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Most uncomfortable pitchers to face in baseball


Last night, I tweeted something early on during Game 1 of the World Series between the Red Sox and Dodgers:

Obviously, the Dodgers didn’t have too much trouble against him since they knocked him out before he could record an out in the fifth inning, but still, I can’t imagine too many pitchers that are more uncomfortable to face than Sale. I decided to consider each team’s most uncomfortable pitcher to face and here we are.

Boston Red Sox: Chris Sale

As mentioned.

New York Yankees: Aroldis Chapman

Chapman’s windup isn’t as deceiving as Sale’s, but he averages 99 MPH with his fastball (sometimes reaching 104 MPH) and backs it up with a devastating 87 MPH slider.

Tampa Bay Rays: Blake Snell

Snell’s delivery is slow and deliberate which makes his average 96 MPH fastball sneak up on you, seeming that much faster. No surprise he’s in the running for the AL Cy Young Award.

Toronto Blue Jays: Joe Biagini

As he prepares to pitch, he stands with his glove extended out and he waits a while. His average pace of 30.3 seconds between pitches tied for the fourth-slowest among 151 qualified relievers. Then he’ll pump in a mid-90’s fastball

Baltimore Orioles: Mychal Givens

Slim pickings with the Orioles, unsurprisingly. As he delivers, Givens rocks back just a bit, hiding the ball before he fires from a three-quarters arm angle. He throws mostly mid-90’s fastballs but mixes in a change and a slider every now and then.

Cleveland Indians: Andrew Miller

Miller is an uncomfortable at-bat hitters for the same reasons as Sale: he’s tall, gangly, and throws hard. When he’s healthy and locating, Miller is among the absolute toughest pitchers to square up.

Minnesota Twins: José Berríos

BerrĂ­os isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, but it’s not common. He brings his glove over his head, pauses briefly, brings his knee up to his glove, hides the ball before whipping it from behind his hat towards the plate. And that’s before considering his stuff, which is electric.

Detroit Tigers: Matthew Boyd

Boyd’s stats didn’t show it this past season, but I can’t imagine he’s any fun to face as a hitter. His delivery screams “1980’s-era lefty slop-thrower,” and by 2018 standards, he does throw slop. Boyd drags his arm well past his back then slings it from over the top. He does have a straight fastball but he relies more on his slider, curve, and change-up, so very little of what he throws doesn’t move or deceive in some way.

Chicago White Sox: Carson Fulmer

Fulmer has yet to get a grip on his command issues, issuing walks to 44 of 318 (14%) batters he’s faced in the majors. He has hit an additional nine of them. Fulmer doesn’t know where the ball’s going half the time, which hitters don’t like one bit.

Kansas City Royals: Tim Hill

No explanation needed. Just look at this.

Houston Astros: Joe Smith

Since they’re so much less common, I think side-armers are definitionally more uncomfortable for hitters to face than someone who throws over the top or from three-quarters. As he delivers, Smith hunches to hide the ball as he brings it behind his ear, then flings it from the side.

Oakland Athletics: Daniel Mengden

Mengden’s wind-up is a whole production. He stands facing home plate with his feet spread apart, brings his glove over his head, then turns and fires. There are plenty of pitchers better equipped to miss bats, so Mengden has to find other ways to gain an advantage. He has chosen this.

Seattle Mariners: Edwin Díaz

DĂ­az throws in the high 90’s with one of the game’s filthiest sliders. I have no idea how anyone’s supposed to hit that arsenal.

Los Angeles Angels: Andrew Heaney

Heaney’s wind-up is slow and deliberate, and he hides the ball practically the entire time. No surprise that lefties in particular have had trouble hitting him as he has a .578/.801 OPS platoon split.

Texas Rangers: Jake Diekman

I worried that this list might be populated too heavily with lefties and it kind of is. Diekman is cut from a similar cloth as Miller and Sale: tall, gangly, left-handed. Absolutely zero fun to face. Interestingly, over his career, he has hardly a platoon split at all.

