In general, swinging at pitches thrown out of the strike zone is about as sound a strategy as playing in traffic. Batters are hitting a paltry .177 and slugging .238 this season when they go after stuff thrown off the plate -- not far off the .148 average and .195 slugging percentage that pitchers have managed when swinging themselves. Put another way, taking a cut at junk thrown out of the zone makes you about as effective a hitter as the man throwing the pitch.
While swinging at would-be balls is disastrous for most hitters, some still manage to do damage even when they go after pitches only Vlad Guerrero would think are strikes. Buster Posey and Yadier Molina aren't just the best catchers in baseball -- they're also the game's best bad-ball hitters in 2013. Miguel Cabrera, whose league-leading 203 OPS+ is highest for a Tigers hitter since Ty Cobb, has also been excellent when he goes fishing out of the strike zone. Posey, Molina and Miggy rank in the top five in slugging percentage when swinging at pitches thrown out of the zone.
Highest slugging percentage vs. out-of-zone pitches (through Friday's games)
Posey doesn't chase pitches all that often -- 21.9% of the time, which is well under the 27.3% MLB average. But when he does, he usually expands his zone horizontally and hammers pitches thrown in on the hands or off the outside corner.
Posey's slugging percentage by location against out-of-zone pitches
Molina, meanwhile, chases at a slightly higher than average clip (28.3%) and inflicts pain on pitchers who venture too far inside. Eight of his nine extra-base hits on stuff thrown out of the zone have come against inside pitches.
Molina's slugging percentage by location against out-of-zone pitches
Cabrera goes after more off-the-plate pitches than Posey or Molina (28.8%), but he's similar to San Francisco's All-Star backstop in that he crushes stuff thrown inside or off the outside corner. Miggy has four home runs on pitches thrown out of the strike zone, tying him with Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Davis and Adrian Gonzalez for the major league lead.
Cabrera's slugging percentage by location against out-of-zone pitches