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

Hey there everybody, and welcome to the first part of this edition of this. Here’s a link to all of the previous editions. Understand that part of me feels guilty right now. This is my full-time job — my full-time job is serving as a content creator on the Internet. It’s a pretty good job, the sort of thing a lot of people out there are currently fighting for. But there are a lot of content creators on the Internet, full-time and part-time and unpaid. The only way to remain relevant on the Internet as a creator is to keep creating. So, there’s a lot of content, and a lot of it seems like it could be interesting, and a lot of that turns out to actually be interesting. So there’s a lot to consume — too much to consume, infinite content to consume — and it’s easy to get lost. Hours can disappear and you can snap out of it and realize you’re reading an article about Super Dave Osborne. The Internet is dangerous, because information is appealing, and it’s easy to click. If you can control yourself, kudos; if you have trouble, I apologize for contributing to the Internet’s volume. Many of you are reading this instead of doing what you’re supposed to be doing, and you might not even realize it, and that makes me feel bad. Not bad enough to stop doing my job, because Greek yogurt isn’t going to buy itself, but know that I know your struggle. This weekend let’s all go to the woods.

Uh so here come some wild pitches, covering the window from September 6 through September 19. Once again, this covers two weeks instead of one, because last Friday I was out of town and FanGraphs stays where my computer is. Don’t know what happens next week. Could cover a week. Could cover the second half. Could cover the whole season. There are surprises in store. Meanwhile, this week, few surprises, except for all of the surprises to come. You know the deal: top five pitches furthest from the center of the PITCHf/x strike zone. Pitches just missing: Ivan Nova to Mike Carp on September 15, Madison Bumgarner to A.J. Pollock on September 8, and Stephen Fife to Angel Pagan on September 14. Those pitchers are fortunate to have escaped mocking commentary. They did not, however, escape mention. Now for some mocking commentary.

5

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One man’s wild pitch is another man’s achievement of physics. Before Tillman, there stood three people: a batter in the left-handed batter’s box, a catcher in the catcher’s box, and an umpire behind the catcher. Those three were, more or less, clumped, and the catcher prepared for a pitch inside. Between those three people, there was very little space. Nevertheless, consider what Tillman’s pitch accomplished — upon delivery, it reached the backstop, going through the three people without touching any of them, including a guy trying to get in the way of the pitch on purpose. That’s something really incredible about certain wild pitches: the catcher knows what pitch is coming, and he has some idea of where it’s going to go, and sometimes the pitch goes by untouched anyway. Somehow, Tillman threw an untouched baseball between Gose and Matt Wieters. It even avoided the umpire, whose view would’ve been blocked, and who would’ve been relying on Wieters to knock the ball down. Waste pitch? Mistake pitch? Amazing pitch. A real pitch with eyes. If batted balls can have eyes in order to get through the infield, it stands to reason those eyes existed previous to contact.

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In a way this screenshot makes it look like Chris Tillman is laying an egg. It’s a game between the Orioles and the Blue Jays. Oh, shut up, it’s not like I have any time to workshop these jokes. Everything you see is a rough draft. A rough draft that will never be rewritten, because there are other rough drafts to complete. FanGraphs: Behind The Scenes. Straight from the writer to your screen! Farm-to-fork!

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On comebackers to the mound, the instinct is to try to barehand the ball when you can’t reach it with the glove. Announcers love to talk about this, and you’ve heard it a bunch of times before — pitchers need to resist the temptation, because they need to protect their exposed pitching hands and comebackers can injure a palm or a finger. Pitchers need to re-condition themselves, even if it means allowing the occasional extra hit. You don’t see this so much with catchers, because catchers are prepared for baseballs to fly at them, but here Matt Wieters instinctively tries to barehand a wild pitch he couldn’t otherwise knock down. The point is that our instincts are trying to kill us. Don’t follow your heart. Your heart is a voice for your instincts, and your instincts want you dead.

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Always a dick move. No matter the circumstances, always a dick move. Nevermind that hitting the baseball away with your bat often sends the ball in an unintended direction. Gose figured he was doing the ball boy a favor by allowing him to not have to run so far. But Gose barely even bent down. In performing his favor, he did the absolute bare minimum. The actual polite thing to do would’ve been bending down, picking up the baseball, and tossing it softly to the ball boy. Hardly takes any effort on Gose’s part. But, nope, that’s not for this guy. Gose is more important than all that. This is like partly pulling a chair out for someone at a table. At first it looks like a nice gesture, but the chair still has to be pulled out all the way. There’s little benefit, and the actor looks worse for having done anything at all. I’ll grant that it’s possible the Blue Jays’ ball boy is an armless child in a broken wheelchair. That would help to answer one question, although it would raise a bunch of others.

