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A Walk-Off Letdown

On Thursday afternoon, a familiar groan rippled across the baseball world.

The Mets entered the bottom of the ninth down by one against the Marlins, and had put on a showcase of Fun Baseball to tie the game: a Jeff McNeil bat flip on a bomb into the right field stands, Luis Guillorme hustling out an infield single, and Brandon Nimmo slapping a double down the left field line against an extreme shift. Francisco Lindor was intentionally walked, which brought up Michael Conforto to face Marlins pitcher Anthony Bass. A few pitches later, on a 1-2 count, Conforto leaned his padded elbow into the strike zone and was grazed by a ring-him-up slider that home plate umpire Ron Kulpa was midway through calling before reversing course mid ring-up, instead awarding Conforto first base for a game-winning hit-by-pitch.

Here’s a look at where that pitch was:

And here’s a look at the contact being made:

Ouch?

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Pitchers Keep Pumping Heat, but Context Is Key

This is Tess’ first piece as a FanGraphs contributor. She grew up playing youth baseball just outside of Oakland during the Moneyball Era, which sparked an early curiosity about the intersection of inclusion and innovation in the sport. With a master’s degree in Computing and Digital Media, she has worked for several years as a sports video editor, creating thousands of highlight videos for high school athletes with college ambitions. She is excited to apply her technical background to prospect evaluation and the amateur draft, and further explore the ways video and data continue to evolve baseball at every level. She lives in Chicago with her husband, dog, and cat.

Now that the regular season is upon us, spring training is starting to feel like something we all imagined. That’s true to an extent every season; the smaller stadiums and less familiar faces all dwell somewhere in the uncanny valley of what we recognize as professional baseball. But this year felt particularly dreamlike, with its ties and needless bottoms of the ninth. Despite these quirks, the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues did provide the opportunity for several young pitching prospects to pitch their way onto major league rosters, solidify the roles they earned in 2020, or simply show fans what the future of their favorite club might look like.

I combed through Baseball Savant’s pitch velocities from the games played at Statcast-friendly spring training facilities and compared them to those recorded during the 2020 major league season. I then incorporated reports from last season’s alternate sites and other outside sources in order to understand what these spring velocities might mean for these prospects moving forward. So, before we forget the rolled innings that ended with fewer than three outs and convince ourselves that spring training was some sort of shared hallucination, let’s take a look at some of the guys who threw harder this past month and see what that might tell us about the season ahead.

Casey Mize entered the spring after a less than stellar debut season. In 2020, his ERA and FIP were both over 6.00, and he struggled with his command as he went 0-3 over six starts for Detroit. A brief look at his numbers coming out of camp might not reassure Tigers fans who focus their attention on his 7.23 ERA or the 11 walks he issued over 18.2 innings. But there is hope to be mined from Mize’s spring, especially in terms of the velocity he showcased. In 2020, Mize threw a total of 543 pitches, only five of which clocked in at 96 mph or faster, with his fastball averaging 93.7 mph. This spring, in his March 19 start against the Blue Jays alone, Mize topped 96 mph a whopping 37 times, more than half of his pitches thrown that day. Read the rest of this entry »