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Good hits off of bad balls

One of the weirdest common phrases used by analysts of this great game is when they say a player is a ‘good bad ball hitter.’

This of course suggests that a player is able to somehow make contact with a pitch well off the plate, one they should probably miss or hit with only the weakest contact. Yet these bad ball hitters manage to square up all kinds of wild tosses and end up on base. Vladimir Guerrero is probably the most notable of players to fit this designation.

For Guerrero, hitting a ball well outside of the zone came as naturally to him as Brandon Guyer’s propensity for being drilled by a pitch; it just happens.

In baseball, a ‘waste’ pitch is when a pitcher misses the zone so incredibly badly that it was a waste of a pitch. The hitter at the plate would be hard pressed to offer a swing at the errant pitch because the chance of making contact, let alone hard contact, is so low, making it an easy take to potentially put the count more in your favor.

Since the start of the 2010 season, hitters have swung at just 5.8% of pitches that Baseball Savant designated as waste pitches. Of course, there was an ever lower percentage of balls that were put in play and allowed the batter to achieve a base hit with just 0.1% of the waste offerings hitters swung at resulting in a base hit (601 hits over 632,617 waste pitches; the Tampa Bay Rays had nine of these.

Reid Brignac - May 1st, 2010

With runners on the corners and two down, Reid Brignac had to at least put the ball in play to give the Rays a chance of scoring. After falling behind, 1-2 in the count, Brignac looked to stay alive against Kyle Davies. With the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Davies attempted to back door a curveball, but the pitch stayed wide of the mark.

However, Brignac didn’t want to risk the ball coming over the plate so he threw his bat at the ball, which was coming in at the letters through the opposite batter’s box, and poked the ball into shallow left field for a single.

Carl Crawford - May 12th, 2010

After watching Jered Weaver’s first two offerings go by for called strikes, Crawford found himself down 0-2. With Jason Bartlett taking off on the pitch, Weaver threw what appeared to be a change-up that was tailing away from Crawford and into the opposite batter’s box.

Not deterred, Crawford reached across the plate and slapped the ball towards the left side of the infield. Erik Aybar, who left his position to field the throw at second base, watched helplessly as Crawford’s groundball skidded into the outfield for a base hit.

Evan Longoria - August 14th, 2010

Down just 0-1 in the count, Evan Longoria did not have to protect against Matt Albers. Still, Longoria was enticed by Albers next offering, perhaps thinking the ball would catch the inner half of the plate; Instead, the pitch darted towards Longoria.

This was prime Evan Longoria though, who had the quick wrists of a surefire Hall of Famer. Longoria turned on the pitch and was able to get just enough of the barrel on it to muscle it over the infield and down the left field line for a double.

Yunel Escobar - June 29th, 2013

Yunel Escobar had never met a pitch that he didn’t want to take a whack at. Justin Verlander knew his opponent well and had no intention of coming near the strike zone against Escobar.

With a 1-1 pitch, Verlander came inside with a fastball that continued to run ever further inside. Escobar being Escobar, told a big rip at the pitch and connected just above his hands and lofted a shallow pop fly into center field for an easy single.

Kevin Kiermaier - June 5th, 2014

Having only played in 13 games as a Major League, Kevin Kiermaier was still a clean shaven rookie for the Tampa Bay Rays looking to prove himself. Sometimes, this led to him playing a bit over exuberantly, overboogeying, if you recall, in Maddon-speak.

At the plate, he could be a bit wild at times and created kind of a controlled frenzy whenever he put a ball into play. On one such occasion, he was down 1-2 in a count and chased a running fastball away from him. Kiermaier had no business swinging at the pitch as it likely would have been behind a hitter in the opposite box, but nonetheless, Kiermaier made contact and sent a flare down the left field line.

After the initial surprise of making contact, Kiermaier hustled his way to second base...and was nearly thrown after running past the bag.

Corey Dickerson - September 27th, 2016

Chris Sale was basically aiming at Corey Dickerson during this plate appearance in late September of 2016. Check out the pitch trax and you’ll see the entire left-handed batter’s box is filled with pitches thrown by Sale, and yet, he was ahead in the count against Dickerson, 1-2.

So with his next offering, Sale was coming inside again, even if he wasn’t supposed to (check the catcher). Dickerson wouldn’t shy away from the battle for the box and waiting for the ball to curve from behind his back and into his swing path. He made solid contacted and the ball wafted into right field for a single.

Corey Dickerson - May 30th, 2017

The ball bounced. It’s the main image and inspiration for this article. No player on any roster from Little League to the Majors has any business swinging at a pitch that bounces a few feet before it crosses the plate...and yet, Corey Dickerson did his best Adam Sanford impersonation (google him) and shot the ball into shallow left field for a double.

Mallex Smith - September 15th, 2018

Usually, hitters like to take the first pitch during an at-bat, unless they just can’t lay off. In Mallex Smith’s case, he must have been anticipating a different pitch because Chris Bassitt’s offering wasn’t going to be anywhere near the strikezone, and that was before it took a sharp turn towards Smith’s shins.

However, Smith was able to make contact and sent a slow dribbler towards the middle of the infield. The speeding Smith dashed down the line and just barely beat out the throw for an infield single.

Mike Brosseau - July 6th, 2019

One of the senior members of the league was humbled against one of the freshest faces in the game. C.C. Sabathia looked to see if rookie Mike Brosseau was willing to expand the zone. As it turned out, he was.

The change-up came across the opposite batter’s box and Brosseau simply leaned over the plate and slapped the ball into center field for a base hit.