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Matt Wieters can’t look at Chris Tillman. Catchers don’t like it when their pitchers try to hurt them. People, as a general rule, don’t like to be hurt, especially by other people, especially by other people considered co-workers or teammates.

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Still not looking at Chris Tillman. Signaling a pitch, but still not looking at Chris Tillman. Would be interesting to set up a target while still not looking at Chris Tillman. Could Tillman hit the target? Could Tillman basically make Wieters catch the pitch without any effort on Wieters’ part, since he wouldn’t be looking? This would be a fun test of pitcher command, pitching to catchers who aren’t looking at the pitchers. And then the catchers could have a lot of fun tests, for concussions, in a hospital.

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It was never revealed what was going on over there, but something was definitely going on over there, causing C.B. Bucknor to do a cartoonish double-take. Didn’t get Matt Wieters’ attention, though. Wieters was too busy trying to focus on not looking at Chris Tillman. Interestingly, at the end, Gose points at Wieters. My hypothesis is that he was fart-blaming.

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Look above the O in the second Casino Rama. Behind the first green wall. There are a lot of controversial aspects to September roster expansion, and among the complaints is that at some point teams run out of room in the dugout.

4

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We know that some batters don’t make much of an effort to get out of the way of inside pitches. We know they’re supposed to, by the rule book, but we know there are violators, and we know the rule is seldom enforced. We know there are other batters who most certainly do always make an effort to get out of the way of inside pitches. That’s more in the spirit of the rules, and it’s also in the spirit of it sucks to get hit in the body by something thrown really hard. An interesting study would be identifying those players who do and don’t try to move out of the way. Does it depend more on identity, or pitch location? Obviously, everyone would duck below a pitch sailing for the head, but outside of that, how are decisions made? Are batters less likely to make an effort with a pitch going for the upper body, the middle body, or the lower body? Did Middlebrooks have to make such an effort, here? Would it hurt that much to get hit in the foot or the side of the shin? Why are some batters so bold about getting hit in the arm? Don’t they realize they need their arms for batting? HOW DOES ANYONE CONDITION HIMSELF TO NOT MOVE OUT OF THE WAY

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This was the 11th pitch of a 12-pitch at-bat. Earlier, Boston’s color guy said that Price should maybe try throwing a ball, because his pitches had all been in or near the zone and Middlebrooks was fouling them off. Middlebrooks, then, was aggressively looking to swing. Price had an opportunity to try to expand the zone. Price took the color guy’s advice by throwing the fourth-wildest pitch of the last two weeks. No swing, worse count. The color guy should either shut up, or be more specific about the sorts of balls that pitchers ought to be throwing in long at-bats.

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Why even have a coach’s box? Visible here are a coach and a box. Why is there a coach’s box? If this is an exploitable rule technicality, then, you’re welcome, tricksy team in the future.

The pitch was described as “unblockable”. I think that’s an accurate characterization. I wonder which pitcher has thrown the most unblockable pitches. Probably the answer is not David Price. Probably the answer is somebody terrible. Or, based on the history of this series, it’s Tony Cingrani, featuring half of his sliders.

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If Price isn’t more careful about his facial expressions, he’ll never get this pitch called a strike.

3

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Look at the umpire. Look at his body language. He’s scared. He was afraid of getting hit by this baseball, because he thought he would get hurt, even though he’s covered at least waist-up in padding. Even after the pitch went by, the umpire was slow to recover, somewhat shaken. Now look at Evan Gattis. Look at his body language. The pitch goes by and he immediately gestures for another baseball so the game can continue. He’s not shaken by the threat. If anything, he’s energized. Like the umpire, he’s also padded, but like the umpire, the padding also leaves him with vulnerabilities. Evan Gattis was not scared. I don’t know if Evan Gattis can be scared. I think he’s just not easily frightened, not easily intimidated. Evan Gattis is Happy Gilmore in a batting cage, except that Evan Gattis is real. “Give me that ball. This shit is a rush.”

