The Worst of the Best: The Season’s Wildest Pitches by Jeff Sullivan October 21, 2013 Hey there, baseball fans or people at least aware of baseball fans, and welcome to the first part of probably the year’s last edition of The Worst Of The Best. Beginning this Wednesday night, we’ll have the World Series, and this year’s World Series might well feature baseball’s two best teams in the Red Sox and Cardinals. A lot of good baseball allowed these players to become what they are today, and a lot of good baseball allowed these teams to get to where they are today. It’s arguably the right matchup, even if it isn’t necessarily the most compelling matchup. In honor of quality baseball, then, I thought I’d seize this opportunity to reflect on really bad pitches and swings. This is the post where we look at the bad pitches. Here’s a link to the full series archive. What you’re going to see below are the five wildest pitches from the 2013 regular season, as determined, in three instances, by PITCHf/x and elementary math. In the other two instances, they were determined by visual observation, by me. The idea is to capture pitches furthest from the center of the strike zone, and you’re going to run across a lot of .gifs and screenshots, in case you’re worried about locking up your computer made of balsa wood. It’s been like this all season. There’s no sense in complaining today. I promise we’re almost through. Before we get to the top five, or the bottom five, whichever, it seems prudent to identify the five runners-up: Alfredo Figaro to Brandon Barnes on June 18 Alfredo Simon to Matt Dominguez on September 18 Rick Porcello to Ryan Doumit on June 14 Phillippe Aumont to Travis Snider on July 2 Ian Kennedy to Pablo Sandoval on April 29 All of those pitches were at least 69.4 inches away from the center of the strike zone, which is nearly six feet. One of them was actually more than six feet away. These are five pitches that didn’t make it. I’m not saying there was a lot of bad baseball in 2013, but what bad baseball there was was truly bad indeed. Here, now, the first of the finalists. I feel like we should get these pitchers something. I’ll start by getting them a section in an embarrassing blog post. 5 Pitcher: Jimmy Nelson Batter: Eric Young Jr. Date: September 28 Location: 73.7 inches from center of zone Eric Young Jr. video-game attributes we can speak to solely based on this clip: Discipline: some! Athleticism: 99 Awareness: 99 As the pitch flies to the backstop, Nelson turns and looks away before the ball even bounces. The catcher isn’t paying attention, even though all his padding is on the front. The umpire is paying some attention, but he flinches like an unprepared and scared little girl. Young tracks the ball the whole time, and even goes above and beyond in making an effort to keep the ball from rolling further away. Young seems like the only one who’s aware that a baseball can hurt you not just on its way in, but also on its way back from a ricochet. Which makes you wonder what Eric Young Jr. has gone through. It doesn’t make you wonder long, because the answer is evident. Nelson: Oh, you think you’re a good pitch-framer, eh? Nelson: Frame this! Nelson: /wild pitch Lucroy: /can’t catch it Nelson: ahahahaha Nelson: I sure showed you! Lucroy: We are on the same team Nelson: I don’t think so! Nelson: I don’t play for Team Liar! Lucroy: Pitch-framing is a talent and it can save you strikes. Lucroy: It’s not just about deception. Nelson: It seems like trickery. Like it’s dishonest. Lucroy: It’s just catching a ball cleanly. It’s just giving the umpire a chance. Nelson: I don’t know, though. Nelson: I wish the zone were just- Umpire: Throw a pitch or I’m going to call a ball. Lucroy: Oh like any of you are ever going to enforce that Nelson: /makes chicken noises from mound Umpire: Aw come on you guys Because the ball was on its way back down, Young was called for goaltending, and the Brewers were awarded two points. What you know happened, because of earlier footage, is that Nelson threw a wild pitch, and it bounced back toward home plate, where Young knocked it down out of the air. In this clip, though, the baseball doesn’t reappear, so if you strip it of context, any number of things could be happening. Inarguably, it all starts with a Nelson wild pitch. But then, oh no, flying cobras! What is Eric Young doing! Who tries to catch a flying cobra! 4 Pitcher: Yovani Gallardo Batter: Todd Helton Date: April 1 Location: 75.3 inches from center of zone The Brewers’ season basically ended with the fifth-wildest pitch of the whole year. The Brewers’ season basically started with the fourth-wildest pitch of the whole year. All we’re missing, in order to capture the Brewers’ season in a nutshell, is for one of the wild pitches to injure a Brewers first baseman, and for Ryan Braun to deny that the first baseman is injured. “No, he’s fine. Someone messed with the cameras to make him look hurt. Also that pitch was a strike.” What if this pitch were actually in the strike zone? That is, what if the strike zone were such that this pitch would go for a called strike? What if the strike zone were such that normal strikes as we understand them were actually balls? How do you think the game of baseball would be different? Me, I figure it would either have reversed definitions of strikes and balls, or it would be a lot worse and no one would play it. You’re looking at one of the greatest hitters of his generation and the biggest star in Colorado Rockies franchise history. That guy, right there, he’s known for what he’s done in professional sports. It’s going to take a minute for that to sink in, because this is all so familiar — you know about Todd Helton, and this is just what he looks like. A long time ago you put Helton’s appearance and ability together and you haven’t thought of it since. But, out of uniform, that’s just a guy. A pretty big guy, but a guy who, if you saw him in an Ikea parking lot, you wouldn’t figure to be one of the best at what he does ever. At least, you wouldn’t figure him to be one of the best at anything other than replacing broken sprinklers. On outward appearance, baseball is still the everyman’s game. 3 Pitcher: Garrett Richards Batter: Coco Crisp Date: July 27 Location: 79.4 inches from center of zone I can’t in good