Jon Lester Good, Cardinals Not

Wednesday night, in Game 1 of the World Series, Jon Lester was good. The Cardinals’ hitters, in turn, were not, or at least their performance was not, and as a consequence, the Cardinals lost. The Red Sox are now ahead by a game, and the Cardinals have as long as possible to wait for the next start by Adam Wainwright.

That’s the story, basically. It’s not the story that’s going to get all of the physical and electronic ink — the Cardinals’ defense, early on, was atrocious, and Wainwright gave up a few solid hits, and Carlos Beltran got hurt robbing a grand slam, and David Ortiz subsequently got his home run anyway to pour gravy all over the blowout. There’s a lot that’ll be written about what went wrong for St. Louis early. There’s a lot that’ll be written about the implications of Beltran being injured. But the Cardinals didn’t score a run until Ryan Dempster hung a splitter in the top of the ninth. With some luck, this game could’ve been closer. With some luck, this game could’ve been even more lopsided. Against Lester, the Cardinals just weren’t going to win without a miracle.

I’m going to let you in on some trade secrets. They’re not really that secret, or juicy. When a pitcher has a start like Lester’s on a big stage, the start gets written about. And from an analytical perspective, you’re always looking for an explanation. How did the start come together? What were the pitcher’s strengths? What did the pitcher do differently? In short, in what sense was the start unusual? What was the key to the dominance?

Here’s the story for Jon Lester in Game 1, as far as I can tell after thorough investigation: he was good. He pitched like Jon Lester — he pitched like himself — and maybe he made fewer mistakes. His strengths were his usual strengths. His mix was similar to his usual mix. The game could’ve looked different given different outcomes in one or two at-bats, but when runners were on, Lester found the right spots to keep the runners from crossing. Jon Lester took a shutout into the eighth because he pitched like Jon Lester when Jon Lester is good.

In large part the game was about Lester’s fastball and cutter, and he was able to use those pitches to control both sides of the zone against hitters of both…handednesses. Some possibly telling pitch-location charts:

lesterrhb

lesterlhb

What you don’t see are many pitches right in the middle. What you see a lot more of are pitches on the inner and outer thirds, or just beyond them. In the very early going, Lester attempted to establish his fastball inside, and then he folded in his cutter more often and pitched to both sides, especially against righties. Some of the lasting images, for me, are batters getting frozen by third-strike cutters on an edge. Presented are some lower-quality .gifs.

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A low-away cutter at 89. A cutter away at 88. A low-away cutter at 88. A low-inside cutter at 87. Between the cutter and the regular fastball, Lester established a consistent velocity difference and a consistent movement difference, and he’d vary his pitches to the edges so that hitters couldn’t be sure which variety of fastball they were getting. In the top of the second, Lester faced a 1-and-1 count against Yadier Molina, and he threw a tailing fastball over the outer third, which Molina fouled off. He followed that with a cutter that started over the outer third, but instead of tailing away off the plate, the cutter stayed where it was and Molina was left frozen and helpless. It’s easy to talk about these things in hindsight, but after a game like this I’m pretty willing to give Lester all the benefits of the doubt.

There were a few other images that stuck with me. In the first, Matt Holliday hit a first-pitch single off a fastball down at the knees. Holliday batted again in the fourth, with a man on. He swung at a cutter, then he took a cutter, then he took a fastball to get ahead 2-and-1. He fouled off a low-away fastball, then he fouled off a high-away fastball. The count at that point was 2-and-2, and Holliday had only seen fastballs and cutters. Of Lester’s 16 two-strikes pitches to that point, all but two had been fastballs or cutters. Of Lester’s 11 two-strike pitches with at least one ball to that point, all 11 had been fastballs or cutters. Holliday had every reason to expect something faster than what he got instead.

clip1055.gif.opt

That was the only whiff Lester got with his curveball, but he also got seven fouls, a called strike, and a pop-up. Lastly, with this stuff in mind, consider the top of the seventh. David Freese led off, and Lester got ahead with a curve. After a ball, Lester got ahead again with another curve. The fourth pitch was a cutter away, which Freese took for a ball. Freese might then have been expecting something similar, or perhaps another curve. What Lester did instead was bust him inside with a fastball, and Freese took too long a swing. The inning ended with Shane Robinson. Lester got ahead with a perfect outer-edge fastball. He then threw his first changeup of the game, which Robinson swung right through. The third pitch was a low curve that Robinson fouled off. Then Lester threw his second changeup of the game, more outside than the first.

clip1059.gif.opt

Even at that point in the game, with the score 5-0 and with the Cardinals looking helpless, Lester and David Ross mixed things up. For Shane Robinson, in the top of the seventh, Lester had a weapon he somehow hadn’t yet flashed. The weapon worked. Just about all of his weapons worked. The three strikes he threw to Pete Kozma to lead off the eighth were all different pitches, and they were all right on the edge of the zone. Lester’s last pitch of his outing, to Matt Carpenter, was a cutter that caught a little too much of the plate, but Carpenter still sent up only a routine fly. Maybe he was just surprised to see something hittable, which could be a weapon in its own right.

