The Worst of the Best: The Week’s Wildest Pitches by Jeff Sullivan April 5, 2013 Hello friends, and welcome to the first Friday of the 2013 MLB regular season. On this Friday we will debut a new series, to run on every Friday hereafter. The name of the series is “The Worst of the Best”, and each Friday it’s going to involve two separate but related posts, chronicling the wildest pitches of the week that was, and the wildest swings of the week that was, where for our purposes the week that was spans from the previous Friday to Thursday. Or, in this case, from Sunday to Thursday. Each post will consist of a top five, complete with a bunch of images, so prepare your computers if you have really terrible old slow computers. I’ve done something somewhat similar to this before. I came up with this name in a hurry and I’m not wedded to it, but the idea is that we’re observing the worst performances from some of the best players in the world. These are the moments at which the world’s greatest baseball players are the most like us. Maybe even worse than us! It’s all going to be PITCHf/x-derived, so this isn’t a subjective list, but we are left with the reality that every so often, PITCHf/x misses a pitch. Also PITCHf/x doesn’t keep track of intended pitch location, which could matter a little here. But we’re all just going to deal with that, because I said so and because none of us really has a choice. Now let’s just go ahead and get to the start of our first list. This is going to at least not be the opposite of fun. 5 Pitcher: Stephen Strasburg Batter: Donovan Solano Date: April 1 Location: 53.4 inches from center of zone That’s Stephen Strasburg nearly hitting a batter in the head. But fear not — this wasn’t a Strasburg fastball, but rather a Strasburg changeup, traveling at a puny 85 miles per hour. That’s positively gentle, such that this pitch would’ve done less damage than the Marlins’ offense. (Marlins jokes.) It’s funny to watch the .gif; at the beginning, the batter is standing and the catcher is crouching, and then they reverse positions halfway through like they’re mechanical Whac-A-Moles. I live in Portland, and baseball writer Matthew Kory also lives in Portland, not too far away. I used to pitch, and I loved it, and I miss it, and every so often Matthew and I get together to throw a baseball around. When I start feeling loose, I’ll start to throw pitches, and my fastball’s usually fine. My curveball is slow but generally on target. My slider’s the same, because sliders are easy. Seriously, sliders are simple, and so cut fastballs are similarly simple. But, without fail, I also try to throw changeups. And, without fail, every single changeup sails high and arm-side, forcing Matthew to run a good 30 yards to retrieve a baseball newly muddy and gross. Every single one of my changeups sucks. I don’t know why I still bother, but, one of these days. One of these days, my changeup won’t miss the target by a whole person. It makes me feel good, then, to see a guy like Strasburg have the same problem, if only once. The same thing that happens to my changeup happened to Strasburg’s changeup to Solano. In this way I can feel close to being Stephen Strasburg. We can all have things in common with the greats. The only difference is that the greats do well with greater frequency than we do. All I need to do to get better is keep practicing. Sorry, Matthew. Immediately following the pitch, Strasburg acknowledged that it was his fault: Strasburg: my bad Ramos: well yeah Strasburg: I mean Ramos: who else’s bad would it be? Strasburg: Ramos: you were solely responsible for that disaster Strasburg: Ramos: instead of apologizing maybe just don’t do that again ever Maybe the most remarkable part is how close Wilson Ramos came to making the catch: That’ll be good for his knees. 4 Pitcher: Grant Balfour Batter: Jesus Montero Date: April 2 Location: 54.9 inches from center of zone One of the reasons the Mariners traded John Jaso to the A’s was because the Mariners weren’t fond of his defensive ability behind the plate. I don’t think they ever specified, but it stands to reason they just didn’t like him across the board — didn’t like his game-calling, didn’t like his throwing, didn’t like his pitch-receiving. Which, okay, whatever, defense isn’t Jaso’s strength. His strength is that he doesn’t make too many outs when he’s batting. But look at the following misleading screenshot: Ignore the .gif and just look at that and you see a pitch down the very middle of the zone. Nice framing job, Jaso! Who receives like that! This is unforgivable technique! Jaso, incidentally, was just a Mariner, and he was a teammate of Montero’s. Here we see a first-pitch breaking ball that ends up in the dirt. I don’t see a problem with the game-calling, myself. That seems like pretty much exactly the right pitch. 3 Pitcher: George Kontos Batter: A.J. Ellis Date: April 1 Location: 61.8 inches from center of zone There was one out in the bottom of the seventh, and the game was still scoreless. For the Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw was dealing, but Matt Cain had dealt for the Giants, and now Kontos was in to replace him. Kontos retired Luis Cruz, then he faced Ellis, getting ahead immediately with a first-pitch fastball high and tight that Ellis fouled off. The next pitch was a low slider taken for a strike to make the count a commanding 0-and-2. At this point, Kontos had options. Ellis had seen both his pitches, both in the zone, but Ellis would have to defend the plate so far behind. While Ellis is as disciplined a hitter as they come, everyone expands when behind by two strikes. It’s a necessity. Kontos could come with something off the plate, but enticing. A ball, but a quality ball, something that would either set Ellis up or dismiss him outright. There’s no such thing as a good time to entirely waste a pitch. Every pitch should serve some purpose. Kontos and Buster Posey settled on a slider. It would be a low-away slider, but not too much so; a slider that spent a lot of time in the strike zone. Kontos just needed to find his spot. If he could do that, Ellis would be as good as gone. Kontos began his delivery. The ball spun easily out of his hand. Kontos: ugh Kontos: I am never going to throw a worse pitch than that Kontos: that will be the low point of my day Kershaw: /prepares to come to bat 2 Pitcher: Lance Lynn Batter: Martin Prado Date: April 3 Location: 66.2 inches from center of zone Yadier Molina is a confident man. “Maybe a little too confident,” Lynn thought to himself on the mound. Confidence overlaps with cockiness, and cockiness is disruptive and off-putting. Confidence can lead to over-confidence, and over-confidence can lead to damaging behavior. “What Yadi needs is to be humbled,” Lynn reasoned. “A little humility never hurt anyone.” Lynn looked in. “A low breaking ball? With a runner on third, in a close game? Just who does this guy think he is? Does he think he’s some Catches McGee?” Lynn came up with an idea on the spot and nodded along to the sign. “It’s time to teach this guy a lesson.” Molina prepared to receive the next pitch. Lynn immediately regretted making a point. 1 Pitcher: Yovani Gallardo Batter: Todd Helton Date: April 1 Location: 75.3 inches from center of zone Our wildest pitch of the week, and it wasn’t even particularly close, beating the runner-up by 14%. It went entirely unacknowledged on the Brewers’ broadcast. The Rockies’ broadcast just kept talking about Walt Weiss, and how he can be the nicest guy in the room and also the toughest guy in the room, all without saying much of anything. Gallardo threw a breaking ball that barely even cleared the grass. It’s like the pitch was a disfigured person you happen to pass on the sidewalk — you don’t want to be rude, so you pretend you don’t even notice. Gallardo, for his part, did the whole thing where he looked at the ground immediately after uncorking his little catastrophe. He also wanted to pretend he didn’t even notice. “If I don’t look at the baseball, then it didn’t do what it actually did.” Here, again, we see the ball ending up closer to the strike zone after the bounce, like Gallardo thought he was playing cricket, which come to think of it would also explain in part his arm angle: Now the part where we’re all made to feel like idiots. One of these is a well-located two-strike pitch just off the plate away. One of these is the wildest pitch of the first week of the regular season. I just realized I screwed up because I didn’t crop out the scoreboard, and the scoreboard shows the count. Try to pretend like the scoreboard isn’t there. Oh forget it. I was just trying to be educational.