conscience include this without including what immediately preceded it: Watch Chris Iannetta’s glove. He’s signaling for the ball. Asking for it. Begging for it. The glove wiggles a few times, as if to say “nice and easy, just right here, just put it right here.” It’s been said that a lot of the time, catchers don’t set up in specific spots for breaking balls, because the breaking balls are just supposed to be thrown to the same place. Iannetta set up in a specific spot for this particular breaking ball, and then Richards threw the pitch to the mezzanine. His spot was actually lower and more inside than the center of the plate, making this mistake all the worse. So now it’s even clearer why Richards hangs his head in disappointment in the aftermath. Also in this start Richards allowed zero runs. It’s time for this week’s edition of Find The Baseball! If you find the baseball, print out the image, circle the baseball with a red marker, and mail it to a relative of your choice, including a note that says “I found the baseball!” Include nothing else, and be sure not to initiate further communication with the same relative. Allow the relative to come to you, and then see how your lives have been changed. Once you’ve made those observations, jot them down on a piece of paper and mail it to another relative of your choice. “Little help,” Crisp asks of the ball-retrieval shadow monster that only he sees. One man with his hand in his pocket, preparing to give. Two men with hands outstretched, asking to receive. America #smh #smdh 2 Pitcher: Edgmer Escalona Batter: Everth Cabrera Date: June 9 Location: nope Go ahead, have your laughs. That’s the whole point. Escalona threw a terrible pitch. He threw a pitch so terrible it didn’t even register on the PITCHf/x system. Still laughing? Now know that Escalona was injured. Boy is there egg on your insensitive faces! Escalona was called in to handle a 4-2 lead. There was a homer, then a single, then a homer, then this pitch, and then Escalona was removed and he was placed on the disabled list. He didn’t reappear in the majors for almost a month. Serves you right for laughing at the misfortune of others. I don’t do this because I’m an ass. I do this to reveal to you how you’re an ass. I get to come out clean on the other side. MLB.com is also an ass. 6/9/13: Edgar Escalona loses his grip on a pitch, sending a very humorous floater all the way to the backstop “Oh, you’re hurt? Nobody cares, princess. You’re a nobody, here for our entertainment. And also your first name is stupid. Here, try a real first name on for size.” This is actually what every pitch was like in Colorado before the humidor. It just so happened that Escalona threw a ball that never got the humidor treatment. That’s why it’s levitating there in the screenshot just in front of the backstop. Only the humidor has been able to conquer Denver’s effective zero-gravity environment. In retrospect major league baseball was probably a little aggressive and hasty in expanding to the moon. It’s accepted custom for fans to applaud when an injured player comes off the field. It’s not just about when a player can make it off under his own power — it’s a show of support, a show of humanity and gratitude, and you hear it under all circumstances, even when a player has to be removed on a cart. Fans applaud injured home players and visitors alike, because in moments of injury, the game ceases to matter as it did before. Most of the time. On this afternoon, fans in Colorado applauded for Escalona, but they applauded very sparsely and halfheartedly, as if to say “well we’re sorry but why couldn’t this happen before the two dingers?” 1 Pitcher: Felix Doubront Batter: Luke Scott Date: May 16 Location: nope The very wildest pitch of the entire season, and here’s what Florida-area viewers got to see on TV: They got to see the pitch on split-screen while a guy in the stands interviewed some family of non-baseball players. Because of the interview, the guys in the booth were unable to issue any remarks on what had happened. The interview continued, uninterrupted, as Doubront got a ball back and resumed the plate appearance. Something remarkable happened on a baseball field, something the most remarkable, and area viewers didn’t get to hear about it and fully appreciate it because this family’s dad surprised everyone by coming back early from military deployment? It’s like, come on, have some perspective, family. The world doesn’t revolve around you. There are more important things than combat and the unbreakable love that keeps a strained family together. That’s where the baseball went. Here’s where PITCHf/x figured the baseball went: See, this is why we can’t yet have automated strike zones. Because the computers can’t tell when a bad ball is actually one of the worst balls thrown in years. Because those count for two balls, right? Those are the rules? Doubront: There, I did it, just like you asked. Man on catwalk: And so they have been spared. I am a man of my word. Scott: Who has been spared? Doubront: Scott: Who just got spared? Doubront: Man on catwalk: Scott: I mean, you’re yelling back and forth, everybody can hear you. Scott: So who’s spared? With the infield paying so little attention, Scott should’ve run over there and hit the ball up the middle for a grounder. It wouldn’t have counted for anything, but man would that ever have been annoying. This was the very next pitch that Doubront threw to Scott, and it was a fastball that nearly clipped Scott in the noggin. Sometimes, when there’s a fastball like this, people figure there might have been intent. In this instance, given the pitch immediately prior, it would’ve been easy to assume Doubront just didn’t have a good handle. So, people would’ve assumed less intent, and Doubront could be more easily forgiven. Which gives me an idea for message pitches. If you want to send a message with a pitch, but you don’t want to risk getting ejected or starting a fight, throw a horrible pitch first. Just, miss everything completely. Then throw the message pitch, when people think you just suck a lot. You probably won’t get ejected or start a fight. You probably also won’t have successfully sent a message, which I guess is one of the glaring problems here. I recommend following with another message pitch.