Absolutely, Lester’s start could’ve looked different. David Freese could’ve done something other than bounce into a 1-2-3 double play with the bases loaded. Jon Jay could’ve not grounded out to short in the fifth. But, how did the bases get loaded? Jay took a walk with some borderline balls, and Allen Craig and Yadier Molina hit groundball singles off cutters on the edges. The fifth inning doesn’t get so threatening with a better defensive left fielder than Jonny Gomes. No one’s true-talent level is “shutout”, but Lester deserved a good game Wednesday, and the results followed and then some.

How did Jon Lester shut down the Cardinals in Game 1? He didn’t resort to any tricks. He didn’t do his best, I don’t know, Justin Verlander impression. He did his best Jon Lester impression. He pitched like the Jon Lester people have seen as an ace. He hasn’t consistently been able to pitch at that level, but when he gets there, no one’s able to call it surprising. This is the guy that’s been in there all along.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


118 Responses to “Jon Lester Good, Cardinals Not”

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  1. Stelio Kontos says:

    What is that idiot holding up behind home plate after every pitch?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. chuckb says:

    Lester was outstanding last night. It was a total shellacking in every area of the game. My Cards are going to have play better the rest of the series or it’s going to be over pretty quickly.

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  3. Devon says:

    What really drove me nuts was the Kozma’s errors & the way the Cardinals batters kept swinging early. I couldn’t believe that, with the bases loaded, David Freese moved out of the way of that pitch that would’ve probably hit his foot. Sure, I understand that would hurt bad, but… it’s the World Series and the bases are loaded with your team down. Just take it like a man and make the BoSox pay for their mistakes. Instead, Freeze slaps a ball straight back to the pitcher for a double play, completely wasting a bases loaded situation.

    In the end, it probably wouldn’t have made much difference, but we’ll never know what could’ve snowballed.

    I just don’t want to see another sweep in the World Series, and I’m a bit concerned after last night, that we might see one.

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  4. LorenzoStDuBois says:

    Not sure where to ask this so:

    Where is last night’s live blog??

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  5. Nate says:

    Re: this sentence: “…he was able to use those pitches to control both sides of the zone against hitters of both…handednesses.”

    I believe the word you’re looking for is “chiralities.”

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  6. CircleChange11 says:

    This just in: Cardinals struggle against Left-Handed Pitchers.

    vRHP — 280/343/412

    vLHP — 238/301/371

    Throw in a very good LHP and you get what you get.

    It’s why beating Kershaw twice in the LCS was so surprising.

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  7. Conspiracy Man says:

    Compelling evidence! Man on the moon, 9/11, JFK assassination, Elvis’ death, and Lester doctoring the ball! Quick Shannon lets solve the next big case! All we need is some shoddy evidence and loose assumptions!

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    • Ryan says:

      or, you know, video evidence of the perpetrator in the act.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Conspiracy Man says:

        Yes, the evidence so clear as day. The media is covering up I say! Illuminati is behind it, I know it! Quick Cardinal boys, to the Busch cave!

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Shannon says:

          Nobody is covering it up, the media just hasn’t covered it yet.

          -5 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • If it’s such an obvious and big deal, why haven’t the cardinals issued anything? Also, was the substance what caused the cards to play like shit in every other aspect?

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        • B N says:

          “It hasn’t been covered yet.”

          Which is why it is on the front rotation of the Huffington Post, a little-known news site of no importance. Well, okay, the “no importance” part is true. But it’s hardly watching underground rock news at 3 AM when Telemundo mysteriously switches over to English.

          I don’t see anything in that glove. It’s a glove. Nobody complained during the game. The ump picked up tons of balls. Are you telling me that there was Vaseline on balls for 6 innings and the ump never noticed the ball felt gross?

          I got to tell you. If Yadier Molina and Mattheny didn’t complain to the ump, you should probably trust their judgment. They’re not only more invested than you, smarter than you, and there there at the park. They also have years of catching. If they say something, they would say something. Heck, Mattheny spent 5 minutes arguing about an overruled call that was OBVIOUSLY correct. You’re saying he wouldn’t speak a word if he thought the other guy was shutting them down with a handful of Vaseline?

