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

Hey there, readers of the written word, and welcome to the first part of this edition of The Worst Of The Best, a FanGraphs Friday series that could be best described as “almost weekly”. It is most definitely weekly in intent, but it is most definitely not weekly in execution, as evidenced by last Friday, or next Friday, or many of July’s Fridays. It is weekly enough that, when a Friday is missed, I hear about it. It is aweekly enough that, when a Friday is missed, I don’t hear about it much. While I’m here — recently I was reading an article about Chris Archer, and about how he tries to use his relative fame to spread positive messages to people who need to hear them. I, too, have a platform, right here, so as long as I have your attention, let’s all stop giving other people flat tires. Let’s stop doing that thing where we step on the backs of other peoples’ shoes or sandals. You think you’re being funny, but flat tires are received even worse than tickling, and tickling is never a good idea. Let’s also all stop tickling. Stop being monsters.

In this post, we examine wild pitches, and instead of covering the most recent one week, we’re going to cover the most recent two weeks, the window being August 23 through September 5. Here’s a link to the whole series archive. This is a top five of pitches far away from the center of the strike zone, because that’s our best approximation of location intent, and it’s based on PITCHf/x so I’m going to miss anything where PITCHf/x glitched. Someday, PITCHf/x won’t glitch anymore. Someday, we’ll have an agreed-upon way to write out “PITCHf/x”. That day is not today. Three pitches that just missed: Scott Rice to Andy Dirks on August 25, Tyler Thornburg to Clint Barmes on September 2, and A.J. Burnett to Brandon Crawford on August 25. If you’d like write-ups for those pitches, might I suggest you write them yourself? I’m not some kind of writer-monkey. Now, here, let me write, for you.

5

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I didn’t write because I was camping last weekend. When I’m camping, and when I have a little downtime, I like to throw rocks, because I like to throw. Usually I don’t just throw rocks all willy-nilly — I give myself a target, and then I test my accuracy. Last Friday, while sitting around, I spotted a wooden stump some tens of yards away, so I took to trying to hit it with small rocks. I didn’t quit until I was successful, and it took me an alarming number of minutes, even after I got a decent feel for the rocks in my hand. So many of my throws were missing in every direction, and while each rock was different, they weighed more or less the same. They were small rocks, off the ground. Some throws missed by inches, but some other throws missed by so many feet one might not have even known what I was aiming for. The lesson — throwing accurately is hard. We expect pitchers to be able to hit their spots. Their spots are small and 55-60 feet away. And pitchers aren’t even always throwing fastballs. Sometimes they throw stuff that moves a lot, like Tommy Milone up there. Watch that .gif and you think, man, that was one wild pitch. But, was it, really? Or was it a pretty accurate pitch, within a landscape of mostly more accurate pitches? Everything about baseball is harder than it looks like.

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It’s this week’s edition of Find The Baseball! If you find the baseball, pour yourself a glass of tap water. Then pour it out and pour yourself a second glass of tap water. Congratulations, you followed directions without thinking, and you wasted a glass of tap water. Just how much fresh water do you think that we have? Just how little do you think about your own wastefulness? Just how bad are you at reading ahead in a paragraph before you do what the author tells you?

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It’s always funny to me how many of these wild pitches seem to be preceded by mound visits. On the one hand, this series is probably selective for wild pitchers, or fine pitchers in something of a wild slump. Those pitchers will be more likely to be visited on the mound. On the other hand, boy, that was some mound visit. Someday I’d like to be able to test the effectiveness of mound visits. But it would be impossible to do right, because we wouldn’t have a perfect control group. There’s probably a reason a coach goes out when he does, and there’s probably a reason he doesn’t when he doesn’t. Proper baseball analysis is impossible work. You shouldn’t even try it.

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At one instant, the game is stopped so that Milone can be visited on the mound by his catcher and pitching coach. Everybody sees what’s going on, and everybody understands it’s because Milone got himself in trouble. At a subsequent instant, the catcher tries to be encouraging, right there on camera. These people surely have the best of intentions, and they just want to see Milone succeed, but he’s got to be thinking, man, stop smothering me, I’m an adult.

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Milone: Why do I always get the defective ion necklaces

4

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Discipline-wise, Stephen Drew has a little in common with his brother. Like his brother, Stephen doesn’t swing very often, and that used to have his brother draw criticism. Surely, no one would’ve been upset at Stephen for not swinging at the above pitch. It was the fourth-wildest pitch of the last two weeks, a breaking ball way outside way in the dirt. If anyone did swing at that pitch, he’d rightly be made fun of, especially by me, in a few hours. But what if the pitch were closer? How close does a pitch have to be for people to be upset if the hitter doesn’t swing? How aggressive do people want hitters to be, visually? Are they only mad if a hitter doesn’t swing at a strike? Do people expect 100% zone coverage, and 0% out-of-zone coverage? How is it changed by the situation? How is it changed by the hitter identity? I find that I don’t like many baseball fans much.

