Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Analysis of a pitch that almost (but not quite) cost the Rockies a wild card win

By Steve Kallas (posted by Rick Morris)

This is an article about one pitch in the Rockies thrilling 2-1 win over the Cubs in the NL wild card game on Tuesday, October 2, 2018.

The pitch was thrown by Rockies reliever Adam Ottavino on an 0-2 count to Javier Baez of the Cubs with two out in the bottom of the eighth, Colorado up 1-0.  With a speedy pinch-runner (Terrance Gore) on second, pretty much any base hit to the outfield would tie up the game.


Well, the right-handed pitching Ottavino, whose only working pitch this night was his slider, had just gotten the right-handed hitting Baez to chase a slider well out of the strike zone (a good three to four inches outside) to make the count 0-2.  Ottavino then decided to come back with another slider, which, unfortunately for him, was in the strike zone, albeit down and away from Baez.  Baez promptly doubled to left-center, tying the game at 1.


Once upon a time, in a game of baseball far, far away, virtually no pitcher would throw a strike on an 0-2 pitch to virtually any kind of hitter (with the exception of horrifically hitting pitchers at the plate).  Giving up a hit on an 0-2 count was unheard of.  Indeed, there were rumors that some managers (I’m going back 50 years or more) would fine pitchers if they gave up an 0-2 hit (this was before the millionaires club of baseball players when a fine actually meant something).

But that was then; this is now.  Today, at least for starting pitchers, the pitch count has become paramount.  Pitchers are often told (or take it upon themselves) to go after hitters 0-2 in the strike zone because the world changes once you hit 100 pitches or face a line-up (heaven forbid!) for the third time around.  So, the “waste” pitch (if there ever was such a thing) at 0-2 isn’t the hard and fast rule that it once was, again, in a bygone era.

Indeed, this starts as early as Little League.  While it’s incredibly commendable that Little League (eventually) has come up with a pitch count (with, finally, intelligent days of rest) of 85 pitches for 11, 12 and 13-year-olds, one of the unintended consequences of that is, in many instances, you simply don’t throw an 0-2 pitch out of the strike zone because that makes you reach your limit earlier.

However, the “non-strike 0-2 pitch rule” (unwritten, of course) should rarely be a problem for a reliever, even in today’s game.


So, it was pretty obvious that, despite throwing a pretty good slider, down and away to Baez, this was a huge mistake.  So it was immediately pointed out as such in the ESPN booth, right?

Well, not exactly.  Should we expect Matt Vasgersian and/or Jessica Mendoza to have immediately picked up on this?  Not necessarily.  What about Buster Olney?  Not necessarily.  How about the guy who everyone (including this writer) agrees has an incredible baseball IQ, Alex Rodriguez?  One would hope so.

But absolutely nothing.  On replay, A-Rod said that Ottavino threw “one slider too many.”  But that’s not true, especially since the slider was the only pitch that Ottavino seemed to have command of this night.  What he did was throw a slider in the strike zone, a big mistake to the free-swinging Baez.

Obviously, Ottavino should have thrown virtually the same pitch he had thrown to Baez on the 0-1 count – a slider down and away off the plate by a couple of inches to see if Baez would chase again. Or, if you want to go next level, a fastball up and in (but out of the strike zone) to set up your down and away slider on the pitch after that.

Just one of many reasons why baseball is a game of inches.


Well, this was the perfect reason why you might want to have an ex-MLB pitcher in the booth.  The great Jim Kaat comes to mind; even the excellent Ron Darling or the excellent David Cone, all of who would have put themselves on the mound for that pitch. 

Indeed, even an ex-MLB catcher (like ESPN’s David Ross, who was in the crowd at Wrigley), would have jumped on this right away.  While catchers do wear the “tools of ignorance,” they are usually the most intelligent baseball guys on the field. 

That’s why catchers are often major league managers.


So, would anybody ever mention this game-tying pitching mistake?


After the Baez double, the Rockies made a pitching change (commercial break), got the third out of the inning (another commercial break), and then the Rockies sent four guys to the plate in the top of the ninth.

Cubs reliever Pedro Strop got an 0-2 count on that fourth Rockies batter in the top of the ninth, Ian Desmond, and then threw a breaking ball in the dirt.  It was then, and only then (a little over 17 MINUTES after the Baez double, an eternity when covering a baseball game) that Jessica Mendoza correctly said, among other things, “That was the mistake of Ottavino to Baez” (not throwing a ball out of the strike zone).

Ya think?  Hey, better late than never.  But, of course, better never late.  But she gets credit for bringing it up, albeit it way after the fact.  Maybe somebody in the truck saw the fairly obvious and alerted the booth.

A-Rod then jumped in, saying, “With a 1-2 count, you still have two choices [chances?] to go back out there with a couple of sliders.”

Well, yes and no.  When you’re 1-2 on a hitter, how many chances you have depends on your command.  If you’re a pinpoint command guy, you absolutely have two chances.  But if you’re a guy who has trouble finding the strike zone and/or you haven’t pitched in awhile, you have, at most, one chance.

Strop hadn’t pitched due to injury since September 13, 19 days earlier.  Thus, he falls into the latter category.  So he threw a 1-2 strike, an off-speed pitch in a terrible location – middle-middle.  But he totally fooled Desmond for a called strike three.


They did, 2-1 in 13 innings, but here’s why it matters.  While we’ll never know what would have happened, the Rockies, in the 8th inning, were four outs away from a regulation victory, with a huge 0-2 advantage on Baez, who often chases pitches (see the 0-1 pitch, well out of the strike zone).  As a result of his double, the Rockies had to use their bullpen for four extra innings.

This could really hurt them early in their next series.  They had to play on Monday and they had already used their star starter, Kyle Freeland, on short rest for 6.2 incredible scoreless innings on Tuesday. Sometimes, when you use a guy on short rest, it could hurt him in his next start.  We’ll just have to wait and see on that.

But, by having to use the bullpen for four extra innings, the Rockies are now in a deeper hole than they already were in as a result of playing Monday and Tuesday, even though they do have a day off on Wednesday.

We’ll see what happens.


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