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        • B N says:

          “were there at the park”

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    • Shannon says:

      I get what you’re saying, but this is not grainy footage or complicated conspiracy theories. This is a team that has a history of doctoring balls, and plain HD photos and videos of a player with a mysterious substance inside his glove that he then discretely rubs his fingers on right before gripping the ball. There is very little ambiguity here, and it’s honestly kind of disgusting that the reaction to this is so mild. I mean, are we ok with saying that it is ok to cheat?

      -13 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • RC says:

        Grainy footage is exactly what it is.

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        • Ryan says:

          it’s 1080p hd footage. grainy is the opposite of what it is.

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        • Shannon says:

          So which part are you denying, then? That there was a foreign substance in his glove, or that he rubbed that substance on his fingers right before gripping the ball? This isn’t complicated. It’s right in front of you.

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        • Stay Classy St. Louis says:

          By the way Shannon way to bring in the cancer survivor angle, extremely relevant and all. Adds tons of credibility to whatever point you were hoping to make…

          +17 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Shannon says:

          It’s entirely relevant. Lester won’t get as much shit out of this as he should, because he’s a “good guy” because he beat cancer. Sorry, but cancer survivors can still be assholes just like the rest of us.

          -9 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • RMD says:

          Bro, so you’re saying that the evidence isn’t conclusive he was using a banned substance? There’s a reason the camera guy zoomed in on it. He must have been doing that several times earlier in the game.

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        • RC says:

          “it’s 1080p hd footage”

          No, that GIF is clearly not 1080p.

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      • Jay says:

        Its a little rosin or pt. You see this with many, many mlb pitchers. Smoltz used to keep pine tar on his shoes and bend down to get some for extra grip. Also, sometimes pitchers have too much rosin on their fingers for comfort, and they scrape it off in the glove. That can build up a little stain, especially when it becomes part of a pre-pitch routine. Pretty much every pitcher in mob uses rosin/tar or some combination for grip, especially on a very cold night. And you won’t find one team or manager who cares. They only care about vaseline, oils, slippery stuff.

        As far as a history of doctoring the ball, you must be referring to that absurd “controversy” when the idiot Jays announcers thought Buchholz was going to something on his forearm. Which, too, was proven to be complete BS and conjecture.

        +11 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • RC says:

          Looks like a worn out spot in the glove to me.

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        • Jonathan says:

          “Wainwright acknowledges at times using a mix of resin and sunscreen to enhance his grip. Just as significant, the combo applied to his pitching arm helps prevent sweat rolling onto his hand.

          “There’s a difference in pine tar from oil and grease, things that make the ball sink, cut or do different stuff,” he said. “That’s different than doctoring a ball. If one of our pitchers gets a scuff on the side of a ball he can do all kinds of things with it. An emery board or something like that is totally different.”

          Manager Mike Matheny declined comment on the matter but the team is among those believing the use of substance mixed with resin to better grip the ball is widespread if not universal.”

          Whomp whomp. That’s Wainwright from last year.

          +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Cardinal Fans says:

    1*-0 Is what the series should read. We were job’d last night! Went out there and played a real quality game. Flawless performance only to be ripped off by the cheating red sox. Cardinals fully deserved that win last night.

    Sincerely,
    The Home of Baseball St. Louis “aka home of the baseball purists”

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    • Shannon says:

      Nobody is saying that the Cardinals deserved to win. In fact, they deserved to lose- they played terribly. Doesn’t mean that Lester shouldn’t be held responsible for cheating, if he did.

      -10 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Detective Shannon says:

        If he cheated? Earlier you were throwing around definitive statements and accusations… Now you seem to concede your evidence is less than you may have originally wanted people to buy? I think if we both are being honest here, there really isn’t any evidence here to make an assumption let alone cast guilt.

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        • Shannon says:

          I have never said that anything is conclusive. It is pretty compelling, sure, but of course nothing can be said conclusively at this point. What SHOULD happen from this is Lester and every other Reds pitcher should have their gloves and caps checked before every inning. Obviously nothing can be done about game 1 retroactively (nor SHOULD anything be done, as it was clearly not the difference in the outcome of the game and at this point any actual hard evidence would be gone, as Lester has surely washed the gunk off his glove by now), but I do think that it is important to keep it from happening again.

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        • RC says:

          “This isn’t complicated. It’s right in front of you.”

          That seems pretty conclusive to me.

