This stems from a random Twitter train of thought, but let’s think about pitching for a moment.
A pitcher’s job is to get outs. The most effective way to ensure an out is to get a strikeout. The most efficient way to get an out is to get a guy to swing early in the count and hit it right at a defender who will hopefully record the out without throwing the ball away. I guess in the short term, nobody cares how those outs are earned as long as they happen. But there’s only so far that an unsustainably low BABIP can take you, right?
Let’s say I’m a major league pitcher (and I’m not, as you’ll find out fairly obviously). I throw nothing but meatballs and the batters are able to square up on them pretty easily. The thing is, I have insanely good luck and no batter is able to elevate the ball to take it out of the park, and any hard hit ball is either popped up or hit directly into a mitt. The few who can actually reach base can’t score because I have a magical strand rate as well. So I asked myself…how long would I be able to keep my job in the majors?
That’s a pretty interesting question even though my initial response to myself was that the team would think about getting rid of me ASAP. I mean, every pitch is getting squared up, and all those outs can’t hope to always be recorded even with the best spray charting and defensive positioning. In modern baseball, if a pitcher doesn’t have “stuff” to begin with (and I certainly don’t), he doesn’t even get drafted. But here’s the thing…just about everything I hang up in the zone results in an out! So now I have a by-the-book low ERA, a fairly low FIP (but probably an xFIP that’s way up there because if not for insane luck, I’d be giving up lots of homers) and an opponent that’s frustrated as hell.
At this point I’m wondering how many seasons of this unsustainable-yet-sustained good luck the front office and coaching staff will ride out before they give up because the medical bills from all the me-induced heart attacks are piling up. Never mind that I wouldn’t have had the chance to build up sample size in the first place; if I had two or three seasons where all my crappy pitches were being converted into outs despite myself, is that worth something? At what point does baseball ops just throw up their hands and say, “This defies logic, let’s see where it goes?” Do they just throw scouting and numbers out the window and ride out the lucky streak? Hmmm!
This is a struggle between the logical and scientific, and relying on faith and intangibles. Who knows why all those meatballs are turning into outs, as long as they are outs? But wait, how long is this going to last, because baseball has a tendency to even out? My initial guess was that this hypothetical pitcher (me, who won’t ever sniff MLB) would never be given a chance, but if you were a GM, even a smart one, how curious would you be as to why the pitcher was generating outs in a counter-intuitive manner?
The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that no competent GM would want to see this experiment through. However, I’m betting that all of them would be scratching their heads as to how a guy with such terrible stuff could get by for so long. I bet having a 95+ mph fastball would extend the experiment a bit. Alas, I don’t think I can get my pitches to 70 mph, so we’ll never know.