Hello everybody, and, after a one-week hiatus, welcome to the first part of the fifth edition of The Worst Of The Best. Here is the first part of the fourth edition, from April 26. When we left off, I noted that I’d be out of town on the following Friday, and that I hadn’t yet decided whether the next edition of this would cover one week or two weeks. I decided this morning to go with two weeks, so that we don’t miss anything extraordinary from the time I was away. While that means we don’t get to fully explore the one week that just was, this way we’re sure to cover the most extreme pitches and, later, swings, and I care more about chronicling the most extreme than the not-quite-most extreme. That is a horribly-written sentence, but maybe 10% of this post’s audience are reading these introductory words.
So, the window considered: April 26 through May 9. We’re looking at the top five wildest pitches, as determined by distance from the center of the strike zone (at the front of the plate). It’s all based on the spectacular and imperfect PITCHf/x system, and if this is your first visit, prepare for .gifs, for so many .gifs. Personally I’m of the opinion that the Internet is presently experiencing .gif over-saturation, and there’s going to need to be an adjustment, but I don’t know any other way to present this material. If you’re wondering about pitches that just missed the cutoff, Zach McAllister came in sixth with a pitch thrown to Josh Donaldson on May 7. Phillippe Aumont came in seventh with a pitch thrown to Hunter Pence on May 8. But fret not: this isn’t the last you’ve heard of Phillippe Aumont, today. Onward and…upward? Downward? Onward.
Perez is the Indians’ closer, and here he was trying to protect a 1-0 lead in the top of the ninth. The A’s had a runner on first with one out, and I saw that that runner was eventually thrown out stealing. So when I identified this pitch in the spreadsheet, my instinct was that it was a deliberate pitch-out that ended up mis-classified. That it wasn’t a wild pitch at all: that it was intended strategically, so as to improve the chances of throwing out a would-be base-stealer. This is why I always look at the video, because sometimes the PITCHf/x data is glitchy or flat-out wrong. In this case, nope. Chris Perez threw a near-perfect pitch-out in a pitch-out situation without trying. Pitch-outs are considerably less effective when the runner isn’t running and the catcher doesn’t know what’s going on. Chris Perez, basically, threw a pitch that was intended to be a good pitch, but that ended up indistinguishable from an intentional ball.
The pitch right before this one:
Perez missed with a slider way in, then he missed with a slider way out. After the second wild slider, Perez requested a new baseball from the home-plate umpire, I guess because the old baseball was a little too slippery. Perez eventually struck the hitter out to end the game and seal the win. I know I’m seldom actually serious when I’m writing these things, but I do have to wonder about the variation in baseball surface quality. Not every baseball is going to feel exactly the same, and a very subtle difference can lead to a very significant effect. Pitchers used to doctor baseballs on purpose, to use toward their advantage, but it’s harder when you aren’t personally responsible for the doctoring. How often are there more “slippery” baseballs? How often are they thrown, instead of immediately discarded? What happens on those pitches? What if a pitcher tries to throw a particularly slippery baseball in the wrong spot? This paragraph has gone on long enough. Let’s look at a still of Yan Gomes.
So that’s where a pitch went.
- Pitcher: Phillippe Aumont
- Batter: Carlos Santana
- Date: April 30
- Location: 59.9 inches from center of zone
Aumont threw two of the fortnight’s seven wildest pitches, and here’s one that involves the Indians again, as if that’s interesting to anybody. Out of everybody, Aumont seems the least concerned, perhaps because his team was losing by 12, perhaps because he does this all the time, and/or perhaps because he’s a real jerk. New life is breathed into the wild pitch when it caroms off something behind home plate and darts off toward a dugout. The part I’m most in love with is the movement we observe. Aumont walks slowly in the direction of the plate. The catcher sprints to stage right, while the batter moseys out of the picture to stage left. It’s as if this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was a blowout, and it was late, and the pitcher on the mound just threw something this terrible. The batter and the catcher were like, “that’s enough, we’ve done enough of this for today,” and Aumont was like, “where are you going you guys, I still have pitches.”
Have you ever wondered what a really terrible pitch looks like out of the hand in slow motion? You have now, after reading that sentence. Here is one answer:
You can’t even see where the pitch bounces in the dirt. Vertically, the middle of Carlos Santana’s strike zone was 2.3 feet off the ground. This pitch was on target to be 2.3 feet below the surface of the ground at the front of the plate. Aumont got his magnitude right. He just used the wrong sign.
