The Year’s Worst First Pitches

Ever have one of those days where as soon as you wake up, things begin going awry? Simple tasks suddenly seem difficult? You burn your toast. You go to feed the dog, but it’s dark in the pantry and you accidentally dump the food in the adjacent water dish rather than the food bowl. You’re in the shower, hands lathered up with shampoo, and you feel a tickle in your eye. You know better than to scratch it but it’s early and you haven’t had your coffee and the whole time you’re raising that hand towards your face your mind is telling you no no no stop right now damnit you’re going to ruin your morning idiot and then you just plunge that finger in there and scratch away. I’m talking a deep prod.

As the burn persists, you begin to stew. Why? How? Am I not a full-grown adult, capable of moving from simple task to simple task throughout my life without being met by wretched, shameful failure along each step of the way? Have I made it this far on good fortune alone? Once the burn subsides, you consider going back to bed. Just for 30 minutes. Pull the covers up, set an alarm, get yourself up in a half hour and pretend like none of that ever happened. Reset. But you know you can’t. It’s too late now. You’ve already gotten up and started the day; it would be a coward’s move to let it beat you this quickly. Besides, you’ve got to start writing your morning blog post.

* * *

Sometimes, pitchers throw a really bad pitch.

We explored this topic yesterday with regards to the non-competitive pitch, or a pitch that ends up several feet from the center of the strike zone. Plenty of these pitches come on two-strike counts, which makes sense. In two-strike counts pitchers tend to work outside the zone, leaving less room for error for the difference between a slightly-outside pitch and a way-outside pitch. Consider also that pitchers are usually trying to throw strikes, meaning there’s less muscle memory for the times that they’re trying not to throw strikes. In a way, it goes against what their body is most accustomed to doing. You’d figure that every now and then, one would slip.

It’s one thing for a pitcher to do this in a two-strike count when he’s already thrown 83 pitches that day and he’s not really even trying to throw a strike. Sometimes, pitchers throw a really bad pitch. But sometimes, pitchers throw a really bad pitch on the first pitch of the game. Pitchers always want to throw a strike on the first pitch of the game! Like, all of them. It’s one of the only things in baseball that’s an absolute guarantee. It’s literally the only reason Alcides Escobar became a thing in the postseason, because he decided to start taking advantage of the most obvious, telegraphed plan of attack in all of sport. Every pitcher wants to go out there and pound one in the zone. Every one. Yet, sometimes, it still doesn’t happen. Sometimes, a pitcher puts his jersey on, laces up those cleats, grabs his hat and his glove, walks out on the mound and just shoves a fingerful of shampoo in his eye. The same thoughts go through his mind. The why, the how, the can I go on or should I just go back to bed? Too late now. He’s got a game to pitch. As for the why and the how, it’s impossible to say for sure, but we can give our best guess.

No. 10 – Garrett Richards

  • Location: 3.86 feet from the center of the PITCHf/x strike zone
  • At-bat result: Fly out
  • Outing result: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 HR, 2 BB, 5 K (1.99 ERA, 2.99 FIP)
  • Explanation: Shampoo in the eye pre-game. These athletes really aren’t that different from you and I.

No. 9 – Scott Feldman

  • Location: 3.92 feet from the center of the zone
  • At-bat result: Line out
  • Outing result: 6.2 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 0 HR, 2 BB, 6 K (4.05 ERA, 2.23 FIP)
  • Explanation: Didn’t like the ball. Didn’t like the ball he was given, but would have felt ashamed to ask the umpire for a new one before even throwing a single pitch. Rather than draw attention to himself, Bashful Scott Feldman figured his best course of action was simply to throw it away and take the hit.

No. 8 – Matt Shoemaker

  • Location: 3.92 feet from the center of the zone
  • At-bat result: Pop out
  • Outing result: 1.2 IP, 7 H, 6 ER, 1 HR, 3 BB, 0 K (34.40 ERA, 16.33 FIP)
  • Explanation: Supergenius premonition. The phenomenon that is #EskyMagic hadn’t yet sweeped the nation, but Shoemaker already knew about it. This was simply a test. Escobar didn’t swing at the first pitch, therefore Shoemaker had won. Ignore that pitching line up there.

No. 7 – Alfredo Simon

  • Location: 3.93 feet from the center of the zone
  • At-bat result: Strikeout
  • Outing result: 6.2 IP, 9 H, 5 ER, 2 HR, 3 BB, 5 K (6.75 ERA, 7.33 FIP)
  • Explanation: Watched Interstellar the previous day and stayed up all night reading the Wikipedia entry for wormholes. Barely got any sleep. Still couldn’t quite grasp it all. In the bookshelf?

No. 6 – Scott Copeland

  • Location: 3.98 feet from the center of the zone
  • At-bat result: Strikeout
  • Outing result: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 0 HR, 0 BB, 4 K (1.29 ERA, 1.99 FIP)
  • Explanation: Scott Copeland. Scott Copeland? Scott Copeland.

