Another position player climbs the mound, but he doesn't linger long.
Steve Tolleson is not flashy. A utility infielder who’s spent (small) parts of three seasons in the majors, he’s just trying to make himself useful. “Player for the Toronto Blue Jays and proud father and husband. Blessed more than I deserve,” is his Twitter self-description.
The skinny on the pitch that's taking baseball by storm.
Would you be surprised if I told you that over a quarter of the curveballs delivered by major league pitchers in 2013 were thrown with a knuckle curve grip? I certainly was. This was one of the results of the first comprehensive study of knuckle curveballs in the major leagues, which I have conducted after months of data collection. It is limited to PITCHf/x data, but the large population sizes give us a good first look at what knuckle curveballs behave like relative to standard curves.
What is a knuckle curveball?
First, let me define clearly what this study entails. A curveball is a pitch that, when thrown from a conventional arm angle, will drop from its normal trajectory due to topspin. It is also typically thrown slower than other pitches, so it drops significantly from the effect of gravity, as well. The two most important fingers in the curveball grip are usually the middle finger and the thumb. The middle finger and thumb rest on or beside seams on opposite sides of the ball, as in this image. At release, the thumb and middle finger spin the ball forward, giving it the desired topspin. The index finger is not needed at all to throw the pitch, and a handful of pitchers even leave it off the ball entirely.
Mike Carp showed off a knuckleball during a rare opportunity to pitch for the Red Sox.
“Any time you end up with a position player on the mound, it’s not been a good night,” John Farrell said after last night’s debacle of a game for his Red Sox. From Farrell’s position, it’s hard to disagree. But for a Yankee fan like myself and someone with particular interest in position player pitchers, last night was hilarious. Mike Carp’s pitching appearance was not the first position player outing of the season, but it was certainly the most notable. Most important for our purposes, Carp threw a total of 37 pitches—enough for a tentative scouting report.
How the dominant Fernandez from Tuesday could become even better.
For those of you who never watched Sandy Koufax pitch, last night was an opportunity to see an equivalent performance (and if you subscribe to MLB.TV, you can watch it in perpetuity). Jose Fernandez was just that good, using a fastball-slurve one-two punch to strike out 14 over eight scoreless innings and induce a lot of weak contact against the Braves, a team that can slug a baseball pretty well.
Four authors used different methods to watch the same pitcher make the same start. These are their reviews of that pitcher's performance.
In the movie Rashomon, a samurai is murdered. Four witnesses give four accounts of the murder, and out of one scenario come four very different narratives and three different killers. Do more angles get you closer to truth, or further from it? It's not clear.
What follows is an experiment. Four of us took a starter that none of us knew anything about: Pedro Hernandez, a Twins lefty making his 12th career start, on Saturday against the A’s. Without doing any research on Hernandez, the four of us watched the start from four different angles:
In last week’s Lineup Card, I urged the Astros to re-sign Rick Ankiel and test him out again as a pitcher. As I explained, September allows teams to expand their active rosters to 40 men, so experimenting with Ankiel would be less likely to interfere with the “normal operations” of the club. He would also be playing for a team with no postseason hopes. Nothing would be lost for the Astros if he pitched poorly.
A review of the outfielder's work on the mound this season.
It’s good fun scouting position player pitchers, but a measure of actual congratulations is owed to Casper Wells, who played the role of sacrificial lamb for the Philadelphia Phillies in Saturday/Sunday’s 18-inning marathon against the Diamondbacks. In Wells’ first pitching appearance this year, on June 28, he was called in for the ninth inning of a laugher, a 19-10 loss at the hands of the Indians. Wells was a member of the White Sox way back then.
Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright—profiled in a BP piece here—pitched 5⅔ scoreless relief innings last Thursday night against the Mariners. The 28-year-old utilized a floater that sat almost exclusively between 74 and 76 mph and an occasional fastball in the mid-to-high 80s. Although people tend to think of knuckleballs being in the mid-60s, I think the lasting influence of Tim Wakefield distorts perceptions of the pitch. Wakefield’s soft knuckler was only about 8 mph slower than his fastball on average—not all that different from Wright (-9), R.A. Dickey (-6), Charlie Haeger (-10), and Eddie Bonine (-6), the other knuckleballers of the PITCHf/x era. Given Wright’s fastball speed, his knuckler is right on target.
The Rangers left fielder shows off his...knuckleball?
Rangers left fielder David Murphy is normally a solid offensive contributor, posting a career .277 TAv. This season, he’s been subpar at just .234. What’s a manager to do? Why not change his position? Ron Washington, short of arms in a 17–5 blowout at the hands of the Red Sox on Tuesday night, decided to audition Murphy as a relief pitcher.
Examining the performance of the players who aren't supposed to pitch.
At some point, you’ve probably thought to yourself that you could do a better job than the man on the mound for your team, especially if your team has ever employed Jonathan Sanchez. And every so often, amateurs do get the chance to outshine actual pitchers. These brave volunteers are known as “position players,” and they’re occasionally called in to provide a desperate manager with outs so that a blowout game may mercifully end. Surprisingly, these rescue arms are not off-the-charts terrible, with position players who’ve debuted since the 2000 season posting a combined 6.84 ERA (6.76 FIP) in 51 1/3 innings—and that drops to a 5.11 ERA (6.34 FIP) if you exclude Paul Janish’s two rough innings.
The Yankees were in dire straits on Wednesday night after the unpredictable Phil Hughes lasted only 2/3 of an inning, surrendering seven runs on six hits and two walks. This forced manager Joe Girardi to get 5 2/3 innings of long relief from Brett Marshallin his major-league debut. After Marshall’s pitch count reached 108 pitches with two outs in the ninth, Girardi asked Alberto Gonzalez, a journeyman infielder with no prior professional pitching experience, to get Robert Andino out. Somehow, he did. (Granted, Andino, who owns a .236 OBP, is among the easiest outs in baseball. But still.)