Hey there everybody, and welcome to the first part of another edition of The Worst Of The Best. You’ll see in the headline it’s written as “The Worst of the Best” — with fewer capital letters — in accordance with our editorial policies, but I like capital letters because they make me feel important, so the first sentence of this post is my own form of stubborn protest. Now, this is obviously a departure from the news of the day. Yesterday, Ryan Braun released a statement of apology, and everywhere today you can find somebody’s hot takes. The consensus: the apology was a good step, but not enough. Not enough to make up for cheating and lying and accusatory behavior. A written, prepared apology was not enough to make up for that. That is the thesis of just about every article on the matter I’ve seen. So, yeah, I’m glad this is a departure from the news of the day, because the news of the day is stupid.
In this departure, we look at the wildest pitches thrown between August 16 and August 22. Here’s an archive of the whole series, if you feel like throwing your day away or destroying your processor. It’s PITCHf/x and simple math and identifying locations furthest from the center of the strike zone. Some pitches just missing our top five: Andy Pettitte to David Ortiz on August 16, Taylor Jordan to Freddie Freeman on August 16, and Rubby De La Rosa to Robinson Cano on August 18. The pitches that didn’t miss our top five are the top five, presented below. I should warn you: this is a particularly confusing week. I had some trouble with this, and Nationals and Braves fans can probably guess why. The rest of you will just have to wait, a few seconds.
- Pitcher: Stephen Strasburg
- Batter: Andrelton Simmons
- Date: August 17
- Location: 56.3 inches from center of zone
In the spreadsheet, this pitch was credited to one “Tanner Roark“, despite it having been thrown by the Stephen Strasburg. That’s because this pitch was the third pitch of a plate appearance that wasn’t over, and this pitch got Strasburg ejected, as you can see in the .gif above. So in came Roark to throw one more ball — albeit a more ordinary ball — and that one ball earned Roark four balls, at least as far as PITCHf/x is concerned. In this way, I have become aware of the existence of a Tanner Roark, who is superior to Tan Roark, but inferior to Tannest Roark, in the general tan-ness department. Tannest Roark, however, might be expected to live the shortest life. He could end up battling skin cancer, or he could die doing one of the many outdoor activities he probably enjoys. Alternatively, maybe Tannest Roark is the most active, and there’s nothing better for your short-term and long-term health than exercise.
You probably know why this is controversial, as a “wildest pitch” nominee. Strasburg was ejected because the umpire had already issued warnings, and this was a fastball behind a guy’s back. A message pitch hardly counts as wild at all. Earlier, Strasburg drilled Justin Upton, as retaliation for the Braves drilling Bryce Harper. The pitch just before this one was another fastball behind Simmons’ back. It looked like Strasburg might’ve been sending a message, again. But then Strasburg claims he just lost it, and Davey Johnson thinks he lost it, and as Strasburg threw these wild pitches, a runner came around to score. You don’t usually see message pitches with runners in scoring position, and you don’t usually see them after a message has already been sent, and you don’t usually see them against batters as limited as Andrelton Simmons. Strasburg, ultimately, wasn’t suspended, as MLB determined these pitches were accidents. I’ve elected to agree, as frightening as that is to think about. What we do know, though, is that with tensions high, Strasburg threw consecutive fastballs behind a rival batter, and this is a screenshot of the second one, and WHY IS THAT WOMAN IN THE FIRST ROW NOT PAYING ATTENTION? WHY ARE THERE PEOPLE LOOKING ELSEWHERE? HOW INTENSE DOES A BASEBALL GAME NEED TO BE FOR YOU TO ACTUALLY WANT TO LOOK AT IT
Strasburg didn’t say a word to protest his ejection, which one might interpret as curious. He just walked to the umpire, heard him out, turned, and left. But then, he didn’t really show any negative body language after his wild pitches. Not even after the first one, which was a wild curveball outside. There was no hint of frustration — there was just a pitcher going through the motions, having lost it completely. Strasburg seemed to be in a daze, which might have caused the wildness, or which might have been the result of it. Upon the ejection, Strasburg might have been relieved. Well we know he was relieved, by Tanner Roark. Ha! Words.
Johnson: Remember how you just went out for a mound visit?
Johnson: Remember how that was followed by consecutive terrible fastballs?
Johnson: Stay right here.