No. 5 – Tim Lincecum

  • Location: 4.11 feet from the center of the zone
  • At-bat result: Strikeout
  • Outing result: 4.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R (2 ER), 0 HR, 3 BB, 5 K (3.86 ERA, 2.92 FIP)
  • Explanation: Cheesy fingers. Snacked on some Cheetos in the clubhouse and only used a paper towel to clean up. Rookie mistake. Always wash the hands after a Cheetos binge.

No. 4 – Danny Salazar

  • Location: 4.37 feet from the center of the zone
  • At-bat result: Fly out
  • Outing result: 4.2 IP, 6 H, 3 R, (2 ER), 1 HR, 1 BB, 4 K (3.86 ERA, 4.85 FIP)
  • Explanation: Been learning how to play Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” on guitar. Nasty callouses on his throwing/strumming hand.

No. 3 – Brad Hand

  • Location: 4.46 feet from the center of the zone
  • At-bat result: Fly out
  • Outing result: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 HR, 0 BB, 2 K (0.00 ERA, 2.33 FIP)
  • Explanation: Funny story actually! I’m glad you asked. So you see, from a young age, Brad Hand had this superiority complex regarding his hands. His last name being Hand and all, Hand felt like his hands needed to stick out. They needed to mean something. He knew he would dedicate his life to a craft that involved the use of his hands. But Hand was a late bloomer. As puberty kicked in, other kids began surpassing Hand’s ability in hand-based activities. Hand grew resentful, realizing his hands weren’t so special anymore and that all he had left was the name. So Hand decided on a power play. He’d switch it up, start doing everything with his left hand. It was a win-win. On one hand, Hand could struggle in using his left hand, but simply being left-handed would be reason enough for other children to find the pairing with his last name — Hand — unique and interesting. Of course, no one actually cared either way, but Hand was still a kid and, like any child, his priorities weren’t exactly aligned. On the other hand, if Hand were to succeed as a left-hander, despite being a natural-born righty, it would only make the victory over his classmates that much sweeter. And so he forced it. At the beginning, it was tough, but Hand slowly got used to it. Over and over again, coaches would notice that something seemed off, and they’d suggest that maybe he should try throwing righty? Of course, Hand defied them. And who are they to argue? The guy’s last name is Hand after all. He ascended the ranks through the minor leagues and eventually realized his dream: to spite the schoolchildren by achieving the ultimate athletic accomplishment with his non-dominant hand. Because it goes against his biological code, he’s still prone to sudden bouts of wildness, but here’s Brad Hand, 20 years later, still throwing left-bradhanded and occasionally delivering one of the wildest first pitches of the season.
  • Nah. Probably happened because he’d been pitching in short stints out of the bullpen all year and was forced into a spot start. First one of the year. Nerves.

No. 2 – Garrett Richards

  • Location: 4.46 feet from the center of the zone
  • At-bat result: Walk
  • Outing result: 6.2 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 0 HR, 4 BB, 10 K (1.35 ERA, 2.38 FIP)
  • Explanation: Made a bet with C.J. Wilson after his last start. Said he’d never throw a worse first pitch the rest of his career. Didn’t even make it one game. Cracked under the pressure. He’s always had a terrible poker face. Now he’s gotta carry Wilson’s luggage on team trips for the next five months.

No. 1 – Francisco Liriano

  • Location: 4.64 feet from the center of the zone
  • At-bat result: Walk
  • Outing result: 2.1 IP, 7 H, 5 R (4 ER), 1 HR, 2 BB, 4 K (15.43 ERA, 7.85 FIP)
  • Explanation: We’ll never know! A 27-minute rain delay wasn’t enough time for either television broadcast to capture the very first pitch of the game. Maybe they all still had shampoo in their eyes.





August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

20 Comments
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LeeTro
6 years ago

I’m amazed by the results of the PA: 2 walks and 8 outs.

Jbird
6 years ago
Reply to  LeeTro

I am too. Sample size too small to draw any conclusions of course.

It’d be interesting though to see whether bad first pitches resulting in 1-0 counts…how does ultimate result compare to close misses resulting in 1-0 counts.

But hard to imagine “Hit the mascot” as a viable strategy.

Right now
6 years ago
Reply to  LeeTro

Somewhere, a pitching coach is telling all his pitchers to sail the first one. 80% chance at an out. At worst, you’ll get a walk.

MikeS
6 years ago
Reply to  LeeTro

Yeah. I would have expected better than .000/.200/.000 for ten random guys that started 1 – 0, even in a small sample size.

My Stove is Hotter Than Your's
6 years ago
Reply to  LeeTro

It may be that our future may lay upon us more than one stern test. Our past will have taught us how to meet it unshaken. For the present, the work to which we are all equally bound is to arrive at a reasoned tranquillity within our borders; to regain prosperity without self-seeking; and to carry with us those whom the burden of past years has disheartened or overborne.

My life’s aim has been to serve as I might, towards those ends. Your loyalty, your confidence in me has been my abundant reward.