Marco Scutaro and the Curious Take

Let’s face it: try as you might, you can’t really help the things that stick with you. What I remember most vividly from visiting the Acropolis so many years ago is an Offspring song I was listening to. What I remember most about attending a Montreal Canadiens home game is the in-arena Youppi! exhibit. And something I can’t shake from Thursday night’s Game 2 of the World Series is a fastball that was taken by Marco Scutaro for strike three in the bottom of the eighth. Plenty of things happened in the game and Scutaro’s at-bat was of little ultimate consequence, but I keep seeing that pitch over and over. Forgive me, but now I’m going to write about it.

I think I’ve established that I have something of a fascination for Marco Scutaro, and how difficult it is to get him to swing and miss. At no point on Thursday did Scutaro swing and miss — he hardly ever does — but he did strike out, and that’s also weird, if less so. Weirder still was how he struck out. Dave Cameron expressed surprise, too, in the live chat, so I know I’m not the only one. Let’s review the events.

Scutaro was batting against the left-handed Drew Smyly in the eighth with one on and none out. Scutaro took a fastball down and in for a strike, then he got another low-inside fastball that he bunted foul. Behind 0-and-2, Scutaro took a fastball slightly high, then he fouled off a low-inside slider. With the count 1-and-2, Smyly threw Scutaro a fastball at 90 miles per hour in just about the middle of the zone, and Scutaro watched it before returning to the dugout, upset with himself.

The PITCHf/x location of the fastball:

A looping, soundless video of the fastball:

Another looping, soundless video of the fastball:

It was not exactly a 1-and-2 fastball in the middle of the zone, but it was essentially a 1-and-2 fastball in the middle of the zone. It didn’t have much in the way of horizontal movement, because Smyly throws his fastball over the top. It obviously had fastball velocity, but it didn’t have overpowering fastball velocity, and it was thrown by an opposite-handed pitcher. In that situation, if you’re Scutaro, you’re thinking about protecting the plate, which means you sort of expand your zone, and here Scutaro didn’t even offer at a pitch near the very center of that zone.

You can see that Scutaro was frustrated after the pitch, immediately recognizing his mistake. Maybe it was just a temporary lapse of judgment, but that’s strange to see in the late innings of a close World Series game from a hitter who’s constantly making contact, implying incredible focus. My purpose here isn’t to criticize Scutaro because, whatever, he’s been amazing, and it was one pitch, and hitters are allowed to screw up kind of a lot. My purpose here is to point out that Marco Scutaro struck out, which is rare, and he struck out in a most unusual way.

Curious, I had a friend run a PITCHf/x query for me. I wanted to isolate 1-and-2 fastballs thrown by left-handed pitchers to right-handed batters between 88-93 miles per hour. Going back to 2007, I found 472 pitches that wound up in similar locations as Smyly’s 1-and-2 fastball to Scutaro. Here’s the breakdown of how those pitches turned out:

Ball: 5
Called strike: 28
Swing, foul: 196
Swing, miss: 42
Swing, in play: 201

Roughly six percent of the time, that pitch was taken for a called strike three. I don’t know what sort of percentage I was expecting. I was surprised to see that five of those pitches were called balls, since they’re pitches just about in the middle of the strike zone, but (A) umpires screw up, and (B) PITCHf/x screws up. On 93 percent of occasions, the hitter attempted a swing.

Now let’s look at just Scutaro. Courtesy of Texas Leaguers, here’s Scutaro taking 1-and-2 pitches from lefties between 2008 and Game 1 of the 2012 World Series:

You see some called strike threes, sure, but nothing over the middle of the plate, in the middle of the zone. All those pitches, Scutaro swung at. Now here’s Scutaro taking 1-and-2 pitches from lefties in Game 2 of the 2012 World Series:

There’s not one of those pitches taken in the previous image. It had been at least a very long time since Scutaro last did what he did in the eighth inning on Thursday.

Twice now, in these playoffs, Marco Scutaro has struck out. He has struck out swinging once against Edward Mujica, and he has struck out looking once against Drew Smyly, on a 1-and-2 fastball at 90 miles per hour in just about the middle of the strike zone. The only explanation is “whoops”. That’s it, nothing special. Scutaro just took the wrong moment off and it doesn’t at all reflect on him as a professional baseball player. But let it never be said to you that baseball is a dull game. Baseball is a constantly fascinating game. You just have to know enough about it to know how.




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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.


35 Responses to “Marco Scutaro and the Curious Take”

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  1. pedbre says:

    love this article.

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  2. Joey says:

    Interesting seeing Scut’s immediate reaction in the first gif being replayed over and over again. His body language suggests he didn’t get his front foot down with the right timing, because the way Scutaro is locked in, he wants to rip that ball down the left field line 100 out of 100 times. Credit the call made by the catcher, definitely threw his timing off a bit, but nevertheless another anomaly in an otherwise normal World Series

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  3. Brian says:

    He’s setting up Smyly for later in the series, trying to make him feel comfortable throwing fastballs down the middle to him.

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  4. Jon L. says:

    My guess is that he expected a fastball on the corner or a breaking pitch intended to drop out of the zone. He did not expect a fastball down the middle. Seeing a 90-mph pitch towards the middle of the plate, he assumed it was a breaking pitch and laid off. He was fooled, not by movement or change of speed, but by lack thereof.

