The Worst of the Best: The Week’s Wildest Pitches

Hey there, nerds, and welcome to another blog post about baseball. I have to assume you have virtually limitless options. You have elected to read about baseball instead of something more conventionally important, like finance or international politics. You’re not learning a new language, unless you’re trying to learn English, in which case I can recommend way better tutorials. Is this education, is this betterment, or is this fun? If this is just for fun, is it necessary? Have you improved yourself enough today to justify this use of your minutes? Couldn’t you be a much more well-rounded person? On the other hand, people bond over sports, and there’s nothing more important than interpersonal interaction and communication. What would we be without our bonds? What would so many of our bonds be without sports? Maybe this really is important, dammit, and here’s a whole archive of this series. Whatever, read everything. Maybe it really is the most important thing you can do from your desk.

We’re going to look at the last week’s wildest pitches, as the headline has already told you. It’s a PITCHf/x-based top five, from the August 9 – August 15 window. A few pitches that just missed the cut: Bryan Morris to Daniel Descalso on August 15, Bruce Rondon to Avisail Garcia on August 13, and Chris Rusin to Joey Votto on August 14. (Votto didn’t swing.) Additionally included below is a bonus, something that doesn’t qualify for the list but something that deserves to be presented. It is one of my favorite .gifs of the season. I’ll explain when I get there. I’m just about to get there! I’m getting there right now!

BONUS

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The story behind this .gif makes perfect sense. As Putz was preparing to throw his pitch, the stadium sound guy accidentally blared the very beginning of Kickstart My Heart. It’s a sudden, roaring, driving noise, and Putz elected to stop what he was doing altogether, spiking the ball into the ground and walking off the mound out of frustration. Both the catcher and the batter are visibly irritated, because although it was all perfectly innocent and accidental, it’s still not something that should ever happen. It’s also dangerous. A pitcher could hurt himself. A split-second later, and it might be the batter who gets hurt. In short, it wasn’t anyone on the field who did anything wrong.

One of the wonderful things about sports .gifs is the way they can capture a specific moment and just repeat it over and over on loop, isolating what was notable. You can see exactly how far Andrelton Simmons ranged. You can see exactly where a pitcher threw to Miguel Cabrera. Sports .gifs, usually, get right to the heart of a matter. In this instance, though, the heart of the matter is lost, because the most significant part of the event was auditory. The .gif is silent, and within a silent .gif, you don’t hear a guitar. You don’t hear anything. You just see J.J. Putz spike the ball into the mound, and then you see the batter and the catcher act exasperated, like they’re just beyond sick of this.

In that sense, this is almost an anti-.gif, in that it requires explanation. It does not and cannot stand alone. A hypothetical dialogue, if provided with an explanation:

Putz: /getting ready to throw
Guitar: BLARRRRRRRRRRRRR
Putz: augh
Putz: /spike
Batter: What…?
Catcher: Oh come on
Putz: Unacceptable, sound guy

A hypothetical dialogue, if not provided with an explanation:

Putz: /getting ready to throw
Putz: /spike
Batter: Jesus f***ing-
Catcher: I’m so sick of this s***
Batter: All the time with this clown
Catcher: Coach, can we do something about this already?
Putz: /gets ball
Catcher: Don’t you even try to f***ing throw another one

Watch the video, and J.J. Putz looks like a victim. Watch the .gif without watching the video, and J.J. Putz looks like the worst pitcher in baseball, a guy who drives opponents and teammates alike insane. What actually happened is hilarious. What the .gif says might have happened is more hilarious.

