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July 18, 2013

Pebble Hunting

The Best Pitches Thrown This Week

by Sam Miller

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Welcome to another episode of GIFs and Words and Jokes and Nonsense. It's a special All-Star edition of GIFs and Words and Jokes and Nonsense, so enjoy the All-Star related GIFs, words, jokes, and nonsense.

3. Jose Fernandez's fastball

What you'll tell your grandkids: Back before the universal tracking devices were installed, people were able to lie about their identities, lie about their ages. This was a problem in baseball, because young players were considered more valuable than older players. Age was power, and age was liability. Rumors would circulate about players for no other reason than that they were from a foreign country and they were really, really good. What we never expected, though, was that when Jose Fernandez came up to the majors throwing easy 97 mph fastballs and dismantling one of the best hitters in the game, he wasn't actually 20 years old, as he said. He was 11.

It all started when he was five years old and he really wanted to see Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, which was rated PG-13. He was precocious and looked older than he was and could already throw 80 mph, so he simply declared that he was 14, bought a ticket, and it stuck. He kept meaning to correct the record, but the problem was that they kept making PG-13 movies. Yes Man, G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra, Grown Ups, Just Go With It, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. He found himself getting addicted to the adult situations, moderate action violence, and one use of the F-word per film. By the time he did turn 13, in 2015, he had grown to like driving himself around. When he turned 16, in 2018, he didn't want to give up his lowered insurance rates. Finally, when he was 28, and hitting free agency as a supposed 37-year-old, he revealed the truth so he could get the bigger contract he deserved. This is a long story that goes nowhere, but it's all totally true.

2. Matt Harvey's changeup

What you'll tell your grandkids: Well, before I tell you about Matt Harvey, you have to understand how different the human brain was at the time. We were just coming to grips with a world that was so stimulative and complex that we were constantly overwhelmed by details and data that we weren't equipped to process. There was a famous experiment at the time about our attention spans. You may know about it, but if you don't, watch this video and you'll see:

Did you see the gorilla? Probably you did, because your generation receives cognitive enhancement treatment. You are capable of running several dozen queries simultaneously while retaining and indexing massive storages of data. We weren't like that, see? We were cavemen. We could look at a flower, or we could smell it, but we weren't very good at doing both at the same time.

Matt Harvey's changeup was like the gorilla in the room. We were obsessed with his fastball; for about five years, Matt Harvey's Fastball was the most popular name for American dogs. We swooned for his slider and fell for his curveball, and partisan bickering over the two breaking balls eventually reached the floors of foreign legislatures. But who even knew he threw a changeup? It wasn't discovered until long after he retired, by a researcher doing work on, of all things, mercantile trends in 16th century Venice. The discovery shocked us all. He had an amazing changeup? This whole time?

That's when we made it our national goal to make sure your generation was better. It's why we decided that your minds couldn't go to waste, the way ours had. It's why your brains have been removed, attached to cerebral stimulative networks and mined for synaptoelectric activity, and why your bodies lay in stasis in university warehouses around the country.

1. Chris Sale’s slider

What you’ll tell your grandkids: Well, back in our day there weren’t eight guys on the field; there were nine. The ninth was called a pitcher. It was his job to throw the ball toward the hitter, and the key thing was that it had to be hittable but not too hittable. Pitchers would try all sorts of tricks to keep this balance, putting movement on the ball and throwing it harder and harder, and placing it right on the outer edge of hittability. Well then this guy Chris Sale came along, and he was a pitcher. He was 6’ 7”, weighed about 100 pounds, and moved like his limbs had been replaced by two nunchucks, a broken hockey stick, and a mannequin's leg, all held together by a detached bicycle chain. He threw a pitch called a slider.

Or, to put that another way,

Batters started complaining. “That’s not a hittable pitch,” they said, while swinging at a pitch Sale had thrown into the on-deck circle. “How the heck are we supposedta,” they would argue, while swinging at a pitch Sale had thrown into the third-base dugout. “Cheating!” they declared, while swinging at a ball Sale had merely pretended to throw. Eventually, Sale quit throwing at all. He just stood there on the mound, holding the ball, while batters swung. That’s when baseball realized that it had to do something, and replaced the pitcher with a hologram machine that could throw perfectly hittable pitches every time. Chris Sale was burned, but he still haunts kids today in this neck of the woods. Matter of fact, if you listen real hard ...

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:  All-Star Game

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