The Worst of the Best: The Month’s Wildest Pitches by Jeff Sullivan July 3, 2014 Hey there everybody, and welcome to the first part of the year’s third edition of The Worst Of The Best. Something I’ve been thinking about lately is that so much of what we do is baseball analysis, and so much of baseball analysis is trying to see into the future. Future-seeing is a noble goal, to be sure, and we’d all like to know which players have truly turned the corner and which teams are truly dropping out of the race, but analysis is educated guesswork, and so often the analysis is left looking wrong. So often baseball doesn’t go as it’s expected to, and on top of that, looking forward leaves less time for looking back — for just acknowledging and appreciating what’s already most definitely happened. History is the only thing we’re certain of. You can consider this series an expression of appreciation for recent baseball history. Here is a link to all of said appreciation. So in this post we’re going to look at the wildest pitches thrown in June, following the same methodology as always. As always, it’s based on PITCHf/x. As always, wild pitches are determined by distance from the center of the strike zone. As always, it’s possible I’m missing something because of the limitations of the research process. As always, I’ll indicate to you that I don’t care, even though secretly I really do care, and it pains me to see evidence of a wild pitch I’ve somehow missed. All I ever want is to be absolutely perfect and my mom says I can do anything I desire. I’m sure I’ll get there at some point. Featured in detail: a top-five list. Also featured in detail — but in less detail: a next-five list. 10. Pitcher: Jesse Chavez Batter: David Freese Date: June 9 Location: 60.9 inches from center of zone 9. Pitcher: Justin Grimm Batter: Jeff Mathis Date: June 8 Location: 62.0 inches from center of zone 8. Pitcher: Joe Saunders Batter: Mike Trout Date: June 20 Location: 62.4 inches from center of zone 7. Pitcher: Tyler Clippard Batter: Hunter Pence Date: June 11 Location: 62.5 inches from center of zone 6. Pitcher: Gavin Floyd Batter: Mike Trout Date: June 14 Location: 64.6 inches from center of zone ===== Now let’s generate some paragraphs. Which of the following were generated by me? Which of the following were generated by an automated program written by a Harvard grad in 1986? It’s a game within a post about a game! I didn’t tell you it would be a fun game. 5. Pitcher: Rick Porcello Batter: Gordon Beckham Date: June 9 Location: 65.2 inches from center of zone I don’t know how many times you’ve ever been in a pool. Of those times, I don’t know how many times you’ve ever imagined what it would be like if the pool were filled with Jell-O or applesauce or pudding. I know I’ve personally imagined that on several occasions, although the closest I’ve come to the experience is swimming in a pool with the cover on. You, of course, wouldn’t be able to swim so much as you’d be able to trudge. Now, watch Alex Avila, as his picks this ball and turns to look at third base. In catching, Avila looks like he’s wading in a pool filled with Jell-O. I’d say that’s the hallmark of a bad pitch, but the true hallmark of a bad pitch is a pitch going somewhere really bad. The rest is just fallout. Somebody asked me a question on Twitter the other week about Erasmo Ramirez. Ramirez was running an extended scoreless streak despite putting far too many batters on base, with a particular focus on unintentional walks. The question, I assume, was intended in jest, but it asked if perhaps hitters were caught off guard by strikes because Ramirez was ordinarily throwing pitches so poorly and wildly. Troubling to me is how intuitive that is. You look at a pitch like this and you figure it’s a wasted pitch. We’re always told they’re wasted pitches. But they have to do something within a hitter’s mind. Everything biases. I bet Gordon Beckham wouldn’t have expected a curveball strike. I bet he wouldn’t be prepared to hit one, after this. When it comes to baseball, luck is always an uncomfortable conversation topic. We want to believe that everything is deliberate, that these are the best players in the world performing more or less as they deserve to all of the time. But then you see a play like this. Avila prevented a runner from scoring by picking an awfully wild curveball. He didn’t block it by getting his body in front of it — he just reached over and picked it, with his body parallel to the ball’s path. I’ll never be convinced this isn’t at least partly luck. Watching the United States play Belgium on Tuesday, Tim Howard played out of his mind. But I got the distinct impression some of his saves were practically accidental. I feel like this pick was practically accidental. Looking back, sure, Avila should get full credit for pulling it off. But with runners on third, Rick Porcello probably shouldn’t make a habit of throwing these curveballs. Beckham: A squirrel on the field! Avila: I’m gonna peg that squirrel in the head. Fan in front row: Don’t do it, man. Avila: Can’t f***in’ stand squirrels. Avila: QUIT INTERRUPTING, SQUIRREL! Because of Rick Porcello, there was a runner on third. Because of Alex Avila and all the work he did, the runner on third remained on third and didn’t score on a wild pitch. Moments later, Gordon Beckham hit a returner to the mound, but Porcello opted against fielding it cleanly, and