The art of bad ball hitting

5/7/13 in MLB   |   droth   |   127 respect

Yogi Berra is probably the most famous bad ball hitter in baseball history.  When asked about his tendency to swing at bad pitches, Berra reportedly said, "If I can hit it, it's a good pitch."  

That mentality is alive and well in today's game and in recent history we've seen some tremendous bad ball  
hitters.  There's a difference between a free swinger and a bad ball hitter.  Free swingers lack plate discipline.  Bad ball hitters do to, but they make it look cool.  When Vladimir Guerrero hits a a pitch that bounced in the dirt, that's some serious bad ball hitting. 

So far this season Pablo Sandoval is hitting a mind boggling.365 on pitches out of the strike zone.  That's 43 points higher than his total batting average.  I'm no math expert, but I'm pretty sure that's not supposed to happen.

Since 2002, there are 38 MLB hitters with a cumulative O-Swing% of at least 33.3%.  In other words, since these statistics have been recorded, there are 38 guys that swing at at least 1/3 of pitches that would likely not be called strikes.

Sandoval tops this list.  For his career, he's swung at 45.1% of pitches out of the strike zone.  This year, Sandoval is going after 48.3% of balls.  (This season is the second highest of his career.  In his rookie season in 2008, his O-Swing% was an absurd 53.8%).  Guerrero is fourth on the list at 40.3%, in between Delmon Young and Adam Jones.  
April 22, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) hits a RBI-double against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
The difference between Sandoval and the other free swingers is the the Panda makes contact with those balls at an elite rate.  His O-Contact%, a measurement of the percent of the pitches swung at outside the zone that the batter makes contact with, is 77.3%, 17th best in baseball.  The thing about this measurement is that contact hitters, those anti-Vlads like Marco Scutaro, Placido Polanco and Juan Pierre, dominate the stat.  Then there's Sandoval, the freest swinger of them all, two spots behind David Eckstein.

Guerrero is thought to be the greatest bad ball hitter since Berra, and he certainly entered the bad ball pantheon with his power and ridiculous highlights, but early in his career he was more controlled.  Up until 2006, his O-Swing% would fluctuate in the 30-35 range, still high but not historically notable.

Then after a year in Anaheim that number shot up to around 45% where it would stay for the rest of his career.  Interestingly, the more pitches out of the zone he was swinging at later in his career, the more of them he hit.  By 2011, Guerrero hit .309 on pitches out of the zone, 19 points higher than his total batting average. 
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