    It could have been “brain freeze” too, but I prefer to overthink things.

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  5. AustinRHL says:

    It looked to me like Scutaro was expecting a changeup or a slider there and was planning not to swing. When, when Smyly released the pitch, he identified it as something offspeed and decided he would watch it as it sailed outside of the strike zone. It’s certainly rare that he misidentifies a pitch so badly.

    I think he realizes his error when the pitch is about two-thirds of the way to the plate and knows that because he hasn’t even prepared his body to swing if necessary, he’s never going to make contact. He practically starts walking back to the dugout before the pitch is in the catcher’s glove.

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    • Scott says:

      Whoops, I just saw that you said the same thing as I did, except much better and 30 minutes earlier. You win this time, AustinRHL!

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  6. Scott says:

    The only thing I can think of is that Scutaro was guessing off-speed, and was completely unprepared to swing at a fastball. That’s a little strange, for someone like him who doesn’t strike out much, but it’s possible.

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  7. MGL says:

    The curious thing to me is how the catcher points his glove at the pitcher and gives him the universal “nice pitch!” sign.

    Shouldn’t he be calling time out and telling him, “Man you got lucky! Don’t ever throw a pitch like that on a 1-2 count in a one run game or I’ll…”

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  8. Portlander says:

    I don’t know what it says about me but knowing you are from Portland my first thought when I read “vistiting the Acropolis” I thought of the famous “steakhouse” in Portland. A place where an Offspring song would likely be playing.

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  9. Ian R. says:

    I have to say, the number of called balls in the Pitch f/x data surprised me. Given that we’re looking at pitches that are basically straight down the middle and only 33 of them were taken at all, 5 seems like an awfully high number of bad ball calls.

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    • Franco says:

      How angry the catchers must’ve been that the pitch was thrown at all, plus not even being called a strike 3.

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      • Michael says:

        Oh, the catcher must have thought he was being punked. First his pitcher throws a 2-strike fastball right down the middle, then the hitter doesn’t even swing at it, and then the umpire calls it a ball. A classic No!What?Agh! moment.

        I can only hope that on just one of those pitches, the batter tried to check his swing, clearly went too far, and on appeal the first-base ump said no swing. The poor catcher would have an aneurysm.

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    • Robert says:

      One possibility that it happened while a runner was stealing and the catcher blocked the umpire while reacting to get in position to make a throw. I’ve seen some pretty good pitches get called balls because the catcher jumped up to make an attempt on a base stealer and the umpire had to guess.

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  10. Tyler says:

    Might be interesting to see what Smyly likes to throw to left-handers with two strikes who have contact percentages above a certain threshold/ strikeout percentages below a certain threshold that are somewhat comparable to Scutaro’s in those situations. It seems Scutaro was looking off-speed there, but should he have been based on what Smyly does in similar situations?
    This is not meant to be a knock on Scutaro, because no hitter (at least the vast majority of them I assume) do not do that much homework, but this could be interesting for Jeff’s analysis I suppose? What do you all think?

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  11. lewish says:

    that catcher for Detroit is not angry, that is where he called for the pitch…Scutaro starts stepping out slightly and his hands come out of hitting position early…it would be fun to talk to Scutaro about what happened there.

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  12. Aaron Murray says:

    That first chart sure shows the skills of Marco Scutaro, doesn’t it? Out of about 100 1-2 counts in which he’s protecting the plate he still only made about 10 questionable decisions to not swing. That seems pretty incredible.

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  13. Smyly says:

    unfortunately this article does nothing…so he struck out in an unusual matter. you pointed it out something we all saw. anything new?

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    • bookbook says:

      I’m fascinated by this apparent need/delight in slamming stories that bunches of folks, from the comments, are finding valuable. I see it on every board, baseball, politics, science fiction, what-have-you, and don’t really understand the motivation.

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      • Gary York says:

        To borrow a pseudo-Scrabble phrase from one of those curiously sinister Jack in the Box commercials, Smyly here has delivered a classic “no nookie” post.

        Actually, thinking of statements of that class as “no nookie” statements is a good way of keeping myself from becoming irritated by them. It’s an easy phrase to remember and easily evokes the proper mindset of humor faintly tinged with pity.

        In that sense, for me, Smyly has made a positive impact on my life and I owe him a moderate-sized debt of gratitude.

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      • Andre says:

        They’re not writers, so they don’t understand the value and difficulty in writing something that some, but not all, people enjoy. They do feel a sense of pride in pointing out, in writing, the failures of writers however.

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  14. channelclemente says:

    Conjecture,

    Scutaro was looking 2 seam, and got a 4 seam. From a tall guy like Smyly, it’s hard to pick it up.

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  15. Jake says:

    I still think that the strangest part of this sequence is Laird’s reaction. Yeah, they got a big strikeout, but he reacts to Smyly in the way that catchers normally do when a pitcher hits a corner perfectly. It seems like the pitch was supposed to go lower and more inside, but it drifted up and over the plate. It’s about the worst pitch you can throw, but the best result possible. As a Giant’s fan, here’s to hoping Laird keeps on encouraging his pitchers after they throw that pitch.

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