5

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In the last edition, Tony Cingrani threw the third-wildest pitch. In the edition before that, he also threw the third-wildest pitch. In our review of the first half, he threw the fifth-wildest pitch. We’re getting accustomed to seeing Tony Cingrani, which means we’re getting accustomed to seeing Tony Cingrani’s slider. He’s becoming a series regular, and if you didn’t know anything about baseball outside of this series, you might therefore justifiably conclude that Cingrani is wild and somewhat hopeless. You can show up in one post as a fluke. Maybe even two. To become a regular, though? You probably need to be wild to become a regular. Cingrani averages well over a strikeout an inning and he has an ERA under 3. If you didn’t know anything about baseball outside of this series, you wouldn’t know what that sentence meant.

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Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we don’t interact with a representative sample of American baseball fans. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are baseball fans who don’t think the way that we do. That there are baseball fans who don’t think about the game all the time, in excruciating detail, the way that we do. The reason I bring this up is, consider this pitch, and consider this pitcher. We’re probably on the same wavelength — the instinct is to make a joke about how Cingrani is a one-pitch pitcher. On FanGraphs, Cingrani is famous for throwing his fastball almost all of the time, as a starter. On FanGraphs, we all want to make the same kind of Tony Cingrani joke. On the street, people who say they like baseball don’t know who Tony Cingrani is.

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What I like about alternate angles is the way they really show how far in front of the plate some of these pitches sometimes bounce. From the ordinary angle, it can look like the pitches bounce just in front, or maybe off to the side. You don’t have a real good sense of the depth. From here, you can see that this pitch bounced in front of the opposite batter’s box. You can also see the umpire’s butt. You can see a lot of things in this shot that you don’t usually see. Like the umpire’s butt. Are you looking at the umpire’s butt? Even if you won’t admit it, you’re going to look at the umpire’s butt. Just think of it as being opportunistic.

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This is a picture of the catcher looking around and to the side while the baseball falls to the ground well behind him. For a short while, the catcher had absolutely no idea where the baseball went. What a silly thing to happen on a baseball field in a major-league game! The catcher was the last player to even touch the baseball! There is probably a perfectly reasonable explanation though so making jokes would just reflect poorly on us.

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And that’s how Tony Cingrani succeeds despite a slider that looks like it’s thrown by someone having a seizure on a pommel horse. “I don’t know why I don’t just throw that pitch all of the time.” “You basically do, dude.” “Oh yeah.” Right before this pitch, the Padres broadcast cautioned Venable against the high fastball. I guess Venable doesn’t wear a broadcast-booth earpiece, or he just sucks at taking advice.

4

  • Pitcher: Ramon Troncoso
  • Batter: Miguel Cabrera
  • Date: August 14
  • Location: 54.9 inches from center of zone

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In this at-bat, Troncoso actually got ahead of Cabrera 0-and-2 with two quick strikes. He then came back with three consecutive obvious balls, well out of the zone, running the count full. Both broadcasts remarked on how Troncoso wasn’t anywhere near, but in his defense, have you seen Miguel Cabrera lately? When you’re able to get ahead of Cabrera 0-and-2, it gives you the opportunity to throw balls nowhere close to being a strike. That’s the advantage of being in front of Miguel Cabrera. You can issue him a walk. Fall behind Miguel Cabrera and the best you can do is issue him a walk.

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On September 10, the White Sox have a planned souvenir giveaway that promotes a different sports team in a different sport. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea; I’m saying it wouldn’t have to be an idea if things were going a little better with this sports team in this sport.

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Cabrera: You did it!
Cabrera: You blocked the pitch!
Cabrera: Good job!
Cabrera: See?
Cabrera: You can do good things too!
Phegley: Please don’t patronize me.
Cabrera: You’re so good at baseball!
Cabrera: Wow!

4troncosocabrera3

Whenever they’re given an opportunity, baseball broadcasters talk to the audience about shadows with all the enthusiasm of a new park ranger leading a nature walk. It’s the one thing that gets talked about all the time where every time it’s talked about like nobody before has ever talked about it. Do you have an interest in baseball broadcasting? Do you think you have what it takes to be the voice of a baseball team? Here’s a test: when is the last time you looked at your own shadow? When is the last time you moved your hand into it and out of it? When is the last time you did that while explaining to somebody else how it makes your hand look different? If this line of questioning seems weird to you, sadly you do not have what it takes to be a baseball broadcaster.

