**Updated at bottom**
Until yesterday, when I thought of Ryan Raburn, I thought of one thing. A year ago, 399 batters came to the plate at least 150 times. Raburn finished 13th among them in wRC+, right between David Ortiz and Shin-Soo Choo. This year, 322 batters have come to the plate at least 150 times. Raburn ranks 319th among them in wRC+, right between Andrew Romine and Mark Ellis. So, Raburn was one of the very best hitters in the league, and he has also been one of the very worst hitters in the league, and people get upset with defensive statistics for sometimes bouncing around all over the place. There’s nothing inaccurate about Ryan Raburn’s offensive statistics. They’re accurate and weird and stupid.
Now, when I think of Ryan Raburn, I think of two things.
I don’t know how possible it is to get a whole -1 UZR on one play, but Raburn at least explored beyond the frontiers. It’s not his first time trying to get -1 UZR on one play, either. Raburn failed to make the catch on a blooper. In fairness, it was not an easy blooper to catch, particularly if you have Ryan Raburn’s legs. But that wasn’t the end of it. That was half of the end of it. There’s nothing real remarkable about Mike Moustakas hitting a pop-up and getting lucky enough to reach base. But then Raburn tried to throw the baseball, and though he was technically successful in throwing the baseball, he was unsuccessful in handling the baseball as he intended, and the Royals wound up with an improbable run. It wasn’t a run that won them the game, but it was easily a run that could’ve.
When Yoenis Cespedes made that crazy throw, it inspired people to look up other amazing outfield throws. Ryan Raburn threw a lawn dart. Here, then, is a recent and presumably incomplete history of the lawn dart. We’ll begin with the godfather of the genre.
May 3, 2008
Our hero: Raul Ibanez
This is, without question, the most famous of all recent lawn darts. It arrived just as the Internet was falling back in love with .gifs, and it captured in a nutshell a player who always tried really hard, but who was an obvious liability in the outfield for a team going nowhere. The only way to watch a lot of recent Mariners teams has been by embracing how comically bad they have been, and there couldn’t be a more representative .gif. Monica was advised by her mother in an episode of Friends that she needed to be able to laugh at herself. In order to survive, fans of bad teams learn to laugh at themselves, because it’s the only path that doesn’t lead to abandonment or genuine sadness.
The hit was an RBI single by Hideki Matsui. Ibanez’s throw allowed Matsui to advance to second. Two batters later, he scored on a single up the middle. After that single was fielded, both runners moved up another base on a throwing error by Ichiro Suzuki. Following the game, John McLaren held a closed-door meeting and ripped his baseball team apart.
“When things are going well, the ball sticks in the ground and you pick it up,” Ibanez said. “When things are not going well, it rolls away and the runner advances another base.
“I saw him stop, and I tried to hold up. I should have just thrown the ball.”
9 out of 10. This is one that lives on in the .gif Hall of Fame, and Ibanez did it to himself. He should have just thrown the ball.
July 31, 2010
Our hero: Melky Cabrera
I struggled with this one a little bit, because it doesn’t look particularly similar to the classic lawn dart, featured above. The point isn’t to highlight bad throws; the point is to highlight certain kinds of bad throws. But ultimately I decided that this one counts, because the throw didn’t go anywhere but sideways, and it didn’t go sideways very far. Had Cabrera thrown this ball forward, it would’ve been short enough to be a lawn dart, and who says lawn darts can’t have a second thing also go wrong?
The hit was an RBI double by Ryan Hanigan. Cabrera’s throw allowed Hanigan to score. The Reds went up 5-2, and it was by that score that they’d win. The Baseball-Reference play log includes the following descriptive note: “Hanigan Scores/Adv on E8 (throw to Hm)”. Cabrera tried to throw the ball to home, and the ball might not have ended up any closer to home than it was when the throw began.
“When he threw it, it just slipped out of his hand,” said Braves manager Bobby Cox.
“I was [upset] already from hanging that pitch,” Jurrjens said. “I didn’t really care what happened after that.”
8.5 out of 10. The one thing I’ll give Cabrera is his heart was in the right place. He was trying to get the ball back to the infield as quickly as possible, and he just didn’t mind his own body in the process. Really, he was never going to get any runner, and he totally forgot to plant his feet, and he threw the ball sideways, but if nothing else, it was an error that came out of hustle. You can’t be totally mad at a guy for hustling.