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It’s a good thing the catcher slid over to block that pitch, because there was giant glass behind home plate, and that was just asking for catastrophe. The pitcher, at least, was warned, conspicuously, but maybe that just puts more pressure on him to not screw up, and sometimes that just accomplishes the reverse.

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Purcey: Man, something really reeks.
Purcey: Is that me?
Purcey: I sure hope that’s not me.
Purcey: I should probably check to make sure.
Purcey: But how am I going to do this without anyone noticing?
Purcey: People are looking out here all the time.
Purcey: Maybe if I-
Purcey: Yeah
Purcey: Just real quick-like
Purcey: /throws wild pitch on purpose

Much to Purcey’s relief, it was not him. It was, instead, the entire stadium.

3

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The unimpressiveness of the pitch is matched equally and oppositely by the impressiveness of the catch. The catcher had to not just stand, but jump, in receiving a pitch that was nowhere near where it was supposed to be. And as much as you might say he had plenty of time to react, since the pitch was recorded at 71 miles per hour, that’s as fast as you drive a car on a freeway. That’s fast, and the catcher got up there despite being taken by surprise. More, look at the technique. The catcher doesn’t just leap and catch the ball — he comes down aggressively, in throwing position, in case anyone wanted to put him to the test. In a fraction of a second, the catcher caught a wild pitch and prepared to throw to one of three bases. That is impossibly quick thinking. Ultimately, though, no throw was attempted. No out was recorded. Maybe a better idea would’ve been bluffing a stumble or a fumble, to trick a runner into breaking. Then there would be the real potential for an out. That would’ve been even quicker thinking. Except sometimes when you pretend to fall, you actually fall, because pretend-falls approach the true-falling balance threshold. What I’m getting at is, look, it’s the Padres, on TV.

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From a young age, Pablo Sandoval’s dad always told him to keep his eye on the ball when it was on the way to the plate. Sandoval eagerly took the advice, but then one day his dad lied about taking him to the dentist, and since then he’s made it his life’s purpose to rebel.

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Sandoval:
Sandoval:
Sandoval:
Sandoval:
Sandoval:
I HATE SHOES

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Whoa whoa whoa, hold on! Check out antler-hands, behind home plate! Seems we have a funny guy in the ballpark! People don’t usually make antler-hands, and that guy would’ve been well within Erlin’s field of vision. So as Erlin was preparing to throw, he would’ve seen something surprising, possibly explaining the subsequent wild pitch. When you’re caught off guard in the moment, it can be hard to complete what you were doing effectively, especially if it requires intense concentration. So now we can try to figure something out. That guy made antler-hands. The pitch was awful. Is that guy rooting for the Padres or the Giants? The test: his behavior during the next pitch.

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Confirmed Giants fan. A Padres fan would’ve not risked another terrible pitch, especially with runners on base. Congratulations, Giants fan, you’re in the front row to see your favorite baseball team. And now you’re on the Internet because of your gleeful antler-hands. You appear to be an adult.

2

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Yadier Molina is an amazing defensive catcher. He doesn’t just have a sense for what pitches to call, and how to receive them — he has a tremendous arm, with which he’s happily aggressive. He has a good track record of throwing runners out on the bases, and he’s been doing this for so long that you have to wonder if he’s this generation’s catcher of destiny. That is, is Molina given some sort of cosmic assistance? He couldn’t be that good on his own, right? On the one hand, no, we don’t believe in those things. On the other hand, here’s a wild pitch with men on base:

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Look at how smoothly Molina makes that throw. Look at his perfect anticipation and footwork and transfer. That’s an amazing impromptu sequence. Most catchers wouldn’t be able to pull that off. I don’t know if any catchers would’ve been able to pull that off. Couldn’t have happened were it not for the quick bounce off the backstop right to where Molina was standing. Suspicious.

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The explanation was that it was hot and humid and the ball slipped out of Lynn’s hand because it was sweaty. Makes sense, happens often. Lynn’s opponent on the mound was A.J. Burnett. Burnett leans heavily on his knuckle-curveball. A knuckle-curveball is difficult to throw even under perfect conditions. Over seven strong innings, Burnett walked one Cardinals batter. This has been science.

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Kind of Neil Walker to give Yadier Molina directions. Very Good Samaritan of him. He’s right, Molina did have a play at third. But, this was a rivalry game, and Walker was Molina’s opponent. Why on Earth would Walker want to give Molina any help? Cosmic assistance. Cosmic assistance is the answer. It wasn’t up to Walker to decide. It was up to the universe to compel Walker to point. The universe conspires to make Yadier Molina amazing. I don’t quite get it, but there’s a lot I don’t get. Why am I able to catch so many fruit flies in my kitchen fruit-fly trap? Don’t go for that banana, you idiots! It’s clearly a trap! Life is weird.

