Pablo Sandoval Hit a Pitch at His Eyes

A few years ago, early in the World Series, Pablo Sandoval teed off against the Tigers, going deep three times. What people tend to remember most is Sandoval tomahawking an 0-and-2 Justin Verlander fastball, up and out of the zone. Sandoval, of course, has always been perhaps the best bad-ball hitter in the game, but it was still something to get on top of that kind of pitch, in that kind of place, in that kind of situation. A relevant still:

sandoval-verlander

That’s a high pitch, that Sandoval drilled with little problem. The form looks good. I mean, it was a dinger — the form had to look good. Some people took to saying that Sandoval homered off a pitch at his eyes. Something of an exaggeration, sure, but it’s the language of baseball, and it’s not like pitches get a whole lot higher.

On Monday, against Toronto, Pablo Sandoval hit a pitch that was actually at his eyes. It wasn’t the World Series, and it wasn’t a home run. It wasn’t even a base hit. It was just a groundball, like any other groundball. Except for that one thing, where the pitch was more than five feet off of the earth. People still remember Sandoval going upstairs to punish Verlander. The pitch Sandoval put in play against R.A. Dickey was higher than the Verlander pitch by 21 inches. 21 inches is the height of the world’s smallest man. Between Monday’s pitch and the Verlander pitch, you could fit a whole man.

On the off chance you haven’t yet seen the clip, let’s go for the slow build. Here is a screenshot of Pablo Sandoval making contact with a pitch up at eye level:

pablo-sandoval-3

If you want to be literal about it, the ball is around chin level. I don’t know if chin level makes it seem less remarkable than eye level. It’s still a really high level, regardless. But, hey, wait, I want to defend my original position. I maintain the eye-level remark, because Sandoval, see, had to lift himself to make contact. He had to come out of his usual stance. He had to…leave…the ground.

pablo-sandoval-4

Sandoval didn’t catch a ton of air, but air was most definitely caught, as Sandoval had to get up on his toes, and then beyond that. You might seem shocked by Sandoval’s reaction time, since that’s a weird thing to think to do with a major-league pitch on the way, but we can rewind a bit. R.A. Dickey is a knuckleball pitcher. Dickey threw a knuckleball, and he threw a really really slow one. One that barely cracked 60 miles per hour. Gameday thought it was an eephus.

ra-dickey-1

So Sandoval had time. It was like a playground pitch, and the fact that it was a lob made it entirely too enticing to lay off. It would’ve been hard for an ordinary hitter to not want to take a hack. That’s one of the main points of the eephus pitch. And Pablo Sandoval isn’t an ordinary hitter with ordinary wiring. For your average major leaguer, a decision has to be made whether to swing, before a swing is initiated. Sandoval’s process goes through no such stage, so he’s ready sooner than most.

This is a screenshot that makes it look like something’s missing. The thing that’s missing is the baseball, but I didn’t erase it. It just isn’t there, because it still has to come down.

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When the pitch finally did arrive, you can’t say Sandoval didn’t have his eye on it:

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Look at Russell Martin’s face, like nothing is weird. Just a hitter swinging at a pitch that’s above the level of his helmet. As much as coaches tell young hitters to keep their eyes on the ball, it is physically impossible to watch a pitch all the way into the zone. This pitch, though, might’ve been an exception. Sandoval never lost sight of it, and he decided to go after it. And he hit it, and he hit it fair.

Let’s put it in motion:

You’re wondering — is this the highest pitch Sandoval has ever swung at? According to PITCHf/x — courtesy of Baseball Savant — the answer is yes, albeit not by that much. It’s Sandoval’s highest-ever swing, so it’s obviously Sandoval’s highest-ever contact or ball in play.

sandoval-career-swings

The pitch height, from Brooks Baseball: 5.107 feet, or 5 feet and 1.3 inches. Sandoval’s official physical height is 5 feet and 11 inches. This plot of Dickey’s pitches from Monday is good for a laugh:

sandoval-dickey-pitch

You start to wonder about other high pitches and other high swings. This wasn’t the highest pitch swung at in a while. For example, while Evan Gattis is taller than Pablo Sandoval is, here’s Gattis swinging through a higher pitch, just a few weeks ago:

But, yeah, it isn’t just that Sandoval swung. It’s that he hit the ball, and that he put it in play. That’s a whole different level, and here’s a particularly relevant tweet:

The further back you go in PITCHf/x, the more data errors you encounter. I couldn’t find a higher pitch put in play, postseason included, until I got back to July 2010. And now we get to watch Jack Wilson. An important difference: Wilson’s ball in play was a bunt. But it was a hell of a bunt, so it’s at least worth the note:

The PITCHf/x height there: 5 feet, 3 inches. For one moment, Jack Wilson was an offensive hero.

jack-wilson-high-bunt

Yet it was a bunt, and because it was a bunt, it can’t count the exact same. No swing put a higher pitch in play in 2010. So Sandoval’s is the highest since at least 2009, and now we’re in the land of data errors and inaccessible video. So we can just say Sandoval’s is the highest in a while. That’s probably good enough.

Oh, and before I forget:

sandoval-dickey-statcast

This year, Ben Revere, Billy Hamilton, and Jose Iglesias have averaged exit velocities a hair below 82 miles per hour. Pablo Sandoval hit a pitch that hard even though he could’ve conceivably walked underneath it while barely bending down.

It’s nothing symbolic. It doesn’t say anything new about Pablo Sandoval. It doesn’t say anything new about the Boston Red Sox. It’s something that just is. There are good amazing things, there are bad amazing things, and there are just regular amazing things. Pablo Sandoval does a lot of all of them.





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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*Reads article, Closes page*

“This has got to be a Sullivan article…”

Yep

Another can’t miss Sullivan article.