Chili Davis on Pedro's 17K Game

Late to the party with this one, as a bunch of folks have already linked to it, but in case you haven’t seen it, an interview with Chili Davis from the Baseball Prospectus guys. In which he discusses Pedro’s legendary 17K effort at Yankee Stadium.

Davis: And then, Paul O’Neill came up, and he came hard in on O’Neill, jammed him, Bernie Williams came up, he came hard in on Bernie, jammed him, got out of the inning. Well, the next inning, he’s warming up, and Tino Martinez and I are standing on the on-deck circle, and I remember walking over to Tino and saying, “Tino, he’s got a good heater today, and he knows it. He knows it, Tino, and he’s coming in.” Everybody that came up, he started them fastball, hard in. I said, “If I was you, Tino, I’d look in, and try to turn on something.” And Tino was in a slump at the time, and he looked at me, and he was like “You know, uh, you know uh, uh, I don’t know,” kind of hesitant to take the game plan up there. So he went up there, and I think Pedro jammed him up inside, broke his bat or something, and he went back to the dugout. And I stand on deck, and I go, “You know what, you [expletive]? You come in here. Yeah, I know I’m 40, or 39, or whatever years old, I know you think you can get it in. But I’m looking in here. You throw that first-pitch heater in here, and I’m gonna turn on it.” And I’d no sooner said it, he threw that heater inside, and I, I was looking for it, and boom! Turned on it, you know, yeah.

That game marked the one and only time during my Manhattan tenure that New Yorkers, seeing my Red Sox hat, bought me beer. One of my fondest Red Sox memories, period.

Schilling to Bradford to You

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Houston, We Have a Problem, originally uploaded by sogrady.

Once upon a time, the feed for Rob Bradford’s feed was full text. Alas, with Rob now employed by the Boston Herald, those days are seemingly behind us, as the Herald is intent on artificially inflating page views by serving only partial text via readers. But that’s about all I have to complain about; he is, otherwise, one of my favorites of the Sox beat writers.

Interviews like this two part series with Schilling are a great example of why. Yes, the questions come from the readers as opposed to Rob, but that’s part of his charm. Unlike most of the Boston writers, he’s actively embraced the idea that he probably doesn’t have all the answers. Or questions, as the case may be.

But anyhow, here are a couple of interesting question and answer exchanges that I found particularly interesting. They’re provided below, with my reaction following in italics.

Q: If this is it and you never pitch again, will this whole surgery/no surgery debacle taint your Red Sox experience or is it still pretty special?

CS: Whether I pitch again or not won’t change my feelings about what has happened over the past three to four months. But that is completely separate and apart from the experience I’ve had the honor of being part of on the field and in the clubhouse.

Perhaps there are other ways to read this remark, but my guess is that his feelings over what has transpired over the past three to four months are less than positive towards the club. Which may be perfectly justified, for all that I know of the situation. I do find it notable, however, as it seems at least possible that it will permanently color his relationship with the club going forward.

Q: What is your opinion on the increasing importance of pitch counts? There seems to be too much reliance on the 100 pitch threshold. It should all depend on how “easy” or “hard” the pitches have been through the game (i.e. constantly working out of jams or not). I’d love to hear your opinion on this subject.

CS: I guess my question has always been why 100? Why not 92 or 157? Why is it 100? Why is it 200 IP? I have no idea why that is the number but I absolutely agree with SOME number being paid attention to because I have watched the positive impact and also felt it as well.

I’ll have more on the pitch count question shortly, but I’d argue that Schilling’s opinion regarding pitch counts is rather progressive for a pitcher of his era and type. While I think he’s focusing too much on the actual number – it’s not possible for it to be anything but arbitrary when it’s a general rule – I find it refreshing that he’s willing to recognize the benefits of rest. I hope that attitude is common on our staff.

Q: Do pitchers actually lose something on their fastball when they develop a pattern of throwing a lot of cutters, for example? I thought I read this theory about Andy Pettitte in the late 90’s.

CS: I’ve always felt that the change-up, the softer stuff are the pitches that start to erode velocity and only then if they are pitches you begin to rely heavily on. Due to the physical exertion and feel of the fastball, you begin to lose some of that when you lean heavily on pitches that don’t force the same delivery or effort level in my opinion.

