After the Cardinals lost to the Marlins on Monday (9/20/2010), I knew that I wouldn’t have to search long or far to discover one of my biggest pet peeves in baseball analysis.  Florida scored all of their runs in this 4-0 loss on one swing of Brad Davis’ bat.  Anytime this happens in baseball, it inevitably begets these types of post-game comments:

From FoxSports:

Carpenter gave up five hits and struck out six in six innings, but made one giant mistake to Davis.

And it isn’t always the writers; La Russa in the P-D:

“One rally. One ball that got in the wind. But that’s four runs,” La Russa concluded. “(Carpenter) wasn’t perfect that one inning, and they got four runs. That shouldn’t be enough to beat us.”

These kinds of comments insinuate that the starting pitcher only threw one bad pitch the entire game.  Of course that’s never true.  And, in the form of pitch f/x location data (from Brooks Baseball), here’s the proof:

It’s easy to see that Carpenter made many “mistakes” that night. There were plenty of pitches in the middle of the strike zone. This isn’t an indictment on the quality of his pitching that night, it’s just what happens when a grown man hurls 100 baseballs towards an imaginary zone… they aren’t machines and it’s impossible for them to paint the corners with every pitch.  Obviously, this explains one reason about why it’s imperative that pitchers change the speed of their pitches.  Of course they are going to miss location from time to time (if not most of the time) and they have a better chance for the opposing hitter to make poor contact if they are off balance.  In short, Brad Davis could have easily missed that 2-0 offering (86 mph cutter; black dot approximately 2.4 vertical & 0.3 horizontal location in above chart) and, assuming that the rest of the game played out identically, the Cardinals could have ended up in extra innings.

When people comment about a pitcher making, “one mistake,” that cost their team the game, they never seem to refer to the type of pitch thrown but fixate upon its location instead.  Carpenter faced Brad Davis again in the fourth inning and, after falling behind 2-0 (again), he delivered a change-up (yellow dot approximately 2.2 vertical and 0.3 horizontal location in above chart) that had very similar location to the cutter that Davis deposited into the left field seats previously; this time, however, Davis hit a pop fly to center field.

So here we have two pitches with nearly identical location thrown by the same pitcher to the same hitter… yet one becomes known as a mistake and the other is overlooked as success… a rationale that roots itself entirely upon the outcome of the pitch.  I’m willing to concede that the pitch might have been a mistake… but the notion that the rest of Carpenter’s pitches that night were flawless is bogus.  A quick glance at the location of his various pitches that night blatantly reveals that other pitches had even worse location.

Furthermore, if you really think about it, Carpenter’s “mistake” wasn’t really a mistake at all… it was actually a pretty good pitch.  Carpenter fell behind two balls and no strikes on a guy that has yet to accumulate 100 big league plate appearances with a decent but not great AAA line of .267/.333/.423 in 313 plate appearances; to Davis’ credit, he laid off a pretty touch 1-0 pitch just low and outside.  Tell me how Carpenter could have made a better pitch in that situation.  Should he have tried to be too fine, he would have risked digging an even deeper hole by going 3-0 with the bases load.  Rather than becoming dangerously close to giving the Marlins a free run (by walking Davis with the bases loaded), he decided to take his chances by leaving a pitch over the plate to an unproven hitter.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  The baseball myth of pitchers making, “one mistake,” is misguided.  It annoys me.  Maybe the hitter should be given credit rather than the pitcher penalized; that certainly seems to be the case in this situation.

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