Adam Ottavino had three wild pitches this year before Sunday’s game.
That’s one of those opening sentences that doesn’t bode well for what happened next. You can’t reduce your wild-pitch total, and it’s generally not newsworthy when someone throws just one wild pitch, regardless of how devastating the ramifications of that errant throw are. For this sort of thing to be newsworthy, Ottavino would have had to commit a particularly nasty act of self-immolation.
Well, he did. Ottavino threw four wild pitches, and runs scored on all four of them. The Rockies scored six runs. Because of the wild pitches, though, they lost. It’s not what you want if you’re a Rockies fan.
A Tommy John survivor, Ottavino’s had a much rougher time putting the ball where he wants it to go this season. He carried a 14% walk rate into Sunday, the ninth-worst mark among qualified relievers. Then he walked three of the nine batters he faced. A walk rate that high is never all that great, but it helps that Ottavino can also strike guys out. He boasts a mid-90s fastball and a slider so notorious that it has its own Twitter account. When it’s on, it’s disgusting, and that’s the state it’s usually in. When it’s not, things can get hairy. The slider wasn’t the issue yesterday. His fastball is what got him in trouble.
Tony Wolters wants the fastball away from Yasmani Grandal’s bat with the bases loaded. The fastball didn’t go away. It went in, and bored a hole to the backstop. Ottavino’s release point is all out of whack, so he’s throwing across his body far more than usual. By the time he releases the ball, it’s got nowhere left to go. Justin Turner jogs home, and it’s a one-run game.
Perhaps there’s a version of this story where that’s the end of that, and Ottavino strikes out Grandal before anything else happens.
Grandal came up with the bases loaded and two outs. He When he struck out to end the inning, the bases were empty. Wolters wants the pitch in the same place he originally called for it, and the same thing happens. This time, however, he can’t find the ball. So Austin Barnes, who started this plate appearance on first base, scores. In a matter of pitches, the Rockies have turned a two-run lead into a one-run deficit.
Ottavino’s release point appears to betray him again. He doesn’t throw a lawn dart into the left-handed batter’s box, but a missile over Wolters and the umpire. Perhaps he was trying to compensate for releasing so late, or maybe his finger just slipped. Mistakes have a habit of snowballing no matter what it is you’re trying to do, be it reviewing quarterly earnings reports at work or throwing a baseball over the plate for strikes. You get into your head. We don’t know if that’s what happened with Ottavino, but it’s understandable if that’s the case. Everyone has bad days. Everyone has really bad days, too. “It was pathetic,” he told the Denver Post.
In the eighth inning, the slider betrayed him. Wolters sets up inside on Turner, and has to shift to his left to try to block the pitch. Perhaps he did want Ottavino to bury the slider. Baseball Prospectus’ catching metrics feel Wolters has always been borderline when it comes to blocking balls in the dirt. Should he have gobbled this one up? It’s hard to tell. Wolters had the ball in front of him, but it seems to have taken a bad hop off the heel of his mitt or his chest protector. There’s only so much a catcher can do when his pitcher overthrows a breaking ball.
Control is a fickle thing for pitchers, especially for relievers. It can come and go like the wind. Ottavino only came back from his surgery midway through last season, which makes this even harder for him. The four wild pitches all came with a man on third. We can’t draw conclusions from a sample size of four, and we’re not in Ottavino’s head. It’s hard to imagine that Ottavino suffered from the pressure, given his past success, but at the same time, this is what happened. We know he’s talented. He closed for this team, and he did so quite well. You can do far worse for a setup man for Greg Holland.
Chalk this up to a lousy day and a lousy series, a devilish combination of Ottavino lacking his command and the Los Angeles lineup having no remorse. Ottavino would not escape the game before serving up a Cody Bellinger bomb, the latter’s second of the game. It wasn’t pretty, but at least he wasn’t Holland. Ottavino wasn’t the one who allowed a Kenley Jansen double.
It all makes you forget that Brandon McCarthy had three wild pitches, too.
Baseball is a funny game, and one with a cruel sense of humor. Adam Ottavino was its vicim on Sunday.
Nick is a columnist at FanGraphs, and has written previously for Baseball Prospectus and Beyond the Box Score. Yes, he hates your favorite team, just like Joe Buck. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets, and can contact him at stellinin1 at gmail.