3

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Said Astros announcer Bill Brown to other Astros announcer Alan Ashby:

Gonna miss the target just a bit here. [instant replay] Love to know what goes through the mind of a pitcher when he delivers that thing.

Potential answers:

  1. Electrical and chemical signals
  2. Nothing
  3. The deep, dark secrets that make us all question ourselves

Brown says he’d love to know what goes through the mind of a pitcher uncorking a wild pitch. Brown is a member of the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame. He’s been broadcasting for Houston since 1987 and he broadcasted for Cincinnati between 1976-1982. As part of his job, Brown routinely is granted access to players, but it seems he’s never asked any pitcher about this, allowing us to question how much he’d really “love to know” what goes through their minds. If he’d love to know that much, how come he’s never tried to find out? How come he just remarks idly? Point one: Bill Brown is a liar. Point two: I’d be much more interested in knowing what goes through the mind of a pitcher right after he delivers that thing.

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It’s this week’s edition of Find The Baseball! If you find the baseball, have a child! Start a family! If you already have a family, start another one! It’s a biological imperative! Tell them FanGraphs sent you!

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I don’t think I’ve ever noticed before that dugouts have chairs. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed before that dugouts have about a bazillion New Era advertisements, as if the players aren’t already wearing the merchandise, because they have to. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed before that, with the security guard down there, dugouts can look a lot like prisons. Simple gratings and brick walls, separating those within from those without. Presumably armed guard. Group of people wearing silly identical clothes.

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This Astros fan had been waiting all year to have a reason to give a thumbs-up. “Thumbs-Up Jim,” that’s what they call him at the office. It’s how he expresses comprehension. It’s how he ends a conversation. It’s how he seals a deal. Jim’s thumbs-up is his signature, and he’s a huge fan of the Astros, and he wanted to find an opportunity to express to them his genuine approval. Come August, though, Jim grew frustrated out of never having a good-enough chance, so he elected to release the pent-up pressure by giving the Rangers a thumbs-up that was entirely sarcastic. It felt good, at first, to get it out of his system. But the guys at the office say he hasn’t been the same since.

2

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Here’s a fun little way to monitor my own recent baseball-writing history. My Firefox doesn’t recognize the name “Markakis,” giving it the little red squiggly. It doesn’t recognize Troncoso, either, or Avisail, or Rusin. It does recognize Putz. It does recognize Garza. It does recognize Cingrani and Venable. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember the last time I wrote about Nick Markakis, which might say a little something about him and about how he’s not quite what he could’ve become. It’s probably about as good an indicator as RBI or late-and-close batting average.

For “Markakis,” it recommends “Mariska.” For “Troncoso,” it recommends “Control’s.” Not “Controls.” “Control’s,” specifically.

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Said the Diamondbacks broadcast at the 2:12:46 mark:

Yes he went, says Ted Barrett, the crew chief.

Said the Diamondbacks broadcast at the 2:13:37 mark:

Two-and-two.

Said the Diamondbacks broadcast in between:

[nothing]

51 seconds of broadcaster silence. I’m not necessarily complaining — it’s just highly unusual. They didn’t say a single word about the pitch above, treating it like it didn’t even happen. I enjoy it when a broadcast booth shuts up so that the fans at home can soak in the atmosphere. When the crowd is really going wild, a lot of the time that should be left alone, left to speak for itself. There was no such atmosphere in Arizona at this point. In fact:

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See that group behind home plate? They’re laughing at somebody who flinched at the baseball reaching the backstop. With the broadcasters silent and the rest of the crowd quiet, the TV feed clearly picked up their uproarious laughter. Particularly the clapping woman, in the short sleeves.