Today we play another game of Find The Baseball! If you find the baseball, you could win a free fleeting moment of satisfaction.
Above, we watched a baseball get to the backstop and ricochet elsewhere, to the side and out of the picture. Here we have a baseball get to the backstop and return directly to home plate. Evan Gattis crouched and prepared to catch a pitch. He couldn’t, then he had to turn around and essentially prepare to catch another pitch. The ball was more accurate coming back from the backstop than it was right out of Gearrin’s hand. Somewhat comically, Gattis couldn’t handle the ball cleanly on its return, as if it still had some residual wildness and uncatchability. When a lava bomb flies out of a volcano and lands somewhere on the ground, it’ll still be incredibly hot, and one won’t be able to handle it for quite some time without getting burned. This ball might’ve been following along with a similar principle.
Gearrin, at least, had a little laugh about it, and it’s refreshing to see baseball players have a sense of humor about their own embarrassing mistakes. It probably didn’t hurt that the significance was negligible, given the ten-run deficit. Gearrin threw a pitch as tall as an NBA center. That’s funny. Have a chuckle.
On the other hand, maybe Gearrin only laughed because the baseball bounced up and hit Evan Gattis in the mask, making Gattis look like some sort of clumsy idiot. Here Gattis had to quickly react to an impossibly wild pitch, and then after he leaped to his feet and turned around, the same pitch hit him in the face. There’s humor in that, but maybe Gearrin is mean-spirited. Maybe Gearrin doesn’t personally care much for Evan Gattis. That hypothesis would be supported by Gearrin’s very next pitch in the same plate appearance:
Everybody on the planet is rooting for Evan Gattis. Everybody, it seems, except for Cory Gearrin. The Braves are probably going to want to address this as they turn their attention to a sustained race for the playoffs.
I remember watching an episode of Scrubs where J.D. was looking around and determining how people were eventually going to die. In his own head, of course, because that would be dreadfully insensitive to narrate out loud. He pegged Turk to be killed by heart disease. Dr. Cox, liver disease. Elliot, somebody choking her. Then J.D. thought about himself, and settled on “probably stress.” It can be a quiet killer, but stress can unquestionably take its long-term toll. Now consider Gio Gonzalez in the animated image above. This was an 0-and-2 pitch thrown early in a game at the beginning of May. Most 0-and-2 pitches are balls, probably, or at least they’re thrown out of the strike zone. It’s not a big deal to proceed from 0-and-2 to 1-and-2, but look at Gonzalez’s body language after the curveball bounces. Gonzalez looks away and visibly, physically expresses his frustration. Of course, he didn’t intend for the pitch to be that bad, but it didn’t really matter. There would be more opportunities, and this wasn’t a pitch worth getting anxious or angry over. If anything, who knows, maybe it stuck in Martin’s head a little bit. It’s fine for Gonzalez to conclude, “that was bad,” but to be so upset at himself? That could be interpreted as an indicator of a high-stress individual. And that’s a long-term health red flag. Gio Gonzalez might need to lighten up a little bit, or else one day things could take a particularly nasty turn for the worse. I don’t mean to sound so foreboding, but stress is sort of a form of evil.
Time for another game of Find The Baseball! This time, if you find the baseball, you win your neighbor’s mail for the next two weeks. You can just go ahead and take it, those are the terms and you would have won fair and square.
- Pitcher: Ian Kennedy
- Batter: Pablo Sandoval
- Date: April 29
- Location: 69.4 inches from center of zone
Look at the people sitting behind home plate. The people behind the glass. Look toward stage left, right above where it says “Chase Field,” with “Field” barely readable. A person’s head suddenly emerges. Try not to think about that person’s head for the rest of your afternoon.
For one ephemeral instant, Pablo Sandoval thought about swinging at this pitch. It was the first pitch of the at bat, and there was a runner on base. For one ephemeral instant, Pablo Sandoval thought about swinging at the wildest pitch in all of baseball over the past two weeks. A pitch about as far from the center of the strike zone as Sandoval is tall. And Sandoval could’ve done it. He didn’t, but if he had, it would’ve been perfectly in character. Nobody would’ve been like, “I can’t believe Pablo swung at that pitch.” People would’ve been like, “yeah.” And then Sandoval would’ve like singled or homered a pitch or two later.
Kennedy: You told me this guy swings at everything.
Montero: Allow me to explain to you the definition of “hyperbole.”
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