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

Let us begin with a few notes! First, hello, welcome to the first part of the fourth edition of The Worst Of The Best. Thank you for reading because without you I would be literally penniless unemployed. Second, this post has a lot of .gifs in it. All of the posts in this series have a lot of .gifs in them, and you have no right to complain about browser locking, because you should know what to expect by now. If your machine can’t handle .gifs, it’s not going to handle these posts, and you don’t complain about the river when you can’t float across in a measuring cup. Third, per usual, this is all PITCHf/x-derived, and we’re just examining the five pitches the furthest from the center of the strike zone. Here’s last week’s edition. Sometimes people like to ask why so-and-so’s pitch didn’t make the list. It’s because the pitch wasn’t bad enough. But to sate your curiosity, guys who just missed the top five include James McDonald, Cliff Lee, and Jaime Garcia. Over the course of a week, Cliff Lee threw baseball’s seventh-wildest pitch. All right.

And a final note: don’t look for these posts next Friday, because I’ll be away, attending none of your business. I figured it was probably for the best to give you guys a warning, and I haven’t yet decided if the Friday after that will review the previous week or the previous two weeks. I probably won’t make that decision until the morning of that Friday, because I don’t deal with things ahead of time. Now we should be all good to go, so let’s watch some really wild pitches, together. You can pretend we’re family.

5

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It was the bottom of the ninth, and Kimbrel was trying to protect a two-run lead. There was an out, but the Rockies had runners on the corners, and Coors Field has an awful lot of surface area. At this moment, the Rockies were an extra-base hit away from a tie game. But if the runner on first could successfully steal second, then the Rockies would be just a single away, and a single is a hell of a lot easier to hit than a double or a triple or a homer, especially off a guy like Kimbrel. This was a pretty obvious steal opportunity, so with the count 0-and-2, that made this a pretty obvious pitchout opportunity. Kimbrel was thinking strategically, so he threw a pitchout just in case. It all worked well, except for the part where Evan Gattis expected a normal pitch. Catchers usually prefer to be kept in the loop, being the ones responsible for the catching.

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Let us pause now and take a moment to consider the dinosaur.

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I watch a lot more AL baseball than NL baseball. I watch a lot more non-Rockies NL baseball than Rockies NL baseball. If I’m watching the Rockies, only half the time will they be playing at home. So I’m only very infrequently exposed to the whole Dinger phenomenon. Which makes me feel like I’m missing out a little, because people I know who watch a lot of the NL West know Dinger, are aware of his various mannerisms, and hate him. My understanding is that he’s almost always behind home plate trying to cast some sort of voodoo curse, and here he seems to be implying that Craig Kimbrel has “gone crazy”. That would explain why he spins his own head and dances somewhat tauntingly. This is a normal, familiar, accepted part of Colorado Rockies baseball. This is an inextricable part of the viewing experience. I’m a proponent of constant self-evaluation. I think people and businesses should more commonly take time to step back and figure out if they’re still on the right path. The Rockies are no exception, and if they were to consider where they are, the front office would be left to wonder why the team is represented by an animated, juvenile purple dinosaur. Mascots are a thing, still. There are still mascots. Why are there mascots? Why are there mascots like this?

4

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If a pitcher and a catcher wanted to send an umpire a message, they could work together, where the catcher “misses” with the catch and the baseball hits the umpire flush in the body. That would probably be conspicuous and nobody ever actually does it, but it’s a possibility, if a pitcher and a catcher are on the same page. If only a pitcher wanted to send an umpire a message, the task becomes a lot more difficult. The catcher will be back there trying to block the baseball, so the pitcher would have to find a way to get the baseball by him while still keeping aim on the ump. The easiest way to do this would be bouncing a ball, since you’re unlikely to get it past the catcher on the fly. Bounces are unpredictable and they cause catchers to get out of their crouch. Here, Greg Holland bounces a slider, and the ball catches the umpire on the shoulder before escaping to the backstop. From one perspective, this is one of the wilder pitches of the season. From another possible perspective, this pitch was deadly accurate. If Greg Holland is an ass. But the umpire didn’t seem too bothered.