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Harris: /pitch
Pitch: /sucks
Umpire:
Umpire:
/slowly removes mask
Umpire: My god.

1

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I’d just like to point out something you might’ve missed. I don’t know what the process is like for reading these posts — I only know what the process is like for writing these posts. The third-wildest pitch missed the center of the zone by 56.4 inches. The second-wildest pitch missed the center of the zone by nearly 11 more inches than that. That is a huge, astronomical gain, and this Hochevar pitch was only wilder yet. This one missed by about five feet and nine inches. Four members of the Royals’ 40-man roster stand 5-foot-9 or below. Four more stand 5-foot-10, and those figures are probably inflated. This pitch missed the center of the zone by one Miguel Tejada. Also, Miguel Tejada is on the Royals’ 40-man roster, in this season.

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This would’ve been a really good pitch if this were actually a smoke bomb, and then Hochevar immediately threw his real pitch while Yelich couldn’t see. The umpire would have to be like “well there’s no rule that says you can’t throw a smoke bomb from the mound,” and then baseball would suddenly see the use of a whole lot of smoke bombs, and then they’d have to wait to introduce a rule until the drafting of the next CBA. So basically baseball would be ruined, all thanks to Luke Hochevar.

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And then after the smoke bomb, Salvador Perez punches Christian Yelich in the kidney.

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There are few good ways to tuck in a shirt. A bad way to tuck in a shirt is to do so before an audience of hundreds of thousands. That way, hundreds of thousands of people might see you with your hand down the front of your pants. It doesn’t matter what you’re actually doing. It matters what you look like you might be doing. Hochevar should have excused himself to the privacy of the team clubhouse. I’m sure the umpire would have understood and waited patiently.

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Yelich: highest level of baseball in the world
Yelich: I’m at the highest level of baseball in the world
Yelich: best pitchers in the whole entire world
Yelich: that’s what they’ve always said
Yelich: but a pitch like that-
Yelich: if the best pitchers in the world throw pitches like that-
Yelich: are these the best pitchers?
Yelich: is this the highest level?
Yelich: have I been lied to my entire life?
Yelich: what is this place?
Yelich: what am I doing?
Yelich: what am I doing?
Yelich: what am I doing




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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.


14 Responses to “The Worst of the Best: The Week’s Wildest Pitches”

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  1. Eminor3rd says:

    LOL the smoke bomb section. I’m losing it

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  2. Ruki Motomiya says:

    No, Yelich, you still need to advance to Double-M MLB. MMLB.

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  3. FirstCasualtyofWAR says:

    Aw man, if that Bryan Morris to Daniel Descalso one on 8/15 is the one I’m thinking of, it featured an amazing catch by Russell Martin. The pitch went behind Descalso’s legs and Martin made a seemingly effortless screened grab on it that was awesome. I thought at the time, “This one’s making the Friday cut.”

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  4. Ron LeFlore says:

    Excellent article. In lieu of the prison-dugout comment, I wondered about prison leagues. Then, I took my thoughts to the internet: only several prisons worldwide have sports for inmates according to Outside Magazines feature on San Quentin’s prison baseball. I think this is a missed opportunity.

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  5. Scraps says:

    “only several prisons”?

    Maybe a spell-check thing?

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  6. chris2515 says:

    These are the best articles on Fangraphs. Crack me up every time.

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  7. bdhudson says:

    It’s as if you knew Tejada would be relevant today…

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  8. Utah Dave says:

    I think this is your best post ever. If there was a WAR for baseball columns I’m sure you would lead the league.

    This week I saw Charlie Morton throw a ball behind a RH hitter and Russell Martin caught it. So I think he managed to pull that same trick off twice in a week. I can’t recall Rod Barajas doing that last year….or throwing out a baserunner.

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  9. mch38 says:

    Dude, thumbs up guy is back at the office this morning and he’s boasting about how he got to give a thumbs up on tv. What a prick.

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