As a baseball fan, I think that the greatest gift that Major League Baseball Advanced Media has given us this postseason has been Enhanced Gameday. MLB.com’s Enhanced Gameday tracks pitches from the pitcher’s hand to the catcher’s glove, offering the speed and tracking of every pitch.
The Mets put together a great run this year, undoubtedly. It ended a bit earlier than Mets fans would have liked, though, and I’d like to take a look at one particularly influential at bat, with the help of this wonderful toy.
The following is a picture of Scott Spiezio’s Game 2 at bat against Guillermo Mota. You’ve probably seen it a few hundred times on TV by this point, and it continues to haunt me, as a Mets fan.
That’s a screen shot from Enhanced Gameday’s depiction of the at bat (click image to enlarge). I added in the numbers, but the rest is what you’d see if you checked out MLB.com.
The situation was as follows: with two outs and runners on first and second, Scott Spiezio, who was in because of Scott Rolen’s injury, strode to the plate. Spiezio has a strong track record in these situations, but, for all of that, he’s still Scott Spiezio.
If nothing else, Guillermo Mota can make hitters look awfully silly, and the first two pitches to Scott Spiezio did just that. The first pitch was an 88 mph changeup off the plate and at the waist. Spiezio swung and missed.
The second pitch was another 88 mph changeup, this one low and off the plate. Spiezio flailed wildly at it.
The crowd rose in anticipation. Mota looked in for the sign, and fired a 99 mph heater low and in the center of the plate. Spiezio yanked it foul.
This was a real accomplishment. Spiezio had gotten out in front of a 99 mph fastball after having been badly fooled by a couple of changeups. The count remained 0-2. Paul Lo Duca, the good catcher that he is, wisely decided to trot out to the mound to discuss the 4th pitch of the at bat with Mota. Apparently, they decided to come back with an outside fastball, if we can judge based on the position of Lo Duca’s glove.
Mota missed his spot by only a few inches, leaving it right out over the plate. Spiezio timed it a little better this time and smoked a shot to right. Shawn Green got to the wall and had the opportunity to make an amazing catch. He didn’t and shouldn’t be criticized for it; he’s not out there for his defense, and even the best of outfielders might not have made that play. Both runners scored and the game was tied. Spiezio wound up on third with a well earned triple.
I criticized the pitch choice at the time and remain perplexed by it even now. I don’t agree with the logic of the pitch sequence. I can understand the idea of trying to surprise the batter, but Spiezio had looked so inept at the two off-speed pitches that it would have made sense, it seems, to try to get him to chase something off-speed and out of the zone.
I’m neither a pitcher, nor a former pitcher, nor a pitching coach. I write for a baseball blog and am a mere fan and mortal. I do believe, though, that there’s a lot to be learned from things like examining pitch sequences and frequency. Apparently, the Mets agree with that statement. According to Joel Sherman’s piece, an analysis of pitch selection had indicated that Mota was straying from the use of his changeup, the pitch that brought him great success (when used in conjunction with the fastball) back in his days with Los Angeles.
To combine these two thoughts, I don’t believe that pitch selection, sequencing, and approaches should be considered outside the realm of statistical analysis and the analysis of the layman fan. But, more importantly, I think that common sense would have gone a long way in this spot. They should have tried to get Spiezio to chase a pitch out of the strike zone with the count at 0-2, and it’s tough to justify not approaching it that way. He’s not immune to striking out, a wild pitch would not have scored a run, and he had just proven his ability to get around on the fastball.
I hate to put so much emphasis on one play, or even one pitch. I also hate to scapegoat, and that’s not my intention. Pitchers make mistakes in location sometimes, and that’s excusable. This, however, was pretty poor pitch sequencing, and that’s a lot less excusable. And, while it wasn’t decisive (like the Heilman pitch to Molina in Game 7), it certainly was a big part of the elimination.