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Lynn: do I still have a hand
Lynn: I still have a hand
Lynn: a big stupid hand

1

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Two things, I have learned from this .gif. Perhaps you, as well.

  1. Chien-Ming Wang is still pitching in the major leagues
  2. there is a reason why I did not know that

The Blue Jays are out of it. They’re messing around with Chien-Ming Wang. The Mets are out of it. They’re messing around with Daisuke Matsuzaka and Aaron Harang. The end of the season can be so very unwatchable. In the .gif above, Chien-Ming Wang pitched against the Astros. Baseball, for fans, is supposed to serve as entertainment. That’s its whole reason for being. In order for baseball to be taken seriously, it needed to draft consistent schedules and full seasons and everything. But sometimes it sure feels like baseball just happens because the players were told it was supposed to happen and no one really thought about it. Why did Chien-Ming Wang throw this pitch? Was this necessary baseball? Have you seen the Astros’ crowds?

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Wait, forget this screenshot, I found the entertaining part.

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A closer look:

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J.P. Arencibia called for a curveball and the curveball hit him in the face. He didn’t even have any time to complain about it or hold his face in his hands; immediately he had to dart off to retrieve the ball that just drilled him. A game between good teams is way more likely to be entertaining than a game between bad teams. A game between bad teams, though, can still have its worthwhile moments, provided you’re watching close enough, and that damn well better be true, because otherwise what are most of us doing? I imagine most Blue Jays fans, at some point, have wanted to hit J.P. Arencibia in the face. It happened, in part due to Arencibia himself.

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Arencibia: All right, cool it now.
Arencibia: Let’s not keep hitting me in the face.

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If you’re a pitcher, you don’t want your catcher to show you the baseball. If a catcher shows you the baseball, it’s because he felt like he ought to show you the baseball. If a catcher feels like he ought to show you the baseball, there previously existed some doubt that the baseball could be retrieved. If there existed some doubt that the baseball could be retrieved, you, as the pitcher, probably just uncorked a really terrible pitch. If you’re a pitcher, and you’re actively pitching, you don’t want any of your pitches to be followed by “look what I found.”




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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.

9 Responses to “The Worst of the Best: The Week(s)’s Wildest Pitches”

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  1. cass says:

    I didn’t contact you, but I was waiting for this all week last week and was disappointed when it didn’t show up. I refreshed several times looking for it. These articles are appointment reading.

    Favorite parts from this week:

    “Milone: Why do I always get the defective ion necklaces”
    The entire antler-hands bit. Wow.
    “Arencibia: Let’s not keep hitting me in the face.”

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  2. Henry says:

    Thanks Jeff! Sorry if the semi-weekly nature of this gets you down/makes us seem demanding, but this was wonderful and I wanted to say thanks.

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  3. lewish says:

    Ken Burns awesome baseballness vidoe’s basically said, if Walter Johnson wanted food he had to take a rock and knock something senseless with it in order to eat…Ken Burns documentary may very well have not said that, but that is how I clearly wish to remember it, and as I remember it all, I know is he had to have been kick ass to have not starved to death!

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  4. lewish says:

    Since,, I am on a role mucking up the reply space, I also wish to share my desire of …well you know how some people and sites are studying the framing good and bad, well mostly the bad are wild pitches and the good are really pretty accurate…I can’t help but think a nice further exploration would be to watch highly rated catchers catch poorer quality pitches and poorer rated catchers frame more accurate pitches in order to visually, I guess compare those to what is being collected…I mean it is way easier catching a pitch that is thrown within my body bounds than one not, and I am not convinced anyone makes a pitch look good when the pitch is on the opposite side of the plate from where I set up especially if I am setting up off the plate…but Molina is the god, and so I would love to see that I am once again trying to see with my head logged in my anal region…thanks for once again an awesome post Jeff!

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    • lewish says:

      I guess on reflexion what I was trying to say is it would be nice to see framing stuff on better and worse rated guys on similar type pitches i.e… close to inside the body and far from the body like to the opposite side of the plate…seems that might give more info on if and to what degree there are differences in technique with catchers than sort of some of the stuff done on extremes of the catching spectrum, though I get to this stuff sporadically and perhaps you have done that type of thing…and I only put it here because I know you have an attraction at times for this type of stuff.

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  5. PackBob says:

    An analyst never runs out of material! (Filed under Trade Secrets.)

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  6. thirteenthirteen says:

    I watched #3 happen and thought “oh I wonder if that will be on Sullivan’s list on Friday.” I am a little embarrassed at how pleased I am that it is.

    I’m also a little embarrassed I didn’t notice antler-hands at the time.

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  7. Baltar says:

    I’m very disappointed. From the title, I was expecting a humorous raconteur of your camping trip. Instead, I found baseball.

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