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        • NS says:

          “HD photos and videos of a player with a mysterious substance inside his glove that he then discretely rubs his fingers on right before gripping the ball. There is very little ambiguity here”

          “I have never said that anything is conclusive”

          +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Grohman says:

          Oh my goodness…
          “What SHOULD happen from this is Lester and every other Reds (sic) pitcher should have their gloves and caps checked before every inning.”

          Introducing Shannon, MLB’s new VP of Exacerbating Game Pace Issues.

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    • Jonathan says:

      Yeah, it was really awful how the Sox doctored up Pete Kozma’s glove.

      That’s where we’re at on this, right? Because, you know, it wasn’t awful defense that sunk the Cardinals, it was the green dot on a grainy picture.

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  9. Corky says:

    Or its just a worn out spot on a leather glove, where Lester always rubs his fingers to dry them to get a better grip on the ball.

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  10. I'll just leave these here says:

    Gunk on glove:
    http://i.imgur.com/0vWDP5v.jpg

    Fingering gunk on glove:
    http://i.imgur.com/W9WxS5C.jpg

    …yep

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  11. Shan the Man says:

    Your little Lester’s cheating cost us the game; more holes in it than Kozma’s glove.

    You say in comment that the Cardinals deserved to lose, then in a different claim the Cardinals had no chance because of doctoring? Which one is it the “cheating” or the putrid performance? Flip flopping more than Capitol Hill right now

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    • Shannon says:

      sar·casm (särkzm)
      n.
      1. A cutting, often ironic remark intended to wound.
      2. A form of wit that is marked by the use of sarcastic language and is intended to make its victim the butt of contempt or ridicule.
      3. The use of sarcasm.

      -10 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Shan the Man says:

        Yes clearly all of your comments reek of sarcasm.

        (Get it I’m using sarcasm)

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        • Shannon says:

          Nope, just the one. Sorry it went over your head.

          -11 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Shan the Man says:

          Love the retroactive “it was sarcasm” when making moronic statements online. I’ll put in the memory bank, for the next/first time I make an incredibly foolish remark. Could use the I was just “trolling” excuse too, heard that one works as well.

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        • Shan the Man says:

          Oh and was the “It’s clear and right in front of you” also sarcasm? Later you go on to admit there is no definitive evidence…

          Here is a hint when trying to make a credible argument, pick one stance and stick to it. You look like a fool changing the narrative to try and fit your rebuttal.

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  12. Have A Ball says:

    I did not know Jon Lester survived cancer. Fascinating, that’s good stuff

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  13. RC says:

    http://sonsofsamhorn.net/topic/80134-the-world-series-thread-red-sox-vs-cardinals-for-the-title/?p=5061379

    Pretty good post with Lester’s PitchFX spin charts from the last couple of games. Basically nothing to see.

    So either he’s always been throwing a spitter (which wouldn’t match his spin/movement at all), or its nothing, and he just has a little weird tick where he rubs his glove.

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    • RC says:

      If it was vaseline, we would have seen a difference in the spin of his pitches, which we didn’t.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Grohman says:

      Jeffrey, something relevant has happened in the article you linked. This is copied directly from it:

      “Update: An MLB spokesperson released a statement regarding Lester’s potential use of a foreign substance, courtesy Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports.

      ‘We cannot draw any conclusions from this video. There were no complaints from the Cardinals and the umpires never detected anything indicating a foreign substance throughout the game.”
      Update No. 2: Strauss talked to Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak about the incident, who told the reporter that the story is a “non-issue.’ A full quote from Mozeliak appeared in an article written by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

      ‘As far as I’m concerned it’s a non-issue. It’s something that arose in social media and not from our players or manager or our coaching staff. To me it does not represent a concern.’”

      So maybe we all just let this go? Maybe we pop over to Eno’s chat, make friends? No?

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  14. jruby says:

    He was probably coating the ball with a high-tech, metallic gel, and when the ball was halfway to home plate, Farrell remotely activated a powerful magnet in either Ross’s left or right shoe to give the pitch that little extra break.

    At least, that’s what *I* would have done…

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  15. Beau says:

    Facts:
    Something appeared to be unusual about a spot on Lester’s glove.
    Lester touched that part of his glove before throwing one or more pitchers.
    It is a universally accepted practice for pitchers to use rosin/pine tar/sunscreen/etc. to improve their grip on the ball.

    Speculation:
    The unusual spot on Lester’s glove may have been been a bit of substance which would constitute doctoring pitches.

    Seems to me that you need to take a pretty significant jump in logic to arrive at the conclusion that what is show in those gifs is in any way cheating.

    I’d expect for people to draw conclusions about things as impactful as cheating on CBS and Fox Sports but [most] of us come to fangraphs for inciteful, intelligent analysis. I’m surprised to see such detritus on these boards.

