Exploring The Extremes Of Intentional Balls

ST LOUIS, MO: Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals is intentionally walked by Scott Feldman #39 of the Texas Rangers in the 10th inning during Game Six of the MLB World Series at Busch Stadium in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Nobody ever pays any attention to intentional balls that get pitched. So let's pay them a little attention now, and then never speak of this again.

There's a short list of things in baseball that just automatically make the viewer tune completely out. The way I see it, the list includes Daisuke Matsuzaka, the San Diego Padres, and intentional walks. When those things are on the screen, your eyes might be open and directed at the screen, but nothing is absorbed, nothing is observed. One is effectively no different from a statue.

Every part of a baseball game is open to so much analysis and disagreement. This guy shouldn't have tried to bunt that pitch. This wasn't as fantastic a defensive play as the dive made it look. But the only thing that ever gets talked about with regard to intentional walks is whether or not the intentional walk was the right decision. Nobody ever talks about the actual intentional balls that get thrown, because they're inconsequential. They don't mean anything -- the walk has already been granted. The intentional balls are just a required formality.

Take all of the intentional balls, though, and what you have is a data pool. Within any data pool, there will be points at the extremes. Every intentional ball has the same result, but not every intentional ball follows the same path to that endpoint. So here I'm going to celebrate 2012's most extreme intentional balls so far, because these pitches deserve to be recognized, if only for these moments. It's Friday afternoon you guys. This is what you get on a Friday afternoon. I promise we won't do this again, at least not until some other Friday.

Pitch information was gathered from a PITCHf/x database. The database seems to be missing some 2012 intentional balls but there's nothing I can do about that. We soldier on!

Slowest Intentional Ball

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On April 15, Craig Stammen intentionally walked Joey Votto. The pitch I was seeking out was the second pitch, measured at 45.3 miles per hour. That was the slowest pitch included in the spreadsheet. While looking that pitch up, though, I found out that the fourth ball left Stammen's gentle right arm at 43.9 miles per hour, and for whatever reason wasn't included in the data. That makes me worry that an even slower intentional ball is out there, virtually unrecoverable, but if a slower intentional ball exists, it couldn't have been much slower than this one. Joey Votto booked it away from the plate faster than the pitched baseball approached it.*

* this isn't true, because that would be very fast for a person

Fastest Intentional Ball

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Who throws the fastest average fastball in the major leagues? "Aroldis Chapman," you might respond, but you'd be incorrect. "Justin Verlander," you might respond, but you'd be even more incorrect. "Andrew Cashner," you might respond, and okay yes you would be correct so far. But right behind Cashner is Kansas City's Kelvin Herrera. "No, that can't be right," you might say, "because I've never heard that name in my life."

Herrera's average fastball this year has come in at 98.7 miles per hour. 98.7 miles per hour! That's basically your normal body temperate except we're talking about speed instead of degrees! And Herrera has also been outstandingly good in terms of performance. You should get to know and remember his name. I'm getting off track though. The point is, Herrera throws a very fast average fastball. And he threw this intentional ball as a fastball, sort of, at 91.4 miles per hour. According to FanGraphs, Felix Hernandez's fastball this year has averaged 91.4 miles per hour. I guess you could say Herrera did take something off. And his next intentional ball was 86 miles per hour. Whoa there, Kelvin Herrera, don't just slam on the brakes. Gotta make sure you throw the ball hard enough to get it to the catcher.

Most Wild Intentional Ball

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Vance Worley missed the center of the strike zone by nearly nine feet in throwing this intentional ball to Josh Thole. Worley, of course, wasn't aiming for the center of the strike zone, as this was an intentional ball, but the average intentional ball has wound up a little more than five feet from the middle. So Worley's was exceptionally wild, as you can tell from the catcher's body language. And as you can also tell from Worley's butt wipe, because whenever a baseball player throws a baseball wrong, he figures there must be something wrong with his hand. Baseball is littered with hypochondriacs.

This makes me wonder: how wild could a pitch be and still be considered a pitch? Where is the line between a throw being a pitch and being a pickoff attempt? On an intentional walk, could you have the catcher stand in front of one of the dugouts? There is so much space to be explored on these things that never gets explored. There is so much available airspace that never knows the company of pitched baseballs.

Most Wild Intentional Ball, Alternate

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This is the intentional ball that has come the closest to the center of the strike zone. That makes it a very wild intentional ball, in a very different way from the one above. Tim Dillard threw this pitch to Brandon Belt over the outer edge of the plate, but too high to be called a strike. It was, however, the most like a strike of all the intentional balls.

That pitch was within two feet of the center of the strike zone. Dillard was trying to throw an intentional ball. Minutes later, Dillard had the bases loaded and a 2-and-0 count, needing to throw a strike, and he threw this pitch:

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Tim Dillard was closer to throwing a strike when he was throwing an intentional ball than when he was trying to throw a strike. Tim Dillard is the worst!

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