The Hangover: Meatballs Napoli

I don’t know about you, but I’m always amazed how often hitters miss good, hittable pitches, either fouling them off or swinging right through them. Of course, there are good reasons why this happens. Hitting is hard, for one. The hitter is always having to guess and/or react to a spinning baseball arriving in an unreasonable amount of time, and the pitcher is always in the driver’s seat, calling the shots.

Say, for example, it’s a 2–2 count and, in the back of his mind, the hitter is thinking slider. Instead he gets a fastball, at 93, right down the middle, but he fouls it back to the screen, just late. It looks like something to crush, but given the context of the situation, the pitcher’s tendencies and the hitter’s expectations, it turns out to be a tough pitch to handle. Consider, further, the first pitch hanging curve ball. It looks squarely like a meatball the whole way, but the hitter’s likely sitting fastball, and the speed and trajectory of the pitch throw him off enough to result in an awkward cut and whiff, or no swing at all.

There are other pitches, though, pitches that are too fat; pitches that define the very nature of the meatball. In a 3–1 count to Mike Napoli, tied 2–2 in the ninth, Brandon Maurer delivered one of those pitches last night:

Napoli did not miss it. He could have, of course. Hitters often fall victim to even the meatiest of meatballs, thanks to the whole round bat, round ball thing, and all the timing involved in the whole process. But I’m not sure if there’s a universe where Napoli misses this pitch.

Consider the situation: As mentioned, it’s a 3–1 count, so Napoli is thinking fastball. There are runners on first and second, with just one out, so Maurer definitely doesn’t want to walk him to load the bases. In fact, in his career, Maurer has thrown a non-fastball just 13 percent of the time in a 3–1 count, according to Brooks Baseball. Napoli is probably looking for a fastball up, something he can drive in the air to the pull side.

Due to a late set-up, it’s not entirely clear where Austin Hedges wanted this pitch, but lower would be a safe assumption. Compare Hedges’ glove at delivery to the pitch’s ultimate location, prior to liftoff:

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As soon as it leaves Maurer’s hand, the pitch seems destined on a one-way trip into Napoli’s eventual bat path. The result is a violent collision, with the bat vibrating and the ball momentarily losing its shape; a small cloud of dust is all that’s left, the baseball soaring in orbit.

There’s no telling why Maurer threw this pitch. It’s likely less that he intended to put it there and more that something—be it a mechanical miscue or simply a miss—led to the ball ending up in an undesirable location.

By the magic of Statcast, it looked like this

maurerpitch

and it traveled at 95.4 miles per hour, with a -5.44 inch horizontal break, an 11.27 inch vertical break, and a 100 on the Meatball Rating System.

Not today, Keith. Not today.

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