Beckham reached and the runner scored anyway. Porcello really wanted that runner to score, and Avila was once again reminded of something someone once told him about good deeds. Alex Avila’s new policy: “Why try?” 4. Pitcher: Alfredo Simon Batter: Michael Morse Date: June 28 Location: 67.7 inches from center of zone These posts, because of what they are, always feature catchers doing things they don’t usually do. But this makes two consecutive successful blocks involving particularly unusual movements. Above we had Alex Avila swimming in Jell-O, and here we have Devin Mesoraco lining up to blitz the quarterback. I’m always a fan of these pictures out of context. Removed completely from context, it would appear that Simon, Mesoraco, Morse and the umpire were having a chat, and then someone in the vicinity of first base threw a ball that hit Mesoraco in the head. So everyone’s looking over there while Mesoraco stumbles and suffers, and when asked why he did it, the thrower would respond, presumably, “I wanted to see if Mesoraco would hit it for a dinger.” Have you noticed how many dingers he’s hit? It’s out of this world! This paragraph isn’t funny, but neither is pitching to Mesoraco these days, which I guess nobody in the images above was in the process of doing. Look at how low the umpire is. The top of his head is below Michael Morse’s shoulders, and he’s almost mirroring Mesoraco blocking a pitch in the dirt. People always talk about the toll it takes on a body to catch for nine innings, but now imagine umpiring both halves of nine innings. The activity’s less intense, of course, but exertion is very much present, and so there’s no reason to think umpiring can’t be a solid lower-body workout. “Now I don’t even have to go to the gym!” many umpires apparently think, as if the lower body were their only body. This is presented as a reminder of how far in front of the plate bounced pitches can bounce sometimes. It all looks so close on TV, but then TV is constantly lying to you. It’s lying to you about these bounces. It’s lying to you about true pitch location. It’s lying to you about celebrities. It’s lying to you about companies caring about anything other than the money you’ve personally earned. It’s lying to you about what gets you sex. To be honest, televisions are pretty much always lying, yet we continue to invite them into our lives, like they’re troubled blood relatives. It’s not the TV that’s troubled. It’s you that’s troubled, for trusting the TV. The TV isn’t your friend. The TV doesn’t want you to see the world around you. The TV wants you to eat and drink and burn oil. The TV wants you to kill yourself and the planet. The TV is a real jerk. “Keep your eye on the ball,” coaches would say, ignorant of the impossibility of the task. You’ve probably read this before, but you literally can’t watch a pitch from the hand into the zone. You just don’t work that fast, and so you swing at a pitch you last truly saw several yards in front of you. Just look at this screenshot: Look at where the ball is, and look at where Michael Morse is looking. There’s nothing wrong with this — this is nothing unique to Morse. It’s the same for everyone. But the human brain is a miracle, and hitting a well-pitched baseball is miraculous. Or lucky. Never count out lucky. wait a- uncanny 3. Pitcher: Jeff Samardzija Batter: Casey McGehee Date: June 17 Location: 68.1 inches from center of zone Look up at No. 8, in the next-five list. That’s a terrible pitch, but the amazing thing is that, immediately after the .gif cuts off, the catcher guns a runner down at third. So while a terrible pitch was thrown, had it not been thrown, the bases wouldn’t have been emptied. In that way, the terrible pitch led to an extremely favorable result. Without the pitch, that’s still a runner in scoring position for Mike Trout. O.K., so, now, let’s pause this, just so: It’s different, but this missed the bat by mere inches. As Casey McGehee bailed, he kept his bat up, and Jeff Samardzija nearly hit it with probably his worst pitch of the season. Odds are, it wouldn’t have led to an out, but it would’ve at least spared Samardzija a ball, instead yielding a foul. It’s the kind of thing that makes you wonder if this could ever be a pitcher’s strategy. The answer is, no, probably not, and not only because of the constant ejections. One time, waiting by a subway stop in Boston, I thought about what it would be like to be afflicted with a condition that causes you to just randomly fall over. You’d be standing, and without warning, you’d just collapse to the ground. This would be a part of you, incurable and untreatable. In the specific instance, I thought about how such a person would have to keep well back of the tracks, just in case. You wouldn’t want to risk falling onto the third rail, or in front of the train. Such a person probably wouldn’t live particularly long. There are just too many hazards. Such a person probably wouldn’t live to be Casey McGehee’s age, whatever it is. And here is Casey McGehee doing exactly what I would do if a flame-throwing major-league pitcher threw a ball behind me and super close to my head. “Nope.” Catcher: My bad. Catcher: Shouldn’t have called for that. Umpire: You called for that? Catcher: I wasn’t thinking. Umpire: What was that? Catcher: That was the really bad splitter. Umpire: You have a sign for a really bad splitter? Catcher: You can never have too many signs. Umpire: You can have too many signs. 