This is an interesting assertion, one that I don’t know that I’ve ever heard before. It would be interesting to how well fastball/change pitchers held or did not their velocity over time versus, say, fastball/slider pitchers. The original questioner also brings up a good point, in that Pettite and similar pitchers – I believe they held Lester back from using his cutter in spring training – have been accused of over using their breaking balls or offspeed offerings.

Q: I’m always interested in hearing what pitchers are willing to say about throwing inside and brushback/knockdown pitches. Do they serve a pitcher well, a team well? Are they effective at all on the opposition? If not, why not? Are there times when a pitcher want to throw one but can’t, or doesn’t wan’t to, but has to? Is it solely up the pitcher to launch one? Does a pitcher take a little bit off a pitcher when he’s going to launch one? Does a pitcher feel personal about it, or does the hitter, or is it just part of the game? There’s this one pitcher I’ve watched, who I won’t name, but he seems nice enough, who generally puts one right ont he batter’s butt cheek to sort of get the job done without trying to hurt the guy. If you want to comment on this, we’ll assume it’s the hypothetical pitcher we’re talking about rather than anyone in particular.

CS: Whew, that’s a lot. Pitching inside is absolutely essential to being dominant in the major leagues, no question. You absolutely must pitch inside and I always look at that, the corners of the plate, and the “sweet spot” of the strike zone in similar fashion. Meaning if you throw 85 mph you have to pitch farther in. You have smaller corners and the hitters’ sweet spot in the strike zone is larger. As you move up the velocity scale all of those things get bigger and smaller. When I threw 95 I look at the corners as being 5-6 inches each. Pitching in was about inner-half to just off, and the hitters’ sweet spot in the zone was much smaller. As my velocity has decreased the corners get smaller, I have to pitch farther in, and there is a lot more room in the strike zone I need to stay out of. As far as hitting batters goes, the game has changed in epic fashion. Umpires can now throw pitchers out if the THINK the pitcher hit a batter intentionally and has resulted in some comical scenarios. I have talked with many umpires who detest the rule, because they just don’t know in many cases. The amount of money in the game has forced owners to do some things to the game that I don’t think are necessarily in the game’s best interest. However, I will add that at one point the players did such a poor job of playing the game right that we warranted oversight because we couldn’t manage it ourselves. It got to a point where every time a hitter was even thinking he was being thrown at he charged, and no one wins there.

A lot to parse there, clearly, but the pieces I found most insightful were the margin for error as it relates to velocity and the impact of the umpiring crews on the ability to throw inside. The latter, of course, is something that many of us have noticed over the past few years, particularly when it came to performances from those that, like Pedro, made a living throwing inside.

The former is likewise fairly unsurprising, but the specifics on inches and corner size I had not seen discussed previously.

Q: Sandy Koufax said, “Pitching is the art of instilling fear,” and “Show me a guy who can’t pitch inside and I’ll show you a loser.” And yet he hit only 18 batters in 2,324 innings. Don Drysdale on the other hand hit 154 batters in 3,432 innings and Pedro Martinez has (so far) hit 131 batters in 2,673 innings. You have only hit 52 batters in 3,261 innings. Has your control been so good that you can still pitch inside without hitting batters, or is it that your split is more likely to be in the dirt and that explains your low HBP number?

CS: I would say it’s been control more than anything. I would like to think I’ve conducted myself the right way on the mound. Of the 52 guys I have hit I would say roughly half were guys that deserved it and now it, and I never aimed high. When I hit someone on purpose the intent was to make sure they knew it, their teammates knew it, and the offending pitcher knew it as well. That and I wanted it to hurt after the game so I would always aim for the hip to the arm pit.

I think Schilling is entirely correct: it all does come down to control. Throwing inside, of course, is not by definition a euphemism for hitting batters. But the worse the pitcher’s control, the more likely that the conflation of those to terms will end up being entirely appropriate. Schilling’s refusal to elevate the ball when intentionally hitting batters speaks well of him, I’d say, and I generally do not condone head hunting because the risks are too great.

That said, anyone that saw Hideki Matsui’s at bats before and after Pedro threw one under right under his chin in the 2004 ALCS has to appreciate the art – and make no mistake, it is an art – of intimidation.