The Worst of the Best: The Month’s Wildest Pitches by Jeff Sullivan June 5, 2014 Good morning, friends, and welcome to the first part of the year’s second edition of The Worst Of The Best. This is a series where we watch major league baseball players do things poorly which in one sense is insulting and which in another sense functions as a series of backhand compliments. “We call attention to the mistakes because usually they are very close to perfect!” They’re not, but, they are really good, even the players you hate the very most. I bet you really can’t stand a player on your favorite team’s bench. That player is better at baseball than you are at whatever you’re best at. I mean, probably. Does FanGraphs have that many brilliant, gifted readers? I’ll stop myself. Here’s a link to the complete series archive! We’re going to look at the wildest pitches thrown in May, and while perhaps this would’ve worked better on the first day of June for reasons of timeliness, it obviously isn’t the first day of June now. Also, included are some pitches from May 5, 9, and 10, so it’s not like timeliness is really a considered factor. The pitches are the pitches located furthest from the center of the PITCHf/x strike zone, which is good enough for me. While I might miss a pitch or two, think about it: do you really want this to be perfect? Then what of everything else? Celebrate imperfections. Below please find a top-five list, along with a next-five list, the latter being free of commentary and the former not being that. 10 Pitcher: Tony Cingrani Batter: Jhonny Peralta Date: May 24 Location: 60.0 inches from center of zone 9 Pitcher: Dustin McGowan Batter: Ian Stewart Date: May 9 Location: 60.2 inches from center of zone 8 Pitcher: Jake Odorizzi Batter: Mike Carp Date: May 31 Location: 60.7 inches from center of zone 7 Pitcher: Cesar Ramos Batter: Kyle Seager Date: May 12 Location: 63.1 inches from center of zone 6 Pitcher: Zach McAllister Batter: Kurt Suzuki Date: May 5 Location: 64.1 inches from center of zone —– Time to write words for you to skim. Internet! 5 Pitcher: Chris Young Batter: Eric Hosmer Date: May 10 Location: 64.8 inches from center of zone Did you know that Chris Young throws a curveball? Neither did Eric Hosmer. Neither did John Buck. Neither did the umpire. Neither did Chris Young. It’s a worthwhile pitch, however, if he can master it, because if he can release it from up high enough, then some of the ball should burn up on descent and then it’ll be much much smaller by the time it approaches the front plane of the strike zone. Batters have always said that Young throws something of an invisible fastball, but they haven’t seen anything yet. I mean, they’ve seen plenty of things, but they haven’t seen a curveball that disintegrates during its flight path. What a dumb expression. Don’t ever take expressions literally. Really? It’s raining cats and dogs? No, no thank you, I don’t want to see. Chris Young is a guy who lives up high. Always has been, and he’s got his reasons for that, as he relayed on to Eno the other day. He’s like Tony Cingrani or Trevor Bauer in that way, only with considerably less heat. But a pitcher can’t throw high exclusively if he wants to succeed, for game-theory reasons. You need to keep the hitters honest by throwing a pitch down every so often, and above, Young racked up about four or five innings’ worth of down in one delivery. A veteran like Young knows how to be efficient. Chris Young’s curveball missed the strike zone twice. You see that? You see Young licking his fingers? You know how a pitcher can use wet fingers to make the baseball do funny things? Think about the sequence here. Young was ahead in the count. He threw what seems like a wasted curveball, but it was such a bad curveball it got everyone distracted. And with the whole ballpark looking away, Young was able to go to his mouth with nary a glance from the authorities or the opposition. So a wasted curveball was really about the next pitch, which is the sort of bigger-picture thinking you ought to expect from a Princeton graduate. Sure, you could say the TV cameras caught everything, but it’s not like anyone was watching this live. Umpire: Hey Umpire: Heyyy Umpire: Cleanup on aisle bitchwork Umpire: Ball boy: Ball boy: /sprints over Umpire: You’re lucky to be here, boy Ball boy: Literally no one likes you 4 Pitcher: Jake Arrieta Batter: Matt Carpenter Date: May 13 Location: 65.0 inches from center of zone Well hold on there just a second. Let’s freeze that during the delivery: The batter looks normally positioned. The catcher looks normally positioned, as does the umpire. Jake Arrieta looks like he’s preparing to pitch the baseball to somewhere about 40 or 50 feet to the catcher’s left. The camera is looking at the plate dead on, but Arrieta is pitching as if