Johnson: Stay right here and never visit anyone.
- Pitcher: Rex Brothers
- Batter: Domonic Brown
- Date: August 19
- Location: 56.6 inches from center of zone
Guy in the white polo behind home plate. He has a radar gun pointed forward, and then after the pitch is delivered, he lowers the gun and speaks into a phone or some kind of recording device. As the gun lowers, so does Brothers’ head. Brothers, by this point, has surely noticed that guy, so he knows he’s being observed and scouted. He also knows he just threw a really bad pitch, in front of some professional taking professional notes. This is, basically, the feeling of being in a job interview, and answering a question poorly, and having the interviewer jot something down. You don’t know what might have been jotted, but you suspect you probably just completely blew it. After throwing this pitch, Brothers spared himself the coming humiliation and voluntarily retired from the sport. I think. I don’t know, I don’t watch the Rockies.
Maybe the best thing about this pitch is this pitch’s context. Brothers quickly got ahead of Brown 0-and-2. Then he threw a slider:
Brown didn’t swing at the pitch low and away. With the count 1-and-2, Brothers threw a fastball:
Brown didn’t swing at the pitch more low and more away. With the count 2-and-2, Brothers threw that slider even more low and even more away. “Oh, you think you can lay off of my pitches, do you? Good luck laying off of this worse one!” I don’t know if there’s a point at which a pitch is so wild it goes all the way around to looking appealing again, but think of Rex Brothers as a psychological explorer. Also, no, there is no such point, and I guess Brothers didn’t read Kyle Drabek‘s article in Nature.
Rosario: hey man
Rosario: calm down
Rosario: settle down
Rosario: nice and easy
Rosario: just throw strikes
Rosario: don’t worry about it
Rosario: just a nice easy strike
Rosario: you’re making me work back here
- Pitcher: Ross Ohlendorf
- Batter: Donnie Murphy
- Date: August 21
- Location: 59.8 inches from center of zone
Some seasons are intense, exciting, forever memorable. Some seasons involve pennant races and first-round showdowns and World Series heroes. Some seasons feel magical, some seasons make a team feel like it really is the team of destiny. For fans of teams in contention, there really is nothing quite like the anticipation of October, or the anticipation of September if the race is still tight. The regular season is at its time of highest leverage, so every pitch, every at-bat matters, because any little thing could end up making all the difference. You never know what might lock up a playoff berth, so you plan your days around games at night, and all the time in the game between pitches and plays is filled by a sense of tension, never relenting. For fans of teams in contention, the stretch is electric and suspenseful. For fans of teams not in contention, at some point every season ends up at Ross Ohlendorf pitching to Donnie Murphy.
It’s this week’s edition of Find The Baseball! If you find the baseball, go outside and make a new friend. A friend outside of work and your existing social circles. Everybody wants to make new friends, and everybody enjoys meeting new people. Strangers aren’t terrifying just because they’re strangers. It’s true, it can be hard to make friends when you’re grown up, but that’s no excuse for not trying. If anything, that’s a reason to try harder. Go try. Go introduce yourself to somebody and start talking and learn something about that person. Take a chance and interact with a fellow human being. You never know what that bond might become. Your current best friend is your best friend only of the people you’ve already met. Just only do this if you found the baseball though. If you didn’t then you’re an embarrassing failure and you should just keep to yourself. No one wants to know you.
An unflattering and somewhat worrisome picture of Ross Ohlendorf
What you see, in this image, is an umpire pointing at Ross Ohlendorf. No big deal; it’s a picture of strangers. What Ross Ohlendorf saw was a large grown man wearing a mask and pointing at him. It’s unsettling when you see people in masks. It’s unsettling to be pointed at. It’s extremely unsettling to be pointed at by people in masks. Wear a mask and go out and point at someone. You’re going to be in their nightmares. You don’t think you’re comforted by faces until the faces are removed from the situation.
Unrelated: Firefox gives me the red squiggly underneath “Ohlendorf”, suggesting “Splendor” instead.
