The Worst Pitch in Baseball

Quick thought experiment for you: what’s the worst pitch a pitcher can throw? You might say “one that results in a home run” but I disagree. Even in batting practice, hitters don’t hit home runs all the time, right? In fact, let’s quantify it — according to Baseball Savant there were 806 middle-middle fastballs between 82 and 88 MPH thrown in 2016. Here are the results of those pitches:

2016 Grooved Fastballs
Result Count Probability
Strike 296 36.7%
Ball 1 0.1%
Out 191 23.7%
Single 49 6.1%
Double 17 2.1%
Triple 4 0.5%
Home Run 36 4.5%
Foul 212 26.3%
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

So 86% of the time, we have a neutral or positive result for the pitcher, and the remaining 14% something bad happens. Not great, but when a pitcher *does* give up a homer on one of these pitches, there wasn’t really more than a 5% chance of that happening.

No, for my money, the worst thing a pitcher can do is to throw an 0-2 pitch that has a high probability of hitting a batter. The pitcher has a huge built-in advantage on 0-2, and by throwing this pitch he throws it all away and gives the batter a free base (or, at best, runs the count to 1-2). But everyone makes mistakes.


That’s Clayton Kershaw, hitting the very first batter he saw in 2015 with an 0-2 pitch. Here’s Vin Scully, apparently unwilling to believe Kershaw could make such a mistake, calling the pitch:

Strike two pitch on the way, in the dirt, check swing, and it might have hit him on the foot, and I believe it did. So Wil Myers, grazed by a pitch on an 0-2 count, hit on the foot and awarded first base. So Myers…and actually, he got it on his right knee when you look at the replay.

I was expecting more of a reaction from Kershaw — for reference, check out this reaction to throwing Freddie Freeman a sub-optimal pitch — but we didn’t get one. I wouldn’t worry about him, though — he’s since thrown 437 pitches on 0-2 counts without hitting a batter.

Kershaw is pretty good at avoiding this kind of mistake, but the true champion of 0-2 HBP avoidance is Yovani Gallardo*, who has thrown well over 1,200 0-2 pitches in his career without hitting a batter once. Looking at a heat map of his 0-2 pitches to right-handers (via Baseball Savant), you can see why — it’s hard to hit a batter when you’re (rightly) burying the pitch in the opposite batter’s box.

*Honorable mention: Mat Latos, who has thrown nearly as many 0-2 pitches as Gallardo without hitting a batter

Of course, 0-2 HBPs are fairly rare events, so it shouldn’t be too surprising to find that a few pitchers have managed to avoid them entirely. In fact, most pitchers are well under 1% of batters hit on 0-2 pitches. To get a global overview of how all pitchers did, let’s look at a scatter plot of average 0-2 velocity versus percent of HBPs in such counts over the past three years (click through for an interactive version):

I think one of these data points sticks out a bit to you.

I hate to pick on the guy, but that’s Nick Franklin, throwing the only 0-2 pitch of his life, and hitting Danny Espinosa when a strikeout would have (mercifully) ended the top of the ninth of this game against the Nationals. Interestingly, Franklin was much more demonstrative than Kershaw was, clapping his hands together and then swiping at the ball when it came back from the umpire. He probably knew that was his best opportunity to record a strikeout in the big leagues, and instead he gave his man a free base. Kevin Cash! Give this man another chance to redeem himself. He doesn’t want to be this kind of outlier forever.



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The Kudzu Kid does not believe anyone actually reads these author bios.

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booj11
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booj11

huh. i would have expected a stronger positive correlation between velo and 0-2 HBP%.

Mark Davidson
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Oh man, i want more of this article

GoodEnoughForMe
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GoodEnoughForMe

This was a neat article, thanks!

tz
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Loved the article. But now I’m left wondering who was the most incompetent on that middle-middle batting-practice fastball that was called a ball:

A. The pitcher who threw it,
B. The batter who watched that meatball go by, or
C. The umpire who called it a ball.