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April 4, 2013
Out of Left Field
The Way of the Gun
It sure is nice to have actual baseball to talk about again. Tuesday, the Rays were facing the Orioles and, up 3-2 in the top of the seventh, Joe Maddon brought Jake McGee in to relieve David Price. There are some things worth noting about Jake McGee.
Thing One: Dude Throws Fast
I was hoping to find that the speeds were all different, that the Rays were adding 2 or even 3 extra miles to pump up McGee’s pitches and make him look better than he was while the Orioles were keeping the readings lower than normal because, well, I don’t know why. Maybe they’re angry, vengeful people. I was hoping to find a speed conspiracy, to uncover a PR plot of massive proportions. Instead, I found the pitch speeds are basically all the same. They all seem to use the same PITCHf/x measurements. Sadly, there wasn’t any radar gun conspiracy. Jake McGee really does throw very hard.
Unless it’s a wider conspiracy than I ever imagined…
Thing Two: That’s Weird
I asked R.J. Anderson about this (he follows the Rays) and he speculated that McGee is trying to add a cutter to his arsenal. The last pitch, 91 mph that Chris Davis crushed over the right field wall, could have been an attempted cutter.
Thing Three: Location Over Selection
I’ve always heard it said that pitchers need at least two pitches. Without casting some doubt into what is coming, changing speeds, changing angles, making the ball move even a little bit, getting hit around is inevitable, no matter how hard you throw. Major-league hitters are just too good otherwise. That’s what I’ve heard, but the truth is probably more complex than that. While most pitchers have multiple pitches, fastball command can be the key to successful pitching. In that sense, if a pitcher’s command is fine enough, he can get by with just a fastball.
So McGee is a fastball pitcher with a fast fastball that goes fast and last season nine out of every 10 of his pitches were fast fastballs that went fast. You might think that that would be a recipe for disaster but, well, actually for one night it was. But the disaster part wasn’t due to pitch selection. Here is the location chart from Brooks Baseball for McGee’s pitches.
Note the location of the light blue dots (they indicate hits). They’re all right over the center of the plate.
Jim Palmer said to me once--and it's not just him, it's the truth--that any pitch in a good location is a good pitch. If you watch SportsCenter, you'll see that almost all of the pitches that get hit out are in the middle of the plate. Every once in a while you'll see someone like a Vlad Guerrero hit one out of the dirt that goes four miles, but that's pretty rare. The balls that get hit hard are mistakes in location, not necessarily pitch selection. So I'm not really big on second-guessing pitch-selection, because if the ball is down, if it's where it should be, it's usually an out anyway.
McGee threw one pitch really hard on Tuesday, and that was effective more or less until he left it over the plate. That’s when this guy
It doesn’t matter how hard you throw in a general sense or what the gun says. If you throw it there, that’s the ballgame. And it was.