Atlanta Braves: Julio Teheran

Teheran has a herky-jerky delivery, even with runners on base. He starts off normally, bringing his knee up but as he drives forward, he kicks his leg out, providing him both power and deception.

Washington Nationals: Max Scherzer

Among the more obvious picks here. Beyond his delivery and his stuff, Scherzer is arguably the most competitive person in baseball. He has been seen on the mound loudly cursing at the opposing hitter while he gets into his wind-up. Imagine being in the batter’s box against a psychopath who throws in the high-90’s.

Philadelphia Phillies: Aaron Nola

To start off, Nola is among the most deliberate starters in the game, taking on average 26.6 seconds in between pitches. Only Justin Verlander and David Price were slower among qualified starters. Nola’s stuff will come at you from all directions, featuring a sinker that tails towards the right-handed batter’s box and a 12-6 curve.

New York Mets: Noah Syndergaard

Jacob deGrom is the better pitcher, but Syndergaard is the less comfortable of the two to face. Syndergaard makes hitting the upper-90’s look easy with a short, compact delivery. If his off-speed stuff weren’t as devastating as it is, he would still be an elite reliever.

Miami Marlins: Tayron Guerrero

Guerrero is strictly fastball-slider and it works. He averaged 99 MPH this past season, hitting 104 once and 103 MPH at least three times, according to Statcast. He also doesn’t exactly have great control, so hitters might be a little scared that 103-104 could be coming at their ribs.

Milwaukee Brewers: Josh Hader

Another obvious one that doesn’t need much of an explanation, especially if you watched the Brewers in the postseason. He’s just considerably filthy.

Chicago Cubs: Steve Cishek

The Cubs have a surprising amount of candidates for this, but you gotta go with the side-armer when it comes to uncomfortable at-bats. He is what some might call a “frisbee thrower.”

St. Louis Cardinals: Jordan Hicks

Hicks threw the three hardest pitches this season, according to Statcast, at 105.1, 105.0 and 104.4 MPH. As if he wasn’t already unfair enough, Hicks also throws a wipeout slider at a cool 88 MPH, a vast 13 MPH difference compared to his fastball.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Jameson Taillon

The Pirates have some threatening pitchers, but none that I’d consider “uncomfortable” to face, so I went with Taillon. Just a tall right-hander with tons of deception.

Cincinnati Reds: Raisel Iglesias

Iglesias seems to make his mid-90’s fastballs rise since he gets so low in his delivery. Makes his change-up and slider that much better.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw

Quite a few honorable mentions here: Kenley Jansen, Pedro Báez, Alex Wood. But it’s Kershaw, king of the herky-jerky delivery with lots of bendy pitches. #Analysis

Colorado Rockies: Adam Ottavino

Ottavino will be a free agent next week, but we’ll consider him with the Rockies for now. He stands on the first base side of the rubber, but rather than step straight forward, his momentum takes him towards the third base side. It has worked well throughout his career and will make him a valued arm on the free agent market.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Zack Godley

Godley is incredibly deliberate, taking 25.6 seconds in between pitches. He’s also one of the rare short-armers, rocking back before powering forward like a bow-and-arrow.

San Francisco Giants: Madison Bumgarner

A lot of this has focused on pitchers’ deliveries, their velocities, and how much their stuff moves. Bumgarner creates an uncomfortable at-bat just because of his temper. You never know what will set him off and you know he’s not afraid to throw one up and in.

San Diego Padres: Joey Lucchesi

Lucchesi may have my favorite wind-up among pitchers in baseball. There’s so much going on.

I probably missed a few so feel free to let me know which pitchers they are in the comments.

Whitewash: Rob Manfred says he doesn’t think sign stealing extends beyond the Astros

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Rob Manfred said today that he believes the sign-stealing scandal which has taken over the news in the past week does not extend beyond the Houston Astros. His exact words, via Jeff Passan of ESPN:

“Right now, we are focused on the information that we have with respect to the Astros. I’m not going to speculate on whether other people are going to be involved. We’ll deal with that if it happens, but I’m not going to speculate about that. I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time.”

