Hello friends, and welcome to the first part of the second edition of The Worst Of The Best. Here is a link to the first part of the first edition, in case you don’t know what this is. So, read that, or just read on because it dawned on me I don’t know how I’m supposed to introduce these things each week. I don’t feel right just launching into the images and the commentary, but I also don’t know how I’m regularly supposed to start with something original and fresh. This sort of meta-commentary right here isn’t going to fly every time so I’m all but out of ideas. It’s April 12.
The idea: highlight the bad. The deeper idea: acknowledge the greatness by highlighting the bad. Everything is PITCHf/x derived, so I’m limited by PITCHf/x completeness and accuracy, but that sounds worse than it is because PITCHf/x is pretty damn complete and accurate. Every time I do something like this, someone leaves a comment to the effect of “I can’t believe [X] didn’t make it.” Believe it. Maybe, just maybe, PITCHf/x got things wrong. More probably, the example you’re thinking of just didn’t meet the qualifications. This is a top-five list. It can only have five things. Let’s look at and talk about those five things, now.
What led me to this pitch were the coordinates of the pitch. The pitch is relatively uninteresting; it’s wild, sure, but it’s a two-strike breaking ball in the dirt. We’ve seen a lot of those. We’re going to see a lot more of those. Better to have a two-strike breaking ball miss by too much in the direction than in the other direction. But all I can notice now is the synchronization between the catcher and the umpire. The catcher makes an incredible pick, albeit a pick for no reason, and then he and the umpire exchange baseballs and throw the baseballs at exactly the same time. For one fleeting moment, amidst all the chaos, everything is aligned. It’s like when you’re waiting at an intersection and you realize your turn signal is locked right on with the other guy’s turn signal across the way. It feels, for a moment, like things aren’t random, then things go back to being hopelessly and helplessly random.
It’s always interesting when you pick up on catcher signals:
He’s asking for the breaking ball to be low and away. That’s exactly what he got:
But well more than a second passed between when the signal was made and when the pitch was thrown. That would’ve been plenty of time for someone from the Mets’ dugout to shout “BALL LOW AND AWAY”. And then Duda would’ve heard and not swung, because why swing? Indeed, Duda didn’t swing, but we know nobody shouted because the next pitch wasn’t a fastball at the Mets’ dugout. Tells me the Mets weren’t playing heads-up baseball. Not enough willful violations of the unwritten rules.
- Pitcher: Joel Hanrahan
- Batter: Manny Machado
- Date: April 10
- Location: 61.4 inches from center of zone
I’m not a catcher, and when I was a pitcher, I didn’t call my own pitches. There’s a lot I don’t understand about how to call a game, and that’s just in general, where we’re not dealing with the specifics of different known hitters in different known situations. So please, in this instance and in all instances, don’t consider me some sort of authority figure. But look at what we’re dealing with here. The Red Sox are leading the Orioles by one run in the top of the ninth, and there are two outs and the bases are loaded. Hanrahan is about to throw his first pitch to Machado. The previous batter drew a walk. The batter before that drew a walk. Hanrahan’s previous six sliders were all low, out of the strike zone, and a few of them were in the dirt. The battery opts to throw a first-pitch slider, and it goes in the dirt, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia can’t block it, and the game is tied. Here’s that slider in a screenshot:
You’ll notice that nowhere can you see the baseball that was pitched. For game-theory reasons, I get why you might throw a slider there. For Machado reasons, I get why you might throw a slider there. But it’s a really, really easy pitch call to criticize in hindsight. Why did the slider get away? Because of course it did, Hanrahan was all over the place. A fastball might’ve missed, but at least a fastball probably wouldn’t have missed in the dirt and allowed the tying run to score.
Thankfully, Hanrahan’s wild pitch was immediately forgotten, thanks to the next pitch:
Probably should’ve thrown a slider.
- Pitcher: Liam Hendriks
- Batter: Alcides Escobar
- Date: April 10
- Location: 61.7 inches from center of zone
For the record, that is not just a really terrible .gif. Nobody rubbed Vaseline on the camera lens to give this game a more vintage feel. It was just that foggy, which means it was just that cold and miserable, which means Liam Hendriks might have a decent excuse for having uncorked this awful pitch. Here is how awful:
Watch that .gif carefully and you’ll notice that pretty much everyone immediately stood up after the pitch hit the dirt. Hendriks did a little hop, but the second baseman, shortstop, and center fielder straightened up and relaxed. Focus can only be held for a matter of seconds at a time before it gets to be too much to bear. I have tried so desperately to find something interesting to say about this pitch and I think it’s pretty obvious that I didn’t do a very good job. Can we just — yeah let’s just move on to the next one.
- Pitcher: Matt Reynolds
- Batter: Pedro Alvarez
- Date: April 8
- Location: 62.1 inches from center of zone
It has to be an awkward moment, when Alvarez hands the baseball to the catcher. Alvarez was behind in the count 0-and-2, and he knew what the pitch was. He knew what the intent was, even if it wasn’t executed very well. Alvarez owns baseball’s single highest strikeout rate. He’s made the lowest rate of contact, and he’s swung at 47% of balls while swinging at just 61% of strikes. He sees a two-strike breaking ball in the dirt, and he knows it was thrown because the other team expected him to swing at it, even though it wasn’t a good pitch. That has to feel a little bit like being disrespected. You realize in that instant how little you’re thought of, and it’s only natural to take offense. But then it’s like, “well, yeah” because Alvarez probably knows he kind of sucks, and he knows the catcher thinks he kind of sucks, at least at protecting the plate with two strikes. “Here is this baseball. You expected me to swing at it. I didn’t, but I get you.” On the next pitch, Alvarez struck out swinging at a breaking ball low and away.
“So that’s what that dirt strip is for,” you say, without making any sense.
You don’t notice a whole lot at first. There’s a really terrible pitch, but the ball is caught and the runner on first doesn’t take off. This is just a ball, not unlike any other in an 0-and-2 count. After you watch the ball a few times, you start looking around, looking for other things to notice. The umpire flinches and backs away, unusually obsequious. Mauer looks like he’s mildly impressed by Matt Wieters catching the ball clean. A guy at the right side of the .gif makes some gesture. A woman at the left side of the .gif leans to the side. You hone in on the guy in the white shirt and tie in the third row behind home plate. You notice the man in front of him, and you notice the man in front of him. Here these men are, with front-row tickets to the very wildest pitch of the week. Here these men are, not reacting in any visible way. Here these men are, dead. These men are dead. Somebody please check on these men.
Wieters stood up in his crouch, signaling for and anticipating a high fastball out of the zone. Technically what he got was a high fastball out of the zone. If he didn’t want that high of a fastball out of the zone, maybe he should’ve been more specific. It’s like, we’re not mind-readers, Matt.
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