So far, the Diamondbacks have been a major surprise, and although every surprise is, by definition, surprising, there are degrees. What makes the Diamondbacks all the more surprising is that they are where they are without Shelby Miller. A Miller bounceback was supposed to be key to their hopes, but then he got hurt, which should’ve been trouble. Enter Zack Godley. Godley has plugged the hole, and then some.
Relative to last season, Godley’s been one of the more improved starting pitchers in the major leagues. While he has several elements going on at any one time, his main trick is a dynamite curveball that he’s fallen in love with. By run values, it’s been baseball’s second-best curveball, behind Corey Kluber and above Lance McCullers. Godley’s curve is something special, and it causes one’s discipline to deteriorate. It’s not an easy pitch to lay off.
Godley, on Thursday, got a start in Colorado. He faced Charlie Blackmon to lead off the bottom of the first, and Godley got Blackmon to a two-strike count. A couple curves couldn’t finish him off. Nor could a couple non-curves. Godley’s seventh pitch came in a 2-and-2 count, and at last he threw the pitch that he wanted. The curve caught the plate, but it plummeted below the zone. It was labeled for the dirt, but too sharp to spit on. It was the swing-and-miss curve to make Blackmon go away.
Sure enough, Godley threw his pitch, and he ended the at-bat. It just didn’t end in the way that he wanted. I’ve already told you it was a quality pitch, and you can already infer from the existence of this post in the first place that we’re going to talk about something bizarre, but, just look. Here are all of Blackmon’s career home runs, through Thursday morning:
Here’s an updated plot, including Thursday afternoon:
You see the one? That’s the one. The one way, way down there, nine inches below the zone’s lower edge. Nine inches doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s more or less half the distance between the zone’s lower edge and the surface of the Earth. The strike zone is intended to basically capture the hitting area. Those pitches are strikes because those pitches are hittable, and if they aren’t hit, the hitter deserves a penalty, and the pitcher deserves a reward. There are hittable pitches just beyond the zone, but not this far beyond. Not every home run allowed comes on a mistake. I don’t know how Zack Godley’s supposed to feel about this, and neither, I imagine, does he.
That’s a fun thing to watch, because it’s absurd. It’s no less fun to watch in slower motion. Here are two clips in one, offering slightly different perspectives. This is just about literally taken off the shoe tops.
Here’s the unavoidable and necessary part. Let’s make use of Baseball Savant. There exists data for just about every single pitch hit for a home run in the regular season or in the playoffs stretching back to 2008. This is tens and tens of thousands of home runs, and I’ve arranged all of them right in this image, all neat-like. Blackmon’s home run is highlighted in Dinger purple. This is the kind of home run that gets written about.
As far as I can tell, it’s the second-lowest pitch hit for a home run in the entire sample. The difference between this pitch and the one lower pitch is 0.3 inches, which is presumably within the margin of error. Also, that home run was hit by Freddy Galvis, who officially stands 5-foot-10. Blackmon officially stands 6-foot-3. In that respect, Blackmon had to go down even more. So, finding the most extreme low home run is complicated. I’ll just tell you there are five that stand out. This is five, over nearly a decade. There’s Blackmon’s home run, and there’s Galvis’ home run. There are also home runs by Mike Trout, Corey Dickerson, and Yan Gomes. Low pitches, all of them. Here’s an assortment of screenshots, for perspective:
I can’t tell you which is the most low, or the most difficult to hit. So I don’t know which of these is technically most remarkable. But they all *are* remarkable, because they aren’t supposed to be homers. They’re supposed to be whiffs or grounders or, most obviously, balls. Could’ve been balls. Should’ve been balls! Went for four bases. Every pitcher felt bad, and more than a little bit cursed.
One of my very favorite things about Blackmon’s at-bat is that the homer didn’t happen in a vacuum. It was the seventh pitch of the showdown, and why don’t I show you how the whole sequence looked?
You can see the numbers 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. You can’t see 2, but you know that 2 is in there. 2 is the circle right behind the blue 7. What happened on 2? 2 was an 0-and-1 curveball. Blackmon swung and missed.
The pitch was almost identical to the one Blackmon hit out. They both moved like regular Godley curveballs. The pitches were separated by less than one-tenth of one mile per hour. The locations were separated by less than half of one inch. Blackmon saw that pitch twice, in the span of six deliveries. He missed the ball completely, and he hit the ball 430-odd feet. I guess you could criticize Godley for doubling up, if you want. I don’t think that’s valid, and the home-run pitch was a legitimately good one. But the fact of the matter is that Blackmon did make an adjustment. If you compare his two swings, he went down lower for the homer; he whiffed from a more upright position. Blackmon, on some level, had some sense he could see another curve down. I guess he wouldn’t have homered without an adjustment. Baseball can be both terrific and mean.
Jeff Mathis thought it was mean. Or, if not mean, then at least unfair. Mathis had the best view of the whole thing. He’s also acutely aware of his own offensive limitations. As Blackmon touched home, Mathis couldn’t look up. He knew that, somehow, his team had been wronged.
I think Zack Greinke thought it was terrific. Greinke, of course, was technically on the losing side, once Blackmon touched home, but Greinke is just as much a baseball observer as he is a baseball player. More than anything, he’s a baseball appreciator. And he’s not always biased in favor of the pitchers. Greinke knows a crazy thing when he sees one, and even though it might not be conveyed by the screenshot, Greinke looked to be trying hard to force back a smile.
If you can’t laugh at something that stupid, then that’s on you. And, really, Blackmon’s home run can teach a young player an important lesson or two. Viewed through one lens, a bad process isn’t always a bad process. Blackmon probably shouldn’t have swung at that pitch, but he was ready for it, and he punished it. You can succeed by being unconventional, if you’re prepared. And viewed through the other lens, welp, shit happens. Sometimes it happens a lot. Godley threw exactly the pitch that he wanted to throw. Couldn’t have drawn it up any better. He even got Blackmon to swing, which was the whole point. The pitch was tempting without being hittable. It still got hit over the fence, and you need to be able to accept when that happens. Life doesn’t always go by design. In fact, it usually doesn’t. You control what you can control, and you hope you have your health. You try to be kind. Always opt for kindness, in what can be an unkind world.
Charlie Blackmon did something unkind to an unkind Zack Godley curveball. It was the Rockies’ first at-bat of the day, and you could’ve forgiven Godley if he let that at least temporarily knock him off his game. There’s nothing quite like getting prepared, and then having to deal with immediate frustration. It wasn’t very nice, and it got the Rockies off to an improbable start. The Diamondbacks won by seven.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.