we’ve got an off-center angle. His foot is off to the side. His hips and arms are pointed to the side. This is what Arrieta would look like if he were really upset at a heckler and tried to bean him in the stands. It’s no wonder he threw such a lousy breaking ball. It’s no wonder he never developed with the Orioles. You just can’t throw consistent strikes with this kind of delivery. And this is the delivery he has now, after years of work. I can’t be the only person who’s noticed this. What do you mean “2.93 FIP”? Matt Carpenter has leaned over to get a closer look. He has no intention of swinging at the pitch — he’s just curious about it. Carpenter, as a matter of fact, never swings, and this is because he isn’t a baseball player. He’s a baseball scientist, a baseball observer, and like any trained observer he tries not to interact with the experiment as it’s running. At one point he observed so closely that he was given a uniform and a roster spot, and he considered explaining himself, but he realized he couldn’t engage without altering the conditions of the experiment so he wound up accidentally on a team and in a lineup. He still tries to do as little as possible and he’s unintentionally achieved a .395 OBP because pitchers can’t throw regular strikes to anybody. Carpenter: Hoowee Carpenter: That pitch really stank Castillo: here you want to smell the ball Carpenter: haha Carpenter: no!! Carpenter: grosssss Matt Carpenter thought about doing a favor, but instead he elected to muss up some lines someone put there with care and precision while everyone did work around him. 3 Pitcher: Justin Grimm Batter: Lyle Overbay Date: May 31 Location: 68.9 inches from center of zone Would you look at that? Chris Young threw a terrible breaking ball and licked his fingers when no one was looking. Justin Grimm threw a terrible breaking ball and went to the bill of his cap when he figured no one was looking. But he waited too long, because the umpire wound up looking right at him. Not that he did anything, because it isn’t really up to the umpires to make decisions about searching for a foreign substance. This is going to change the way I look at baseball. No longer am I going to figure awful breaking balls are mistakes. They’re really just distractions, as the pitcher is trying to improve the next delivery. I’m lying to you, I’m not going to think that. In these posts, I lie. Maybe the most amazing thing about this pitch: it didn’t hit Lyle Overbay around the hip and buttocks. It hit catcher John Baker around the hip and buttocks. In shuffling over to try to block the pitch, Baker actually turned his hip into it and got up with a bruise. John Baker was facing Justin Grimm, and Justin Grimm threw a pitch that kind of struck Baker’s butt. It’s true what they say: you see something new every game. It’s just sometimes you have to dig to find out what the new thing is that you’ve seen. Sometimes it isn’t very exciting. Sometimes it involves John Baker’s butt. Baker: Say, Lyle. Baker: According to that, At Bat is the #1 app for live Brewers Baseball. Overbay: well doy Baker: Hey guys! Baker: Great news! Baker: I found the #1 app for live Brewers Baseball! Renteria: Why are you capitalizing “baseball”? Lyle Overbay was drafted out of elementary school and hasn’t matured a day since. “You got hit in the butt.” “This is the sound butts make.” Sort of unrelated, I want to show you how this at-bat ended. As long as we’re here, right? Here’s the penultimate pitch: And here’s the ultimate pitch: Identical. Completely identical. Opposite call. Look at Grimm’s body language — after the called strike, he has a quick little shrug, like, “where was that on the last pitch?” In this .gif, you see a pitcher complaining after a called third strike. This is what drives pitchers insane. This is one of the countless things that drives pitchers insane. Don’t you dare look happy if you hit a home run! Somebody might throw a fastball at your brain! 2 Pitcher: Cesar Ramos Batter: Luis Jimenez Date: May 17 Location: 71.8 inches from center of zone The Angels broadcast helpfully explained after the pitch that, even though the ball hit the ground before it hit the batter, the batter was still entitled to his base, as the play was live upon contact. It’s a pretty basic rule, and everybody around here has known that for years. A hit batter is still a regular hit batter even on a pitch that bounces. But, one wonders where the line is. If a pitch bounces right in front of a batter, then hits him, the batter goes to first. But what about an extraordinarily wild pitch? What if the ball hits the batter off the backstop? What if the pitcher trips and falls and spikes the baseball, and then it bounces several times before hitting the batter? What if a pitcher hypothetically were to roll the baseball in the