CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Rumor Roundup: Monday,... (01/07)
<< Previous Column
Pebble Hunting: The Sa... (01/04)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: When t... (01/10)
Next Article >>
Baseball Therapy: What... (01/07)

January 7, 2013

Pebble Hunting

Adventures in Intentional Balls

by Sam Miller

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

It is my job to write an introduction right now. This means thinking about some appealing way to present the topic, using language in a way that effectively communicates to you what is ahead, perhaps something funny or novel, a metaphor, an anecdote. Words that are useful, basically. And to do it efficiently, so I don't lose you before the GIFs start. That's what an introduction is, and that's what my job is right now.

But what if my job was to write an introduction that does none of those things? If, in fact, the more of those things that I did, the worse the introduction was? Then my job would be so much easier! It would have taken me about 1/12th as long as my actual introduction-writing task took, because I would just copy some excerpt from whatever page I had open in a different tab, paste it here, like 

. In
“COMPOSITE SKETCH OF MY
ILLNESS,” the narrative voice
says, “I’m separate from the
author. Like a moth, I have fur
on my ba

And I would be done! Yesssssss.

So that's what intentional balls are like, basically. They are the thing a pitcher does that is the least like the thing that a pitcher is paid to do. It takes willfully incompetent competence to screw that job up. People screw that job up! This is the year in intentional balls, some of them screwed up, some just unusual. 

Hardest-thrown intentional ball. 
Here's the hardest-thrown intentional ball of the year, which was 92.1 mph, and thrown by Kelvin Herrera

Kelvin Herrera threw the hardest average fastball in baseball this year, at 98.5 mph. There are a billion statistics—I don't know if this is a statistic as much as it's a measure, but the first sentence of Wikipedia's entry for "statistic" (as opposed to "statistics") is "a single measure of some attribute of a sample" so I guess they're the same thing—and some of them are great to lead the league in, such as OPSBI, and some are not as great to lead the league in, such as wild pitches, and then there are the ones that are value-neutral but descriptive, like percentage of split-fingered fastballs thrown. Average fastball velocity has a bit of all three. Knowing that Herrera threw the hardest average fastball this year, we know he: 

1. Throws a fastball, and on average it's very fast, so he's that kind of pitcher (value-neutral, descriptive)
2. Throws a fastball very fast, which is a very significant key to a fastball, as noted by its name (good indicator)
3. Probably is a reliever, which means he probably is not the best pitcher in the league, on his team, or in any single game in which he appears (bad indicator)

In fact, as a single statistic on its own, it's terribly unhelpful for predicting future success. Here are the past eight pitchers to lead baseball in average fastball velocity, and their value the following season: 

Year Pitcher Next year WARP
2011 Henry Rodriguez -0.5
2010 Joel Zumaya 0
2009 Jonathan Broxton 0.8
2008 Brandon League 0.3
2007 Matt Lindstrom 1.2
2006 Joel Zumaya 0.4
2005 Bobby Jenks 1.7
2004 Billy Wagner 2.1
 
Which is all just to point out that Kelvin Herrera throws really, really hard. And so a 92.1 mph intentional ball is acceptable coming from him. Henderson Alvarez, on the other hand, is trying too hard:
 
 
Alvarez throws his average fastball 93.3 mph, so this intentional ball—at 91.4 mph—is nuts. The average intentional ball thrown this year was about 77 percent of the pitcher's typical fastball speed. Alvarez throws this intentional ball 98 percent as hard as his typical fastball. Earlier in the at-bat, in fact, after a 90.5 mph intentional ball, Jeff Mathis admonished Alvarez to check his self before he wrecked his self: 
 

To which Alvarez replied that he has gum. 
 

Communication, folks. 
 
Slowest Intentional Ball. 
Here we have an inconclusive answer to the question. The answer, as we have it, is Brayan Villarreal, who threw this pitch 41 mph lololol.
 

The thing is, his next three pitches looked just as slow, but none of them show up in PITCHf/x. Not at all: not in queries, not on online PITCHf/x tools, not on MLB's Gameday description of events. In some instances, the entire at-bat has been eradicated from history. Colin Wyers reports that "there is a minimum speed at which the system is going to fail to record a trajectory at all," which is evidence that the next three pitches might have been slower than this one. Here's a screengrab of one of the three, which shows that either Brayan Villarreal is really, really bad at this, or that Alex Avila was daydreaming that he just caught the final strike of the World Series:  
 

Wildest Intentional Ball (Horizontal).
Jake Diekman throws an intentional ball perfectly here, suuuuuper intentional and definitely a ball.
 