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  16. Beau says:

    Also, MLB players are people. People do weird things to deal with stress, especially pitchers who are superstitious and stick to routines. Stuff like touching a certain part of their glove every pitch and making it wear out after thousands of incidents. I wonder if we can find screen grabs from similar occasions in the past with Lester doing the same thing?

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    • RC says:

      Anyone who has seen a Nomar Garciaparra plate appearance would understand this. The fact that someone exibits a behavior doesn’t mean there’s a rational explanation for it, or an advantage to it.

      Its a bare spot on the glove

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      • Jonathan says:

        It’s not just baseball players, far too many fans (Myself included) do this crap.

        During games, I have certain parts of my cap I will not touch compared to parts I feel are necessary to touch.

        Likewise, I absolutely refuse to step on cracks on game days. I look like a complete idiot walking to work and my wife spends endless amounts of time making fun of me, but at least I feel I’ve done what I can.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. TheMocc says:

    Cardinals fans are the best. They continue not to hit a lick, and are awful defensively, but still can’t help themselves from complaining about how the other team plays the game.

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  18. TheMocc says:

    The actual team continued not to hit and so forth, not the fans. The fans just whine.

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  19. Paul says:

    Somebody, anybody at Fangraphs please ban Shannon from posting. He can post his crap on a site other than one that is the best for baseball analytics in the business. Intelligent, rationale and fact-based comments. Is that too much to ask?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Guest says:

      I don’t understand why you are dogging Shannon. There looks to be a decent amount of video and photo showing the yellow/green oozy spot on the glove fingers and Lester rubbing it.

      People in MLB seem to think rosin and sunscreen is acceptable for grip, while believing Vaseline is used for cheating.

      You can link to an interview w/ quotes from Maddon and Hickey of TB where they explain that its not really “kosher” to ask umpires to check gloves in game, so thats probably why Matheny didn’t ask.

      If it is Vaseline in the glove, which looks like a possibilty, perhaps all this attention will deter Lester from using it his next start.

      If its not, he will chalk the controversy up to “fans not having a clue” and continue about his business next start. No worries.

      It would be nice to see him address these questions to a media member today.

      I wouldn’t assume its a non-issue just because MLB said so. They also said steroids were no big deal for 15 years and have no interest in people thinking that there is cheating going on.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Beau says:

        We are dogging Shannon because he drew non-evidence based conclusions and made emotional statements. If he presented the opinion that “Lester may or may not have been doing something to alter his ability to grip the ball and/or effect the path of his pitches and we really don’t know for sure but there seems to possibly be something interesting that may be worthing evaluating” then no one would have dogged him. Fangraphs is a place for analysis and in depth intelligent conversation, not jumping to wholly unsubstantiated conclusions.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Beau says:

        It’s one thing to say “Hmmm looks like something weird on his glove, I wonder what it is, let’s find out” and an entirely different thing to say “OMG His glove looks funny he must have cheated OMG!”

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Grohman says:

        Hi Guest, please go buy some vaseline and attempt to create a yellow/green pile of it in a spot on a leather baseball glove. Report back with results. Thank you!

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • HenduforKutch says:

        When, exactly, did they start making green Vaseline? Did I miss that exciting new product release?

        If it’s any sort of substance, it’s Bullfrog sunscreen. The same stuff that’s been seen multiple times in the Red Sox dugout throughout the season.

        https://twitter.com/thepainguy/status/393392624758841344/photo/1

        Also, a little common sense. If he were going to doctor the ball with something slick, why oh why would he use the two fingers that last contact the ball to do it? You don’t exactly gain control of your pitches by making them slip off your release fingers.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jason B says:

      Paul–

      Yes, it *IS* too much to ask for commenters that you personally don’t like to be banned from posting. You don’t have to read the comments. They may have been long on passion and somewhat short on evidence, but they weren’t abusive or threatening to other commenters.

      If we got rid of all of the commenters that one person or the other didn’t like for any ol’ reason, the boards would be empty, except for Carson.

      +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

  20. jerryjerry says:

    Jeff throws gifs and two minute data plots and gets paid again.

    I don’t get the use of data in the first two graphs. You say that there weren’t many balls in the middle pat of the strike zone but seems like a third of the pitches are right in the middle if the dots representing the baseballs are actually appropriately sized with the x and y axis.

    Plus the webpage still hasn’t loaded up completely.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  21. Hyun-Jin Kershaw says:

    When Ortiz gets eaten alive by squirrels at Busch, the whole thing will even out.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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