June 2, 2012
Our hero: Ryan Sweeney
Ryan Sweeney pump-faked. Then he pump-faked again. Then he slowed down, because there wasn’t any action on the bases. Sweeney tried to casually return the ball to the infield. Instead he returned the ball to right-center field, for literally no reason. There wasn’t any action on the bases until Ryan Sweeney tried to easily return the baseball to the infield. Ryan Sweeney created action on the bases, out of nothing. No part of this had to happen. Sweeney could’ve just walked the ball back. This never should’ve existed. This is like Fresno.
The hit was a single by Brett Lawrie. It moved Edwin Encarnacion to second, where he stopped without an aggressive turn. So, ordinarily, this play would’ve ended with one out and runners on first and second. But as Sweeney played fetch with himself, Encarnacion scored, and Lawrie moved up 90 feet. Ryan Sweeney gave the Blue Jays three bases out of the goodness of his heart.
Nothing. Ryan Sweeney probably hasn’t spoken with the media since.
10 out of 10. Ryan Sweeney just had to do almost literally the easiest thing. There was no threat on the bases. There was no need for hustle. There was no infielder indecision. A hypothetically fixed baseball game would find this too transparent.
September 8, 2012
Our hero: David Wright
The ultra-rare infielder lawn dart. Because of the number of other players around, there’s less that can go wrong here, and because a lawn-darted infielder throw won’t just roll around forever, there’s less time for people to recognize how humiliating the play was. Wright threw to first base and threw to second base at the same time. As a result, the ball got to neither base.
Nothing. I guess the Mets’ pitcher kind of had to break to go back up somewhere as the ball rolled to the shortstop. But no one advanced. It was as if the play never happened.
5 out of 10. It’s a lawn dart, but it’s an easy lawn dart to forget, because it was quick and nothing happened. Wright just thought better of throwing the ball to first, and then it came out of his fingers. It hardly even counts as a blooper, but if nothing else, now those who saw it have been reminded of it. The consequence of this lawn dart is this lawn dart showing up in this post.
October 24, 2012
Our hero: Delmon Young
Above, we have a lawn dart no one remembers because nothing happened. Here, we have a lawn dart no one remembers because of the greater context. In theory, this should be easily remembered, because Young made a fool of himself in the World Series, but this only happened because Barry Zito knocked an RBI single to left field off of Justin Verlander. The instant that ball reached the outfield grass, Young could’ve fallen into a pit and been eaten by snakes, and nobody would’ve cared because the play would’ve already achieved its improbability ceiling.
Nothing happened as a result of Young’s miserable throw. Brandon Belt was going to score anyway, and like hell was Zito going to push his luck by trying to advance another 90 feet. Young just got to reflect a little on his skillset as he returned to his place in left field, but something tells me Young isn’t easily shaken by performing like a pile of crap.
I’m going with 8 out of 10. I almost went 7, because the throw did actually make it to the catcher, but, look how it made it to the catcher. This is Young’s attempt to nail a base-runner, and I don’t think he was overcome by last-second indecision. Young wanted to nail a guy at the plate, and he made a throw that bounced before it even so much as reached the dirt behind third. Young has a better arm than this, but this looks least like a ball that just slipped out of a guy’s hand.
August 6, 2013
Our hero: Raul Ibanez
All these other kids trying to make a name for themselves in the lawn-dart business. Raul isn’t having that. This is Ibanez territory, and he didn’t like the idea of people forgetting who started the movement in the first place. In terms of true talent, I don’t think you can read into two lawn darts any more than you can read into one lawn dart, especially when they’re separated by a number of years, but I feel like it has to mean something that Raul has done this two times during the recent MLB.tv era. I feel like he has to be considered accident-prone. At the time of this play he was 41 years old and playing left field.
The hit was a double by Edwin Encarnacion. Jose Bautista scored from first, but according to the official scoring, Encarnacion wasn’t given an RBI, because in the scorer’s judgment Bautista would’ve been stopped at third were it not for Ibanez’s spike. Encarnacion held at second base, as the score was 7-0 Blue Jays. I don’t know if it would’ve been against the unwritten rules for Encarnacion to try to move up. This almost feels like it was a test of Encarnacion’s sportsmanship. “Go ahead, go ahead and try it.”
“Mental mistake by [second baseman] Nick Franklin, which caused the throw by [outfielder] Raul Ibanez. Just to clear that up, that’s been talked about, because Raul was throwing the ball to second base, Nick had already vacated to do a double relay at third base, he should’ve stayed at second.”
After the game, Ibanez spoke to Franklin about the miscommunication and Thompson said the second baseman understands why his decision wasn’t optimal.
