Killing Them Softly: Slowest Swinging-Strikeout Pitches of 2013

My cousin Cindy has a batting cage on her property. If you knew Cindy, this would absolutely not surprise you. She had been a farmer her whole life, and as she gets older and does less farming, she needs things to fill those now-free 18 hours or so. She needs things that involve activity as well, as she still has a lot of energy to burn. So when she had a family reunion of sorts last summer, there came a time when everybody had to take a turn in the batting cages. There were no helmets worn — these were strong Wisconsin folk, mind you — as the pitch speed was usually turned to the lowest setting. These were changeups, ostensibly. And when it was my turn to take some hacks, they still looked fast. I fouled a few off to begin, then was able to make some contact (note: making contact means weak grounders when it comes to my hitting.) Toward the end, the oddest thing happened. I started swinging early. I started getting comfortable enough that I started being proactive instead of reactive. In hitting terms, I adjusted.

Hitters in the middle of a cold streak use platitudes about their timing being off all the time. When a hitter is coming back from a prolonged injury, they often do rehab in the minors to get “their timing down.” Leg kicks can be added or removed from swings in order to assist with timing. It’s an integral part of hitting, is the point I’m making, and the point you already knew. It’s why so-called soft-tossing pitchers can still get away with cashing a check from a major league team. Their fastball might be weak, but they can counter that by taking enough from the off-speed stuff, that a hitter’s timing can still be thrown off significantly.

Of course, this doesn’t always work according to plan. A couple weeks ago, I outlined the slowest pitches that were hit out of the park. Most of those pitches hit a good part of the zone, and the hitters were able to stay back long enough to muscle it over the fences. This is the problem when a pitcher throws such a slow pitch. When the location is off, or the ball doesn’t break much, it becomes a batting practice pitch. But it feels unfair to leave it at that. Sometimes these pitches do work! Sometimes, a slow yacker can catch a hitter off guard, and force a weak — and sometimes embarrassing — swing. So, which pitchers got strikeouts on super-slow pitches? I’m glad you asked, even though I’m really the one that asked it, like, one sentence ago. These are the slowest pitches that got a swinging strike three in 2013. Behold.

10. June 21

Batter: Conor Gillaspie

Pitcher: Bruce Chen

Pitch Speed 66 MPH

gillaspie

Bruce Chen used his curveball more this year than in any other year. This was also the first year since 2010 that Chen’s curveball had positive value. He also managed to add a mile-per-hour on that pitch, compared to 2012. But he didn’t display that here, as he really pulled the string against Gillaspie.

9. August 17

Batter: Dayan Viciedo

Pitcher: Andrew Albers

Pitch Speed: 65.9 MPH

viciedo

This combo of hitter and pitcher was made for this list. A pitcher with a curveball that averages 67 MPH (a 21 MPH difference from his fastball) meets a batter with a 12% swinging strike rate. Mix the two together, stir vigorously, add a pinch of cinnamon and voila!

8. May 13

Batter: Leonys Martin

Pitcher: A.J. Griffin

Pitch Speed: 65.9 MPH

martin

The pitch previous to this, also a strike, was a 68 MPH curve. This skill is one of the reasons that Griffin’s curve is one of the most valuable in baseball. Griffin is able to take even more off of this one, which — though I’ve never had first-hand experience — has to mess with a hitter. Martin already swings at nearly half of the pitches he sees anyway, so when the pitcher can take 3 MPH off an already-slow curve the very next pitch , it’s almost a forgone conclusion.

7. April 30

Batter: Adam Dunn

Pitcher: Yu Darvish

Pitch Speed: 65.3 MPH

dunn

Dunn, despite his penchant for strikeouts, is not as free of a swinger as some may think — 119th in swing % among qualified batters in 2013. I touched on the overall ineffectiveness of Darvish’s curveball this season in my previous article, but there are times when he is able to snap one off with great results.

