August 1, 2017
When Life Throws You Lemons, Stick Your Elbow Out
The Art of Getting Hit
By: Emma Baccellieri
People sometimes try to pass it off as a fun fact. A little statistical quirk, inconsequential filler for the long pauses of a broadcast, a silly trivia question for some guys at a bar. This bothers him. It is none of these things. It’s a skill. He realized years ago that his childhood fantasies would never be realized—that he would never be the best, the fastest, the strongest by any of the conventional measures. So he’d found a measure by which he could be the best, and he’d studied and practiced and committed himself to it, and then he did it. He knew he couldn’t be the hit king, so he became the king of getting hit. It was his life’s work. After years of effort and bruises that bloomed slow and painful and grotesque across his body, Brandon Guyer was the best in baseball at getting hit by a pitch.
Most people think that getting hit itself is the hard part—the physical pain of being drilled by a 95 mph fastball. This is wrong. The pain is easy; the pain is simply the price you pay to feel your work made real. No, what’s hard is making it look natural. Anyone can crowd the plate, make themselves an easy target, brazenly display their desire. (Hello, Anthony Rizzo.) It takes an expert to do it more subtly, to make it feel inevitable without making it seem forced, to orchestrate it so precisely that it looks almost organic. This is where it crosses from something simply physical into something mental, artistic, aesthetic. This is where he feels his status as king really means something.
The first year he dedicated himself to the craft, he came up just short. Only two players in baseball were hit by a pitch more than 20 times that season, and he was one of them. But he was the second one of them, with 24 to Rizzo’s 30, and that just wasn’t good enough. Sure, it’s harder to do when you only get half as many plate appearances, but the fun is in the challenge, right? He recommitted himself next year. It works. In 2016, he is hit 31 times. No one else gets more than 25. He is the one true champion.
Now, though, it feels a little different. Now it is 2017, and getting hit by a baseball feels less like an artistic triumph of the spirit and more like getting hit by a baseball. He sprains his wrist and sits out for a while. The All-Star Break comes, and he has only been hit four times. He is thirty-one years, six months, and three days old. He wonders what it’s all for.
Then he knows. The pitch runs inside. He can feel the pain already, the echoes of all the other pain, the nights left stranded on first with bruises and nothing else. He feels it all at once.
He leans in.
Thirteen Ways of Looking at the 2017 Giants
By: Kate Preusser
A sandwich, but with disaster inside.
Your child’s favorite toy is missing. Suddenly, horribly, you are struck by a perfectly clear mental image of it tucked beneath the covers of the motel you checked out of hours ago.
An inept drawing of a swan, as inaccurate as it is charmless.
It is twilight. You are trapped at a work picnic, being eaten alive by mosquitos, and wish very much to leave, but no one else has left, and your boss is watching. The mosquitos do not touch her.
A well-heeled couple sits down at a fancy restaurant. The waiter lifts the silver lids to reveal two bowls of store-brand pet food.
There is a smell in your car like something died, and you search fruitlessly for its origin. No one else can smell it, and look at you suspiciously whenever you bring it up.
A highway stretches through a desert landscape, each successive sign announcing, NO SERVICES.
Awakening in the middle of the night, you are convinced, even though you cannot see them, that you are covered by spiders, spiders everywhere. The spiders do not want to eat you. They want to talk about their investment portfolio.
Next to a dumpster is a single, expensive leather loafer. A rat approaches it, whiskers twitching.
A grease-stained paper bag that gives way halfway through the walk home, scattering fries along the sidewalk like yellow petals.
Animal crackers, but made of crushed hopes and dreams. Similarly tasteless, however.
A season-long version of the Milgram Experiment, where each progressive month corresponds to a higher frequency shock. Except the shocks are for real, and the experimenters are wearing baseball pants instead of lab coats.
One of those gag gifts where you open a box to discover another, smaller box, and then another, and another, and another. You continue unwrapping boxes. There is no end to the boxes. You look up to discover that you yourself are in a box.
Craig Gentry, Correct Person
By: Patrick Dubuque
Like many people, I suspect, I first reacted to Voros McCracken’s DIPS theory--the idea that once a ball left the pitcher’s hand, he no longer had any control over the subsequent action other than defending their own position--with a reserve bordering on hostility. Not only did it expose the lie behind so many of the baseball-card-back numbers I’d been taught to worship, but it exposed the arbitrary nature of the game. I was raised on the idea of Edgar Martinez, that a great hitter could locate his balls in play with the same precision that a pitcher located his pitches, that baseball was a war of will on the microscopic level. The idea that the liners snared and the liners into the corners were nothing more than a die roll was unbelievable, especially for a boy with no concept of a future for the averages to even out.
But those same averages, I have learned in my old age, allow us Craig Gentry.
This will almost certainly be the final Craig Gentry highlight you will ever watch. If you’re like me, you had no idea that Gentry was even in the major leagues, three years and three teams removed from his last span of productive baseball, or even hitting above the Mendoza Line. Tomorrow, perhaps even an hour from now, it’ll be true again.
But even though our advanced metrics and predictive systems have scrubbed most of the Craig Gentrys out of our hearts, the one-month wonders who once earned headlines and quickly-vanishing adoration, we still have the moments, the walk-offs, the critical hits. So Craig Gentry, who doubled his 2017 wRC+ with one tepid swing of the bat, was assigned by heaven one last bucket of Gatorade, one last sparkle of extremely localized heroism, winning a meaningless ballgame in front of a crowd of people who didn’t even know his name.
And yet it could only be his. A younger man, with quicker wrists, might have yanked it over to the shortstop. A stronger man, hitting a more predictively valuable line drive, might have given Lorenzo Cain a play at the plate.
When I was young, the idea that baseball rewarded mediocrity was unsettling. Now, as I grow older, it comforts me immensely.
Emma Baccellieri is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @EmmaBaccellieri