 
What's beautiful about it is that the batter is A.J. Ellis
 
Catcher: We're going to intentionally walk this guy.
Pitcher: Cool. This is my first day on the job, so I apologize if this is a dumb question, but
Pitcher: What does that mean? 
Catcher: Just throw a pitch that the batter would never, ever in a million years swing at.
Pitcher: So, for this guy, A.J. Ellis, that would be...?
Catcher: Pretty much right down the middle would be fine. 
 
Diekman took no chances. Diekman's got a funny pitching motion, and pitching in general is funny, but watching him pitch frame-by-frame is galling. This is what Jake Diekman looks like in reverse. 
 

Wildest Intentional Ball (Vertical). 
 
 
Furbush can't competently throw an intentional ball, but at least he knows the rule that if a fan asks for a ball you must throw it to him on the next live pitch.
 
 
Best (Worst) Intentional Ball. 
There are three champions for this one, because there are three ways you could answer this. The least-outside pitch was thrown by Tim Lincecum, which was 3.8 inches from the center of the plate. Not 3.8 inches from the strike zone; 3.8 inches from the very middle of the strike zone, at least horizontally. 
 

Delightfully, Aaron Hill seems to be so surprised at the trajectory of the pitch that he actually ducks out of the way a little bit. Maybe. He's either doing that or he's ducking down to make sure the pitch isn't called a strike on him. Either way!
 
The closest pitch to the center of the strike zone is this one, by Jose Mijares to Hanley Ramirez
 

But it doesn't really look like it's close to a strike—Jose Molina would probably get a called strike on it, but whatever—and even if Hanley Ramirez decided to swing at it it's not in a hittable location. Mijares basically throws a good pitch that he's not trying to: 
 

But the truly worst intentional ball thrown this season was by the Brewers' Tim Dillard, to Brandon Belt
 
 
It's clearly hittable, but it is not, alas, so hittable that Brandon Belt had no choice to hit it. And so we missed out on a potentially much-more-GIFfable event. 
 
So I guess the question is, if pitchers are so bad at this—even only occasionally—is there a way around it? Could a pitcher, for instance, simply wind up and toss the ball a few inches, go pick it up himself, do it again, and walk the hitter without ever risking this or this? I don't see anything in the rules about it, though to be honest I'm not going to spend more than 45 minutes looking. But at a certain point, I suppose, some tasks shouldn't be too hard for professional athletes to just go ahead and do. Throwing an intentional ball would qualify. 

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Intentional Ball

20 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Tynan

A great way to start the week. Thanks!

Jan 07, 2013 06:49 AM
rating: 6
 
bobbygrace

In case you were wondering, Charlie Furbush got away with the IBB WP shown here, although the Mariners went on to lose the game.

Earlier in the inning, Furbush had picked off base-stealer extraordinaire Coco Crisp (on whose unimaginable base-stealing genius see R.J. Anderson's piece at http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=19196). Perhaps feeling amped and cocky, he proceeded to walk Jemile Weeks, who then stole second and, as shown here, advanced to third on the IBB WP.

(Other references: box score at http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/OAK/OAK201207080.shtml)

Jan 07, 2013 08:45 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

Notably, Weeks' stolen base came on a non-intentional ball in the dirt that would have been a wild pitch had Weeks not been running.

Jan 07, 2013 09:41 AM
 
BP staff member Ian Miller
BP staff

SF Giants involved in all three Best (Worst) Intentional Balls. This seems statistically significant.

Jan 07, 2013 10:04 AM
 
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

Also won World Series. Causation proven!

Jan 07, 2013 10:29 AM
 
yoshiki89

geez, I thought OPSBIs were dead, and then well there ya go

Jan 07, 2013 10:45 AM
rating: 0
 
matthewverygood

For whatever reason, Clayton Richard has trouble with non-pitching throwing. Intentional walks, pickoff throws, fielding grounders. It's a blessing when he fields a chopper and only needs to throw underhanded to Alonso for the out.

Jan 07, 2013 10:52 AM
rating: 1
 
jrfukudome

Did anyone swing at an intentional ball?

Jan 07, 2013 11:16 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

Not this year

Jan 07, 2013 11:40 AM
 
seeinred

A pitcher could intentionally walk someone with no runners on base with the "throw it a few inches" approach, but it would be on 4 balks. Probably not a great idea with runners on base, though.

