Baseball is a game of feats. Whether they are spectacular or mundane is determined by a number of factors, including talent, context, audience, and rarity. Some require once-in-a-generation hitting prowess. Others simply require a birth certificate.
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I think the correct answer to the question, "who has the prettiest baseball swing of all time?" is undoubtedly Ken Griffey, Jr. But textbook swings don't always translate into beautiful results, and beautiful results have been achieved by many players with ugly swings (Dustin Pedroia, I'm looking at you). But sometimes a player is able to combine superlative form with superlative results, and when that happens, it's quite a feat.
At Viva El Birdos, swing expert Chris O'Leary breaks down the mechanics of "I'm not a machine, okay, I'm just" Albert Pujols. O'Leary's analysis, you may have guessed, is that Pujols has a good swing:
Type II power hitters swing a little slower but try to hit the ball more squarely more often (which enables them to hit for both power and average). What you are doing in this case is taking the energy that is in the ball and, to a large degree, just redirecting it in the opposite direction.
Three things make it clear that Albert Pujols is a Type II power hitter. First, his bat speed is only 87 MPH, rather than the 100+ MPH numbers that you see in some Type I power hitters (e.g. Prince Fielder and Bryce Harper). Second, Albert Pujols is a fastball hitter; which makes sense because it gives him more initial energy to start with. When Albert Pujols is hitting a batting practice fastball (which is also the type of pitch that you get in a home run derby), the ball is coming in slower and, as a result, doesn't have as much energy. As a result, while Albert will tend to hit the ball hard, it won't go as far as it would have if it were a fastball.
It's an interesting theory. A quick check of Hit Tracker Online confirms that, although Albert leads the majors with 39 round-trippers, he is currently just fourth in the Golden Sledgehammer race (longest average standard distance per home run). He trails the pedestrian likes of Nelson Cruz, Mark Reynolds, and Torii Hunter. He does, however, lead the majors in speed of home run balls off the bat. I recommend the whole article, except for this total non-sequitur:
What I see in Albert Pujols swing is a mechanically perfect swing that is highly repeatable. Even in his "bad" swings, meaning swings that result in outs, he often misses the ball by as little as 1/8 of an inch. As a result, I absolutely believe Albert Pujols when he says he doesn't use any illegal, performance-enhancing substances. I think the best explanation for Albert Pujols' numbers is once-in-a-generation talent, rather than steroids.
I just don't understand this argument. No one is arguing that Albert Pujols is a swing-and-miss kind of guy. But the fact that he isn't doesn't suggest to me that he has never in his life used PEDs. What am I missing?
Ladies love him. Men want to be him. He's a dog lover. He makes beer commercials. And he's on pace for a record ninth consecutive 200 hit season. In a recent profile of Ichiro's hit-proficiency, Brad Lefton wrote:
But if speed were the only factor, his infield hits should decrease as age slows him down. The opposite is true: he is 35, and the infield hits are increasing. In 1994, 34 of his 210 hits stayed in the infield; so far this year, 51 of his 183 hits have been infield hits, a pace that would give him his single-season high in that category.
Inge said if Suzuki’s infield hits were only about speed, then every fast, left-handed batter should have lots of them. But they do not. The top three base stealers in the majors bat from the left side of the plate, but none rank with Suzuki in infield hits: Carl Crawford (26), Jacoby Ellsbury (23) and Michael Bourn (33).
Is that definitive proof? I'm not so sure. Perhaps Ichiro simply hits a great many balls on the ground, and therefore has more chances to tally infield hits. I'm not sure that's especially praise-worthy. It is interesting to note that Ichiro is on pace to have the highest infield hit percentage (16.6%) of his career (in addition to his personal best in total infield hits).
It is, however, pretty cool. Especially since at least one fielder thinks he might be doing it on purpose:
"I wish you could put a camera at third base to see how he hits the ball and see the way it deceives you," Detroit third baseman Brandon Inge said. "You can call some guys’ infield hits cheap, but not his. He has amazing technique."
Could he perhaps be imparting extra spin on the ball? That's one more question we'll have to save for BASEBALLf/x.
With so much remarkable happening in the baseball world this year, Wezen-ball has asked an important question: Is 2009 the Year of the "Feat"? So far, we've had seven cycles, one perfect game, one no-hitter (that was a Juan Uribe error from a perfect game), and now an unassisted triple play. 2009 does have some competition, though:
The last time it happened was in 1994, when Kenny Rogers pitched a perfect game, Kent Mercker and Scott Erickson threw no-hitters, John Valentin turned the triple play and Scott Cooper hit for the cycle. The only other season to see all four feats was 1968, when four pitchers threw no-hitters to go along with Catfish Hunter's perfect game.
So, will this year go down as the year of the "feat"? In terms of sheer numbers - one no-hitter, one perfecto, one unassisted triple play and seven cycles - it seems like 2009 could lay claim to the title. But I tend to judge cycles as much less impressive than no-hitters or perfect games, so the seven cycles this year don't really compare, in my mind, to the four no-hitters from 1968.
Larry proposes the tiebreaker be 4 HR. So, whaddya say, Machine?
At the moment, I would agree that 1968 is the more impressive season, from a feats perspective. Four no-hitters is pretty remarkable, and cycles are slightly less so. So do you think it's time we stopped calling cycles "historic"?
Courtesy of Keith Olbermann comes a slight easier to achieve feat: the act of having a name similar to a major league team. He's got the full list, but I think my favorite was:
Atlanta: They get the all-time great in this bizarre category, former Reds and Padres' outfielder Angel Bravo.
That's a really fantastic name.
A bit of an oddball today, but inspired by Olbermann, what's your all-time favorite player name? I have a tough time deciding between Razor Shines and Enos Slaughter.