direction of the batter, and then it hits the batter in the foot? Are those all still hit-by-pitches? There might be a line somewhere. And Cesar Ramos is determined to find it. Behold the rare terrible pitch that doesn’t even make it to the dirt. Behold Luis Jimenez’s expression of calmness. Jimenez has accepted that the baseball is going to hit him. He’s accepted that it’s going to hurt a little, and he’s accepted that it’s just part of the contest. He’s accepted that the pitcher means nothing by it, and he’s accepted that he’s going to get hit again, get hit more, and some of them are going to hurt even worse. A batter has a lot of time to think during the flight of a 71 mile-per-hour slow curve. That might be one of the ideas behind throwing a 71 mile-per-hour slow curve. Really give that hitter time to think about all the errands he might have to run the next afternoon. Give him time to think about whether he’s leaving any sort of legacy, or whether he’ll be forgotten the instant he’s dead, if not far far sooner. Give him time to think about the fact that eventually he will be a dead person. “Keep your eye on the baseball,” the coaches always said. They never said when it was okay to take your eye off. Something I’ve noticed through creating these posts is that, if you watch in slow motion, catchers pretty much always have their eyes closed when the baseball’s arriving. It’s presumably instinct. Ball’s going fast. So, it’s normal to see a catcher catch with his eyes closed. It’s less normal to see a catcher act like he’s in the Sea World splash zone. I was all prepared to make fun of the stupid term “phantom cam”, but then, poof, right there, at impact! A ghost!! Somebody call somebody! Somebody call somebody who knows what to do about seeing ghosts! If Luis Jimenez is haunted, I might know why the Angels for years have been underachieving. Jimenez missed the whole 2009 season due to “injury”. The Angels haven’t made the playoffs since he came back. 1 Pitcher: Tony Sipp Batter: Michael Saunders Date: May 22 Location: 75.1 inches from center of zone For years, the one thing holding Tony Sipp back has been his insistence on clicking his heels while throwing every pitch. “You’re never going to throw strikes like that,” they’ve told him. “It’s a miracle you can even throw a ball forward,” they’ve told him. “Have you ever once seen a baseball pitcher?” they’ve asked him. Sipp has held firm in the face of skepticism, and it’s gotten him all the way to the Houston Astros. He hasn’t yet met a teammate who loves the Wizard of Oz as much as he does, but still he continues with the regular tribute, and to be perfectly honest this is a disaster of a paragraph and I don’t know where to go with it so let’s just Fun fact no. 1: this pitch bounced off the grass. The grass is feet out in front of the plate. PITCHf/x measures where a pitch would’ve crossed the plate at the front plane, and, accordingly, this pitch was given a negative vertical location, implying it would’ve crossed the plate below the surface of the Earth. Fun fact no. 2: the vertical location was -2.87, and the horizontal location was -2.98. The pitch would’ve crossed the front plane almost three feet below the ground. Compared to that, it was even more outside. Tony Sipp misses in multiple dimensions. Castro: I feel like I could pitch better than these clowns. Castro: I really just don’t want to let him throw another pitch. Castro: Could you maybe not give this back to the pitcher? Baseball is a selfish, individual game. By some miracle, Sipp’s slider was blocked by Jason Castro. The block prevented the Mariners from scoring the go-ahead run on Sipp’s mistake. When it was evident that the pitch was successfully blocked, and that no runner would score, Sipp looked up in exasperation and self-loathing. What had happened was good for the team, in a sense. But it reflected poorly on Tony Sipp, and Tony Sipp cares about Tony Sipp. In his defense, he’s spent his whole life caring about Tony Sipp, and sometimes it’s just hard to open up your heart. By a lucky miracle, the Mariners didn’t take the lead on Sipp’s mistake. Moments later, the Mariners took the lead when Sipp didn’t sprint off of the mound to cover first on an infield grounder. Two runs actually scored in part because Sipp didn’t immediately turn around after stepping on the bag. The Mariners won the game by that 3-1 margin. A belief is that, over the course of a regular season, luck tends to even out. Fewer people believe that luck tends to even out over the course of just a few pitches. That would be an insane belief, but, here we are, considering the luck of the Astros and Mariners. The Mariners deserved a lead and they got it. They just got it in a stupid way instead of a less stupid way. That way no one gets to feel good about themselves.