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Umpires and catchers really do share a unique relationship, since the umpires put a lot of trust in the catchers to not let baseballs hit the umpires. Even though this particular baseball hit the umpire, he still appreciated Salvador Perez‘s attempt to stop it. Then, right after the nice pat on the back, the umpire lifted his mask and spit. People on and near baseball fields are just always spitting. Who spits? Why is this a thing? It’s like with mascots. Why are there mascots, and why is there so much spitting? How many people during your ordinary day do you see spit, in public, when they aren’t jogging or walking through a cloud of small bugs? Spitting is gross! In Singapore it can get you fined or jailed! We accept this as a part of baseball even though it is inarguably disgusting! Why did that umpire spit!

3

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Here’s the way I’ve been conditioned. Watch Gonzalez right after the pitch. He seems to be trying to stretch his shoulder, as if it isn’t quite loose. A shoulder that isn’t loose is a shoulder that’s tight. A tight shoulder means shoulder discomfort. Shoulder discomfort means a shoulder problem. A shoulder problem means a trip to the disabled list and eventual surgery. Shoulder surgery means a career is in jeopardy. After preparing this .gif, my mind decided that Gio Gonzalez is in a whole heap of trouble. I am more afraid of shoulder problems for pitchers than I am of wasps, and in retrospect I should’ve explained that first. When I was very little I got stung by a wasp in the eye. Wasps are stupid mean bastards and I’d delight in setting them all on fire. I can’t open the window in my bedroom because there’s a wasp outside that always gets in. He got in two weeks ago and I quite literally spent 15 minutes on the floor, watching him and holding a plastic t-shirt folder for protection. I am not a strong man.

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We talked above about the relationship between catchers and umpires. After this pitch, the Nationals’ broadcast talked at some length about how Kurt Suzuki is unusually kind to umpires by always sliding around even when there’s nobody on. It was suggested that Suzuki goes above and beyond to keep the umpires from getting hurt. The problem, in this instance:

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That umpire wasn’t getting hit. Not by this pitch. This pitch was too terrible. Because of Gio Gonzalez’s career-threatening shoulder injury. Sorry you guys, you can’t ignore the signs.

2

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This is a low breaking ball with the bases loaded, meaning a low breaking ball with a runner on third. The previous pitch was a curveball in the dirt, and Gerald Laird had to block it, but the runner didn’t score. This pitch is a curveball in the dirt, and Gerald Laird had to block it, but the runner didn’t score. The next pitch would be a curveball in the dirt, and Gerald Laird would have to try to block it, but the ball would get away and the runner would score. So, congratulations, Anthony Varvaro, you did it. You can do anything you set your mind to, and you should set your mind to less self-destructive things.

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This at bat between Varvaro and McDonald lasted four pitches. Three of the pitches were low curveballs in the dirt. McDonald struck out.

1

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Wow, what an unusual view! Let’s look at a more usual view, because we don’t like when we can’t watch baseball from familiar camera angles. Here’s the pitch again, much slower:

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That pitch didn’t hit Bryce Harper, but this is what it would look like if Dillon Gee were frighteningly accurate, and trying to drill Harper on the top of the foot. This is also what it would look like if Dillon Gee were inconsistent and threw a really terrible breaking ball in a two-strike count. After Harper got out of the way, one of the Nationals’ guys said, paraphrased, “the way Harper’s seeing the ball right now, even if he got hit, he probably would’ve stayed in the box.” This was literally one pitch after Harper swung right through a high 90 mile-per-hour fastball from an opposite-handed pitcher. Just on the off chance the Nationals announcer was right, this little bit of evasive footwork robbed us of the chance of seeing something unprecedented. Imagine the balls. Who would have the balls? If I were a pitcher, and I hit a guy, and he stayed in the box instead of taking his base, I’d probably just hit the guy, with something faster.

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Bryce Harper doing his best impression of Derek Jeter taking an inside fastball.