- Pitcher: Stephen Strasburg
- Batter: Andrelton Simmons
- Date: August 17
- Location: 63.3 inches from center of zone
And here’s the one before the one above. So if you think Strasburg was throwing at Simmons on purpose, I wouldn’t have to replace just one pitch on this list — I’d have to replace a pair. If you don’t think Strasburg was throwing at Simmons on purpose, a big reason is probably because of what happened with the first pitch of this plate appearance:
Strasburg opened with a terrible breaking ball that missed in the dirt outside. Also, the batter before Simmons walked on four pitches. That batter walked on four pitches, moved to second on a wild pitch, moved to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a wild pitch. That batter gained one base on four consecutive pitches, doing kind of like the complete opposite of manufacturing a run. That batter didn’t so much manufacture a run as he accepted a run that had been manufactured for him. Now, you very, very rarely see a fastball miss behind a batter. By accident, I mean. And you very, very rarely see it happen twice in a row. By accident, I mean. You just — you don’t expect that from a big-league starter, and certainly not one like Stephen Strasburg. The argument for why this was all intentional is “that doesn’t happen by mistake.” But if it were to happen by mistake, you’d look for this kind of preceding wildness. I’m never going to solve this mystery, because I’m never going to crawl inside of Strasburg’s brain and plug together the appropriate neurons, but I do know Strasburg threw a couple really wild fastballs. Even if the location was somewhat intentional, he still missed Simmons twice and allowed a run to score. That’s pretty bad, regardless.
With the first pitch of this plate appearance, Strasburg took aim at one of the Napa ads. With the second pitch of this plate appearance, Strasburg took aim at the other one of the Napa ads. If you ignore the baseball part of the screenshot above, it looks like Andrelton Simmons is about to get surprise-tickled by a backstop with a sense of humor. “Everyone’s vulnerable in the ribs!”
After the first wild pitch, the catcher went to his right and then had to turn and go the other way. After the second wild pitch, the catcher went to his left and then had to turn and go the other way. Andrelton Simmons remained perfectly still. When he’s batting is the only time you’ll get a picture of Andrelton Simmons in which he isn’t blurry.
The first pitch was a wild curveball in the dirt. That followed a walk on four consecutive balls. After those five balls, there was this mound meeting, which was followed by two fastballs that, together, got Stephen Strasburg ejected. My best guess is that Steve McCatty went out to the mound, forgot what he was going to say, paused, turned, and left.
- Pitcher: Garrett Richards
- Batter: Matt Dominguez
- Date: August 17
- Location: 66.9 inches from center of zone
This pitch hardly went by unacknowledged. On the Angels’ broadcast, they talked about the state of Richards’ developing curveball. However, they talked about it rather matter-of-factly, saying that Richards needs to find more consistency and basically ignoring that this particular curve missed the center of the strike zone by more than five and a half feet. They treated this like any other curve thrown for a ball, and there was no sense that the announcers appreciated the magnitude by which this pitch was awful. They sounded, simply, like they were desensitized to bad pitching, which gives you an idea of what the season has been like for the Angels.
Ashby: You know you’re not seeing the ball well as a hitter if you take a half-swing at that one.
Blum: It happens.
Ashby: It does.
Blum: Early in the game we’re gonna blame it on shadows but now no shadows involved at Anaheim Stadium so that one’s on poor Matty.
Dominguez didn’t take a half-swing at that curveball in the dirt. As a matter of fact, his bat barely moved — he simply took a step with his front leg, which he does to prepare for every pitch. That’s a timing mechanism, and it allows Dominguez to transfer energy into a potential swing, whether he actually swings or not. Dominguez will initiate a potential swing at every pitch. The decision on whether or not to swing is separate, and his decision here was to lay off. Still, the Astros announcers criticized him, for a mistake they made up. They accused him of a mistake he didn’t make, which gives you an idea of what the season has been like for the Astros.
Scioscia: (from dugout) Garrett!
Scioscia: (from dugout) Hey, Garrett!
Scioscia: (from dugout) I’m not going to come out there.
Scioscia: (from dugout) Just read that Don Julio sign.
A pitch was thrown, seconds before this screenshot was taken. The catcher is looking toward the backstop, arm outstretched. The batter is looking toward the backstop, too, arm outstretched. The umpire is flinching, fearing a dangerous ricochet. Look at those three people and imagine what must have happened. Imagine what was necessary in order to create that scene, captured here. Imagine how bad the pitch must have been. Imagine, then, what would be appropriate body language for the pitcher to have in the aftermath. Now look over at the pitcher. Nailed it.
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