An informed observer can have a pretty good idea to know what’s going to happen in a given baseball game and on any particular play. There’s season performance for the batter and pitcher, platoon splits, splits against pitchers who throw at a certain velocity, splits against specific pitch types, and any number of things that can be determined depending on how granular you want to get.
It’s good for a person to know all of that stuff because most of the time what happens is what you can guess based on the information available. Then there are those games where one team starts Ubaldo Jimenez and the other starts Max Scherzer, and when all is said and done, through no fault at all of Scherzer’s, his team lost a 5-4 game in extra innings to the Orioles. You never really know.
I bring all this up because J.J. Hardy delivering the game-tying hit against Washington’s attempted closer Enny Romero is one of those unlikely moments. Hardy, through 30 games, is batting .205/.239/.268. He can barely catch up to anything or hit anything hard.
Romero, for all that he and the rest of the Nationals bullpen has struggled, can throw 101 miles per hour. There was only one way for that to go.
When Hardy stepped to the plate against Romero with two outs and the tying run on second base, the Orioles had just a 14.7% chance of winning the game, according to the Fangraphs Win Probability graph. This is team and player neutral.
When Hardy connected, the Orioles then had a 56.6% chance of winning - a swing of 41.9%, even bigger than the later Mark Trumbo hit that actually won the game. Tying the game late is a big deal. The next-biggest mover was Seth Smith’s sixth inning homer to tie the game at 1-1, which improved the O’s chance of winning by 18.3%.
That the slumping Hardy caught up to a 100mph pitch at age 34 is a surprise, but once he actually put the ball in play, it was all very straightforward. He lasered a single up the middle, because the harder a pitch comes in, the harder it can go out.
This grounder deflected off the glove of a diving Daniel Murphy and into center field, allowing pinch runner Craig Gentry, who wasn’t being held at all and took a 17 foot lead off second base, to score easily.
It’s worth noting that defensive metrics have never credited Murphy with much range. He’s already -6 in Defensive Runs Saved this season and finished last year at -9. Murphy did not have to go very far to get this ball.
The hit was hard off the bat, 103.4 miles per hour, according to Statcast, and the ball was well to Murphy’s side of second base. He could not make the play and was ejected minutes later for apparently whining about a balk.
There were three pitches, and according to the Pitch F/X data from Brooks Baseball, they came out like this:
That’s three fastballs, 101.2, 99.0, and 100.2 miles per hour, in order. Impressive velocity.
Control was less impressive. Note pitch #1, way inside on a right-handed batter, though not so far inside that Hardy had to back out of the way or anything. It is the task of the flamethrower to get the pitch in the zone and see what the batter can do with it.
Pitch #2, above, actually is in the zone, although home plate umpire Laz Diaz called it a ball. Tough luck. The Orioles and umpires are still not even, karmically for the Jeffrey Maier play.
By the way, pitch #2 is probably called a ball because of how far Matt Wieters had to reach to catch the pitch. Here’s where he was set up:
Romero has started his windup and from this screenshot it’s not clear that his catcher is in contact with the surface of Earth. This does not seem ideal. Wieters is presenting no target, a regular occurrence for him that I suspect explains MASN analyst Rick Dempsey’s enduring dislike of Wieters.
Wieters does eventually set up low after Romero is well into his windup:
At this late point, does Romero have much of a chance to really aim for that target? Maybe not. It probably doesn’t help. But when Wieters has to reach for the pitch that’s high in the strike zone and on the outer part of the plate, no wonder an erratic umpire like Diaz doesn’t give Romero the strike.
Also, perhaps related, one framing website rates Wieters among the worst framers so far this season, having lost 43 strikes in total for his pitchers.
For the third, decisive pitch, Wieters again goes through the hop at the start of the windup, set up low mid-windup, reach for wherever the pitch goes routine. Here is where he has to reach for the pitch:
That’s not where Romero was trying to throw it. But even having missed his spot so much, it’s something that Hardy was able to make contact with it and poke it to the right side.
Deploy the cliche of your choice - he went with the pitch, he didn’t try to do too much, he had an inside-out swing, whatever. The ball went where no Nationals fielder could get to it in time. The game was tied up.
The video of the game-tying hit is here.
Nationals relievers have the third-worst ERA in MLB, pitching a 5.47 ERA. What’s remarkable about this is that they’ve had to throw the fourth-fewest innings, just 97 so far, or 20 innings fewer than Orioles relievers combined. Being overworked is not their excuse. They just aren’t pitching well. The Orioles, despite facing Scherzer to begin the game, were able to capitalize on Tuesday night.
With 49% of 281 votes cast, Chris Davis was the winner in yesterday’s poll to assign the credit for Monday’s game-ending rundown, so he collects his first play of the game of the season.
Season tally (wins)
- 5 - Trey Mancini
- 3 - J.J. Hardy
- 2 - Mark Trumbo, Zach Britton, Seth Smith
- Eight tied with 1 apiece
Season tally (losses)
- 2 - Kevin Gausman, Mychal Givens
- 1 - Dylan Bundy, Tyler Wilson, Wade Miley, Brad Brach, Ubaldo Jimenez, Richard Bleier