2. Pitcher: Marco Gonzales Batter: Corey Dickerson Date: June 25 Location: 70.4 inches from center of zone And that’s basically how you’d expect a rookie to throw when he’s making his major-league debut in Coors Field. Everyone in the professional ranks understands what can happen in Colorado. Colorado is the No. 1 example when trying to explain to somebody else the concept and significance of park factors. Marco Gonzales knew what he was up against, even though he’d never before pitched at this high a level. So Marco Gonzales figured out the one sure way he wouldn’t allow a massive dinger. Technically he wasn’t wrong. The broadcast noted that Gonzales is still working to hone the breaking ball, as he’d made other mistakes earlier. That much isn’t a shock — Gonzales is 22, and he was pulled straight from Double-A, where he’d made just seven appearance. Of course Gonzales is a work in progress. If he weren’t, he would’ve made the Cardinals out of camp. But I think it’s easy to forget what an under-developed pitch can look like sometimes. We seldom see them in the majors because, in the majors, pitchers are much better, and they also don’t usually take a new pitch straight into a game. They work on new pitches in bullpens until they develop sufficient confidence. Gonzales made an easy mistake. He released a breaking ball too early. Consider how rarely we see this. Our understanding of a bad pitch is a pitch that misses a target by six or so inches. Big-league pitchers are pretty terrific. Not at hitting spots precisely, but at staying in the rough vicinity of spots, almost all the damn time. I’m pretty tall, which means I have to duck under a lot of things. I have to duck on the staircase to the garage in my uncle’s house, for example, and I have to duck under the occasional beam or pipe in my building’s basement. Being the age that I am, and given that I’ve stopped growing taller, I have a good sense of what will and will not require a ducking maneuver. I can subconsciously run the calculations that figure out what’s going to clip my forehead. Dickerson might’ve run the calculations, but he got the wrong answer. This came nowhere close. So either Corey Dickerson thinks he’s a lot taller than he actually is, or he has something wrong with his brain, for which I’d recommend a CT scan to rule out pathology. Gotta catch these things early. You never know what’s a symptom. That was the target. Low-away slider. Predictable 0-and-2, low-away slider. Hitters are very frequently fed 0-and-2 and 1-and-2, low-away sliders but the thing about anticipating targets is sometimes pitchers don’t hit their targets. Sometimes a hitter and pitcher can both be surprised. Sometimes, even when you guess right, you guess wrong, which might be the maximum kind of frustrating. And Yadier Molina nearly turned this into an out at third base. Marco Gonzales threw one of the worst pitches he’s probably ever thrown and Molina nearly turned it into an out. You can see why Cardinals pitchers are confident working with Molina, because they have every reason to believe that Molina is magic. “Guess I’ll just get these outs myself.” 1. Pitcher: Juan Carlos Oviedo Batter: Brock Holt Date: June 1 Location: 72.8 inches from center of zone A good promotion for Giant Glass would be installing glass panels behind home plate, so that on occasions like this, viewers could see how durable the glass really is. And then viewers could buy the glass and put it in their doors and rest easy with the confidence that their front doors are strong enough to withstand a Juan Carlos Oviedo changeup, just in case he’s in the neighborhood throwing baseballs at doors. Odds are no door will be hit by a Juan Carlos Oviedo changeup, but how many trucks do what trucks do in TV commercials? You’re not selling a real-world use. You’re selling an idea. A few years ago, MLB suspended Oviedo — then Leo Nunez — for fraud. It seems he was busted for impersonating a major-league pitcher! The legend of Brock Holt is such that he compels opposing pitchers to intentionally walk him, even when they’re specifically trying not to intentionally walk him. A bolder move would be to compel opposing pitchers to throw meatball after meatball, but then that leaves room for embarrassment, and Holt would just as soon take the perfect OBP. Thinking like a sabermetrician. I’m imagining a curveball that passes through this spot, then breaks all the way back and dots the target perfectly in the low-away corner. Such a curveball probably isn’t possible. Oviedo, I’m sure, isn’t capable of throwing such a curveball. It’s a curveball we’ll never see in real life, but, how’s your imagination? Is this working? Can you see it? I can see it. It’s spectacular. It’s the most beautiful pitch I’ve seen all season. If I imagine this enough, in time it’ll blend in with the rest of my actual memories, and in 20 years I’ll be convinced I actually saw this happen, and, dangit, I can’t seem to pull up the footage on Google. But I’ll swear by it. What a pitch! Even Brock Holt was flummoxed. This assumes that in 20 years we’ll still remember Brock Holt. I, at least, will remember him for being the batter staring at the best curveball of all-time. The best curveball of all-time. This is not the expression of a man who just witnessed the best curveball of all-time. I don’t know what his problem is.