7.5 out of 10. It’s an ugly lawn dart, for sure. And it’s not Raul’s first rodeo. But it seems like it was in part because of someone else’s mistake, so I’m not going to assign Ibanez all the blame. At the end of the day, he’s still the guy who let the ball fly out of his own hand, but I can see how it might be hard to stop a throw in the process, just as it is with a swing. Especially when you are 41 years old and less athletic than many of your peers. Nick Franklin should’ve thought of that. “I don’t think my left fielder is very good.” Changes the decision-making.
July 24, 2014
Our hero: Ryan Raburn
A problem for Mike Moustakas: not enough home runs.
A problem for Mike Moustakas: too many pop-ups.
If only there were some way to-
Understand that the lawn dart here is considered independent of the sliding-catch attempt. The first bit of the play put Moustakas comfortably on second base. The second bit of the play sent him the rest of the way counter-clockwise. That snapped a scoreless tie in the bottom of the eighth, charging a(n unearned) run to a pitcher who took a perfect game into the bottom of the seventh. The third-base coach tells the story. And credit to him for paying attention long enough to see immediately that Raburn threw the ball away. With more of a delay, Moustakas might’ve had to stop at third, and who’s to say he would’ve been driven home?
“Ray made a really good effort,” Francona said. “Because we were shifting … [third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall] was sprinting back to third. So when Ray came up to throw, he tried to hold up, and the ball came out of his hand. It’s fluky and it cost us a run, but it was just a bunch of guys trying hard to get in the right place.”
“There are weird things that happen in this game,” Kluber said. “It’s just one of those plays.”
“I couldn’t hold up,” he said. “For that to happen, it was a tough one to swallow.”
This fan also issued a quote, although he was heckling the wrong player.
Fan: WAY TO ALLOW A SOFT FLY BALL
Fan: AFTER BEING PERFECT FOR A LONG TIME
8.5 out of 10. As with Ibanez just above, it seems there was an infielder factor here, and the lawn dart doesn’t include the missed catch, but it’s the circumstances that really bump this up, what with Moustakas coming all the way around to score late in a close and important game. And I’m not really sure what the hurry was, since Raburn wasn’t exactly going to throw the runner out at second. When the catch was missed, Raburn should’ve just mentally conceded two bases. By trying to make up for one mistake, Raburn just made everything worse, creating a whole run almost out of thin air. It was like a most unwelcome magic trick, which explains why the screenshot above features Corey Kluber wearing an actual, honest-to-God frown. Who frowns?
So, I made sure to give myself an out when I wrote “presumably incomplete history.” The thing about lawn darts is they aren’t really searchable. There is no lawn-dart database, so I can’t look up the events the way I can with PITCHf/x or the Baseball-Reference Play Index. Still, I’m a little thorough and obsessive and I don’t like leaving things out, so here now are three more lawn darts, noted in the comments or on Twitter. I won’t give them the full written review because I’m not that much of a crazy person.
June 19, 2011
Our hero: Eduardo Nunez
7 out of 10. It’s important to be able to separate the lawn dart from the comical disaster that takes place right before, and for Nunez, he made sure to just spike the ball straight down, so it didn’t get away and cost any bases. This is, without a doubt, one of the most magnificent .gifs in the recent history of the game, if not of all games, but there are worse lawn darts. There aren’t worse lawn darts accompanied by clumsy-handed breakdancers.
October 5, 2011
Our hero: Shane Victorino
9.5 out of 10. This isn’t a straight-up lawn dart — Victorino’s footing was the first problem — but in this circumstance, he should’ve just held onto the baseball. He didn’t begin his throwing motion until he was already awkwardly horizontal, and the result was that he literally sent the baseball backwards. Victorino had to retrieve the baseball off the wall twice. Used to be, you could tell a National League fan from an American League fan because NL fans saw Victorino as a .gif resource while AL fans were by and large unaware. NL fans knew what they were talking about. Victorino had the .gif potential of Munenori Kawasaki, with the added variables that Victorino plays more and is supposed to be good.
April 1, 2014
Our hero: Jedd Gyorko
7 out of 10. In Gyorko’s defense, he was getting a message from the temporary second baseman, and he also had another guy standing like ten feet away in the vicinity of his throwing window. So Gyorko was responding to two stimuli: instruction not to throw the ball, and the appearance of a teammate in accidental bean-ball territory. That nearby teammate was presumably surprising and distracting, and Gyorko would’ve had to adjust at the last second to make sure not to drill him in the face. It wasn’t a good situation for Gyorko to find himself in. But, he had a teammate ten feet away. He had another teammate maybe 25 – 30 feet away. He had Juan Uribe, the baserunner, returning to second base, and not even looking toward third. Gyorko sent the ball from a safe place to no-man’s land. Ian Kennedy subsequently had good sense, but Ian Kennedy has been one of the good ones.
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