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Baseball headed for dirt, or comically oversized color-uncoordinated white squatcho? Baseball headed for dirt, obviously. Are you even paying attention? You’re not a very good reader.

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In the span of about 3.5 seconds, Fredi Gonzalez:

  1. touches his ear twice
  2. licks his lips
  3. touches his cheek by his nose twice
  4. touches his nostrils
  5. touches his mouth/goatee

What’s the first thing you think? Signs, right? Gonzalez is giving signs? It’s possible, I suppose, but I don’t know to whom he would’ve been giving them — neither Teheran nor Gattis was looking. I think Gonzalez was just sitting normally. And as a part of his sitting normally, he happened to do a lot with his face. You might be surprised by what you eat, if you get into the habit of documenting your own consumption. You might also be surprised by the results if someone were to document how much you do with your face. Years and years ago, my grandmother told my brother to stop touching his face. I don’t remember the circumstances, but, sorry, grandma, that’s impossible. We are almost literally always touching our faces.

2

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Moore, obviously, pitches for the Rays, meaning he often pitches to Jose Molina. Molina has made a name for himself with his quality pitch-receiving. In this particular game, Moore wasn’t throwing to Molina, but he’s still been conditioned to expect a slightly more generous zone than he might’ve grown accustomed to in the minors. Now, look at Moore following release. He pauses there for a moment, as if he’s waiting to see if the pitch will be called a strike. As if he thought he might earn the call. The Rays are getting greedy. Jose Molina has to be stopped. He’s a baseball monster.

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Moore’s breaking ball to a lefty missed low and away. His next breaking ball to a lefty, on the next pitch, was hung, up and inside. You’d figure, then, that his next breaking ball to a lefty would be just right, having achieved perfect compromise. That’s not how life works and it missed low and away. Did you know that Matt Moore has control problems? This isn’t life according to Goldilocks. This is just life.

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Matt Moore is always feeding his wild side, and Jose Lobaton just isn’t having it, because Jose Lobaton is kind of a sissy. You’d think catcher would be the last place you’d want to put a sissy, but just like when they acquired Delmon Young, because this is the Rays you have to figure they’re up to something smart that we just can’t understand. It’s not about figuring out if it makes sense — it’s about assuming it makes sense, and figuring out how.

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umpires can be dicks

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Moore: Isn’t this great?
Moore: Isn’t this just great?
Moore: Hangin’ out on the field
Moore: Havin’ a catch
Moore: Playin’ ball with my teammates
Moore: Paid to play a game!
Moore: We’re all livin’ the dream!
Moore: Yes sir
Moore: We are too blessed
Moore: Yes indeedy
Lobaton: If you don’t throw strikes I will literally kill you.

1

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I came into this with a theory. It’s September now, meaning there are teams out there playing with expanded rosters. That means there are teams out there playing with pitchers who might be below ordinary big-league caliber. So my expectation was that this list would feature September call-ups, guys with nerves and inexperience and less talent, relatively speaking. This list features Chris Tillman, David Price, Julio Teheran, Matt Moore, and Alfredo Simon. All of them have been full-season regulars, with the worst ERA being 3.70. The point is that my theory was stupid, but at least I had a theory. Where was yours, Einstein?

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It’s this week’s edition of Find The Baseball! If you find the baseball, no, forget it, it’s impossible, you’ll never find the baseball. The baseball is completely obscured by Simon’s lifted right leg. You can see, just underneath, the location of the baseball’s impact crater, but the game isn’t Find The Baseball’s Impact Crater. Sorry, you guys. Sometimes there’s just no winning. Your consolation prize is a dispiriting life lesson.

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Terrible pitches? Terrible hair? Classic cases of attention-seeking behavior. You’re playing a baseball game in Houston, Alfredo Simon. There’s no attention to be sought. Nobody is watching on TV. The fans in the stands are all cardboard cutouts of cast members from Working. Even the readers of this article checked out as soon as they saw an Astros uniform. I don’t know what happened to make you so needy but, I mean, I shouldn’t, I don’t even know you, that would be weird.

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A fun game to play with your friends: show them this screenshot, and ask them what they think happened with the pitch. Because, see, in the screenshot, the pitch looks normal, and not at all like the wildest pitch of at least the last two weeks. Your friends will never get it, allowing you to feel a little superior, because you know the answer. Isn’t it fun to feel a little superior to your friends? It sure is, if you’re a bad friend.

