Sarris: What can hitters actually see out of a pitcher’s hand?

From SABR member Eno Sarris at FanGraphs on September 15, 2016:

We’ve all seen those swings so terrible that a batter can’t help but smile. Swings like this one from Brandon Phillips last year.

Phillips, of course, isn’t the only victim of this sort of thing. He’s been a league-average major-league hitter for a decade, which is a substantial accomplishment. But even accomplished hitters can look bad, can get it very wrong.

Were Phillips batting not for a last-place club but one contending for the postseason, we might gnash our teeth. Couldn’t he see that was a slider? What was he thinking? What was he looking at?

The answer to that last question, turns out, is way more complicated than it seems. Phillips clearly should have laid off a breaking ball that failed to reach the plate. He clearly has done that — otherwise, he wouldn’t have had a major-league career. So what happened? What did he see? Or not see? Ask hitters and experts that question, and the answers are vague, conflicting, and sometimes just strange.

There are those who are sure they see spin. “I’m just trying to pick up spin,” said San Francisco infielder Joe Panik of what he’s looking for out of the pitcher’s hand. “I see spin on breaking balls,” agreed teammate Brandon Belt. “I see spin pretty well,” said Zack Greinke, this decade’s best-hitting pitcher.

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Originally published: September 15, 2016. Last Updated: September 15, 2016.