This is simply incredible. As in literally not credible.

It’s not credible because, just last week, in the original story in The Athletic, it was reported that the Astros system was set up by two players, one of whom was “a hitter who was struggling at the plate and had benefited from sign stealing with a previous team, according to club sources . . . they were said to strongly believe that some opposing teams were already up to no good. They wanted to devise their own system in Houston. And they did.”

The very next day Passan reported that Major League Baseball would not limit its focus to the Astros. Rather, the league’s probe was also include members of the 2019 Astros and would extend to other teams as well. Passan specifically mentioned the 2018 Red Sox which, of course, were managed by Alex Cora one year after he left Houston, where he was A.J. Hinch’s bench coach.

Add into this the Red Sox’ pre-Cora sign-stealing with Apple Watches and widespread, informed speculation on the part of players and people around the game that many teams do this sort of thing, and one can’t reasonably suggest that only the Houston Astros are doing this.

Which, as I noted at the time, made perfect sense. These schemes cannot, logically, operate in isolation because players and coaches change teams constantly. In light of this, players have to know that their sign-stealing would be found out by other teams eventually. They continue to do it, however, because they know other teams do it too. As is the case with pitchers using pine tar or what have you, they don’t rat out the other team so they, themselves, will not be ratted out. It’s a mutually-assured destruction that only exists and only works if, in fact, other teams are also stealing signs.

So why is Major League Baseball content to only hang the Astros here? I can think of two reasons.

One is practical. They had the Astros fall in their lap via former Astro Mike Fiers — obviously not himself concerned with his current team being busted for whatever reason — going on the record with his accusation. That’s not likely to repeat itself across baseball and thus it’d be quite difficult for Major League Baseball to easily conduct a wide investigation. Who is going to talk? How can baseball make them talk? It’d be a pretty big undertaking.

But there’s also the optics. Major League Baseball has had a week to think about the report of the Astros sign-stealing and, I suspect, they’ve realized, like everyone else has realized, that this is a major scandal in the making. Do they really want to spend the entire offseason — and longer, I suspect, if they want a thorough investigation — digging up unflattering news about cheating in the sport? Do they really want to be in the bad news creation business? I doubt they do, so they decided to fence off the Astros, hit them hard with penalties, declare victory and move on.

Which is to say, it’s a whitewash.

It’s something the league has tried to do before. They did it with steroids and it didn’t work particularly well.

In 1998 Mark McGwire, that game’s biggest star at the time, was found to have the PED androstenedione in his locker. It was a big freakin’ deal. Except . . . nothing happened. Major League Baseball planned to “study” the drug but most of the fallout was visited upon the reporter who made it public. It was accompanied by some shameful conduct by both Major League Baseball and the baseball press corps who eagerly went after the messenger rather than cover the story properly.

Four years later Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco went public with their PED use and said drug use was widespread. MLB’s response was slow and, again, sought to isolated the known offenders, singling out Caminiti as a troubled figure — which he was — and Canseco as a kook — which he kind of is — but doing them and the story a disservice all the same.

The league eventually created a rather toothless testing and penalty regime. Congress and outside investigative reporters filled the void created by the league’s inaction, calling hearings and publishing damning stories about how wide PED use was in the game. Eventually Bud Selig commissioned the Mitchell Report. Some ten years after the McGwire incident baseball had at least the beginnings of a sane approach to PEDs and a more effective testing plan, but it was pulled to it kicking and screaming, mostly because doing anything about it was too hard and not very appetizing from a business and P.R. perspective.

And so here we are again. Baseball has a major scandal on its hands. After some initially promising words about how serious it planned to take it, the league seems content to cordon off the known crime scene and refuses to canvass the neighborhood. Sure, if someone gratuitously hands them evidence they’ll look into it, but it sure sounds like Rob Manfred plans to react rather than act here.

That should work. At least until the next time evidence of cheating comes up and they have to start this all over again.