Game Beyond the Game: The Real 2014 Baseball Awards

  • Homer Bailey
    The most unhittable pitch in baseball

    There’s no one way to do this. If you ask 10 different major leaguers, you’ll get 10 different answers, based on the pitchers they see most often and the pitches they have particular difficulty with. You’d probably hear Clayton Kershaw’s slider, or Stephen Strasburg’s change, or Aroldis Chapman’s fastball.

    So how do we pick? Let’s put some math to it. Using Baseball Prospectus’ PITCHf/x leaderboards, and setting it to a minimum of 200 pitches, we can track which pitch in baseball had the highest whiff/swing; that is, which pitch made batters miss more often per times thrown than anything else.

    The answer might surprise you, but it might also help explain why he got a $105 million contract extension last winter, too: Homer Bailey’s splitter, at 49.28 percent, is the pitch most likely for batters to look foolish on. You understand why, when you see something that it looks like this…

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  • The most unhittable pitch in baseball

    … and this.

    What in the world do you do with that? I guess that’s a question that answers itself. You do nothing with it. Nothing at all.

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  • Henderson Alvarez
    Coolest pitching ritual, beginning of the game

    Marlins starter Henderson Alvarez is one of the most fascinating pitchers in the game. He throws hard, averaging 93.5 mph on his fastball, which makes him one of the 15 hardest-throwing starting pitchers in baseball, but somehow doesn’t get strikeouts with it. His 14.5 percent strikeout rate is one of the 10 lowest rates in the sport, and the other pitchers who don’t miss bats are generally soft-tossing control artists, like Mark Buehrle and Kyle Kendrick.

    That’s not the only thing that sets him apart, though, and we’re not just talking about the bizarre scenario on the final day of the 2013 season where he celebrated his no-hitter from the on-deck circle, because the Marlins didn’t push across the only run in a 1-0 win until the bottom of the ninth. No, what makes Alvarez so awesome is this: He has a gimmick first pitch.

    Yes, really. (See above.)

    Where in the world did that come from? “I invented it myself,” said Alvarez, who began the odd ritual in the minor leagues, apparently unaware that the alternative would be someone forcing it on him. The rest of the game, Alvarez pitches like a regular, normal pitcher. It’s too bad. His first pitch of the game is probably the most interesting pitch in baseball.

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  • Jenrry Mejia
    Coolest pitching ritual, end of the game

    You’re already thinking about Fernando Rodney shooting the arrow. You’re thinking to yourself, “there is no way this isn’t going to be Fernando Rodney shooting the arrow.” But with apologies to Fernando, this isn’t going to be arrow-related at all. It’s going to be Jenrry Mejia freaking out at his own excellence.

    It’s not just his usual season-long ritual of jumping off the mound with excitement, either. It’s the new “I’m going to reel you in like a fish on a hook,” as he did to the Nationals after finishing off a game in September. (See above.)

    Too much? Yeah, probably, and Mets manager Terry Collins later asked his young reliever to tone it down, lest his teammates feel the repercussions of pitches between the shoulder blades later. But Mejia has had a breakout season as the Mets closer after years of battling arm injuries, striking out 94 in 90.2 innings and offering home for some stability in 2015, as the Mets hope to contend for the first time in years. Baseball needs more excitement, not less. Baseball needs more guys like Mejia.

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  • The biggest blast of the year

    This is going to be Mike Trout. I’m telling you this in advance, because it’s completely unfair that it’s Mike Trout. The best player in baseball is finally going to win his first AL MVP this year, and part of his greatness is that he does so many things well. He’s the best hitter in the game; he adds value on the bases; he’s been a very good center fielder.

    And yes, he hits home runs, too. But you wouldn’t look at him and expect that he’d hit massive bombs for homers, or that he’d have the longest home run of the season. You’d think Giancarlo Stanton, or David Ortiz, or Jose Abreu. It’s not any of them. It’s Trout, doing this to poor unfortunate Jason Vargas in June in Kansas City. Just listen to the announcers.

    Not only was this the longest homer of the year, at a listed 489 feet, it’s the second-longest homer of the last five seasons, topped only by a Stanton blast in 2012. It’s so unfair how good Trout is, and how good he looks being that good…and he just turned 23.

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  • Justin Turner, Adrian Gonzalez
    The best team home run celebration

    Well, that’s easy. BRING ME THE BUBBLES.

    For most of the season, whenever the Dodgers have hit a big home run, they’ve celebrated in the dugout with bubbles, which are awesome. Who doesn’t like bubbles?

    Oh, Major League Baseball, that’s who, because in August, MLB ordered the Dodgers to stop using it. But bubbles cannot be stopped because after a brief absence, the bubbles have been back at full strength. The celebrations don’t stop there, of course. Justin Turner and Adrian Gonzalez have incorporated a “selfie” pose after big plays, too.

    All that, and we haven’t even included a Yasiel Puig bat flip. This team knows how to party.

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  • Homer Bailey
  • Henderson Alvarez
  • Jenrry Mejia
  • Mike Trout
  • Justin Turner, Adrian Gonzalez

With another regular season in the books, we’re hearing plenty about who should be MVP, who will win the World Series, who will get this winter’s big free agent contracts, etc. We are hearing all about a potential matchup in the World Series that everyone wants to see: Mike Trout versus Clayton Kershaw. Those are all important conversations, and some will have major impacts on the games for years to come.

That’s all great. Baseball fans should definitely be talking about those things. Hall of Fame plaques are built off MVP awards and Cy Youngs, as well as infamous World Series moments and the rings that come from them. But lets also not forget that this is a game, and it’s about fun. Which player has the most heat in his sneaker closet? Which player has the biggest cannon for an arm? (Take a bow, Yoenis Cespedes.) Which player has the most unhittable pitch? So before we get too deep into the big, heavy talk — Remember when we predicted Oakland was going to win it all? And that Bryce Harper was the most important player in baseball? — let’s not forget about what’s cool, and this season had no shortage of awesome moments and incredible displays.

Cool, of course, is a subjective thing. What you might like someone else might disagree with. That’s fair. But it’s also hard to look at some of these selected moments from the 2014 season and not think to yourself “…wow.” With the postseason set to kick off, relive the best moments of the regular season by going to the Game Beyond the Game: The Real 2014 Baseball Awards.

Follow Mike on Twitter at @mike_petriello

image via Erik Drost/Flickr Creative Commons