Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"He Did What He Had To Do"

Last night on the YES broadcast, after CC Sabathia threw behind Kurt Suzuki in the bottom of the first inning and both benches were warned, John Flaherty repeatedly praised the action by saying "pitchers need to protect their hitters" claiming it that it "clearly sent a message that you aren't going to abuse our starting third baseman" in addition to the quote in the title.

But did Sabathia really "have to do" anything?

Giving another team an automatic baserunner wouldn't seem to be good strategy ever, but last night's move was doubly unsuccessful since the pitch missed Suzuki and he deposited the very next one in the left field seats for a solo home run.

Looking back at the pitch that Vin Mazzaro hit A-Rod with, which prompted CC's warning shot, it didn't have the looks of an intentional beaning. Pitch f/x on Gameday on identified the pitch as a 4 seam fastball, but it had the same speed and trajectory of the first pitch of the at bat which they identified as a two-seamer. Matt used a two-seamer as evidence of Rick Porcello not intending to hit Youk last week and and the same would stand to reason here. The ball broke pretty severely inside, like it got away from Mazzaro, not as if he was trying to hit A-Rod. Why would he have wanted to, anyway?

So why did the Yankees feel the need to respond? Yes, it was the same spot A-Rod got plunked last week against the Blue Jays, and if he was out for a significant amount of time, it would hurt the Yankees tremendously. But the pitch already happened. Did it stop the A's from hitting him again? I very seriously doubt that.

Just yesterday Bill James and Joe Posnanski took a look at hit batsmen over at (h/t BBTF). Pos noted a historical rise in the frequency of batters being hit, with the number of games which included a HBP climbing 10% from the 80's to the 90's and another 9% into the 00's, now at 36%. James hypothesizes that the advent of the metal bat in amateur baseball allowed taught young hitters to crowd the plate resulting in the recent rise.

Posnanski surmises that historically, the code of throwing at batters was much clearer and now determining intent is far more difficult:
And, all of this just makes it trickier than ever for everyone. Umpires and players and managers suddenly have to guess: "What was that pitcher THINKING?" [...] Suddenly you have to be Dr. Phil. And it's become silly.
All this guesswork leads to blind leading the blind, and hitters getting plunked in retaliation for something that wasn't intentional in the first place.

When Joe Torre was the manager, fans complained that pitchers like Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte would never throw at opposing batters. In general, didn't seem to be Torre's style. He was by nature, a calming presence and by and large had pitchers on his team who didn't seem to be very interested in pegging anyone. I'm guessing he's had a negative HBP differential over his managerial career, but he's not included on this list. Contrast that with Joe Girardi, who in much younger and uptight with two guys in A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia who Torre didn't have, who don't fear sending a message to the opposition from time to time.

Last night, as home plate umpire Jerry Lane was warning the benches, the cameras quickly panned to A-Rod, who had an almost childish-looking grin on his face. He was apparently quite pleased, or at least amused that his pitcher had his back. Maybe it's just another example of A-Rod having no self awareness (who wouldn't want to sit at a poker table with the guy?), or perhaps there is something about standing up for a teammate that really brings a ballclub together.


  1. CC throwing at Suzuki was absolutely the right move. Alex's next 3 at bats he didn't get a single pitch thrown inside at him, because if Mazarro did and had hit him, he would have gotten tossed from the game.

  2. I also thought what CC did was fine. I have no problem with the pitchers doing something like that with 2 outs and no one on base in a pretty meaningless game.

    AROD, on the other hand, is a weirdo.

  3. I want to beat that "childish-looking grin" off A-Fraud's face.