Jan 07, 2013 11:54 AM
rating: -1
 
seeinred

Actually, although it's a balkable action, apparently it doesn't count as a ball with no one on. All it would get is an admonishment from the ump I guess.

Jan 07, 2013 11:56 AM
rating: 0
 
gweedoh565

...and four ump-frownies equals one ball, so...

Jan 07, 2013 12:10 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

What's the rule, if you know it? I didn't see a minimum-length requirement for a pitch but there's got to be something.

Jan 07, 2013 12:16 PM
 
seeinred

Rule 8.01(d) Comment: A ball which slips out of a pitcherÂ’s hand and crosses the foul line shall be called a ball; otherwise it will be called no pitch. This would be a balk with men on base.

It doesn't say anything about doing it intentionally, but I have to imagine it applies.

Jan 07, 2013 12:18 PM
rating: 0
 
seeinred

Aaaand I suck at replying again

Jan 07, 2013 12:19 PM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Jason Wojciechowski
BP staff

For someone like Furbush or Diekman or Richard, you wonder if the batter, on ball three, should swing to get the count to 3-1 and make the guy have to throw one more pitch, increasing the odds that he screws it up. (You probably should not get yourself to 3-2, though.)

Jan 07, 2013 20:58 PM
 
seeinred

I was thinking that same thing. It's probably a good way to save the pitcher 3 (or 4, in this scenario) pitches the next time he wants to put you on though I bet.

Jan 08, 2013 06:54 AM
rating: 0
 
Sacramento

You wouldn't need to balk. Just go to your mouth four times while standing on the rubber.

Jan 07, 2013 22:44 PM
rating: 2
 
seeinred

Oooh that's a good call. You'd probably rack up some fines, but at least you'd keep that pitch count down. I think for that one you just need to be on the mound, too, not even the rubber.

Jan 08, 2013 06:52 AM
rating: 0
 
jfranco77

Hypothetically, the pitcher could switch places with the first baseman and have the 1B throw 4 wide ones, if the pitcher really can't handle it.

Jan 08, 2013 13:14 PM
rating: 0
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Premium Article Rumor Roundup: Monday,... (01/07)
<< Previous Column
Pebble Hunting: The Sa... (01/04)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: When t... (01/10)
Next Article >>
Baseball Therapy: What... (01/07)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article What You Need to Know: June 2, 2015
Premium Article The Call-Up: Manny Banuelos
Fantasy Rounders: Split the Bit
Premium Article Painting the Black: #HugWatch2015: The Hugge...
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: They're No Angels
Premium Article Rubbing Mud: The Cole Hamels Decision
Premium Article The Call-Up: Miguel Sano

MORE FROM JANUARY 7, 2013
Premium Article Prospects Will Break Your Heart: Arizona Dia...
Baseball Therapy: What Really Happens When a...
Premium Article Rumor Roundup: Monday, January 7
The Week in Quotes: December 31-January 6
Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Genius: Fantasy Value Round...
Fantasy Article The Keeper Reaper: Starting Pitchers for 1/7...
Fantasy Article The Keeper Reaper: Second, Short, and Catche...

MORE BY SAM MILLER
2013-01-10 - BP Daily Podcast: Effectively Wild Episode 1...
2013-01-09 - BP Daily Podcast: Effectively Wild Episode 1...
2013-01-08 - BP Daily Podcast: Effectively Wild Episode 1...
2013-01-07 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: Adventures in Intentional Ba...
2013-01-07 - BP Daily Podcast: Effectively Wild Episode 1...
2013-01-04 - Pebble Hunting: The Saddest Age-27 Seasons o...
2013-01-04 - BP Daily Podcast: Effectively Wild Episode 1...
More...

MORE PEBBLE HUNTING
2013-01-16 - Pebble Hunting: The Month for Drawing Intere...
2013-01-14 - Pebble Hunting: The Probably Pointless Pitch...
2013-01-10 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: When the Teams That Don't Ha...
2013-01-07 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: Adventures in Intentional Ba...
2013-01-04 - Pebble Hunting: The Saddest Age-27 Seasons o...
2013-01-02 - Pebble Hunting: The Non-Pitching Value of Pi...
2012-12-28 - Pebble Hunting: How to Pitch
More...

INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2013-01-25 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Wildest Outings of 2012