In the fifth inning at Fenway Park on Memorial Day afternoon, Detroit Tigers backup catcher Gerald Laird took a belt-high fastball from Boston Red Sox starter Felix Doubront and launched it over the distinguished Green Monster. Later, the 32-year-old, listed at 225 pounds, who has long donned the tools of ignorance, chopped a ball to third and raced down the line for an infield single.
Those things, including being the one man in a promising lineup to muster multiple hits in a game, are nice, but Laird has done something even more outstanding. In limited but significant playing time this season, he has swung and missed at merely two pitches. Let me restate that—Gerald Laird has seen 143 pitches from the batter’s box and whiffed at two, or approximately 1.4%, of those pitches.
Out of the 414 major league players who have seen at least 100 pitches this year, Laird is the only one who has missed on less than three swings. Within the same sample, just Jeff Keppinger of the Tampa Bay Rays has whiffed at a lower percentage of total pitches seen, having swung through four of 328, or under 1.3%. Since 2002, when such data was first kept, the lowest swinging strike rate for a qualified player over the course of a full season belongs to Luis Castillo, who posted a 1.8% in 2007.
The first of Laird’s two whiffs came on April 21st during the afternoon game of a doubleheader, instigated by a rainout the previous night, against the Texas Rangers. In the third inning, the catcher worked Matt Harrison to a full count before swinging through a two-seam fastball, perfectly located on the inside corner. On May 14th, nearly a month later, Laird swung through a high, mid-nineties sinker from Chicago White Sox reliever Hector Santiago before eventually popping out to second base.
Between those two hacks, Laird saw 66 pitches without swinging and missing. I know of no way to find the numbers that doesn’t require a sizeable research grant and legions of individuals prepared for endless hours of data combing, but I’d be willing to bet a whiff-less streak of such length is close to unprecedented. This combination of plate discipline and bat control is certainly not common territory for Laird, whose career swinging strike rate is 8.5%, right around the league average.
It will be interesting to keep an eye on this as the season goes on. It’s unlikely he’ll keep the whiff rate down to this extreme, but in any case, it’s been refreshing to watch Laird’s at-bats in contrast to the oft-frustrating ones of Delmon Young and Ryan Raburn. Now that you’re aware of this obscurity, you can more fully appreciate Laird, who has posted a .316 batting average with some power thus far. That’s good stuff from a guy making a million bucks on a one-year deal.