6. August 22

Batter: Torii Hunter

Pitcher: Andrew Albers

Pitch Speed: 65.1 MPH

hunter

Andrew Albers, over sixty innings, struck out 25 batters. This means that 8% of his strikeouts appear on this list. I’m not quite sure what that means, but I’ll let you know if I figure it out. To me, Albers has a little Andy Pettitte in his delivery, but still brings the curveball in much slower than even an old Pettitte ever did.

5. April 23

Batter: B.J. Upton

Pitcher: Jeff Francis

Pitch Speed: 63.8 MPH

upton

To me, at least, Jeff Francis always deserved better than to play half his games at Coors. He just wasn’t built for it. This isn’t to say that he would have turned into Greg Maddux or something if you threw him in Petco, but you know what I mean. He was, however, very effective in this at-bat against Upton. Upton was ahead on everything, even stuff in the 70s, either swinging through or fouling off. And though he tried his best, Upton just couldn’t hold up. Does B.J. Upton struggle against slower stuff? That may deserve some extra digging.

4. April 24

Batter: Luis Jimenez

Pitcher: Yu Darvish

Pitch Speed: 63.6 MPH

jiminez

Darvish appears again, showing the shiny side of his lollipop curve. For reference, the last pitch was a 95 MPH fastball that Jimenez just fouled off. Aesthetically, this isn’t even one of Darvish’s prettier curves, but it still manages to look like it just stops for a moment at the top of its apex.

3. August 24

Batter: Alejandro De Aza

Pitcher: Yu Darvish

Pitch Speed: 63.5 MPH

deaza

During this game, Hank Aaron was in the broadcasters booth, talking to the TV folks for Chicago. I’m not sure why. But he was an extremely charming man, and I really enjoyed listening to him talk about baseball. You can tell he still really cares about the game. I even smiled a little bit when De Aza kept fouling pitches off, because it meant a little more Hank Aaron. I then had to switch feeds since the angle on the Chicago one was stupid, but I’m still glad I “wasted” the time that I did with Hammerin’ Hank. I bring this up mostly because I didn’t feel like talking about Darvish again.

2. September 19

Batter: Daniel Descalso

Pitcher: Roy Oswalt

Pitch Speed: 61.9 MPH

descalso

Whew! I was worried I’d get through this whole thing without seeing a Roy Oswalt junk ball. Perhaps it’s me, or maybe the camera angle, but this almost looks like some screwball-type thing, with arm-side action. But PitchF/X labeled it a curve, and Gameday shows it as a curve.

descalsogameday

The whole thing is weird — why he threw a curve so high and outside, why Descalso swung at it, how it kind of looks like Oswalt slips during his motion. It almost doesn’t even look like that slow a pitch. One thing is for sure, this is surely more time than anyone should concentrate on a Roy Oswalt/Daniel Descalso matchup.

1. August 30

Batter: Trevor Plouffe

Pitcher: Yu Darvish

Pitch Speed: 61.2 MPH

plouffe

Ugh, dude. We get it. You can throw slow curves. Learn another pitch, already. Oh you have? A lot of them in fact? It appears as if I have egg on my face, then. Carry on, sir.

Darvish cut his curveball usage from 10% in 2012 to just 2.8% in 2013. His slider usage went way up in its place. A dirty slider is nothing to sneeze at (the phrasing of that came out wrong), but I hope this trend does not continue. Baseball needs this curveball.

I get strange things stuck in my head when I research and write. Sometimes, it’s a song I had playing while working. Sometimes, it’s a song that comes over the PA during the game that I’m capturing footage from. I’ve even been known to compose original material about something without consciously knowing about it. But when I worked on this piece, I didn’t get a song in my head. I instead got an image. Too much GIF making, I suppose.

bugsball



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David G. Temple is the Managing Editor of TechGraphs and a contributor to FanGraphs, NotGraphs and The Hardball Times. He hosts the award-eligible podcast Stealing Home. Dayn Perry once called him a "Bible Made of Lasers." Follow him on Twitter @davidgtemple.


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Alexander Nevermind
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Alexander Nevermind

Hank Aaron was in the Chicago broadcasters booth on Aug. 24 because it was the Civil Rights game/weekend

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