Kyle Hendricks Walked Tommy Milone on Four Pitches

Sometimes baseball is good, and sometimes baseball is bad, but always, baseball is weird. It can be weird because a player gets hit by pitches in four plate appearances in a row. It can be weird because a game ends with a strikeout, and then everyone celebrates, and then the umpire decides the pitch the batter missed wasn’t actually missed after all, even though it clearly and totally was, and then the game awkwardly resumes and ends with a strikeout a second time. And it can be weird because a guy like Kyle Hendricks walks a guy like Tommy Milone on a number like four pitches. There’s always this undercurrent of weird, and from time to time it bursts to the surface like a baseball-y geyser.

Think about what we have here. This event just took place earlier Wednesday afternoon. Kyle Hendricks is the pitcher people have loved to compare to Greg Maddux. At times, the comparison hasn’t even seemed all that crazy, and Maddux could use a bucket of baseballs to go hummingbird hunting. Tommy Milone, meanwhile, is and will forever be Tommy Milone, and not only is Tommy Milone a pitcher, but he’s also a pitcher you might not have even realized was still pitching in the majors. He is! Although, this afternoon, he was both pitching and hitting. As a hitter, he walked on four pitches, against Kyle Hendricks. OK.

Last season, Hendricks accumulated 747 plate appearances, and just three times did he issue a four-pitch walk. That didn’t give him the very lowest rate in baseball, but it was among them, and none of the three came against a pitcher. Why would they? As for Milone, he hasn’t batted much, but before Wednesday, he hadn’t drawn a walk. Since 2011, nearly 1,300 players have batted in the majors at least 30 times. Milone has seen 65% of all pitches in the strike zone, which is the third-highest rate in the sample, behind only fellow pitchers Jarred Cosart and David Phelps. Via Baseball Savant, here’s what that looks like:

Milone has gotten strikes. He’s even gotten strikes more often than other pitchers. Pitches to Milone before Wednesday went for strikes at a rate of 75%. Just to beat you over the head with all this: Milone has gotten strikes. Hendricks has thrown strikes. Hendricks threw Milone no strikes, and four balls. (Not counting the first matchup of the game, in which Hendricks threw one ball and one strike, where the strike was a swing at a pitch that was a ball.) (So many balls.)

How about some general rates, before we get specific again? Last season, pitchers drew 17 four-pitch walks. They walked on four pitches in just over 0.3% of their plate appearances. The average non-pitcher drew a four-pitch unintentional walk in just under 1.4% of his plate appearances. A four-pitch walk to a non-pitcher was more than four times more likely than a four-pitch walk to a pitcher. Yes, yes, of course. You don’t even need numbers to know these numbers. There’s a reason I’m writing this post in the first place. Let’s look now at pitches. Here’s how Hendricks opened things up:

Look at that awfully low target set by Willson Contreras. I haven’t watched enough of him to know whether that’s normal, but in any case, Contreras is set there for maybe a borderline strike. Hendricks throws the pitch higher, and a few inches off the edge. Pretty good pitch, all things considered. A very Kyle Hendricks pitch. Except that Milone was taking, and technically, the pitch is not a strike. So it was a ball.

Not to give things away, but out of the four-pitch walk, this pitch was the most likely to get called a strike. It’s there by the edge, but in a fairly convincing way. However, we see Contreras attempting a back-pick. Sometimes the back-pick has worked great for the Cubs, but a downside of any action like this is that it requires the catcher to move a lot, and umpires don’t handle that very well when it comes to calling strikes. All that motion is distracting, and moving catchers can’t sell borderline pitches. It’s one of the downsides of the throwing game. 2-and-0.

I don’t know what Milone’s doing here. I don’t know why he goes with the exaggerated bend. That might lower the perceived top of a hitter’s zone, but this pitch was down the whole way. And, I guess, more than down, the pitch was outside. Maybe Milone just wanted to take a closer look. Really, this isn’t about Tommy Milone in the box. This is about how Kyle Hendricks dealt with Tommy Milone in the box. The answer to this point: throwing three balls! But you already know he threw four. This little gesture preceded the final one:

That little glove flap seems to say, hey, just put it right here, right down the middle. There’s no way Tommy Milone is swinging at this pitch. Contreras seemed to want the pitch dead red, but then he still went on to set up in his familiar spot. I’m just going to pull things out of order and quote the Cubs broadcast from just after ball four:

That’s one of the hardest pitches to make in baseball. I know it sounds silly to say it, but the 3-0, an opposing pitcher — when your mind’s swirling because you put yourself in a little bit of a bind, that’s a tough pitch to execute.

Right. So:

I can’t tell, but I think Contreras thought he was going to get this call. I know he stood up, but on the other hand, you see that little pump-fake, suggesting surprise. Four-pitch walk complete. Here’s what it looked like on MLB Gameday:

There are two ways you could interpret this. On one side, that’s a “good” walk, a “quality” walk. A walk that somewhat paradoxically reflects a pitcher’s command. No wasted or terrible pitches in there. Nothing wild, everything on the edge. But yet, maybe that’s a good way to walk Bryce Harper. That’s less of a good way to walk Tommy Milone, because there is no good way to walk Tommy Milone. I bet Kyle Hendricks was trying to throw three or four strikes. He threw none of them, and even the closest pitch was still mostly off the edge. This is a true baseball rarity, forgotten tomorrow but plenty of fun today. I have no way to explain it, other than by pointing to the sport itself. Every so often, this is what baseball does.

I guess there’s one more potential explanation. Perhaps Kyle Hendricks just has an incredible memory.

Probably, that’s not it.

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.

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This was quick!