lay down a bunt, and there’s not really a lot of disappointment when a pitcher strikes out. They do that, because hitting is hard, because pitchers are good at pitching to hitters. Sometimes there can be comical moments when there’s a pitcher at the plate, just like when there’s a position player on the mound. Here, Edinson Volquez took way too big of a hack at way too bad of a pitch. And Volquez stepped out and smiled about it. “Ha! I’m such a gas.” It’s funnier, sure, than Adrian Gonzalez doing the same thing. But it’s funniest when you have a pitcher hitting for one of his first times. The humor is diminished when you’re a pitcher with a career .098 average over more than 250 trips to the plate. Volquez: Whoops! Volquez: I’m so silly! Teammate: Learn something 4 Batter: Will Venable Pitcher: A.J. Burnett Date: September 16 Location: 40.0 inches from center of zone I’ll admit that I’ve stared at this for too long, trying to find something to talk about. It’s a relatively unremarkable .gif, and I’m not feeling inspired, and I’ve already written about so many similar pitches and swings this year. But upon, I don’t know, the 50th viewing, I glimpsed something. Now I’m going to help you glimpse it. Look at the umpire. Look at his left hand. Look at how quickly it forms a raised fist. The umpire doesn’t do anything wrong, given the sequence — he just does everything suspiciously fast, like he knew what was going to happen. Or like he was going to call a strike anyway. Like he’s rooting for the Pirates. The Pirates, this year, are a lovable underdog. They’ll never be this lovable again for a long time, because after this year, people won’t think of them the same. Are the Pirates so lovable that umpires are playing favorites? Is this the secret behind their dramatically improved pitch-framing numbers, and overall record? The only reasonable conclusion is that, yes, it’s all a sham. And we have this .gif to prove it. Sorry, Pirates fans. It hasn’t all been a dream, but it also hasn’t all been real life. Think you’re not qualified to be a scout? Here, let me help you think like a scout. Look at Venable’s swing at this pitch. Okay, good, good job. Now, this season, Venable has 22 home runs to his name. How many of those home runs do you think have been pulled? Incorrect, not 22. But, 21, so you were close. This is the swing of a pull-happy power hitter. Here’s a map of where Venable’s dingers have gone. That’s exactly what his swing would suggest. Look how easy this is! You’re figuring out the significance of swing paths! Unfortunately you’re still not a scout, because I handed this idea to you, and also because you’re not employed as a scout. Or if you are, hey there, shouldn’t you be looking at something else, like some teenager somewhere? How does it feel to spend so much time looking at teenagers? Do not answer that please. 3 Batter: Will Venable Pitcher: A.J. Burnett Date: September 16 Location: 40.2 inches from center of zone IT’S THE EXACT SAME PITCH IT’S THE EXACT SAME PITCH EXACTLY ONE PITCH BEFORE NUMBER 3 IS NUMBER 4 BASICALLY EXACTLY AND THEY WERE BACK TO BACK AND THAT’S SO AWESOME AND I’M YELLING BECAUSE THIS SERIES IS ALL ABOUT DISCOVERING THE LITTLE THINGS KIND OF LIKE LIFE Difference in location, horizontally: three inches. Difference in location, vertically: two inches. Difference in pitch type or velocity: zero. In baseball there’s a lot of game theory, founded upon the notion that players are always learning and adjusting. Patrick Corbin has thrown an unhittable slider, but game theory tells us the slider wouldn’t work nearly so well if he threw it exclusively. It’s critical for him to mix up his pitches and use the slider somewhat sparingly so that it can remain such a potent weapon. Game theory tells us you often shouldn’t throw the same pitch consecutively, because the hitter will have just seen it. Burnett threw the same pitch consecutively to Venable, and he got consecutive swings and misses. Burnett did what a six-year-old would’ve told him. “What should I throw now?” “Didn’t he just miss that pitch?” “Yes.” “Throw that again then.” Baseball is not a simple game, and it is not a game with simple explanations, so the moments of simplicity are moments to be cherished. “Well it worked once, maybe it’ll work twice.” It worked twice. Baseball! Venable: oof Venable: How embarrassing. Venable: I know how much he loves his back-foot curveball, too. Venable: Should’ve seen that coming. Venable: Hope I don’t do that again for a while. 2 Batter: Jose Tabata Pitcher: Joe Kelly Date: September 6 Location: 40.3 inches from center of zone Most interesting isn’t that Joe Kelly registered a swinging strike. Most interesting isn’t that Jose Tabata attempted a worse and less confident swing than Edinson Volquez. Most interesting is that Yadier Molina received the ball cleanly and ran toward the baseline just in case the umpire were to determine the ball wasn’t actually received cleanly after all. So, Molina did a few things perfectly: he called the perfect pitch, he caught it perfectly, and he prepared for an eligible base-runner perfectly. So much of what Yadier Molina does is perfect, which is probably why the umpire gestures in his direction after the whiff, as if to say, “this guy.” No no, let’s get a better shot of that. Little help, Internet television? That pitch missed the bat by a greater distance than all of Joe Kelly’s other pitches this season combined. You wonder how much of Kelly’s even modest success is due to the presence of Molina. We’ll get our answer after he’s traded this offseason to the Twins. Umpire: You’re done here. Umpire: I cordially invite you to take a seat. Tabata: That’s their dugout, not ours. Umpire: Your dugout probably isn’t going to want you back. 1 Batter: Brandon Crawford Pitcher: J.P. Howell Date: September 12 Location: 41.9 inches from center of zone Whenever there’s a situation like this, with an uncaught third strike, the proper gesture on the umpire’s part is to initially point forward, toward the batter. This is something I’ve learned over the course of this season, and I’ve used it for material. I love the idea of the umpire just pointing at the hitter after he swings and misses at a stupid pitch. But what if, simultaneous to an uncaught third strike, there were something in the outfield at which the umpire was trying to point? Like what if a pack of wolves got loose and charged in from center field, right as a batter swung and missed at a third strike in the dirt? The umpire would point at the wolves, but all the players would just assume he was pointing as an umpire signal. The fans wouldn’t be of any help because we learned a while ago fans at baseball games don’t pay attention to the field. Players would end up mauled and devoured, all because of simple miscommunication. And that’s the story of the umpire who should’ve cried “wolves.” Rejected backstop advertisements: Electromagnetism Convection Quantum Chromodynamics Wind Hyperbolic Orbit Johannes Kepler Refraction Van der Waals Equation I don’t know how one is supposed to purchase or otherwise patronize gravity, but in this economy I don’t blame it for trying to garner support and attention. Even if you’re not in it for the money, you have to make a living. Theoretical natural phenomena are people too. Being a taller gentleman, I have a quick natural gait. I don’t try to walk fast; I walk fast because I have long legs, and people with shorter legs have some trouble keeping up, so we always have to find some in-between compromise. I’ve grown accustomed to slowing myself down, when in shorter company, following a period of high-school awkwardness and uncertainty. As difficult as it can be to keep up with me, though, it’s more difficult still to keep up with Brandon Crawford, who does everything at a light jog. Jogging is Crawford’s walk — he knows no differently. It’s not only because of the jog that Crawford is alone. It’s because of the jog and the stubbornness. “Why should I be the one to change? I’m the one who doesn’t dilly-dally. We’re all in a race against time. I’m the only one trying to win it.”
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