In general, we laud hitters who lay off pitches thrown out of the strike zone. There are obvious reasons for this: taking those pitches works the count in the batter's favor and keeps him from giving away ABs by lunging and weakly putting the ball in play. But not all swings on out-of-zone pitches are created equal. The farther off the plate the pitch is, the less chance the hitter has of making something positive happen. Check out the MLB average for in-play slugging percentage by pitch location in 2011:
Out-of-zone pitches swung at produce feeble contact overall, but that's especially true on pitches swung at that are located way outside. Not surprisingly, hitters rarely go after these sure-fire balls. The swing rate on "non-competitive pitches" -- defined as those located at least 18 inches from the center of the strike zone -- was 9.5 percent for non-pitchers this past season. But some guys just can't resist those bad balls, showing the plate discipline of a Sumo wrestler at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
So, who were baseball's true hackers in 2011? Here's a list of qualified hitters who swung at the highest percentage of non-competitive pitches.
Highest Swing Percentages on "Non-Competitive" Pitches in 2011
As this list shows, being hacker doesn't preclude a player from posting big offensive numbers. But it does make it harder. Sandoval (.377 Weighted On-Base Average), Morse (.384), Stanton (.376) and Cabrera (.344) are the only hitters to post wOBAs well above the .317 average for non-pitchers, overcoming sometimes questionable strike-zone judgment with plus power. If you're going to expand your zone this wide, you better be able to go deep.