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Gee: my bad
Buck: gee, you don’t say
Gee: let’s try that again
Buck: gee, I trust you
Gee:
Gee:
stop doing that
Buck: sorry, sorry
Buck: just trying to have some fun out here
Buck: didn’t realize you were so oversensitive
Buck: I guess I’ll just knock it off though
Buck: don’t want to offend anybody
Buck:
Buck:
Buck:
Buck:
Buck:
I mean, geeeeeeeee
Buck:
Buck:
Buck: –
z




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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.


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

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  1. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    This is an unusually, uh, free-wheeling instalment of the series. And by free-wheeling I mean peculiar.

    P.S. I took the remark about Suzuki sliding as a remark on his general hustle and work ethic, rather than umpire courtesy.

    P.P.S. Plastic t-shirt folder? What on earth is that?

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    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      P.P.P.S. My comment sounded meaner than I intended. This was very enjoyable. Simply, in a peculiar fashion.

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    • It was actually at least in part about umpire courtesy.

      http://www.flipfold.com/

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      • Well-Beered Englishman says:

        I do not want to admit how useful that tool looks.

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      • Steve says:

        I know it’s not Mary Steenburgen but the Flip Fold lady looks like a low-res Mary Steenburgen. They probably shot her low-res because then it’s easier to think she’s Mary Steenburgen.

        Is the Flip Fold a teaching tool? Or are you supposed to use it forever. It seems like something you should be weened off of.

        Hi Jeff.

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        • Jay29 says:

          I think the idea is that it’s always going to be a little bit faster than just using your hands.

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        • zaulsiin says:

          “I think the idea is that it’s always going to be a little bit faster than just using your hands.”

          Or you can just do it in half a second with your hands like this.

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    • Utah Dave says:

      I was wondering the same thing about the plastic tee shirt folder. But then I remembered seeing Sheldon Cooper use one on “Big Bang Theory”. I would imagine the Jerry Seinfeld probably used one, too.

      This column is great and so is the wildest swings one. My good pal Clint Barmes made it this week. I knew he could do it.

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  2. Eminor3rd says:

    These are the only articles on FanGraphs that I don’t skim at all.

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  3. LTG says:

    In my neighborhood, people spit in public a lot. On the ground, at any given time, there is much more spit than dog urine.

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    • Baltar says:

      There must be a ball park in your neighborhood.

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    • Dave Scott says:

      This why so many ballplayers catch the flu when they come together at Spring Traning. Terry Francona is the champion spitter. He gobs one up every time he sees the red light on the camera come on.

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  4. Scott McKenzie says:

    You should some time in San Francisco. I can’t walk a block without seeing someone spit, doesn’t matter if I’m in the Financial District or out by the beach. It simultaneously disgusts and fascinates me, to the point where I’ve started to wonder what I’m doing wrong that I *don’t* feel the need to spit every dozen strides.

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  5. White Blood Cells says:

    As a Rockies fan, I apologize for Dinger, even though I have nothing to do with his existence. He is a blight upon the sport.

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    • deadpool says:

      I’ve always wondered about Dinger, he’s clearly trying to distract the pitcher. Why is this allowed? I swear I remember hearing something about him being curtailed a bit, but it sure looked like he was trying to distract Kimbrel there.

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      • Dave says:

        Have always thought the same thing. If a pitcher isn’t allowed to have any little distraction on his uniform no matter how small, then the opposing team shouldn’t have a moronic dinosaur being able to popout into the pitcher’s view as he’s pitching.

        And I like the Rox and their fans, just hate that stupid dinosaur.

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  6. EmDash says:

    I actually had the same thought about Gio last night, but weirdly he had by far his best start of the season. Confusing!

    Also, as a Nationals fan, I can assure you that, unless a Nats player makes a jaw-droppingly stupid decision on a play, the announcers will praise it as exemplary heads-up baseball. It’s just their way.

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  7. Johnny Come Lately says:

    I think this is your best work yet Jeff. I love love LOVE this series. I will now begin drinking Wild Turkey by myself in the dark for the next 13 days until it returns.