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A sign you have thrown a bad pitch: your catcher ends up looking as if he’s receiving a pitch from 90 degrees away from where you are.

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That Astros fan behind home plate is helpfully instructing Simon that he should throw the baseball to the catcher, instead of wildly to the backstop, like he just did the pitch before. Of course, wild pitches are balls, and a lot of balls leads to walks, and walks lead to runs, and the Astros were tied in extra innings. The fan is seen giving helpful advice to the visitor, to the opposition. It’s not just that the Astros aren’t drawing many fans anymore. It’s also that the fans they do draw have turned against the home team, opting instead to root for and help the opponent. In Stage 1, you turn passion into apathy. In Stage 2, you turn the apathetic into enemies. Congratulations, Astros! You did it!




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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.


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

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  1. Plagarist says:

    So good. Every week. The intro was a great description of the internet, but then I get to laying an egg and farm to fork and I’m spraying coffee all over my desk. Jeff is the best for doing this for us all the time. Keep paying him to do so!

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  2. japem says:

    Amazing as usual Jeff. But one question: wouldn’t it make more sense to measure pitches from the edge of the zone? All that really matters is how far they were from being a strike. But maybe that’s not possible, I don’t really know.

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  3. cass says:

    Actually, most Nats fans were following that Reds/Astros game very closely. I know I was. It probably ended our season. Had the Nats and Astros won that day, there would actually be a National League Wild Card race right now. Alas, baseball is cruel.

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  4. X says:

    I think you’re misreading Gose’s motivation. He sees one of the bi-week’s crappiest pitches sitting out on the Blue Jays logo. This is an affront to the honor and dignity of the Blue Jays! It will not stand; he golfs it aside. There: now the only stain on the Blue Jays’ dignity is their record.

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  5. Why even have a coach’s box?

    I agree — I’ve literally never seen a coach inside one — but let’s take it one step further. Why have first- and third-base coaches? No other sport has coaches actually on the field of play. Would it be that bad to get rid of them entirely?

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    • cass says:

      They certainly improve the baserunning by giving another set of eyes or timing the pitcher’s delivery. I don’t think most people would say the baserunning it too good these days, so why not keep them?

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    • EightyWant says:

      Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that more and more players are just running through stop signs at third. Perhaps an area for future research…

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    • The Foils says:

      They are not on the field of play.

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      • Dan says:

        Rules of baseball:
        FOUL TERRITORY is that part of the playing field outside the first and third base lines extended to the fence and perpendicularly upwards.

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  6. “Not bad enough to stop doing my job, because Greek yogurt isn’t going to buy itself…” So great.

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  7. EightyWant says:

    This (along with the worst swings of the week) is fast becoming one of my favorite columns–a must read. Fantastic work as always.

    P.s. I think what you meant to say in the intro was: “Hours can disappear and you can snap out of it and realize you COULD INSTEAD BE reading an article about Super Dave Osborne.”

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  8. Darien says:

    Super Dave is pretty great. Did you know that his real name is Bob Einstein? That’s true. And he’s Albert Brooks’ brother — and therefore Albert Brooks’ real name is Albert Einstein.

    You know. Baseball facts.

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  9. gnomez says:

    So, how many of next week’s will be Johnny Hellweg?

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  10. Caddyshack Gopher says:

    I want to know how they measure the location of pitches so bad they hit the ground well before the plate. Are they measuring the location of the bounce? Or assuming them to be at ground level? Or assuming they tunnel through the earth in a straight line?

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  11. Greg says:

    It looks like the Matt Moore pitch actually hits in the infield grass, not in the dirt. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before, or noticed it. We all know that teams have used creative groundskeeping to gain an advantage: watering down the area around first base to slow opposing basestealers, doctoring the foul lines to improve their bunting, etc. I wonder if Tampa will start working on the grass/dirt margin in the front of the plate to gain some tiny advantage that helps add up to a pennant?

    I also wonder what runs through the batter’s head when a pitcher is throwing fairly normally and then misses the zone by 70 inches. He steps out, readjusts his batting grip, and thinks: “Whoa, what happened there? What was the name of that guy…Steve Blass? Yeah, Blass, lost the strike zone and never found it again. Am I going to get hit here? Not the head. Please don’t let it be the head. Or the groin, but that’s a tough shot at this angle. Please not the head. OK, back in the box, but let’s stay loose here. Loose. Not the head.”

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