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  8. scatterbrian says:

    Gee: Go Buck yourself

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  9. Rob says:

    I’m not sure to how high of a level you played baseball to (not being condescending, you still have a ton of baseball knowledge), but spitting really is a HUGE part of the game. As in, if you aren’t busy at any particular moment, you are expected to keep at least a 5 min per spit ratio. Even if you are playing in the game, catching or throwing a pen, etc, you can’t be considered cool unless you keep up at least one spit per 10 breaks in action.

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  10. MSpitz says:

    I’m not a baseball player, and I’ve noticed that I spit somewhat often. Does that make me a bad person?

    Also, Jeff, remember that wasps are more scared of you than you are of them. I think.

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    • Baltar says:

      Apparently, the wasp did not hide behind a plastic t-shirt whatever, so was probably not as scared as Jeff.

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  11. Hal says:

    Buck: Gee
    Buck: Gee
    Buck: Gee
    Buck: Gee
    Buck: GEE
    Gee: WHAT!
    Buck: Danger Zoooone

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  12. Darien says:

    When I was very young — four? Five? Some stupid age — I was ambushed by an entire hive of wasps that was apparently nesting in the playground structure I was romping on. Not that I was the only kid romping there, mind you; my brother was there, and there were like four other kids, and the wasps didn’t give a tinker’s cuss about any of them. I set foot on this thing and whammo: ten trillion death wasps emerge from it and make a wasp-line straight for me. My parents are yelling at me to jump in the lake, and I’m crying and wailing and trying to FIND the lake since my eyes are already swelling shut from ten trillion death stings, but eventually I got there and jumped right in, and this is about the part in the story where I remembered that I didn’t know how to swim.

    That was not the best day I ever had.

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  13. BJsWorld says:

    Age 14. Manning CF when our coach got ejected over arguing a call. Don’t remember what it was but I do remember the team was not happy. Pitcher, catcher conference. 2 pitches later the catcher calls for a pitch out, pitcher throws it for a strike. The pitcher was dealing – probably right around 70MPH. Nails the umpire square in the chest. Game over. Our team was forfeited. One of my favorite baseball memories of all time.

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  14. Dirck says:

    In Little League I was a pitcher ,and when I wasn’t pitching I played shortstop . One day for some reason ,the coach put me in center field .At one point the other team had a runner on first and the batter hit a gapper to right center that went to the fence . I charged over and picked the ball up at the fence and as I turned around I saw the runner steaming into third and he wasn’t stopping . I said to myself “I’ve got him ” and fired one dead on line to the catcher who stood at home pounding his mitt . Then he stopped and just looked up as the ball sailed completely over the backstop on the fly . I felt like an idiot and was stomping around with my head down when the base umpire came walking out to me . I was like WTF does this guy just want to embarras me more ? The ump said ” I just want to feel that arm ,son . That was one hell of a throw “.

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  15. balticfox1917 says:

    Spitting and baseball. Baseball and spitting. When I was young, the two were inseparable somehow.
    I spat while waiting to bat. I spat between pitches while in the batter’s box.
    I spat while standing in centerfield, hoping somebody would hit the ball my way.
    Why did I do it? Because I chewed gum a lot, I had several sunflower seeds or a wad of chewing tobacco in my mouth? Nope.
    I spat because everyone else around me was spitting.
    It’s kind of like rubbing your crotch; when somebody else does it while you’re playing sports, you almost instinctively do it yourself.
    We are the species that imitates. Some of the things we pick up from others are perfectly acceptable in certain circumstances, while being equally unacceptable elsewhere.
    You can bet that if I had played basketball in an organized league, indoors, I would’ve learned to stop spitting while playing very early on.
    Come to think of it, do basketball players ever spit? I know for sure that hockey and soccer players spit all of the time too.

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  16. John says:

    Love this series. Love the whimsy. Keep it up!

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  17. Blastings says:

    This is what John Buck thinks of your lame Gee jokes:

    http://gamereax.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/buckcake.gif

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  18. Jake says:

    Not to take anything away from Kurt Suzuki’s honorable intentions for your umpire, but I’m pretty sure he was going all out for that pitch because there were two strikes on the batter.

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