Oakland A's third baseman Brett Lawrie had four plate appearances on Tuesday night. He saw three pitches in each of those plate appearances. All of them were strikes. Brett Lawrie had a really bad night, everyone, so let's pay a lot of attention to it.
Is it fair to pay too much attention to it? Yes and no. It's not worth paying attention to in a big-picture way, like "Brett Lawrie is doomed" or "Brett Lawrie can't hit breaking balls" or "Right now, Brett Lawrie's soul is hanging on the mantle above a breaking ball's fireplace, where it will remain forever." But it certainly is worth paying attention to as a curiosity. Because, hey, everyone, look at this bad night.
It's happened before. Heck, it happened last year. But if you have to use Bartolo Colon as a comparable hitter for a position player, it's probably something to discuss. Here's every pitch of the night, with some amateur scouting, second-guessing, and general awe mixed in.
Pitch #1: 90-mph fastball
This is the GIF that Colby Lewis will have on business cards as soon as technology allows for GIFs on business cards. (Mine can be found here.) This is the essence of Colby Lewis when he's right, an outside fastball with movement that's useless to a hitter in the first pitch of the at-bat. Unless the hitter is looking for it and planning an opposite-field approach, there's little he can do. When the other guy is spraying hadoukens, sometimes they're going to hit you. You know that going in.
Let this pitch be a reminder that not every strike has to be the hitter's fault. Sometimes, the pitcher makes a good pitch. The important thing is to time the fastball and be ready for it when he throws it on the next pitch. Here goes, here comes that f ...
Pitch #2: 84-mph slider
Aw, nuts. It wasn't even a very good slider, sort of floating up in the same spot where the first pitch was. It was the kind of hanging slider that gets in a hitter's brain. Come on, throw that slider again. I dare you.
Pitch #3: 83-mph slider
I don't watch enough Rangers games to know if that was the best slider Lewis has thrown in a year. I watch enough baseball to guess that it's at least tied with several others for a top-10 spot. The late break is grimy in any situation, but especially in an 0-2 count to back up a hanging slider. Lewis couldn't have radioed a better call into his nervous system directly -- it was the perfect pitch right there.
So what did we learn from the first at-bat? Lawrie wasn't looking for a fastball on the outside edge, then he wasn't looking for a hanging breaking ball, and finally, he was beat by an excellent pitch. If you thought this was going to be 1,000 words suggesting you should laugh at Lawrie, I'm sorry to disappoint you. His first strikeout was just one of those at-bats.
There will be opportunities later, though.
Pitch #4: 82-mph slider
We'll assume he was looking for that same fastball from the first at-bat. Lewis didn't exactly rip off a perfect slider, here. It was a get-it-in pitch, and Lawrie -- again -- wasn't expecting it. Most hitters wouldn't be, which is why get-it-in breaking balls in the middle of the zone have a nice, safe home at the beginning of the at-bat. The same pitch in an 0-1 count might be clobbered.
Pitch #5: 80-mph slider
Like that! Just like ... aw, nuts. I guess if we're splitting hairs, that is an old-fashioned clobbering compared to the rest of Lawrie's night, considering it was the only contact he made.
It was a bad pitch. After three straight sliders, Lawrie probably should have been looking for another one, or at least preparing for a fastball while keeping the idea of a hanger in the back of his mind. That was it, that was the pitch. It didn't even result in a scary swing or a foul back to the screen. It was awkwardly cued in a bizarre fashion -- you don't usually see foul balls head off in that direction on that kind of swing.
It was probably at this point that Rangers catcher Carlos Corporan thought, "OK. I'll just keep calling for breaking balls until I see a reason not to." Lawrie looked lousy on that swing, and it was a pitch he should have hit. Yet it was probably the best swing of his night. We're not even halfway through.
Pitch #6: 83-mph slider
Another unfair slider thrown after a hanger in an 0-2 count. You can't exactly teach this technique -- "Make sure you hang your second pitch of every at-bat, kids, they just won't be looking for it. And then you throw your good pitches" -- but when it happens organically, it's magic.
Lawrie was possibly looking for the hanger, while protecting against anything in the zone. The millisecond judgement of is-that-gonna-be-a-strike-dang-it is pretty much the foundation of baseball. Blame Lawrie for missing the pitch before; this pitch doesn't exist without it.
Pitch #7: 81-mph curveball
Billy Butler leads the inning off against a rookie making his major league debut: fastball, fastball, single on a fastball.
Ike Davis comes up next: fastball, fastball, fastball, fastball, fastball, fastball for ball four.
Lawrie comes up, cheesed off about his night and thinking about a young pitcher having problems throwing fastballs for a strike. Command isn't as important to the pitcher right now, He just wants to get in the strike zone first. Wait for the fastball. Waaaaaait for it.
Then there's a perfect first-pitch curve. It took a lot of restraint for me not to make a Vine of this pitch with "Bad Day" as the background music. How was Lawrie supposed to know Keone Kela had a curveball like that? It was Kela's first inning in the majors. That was the first curveball he'd ever thrown in a major league game. He sure picked a good time to throw it.
The other pitcher picking a good time to throw the perfect pitch is something of a recurring theme, if you haven't noticed. But there's no way he's going to throw another curveball, is there?
Pitch #8: 83-mph curveball
There's no way Corporan is going to call anything else. It's the only pitch his young pitcher can command, seemingly. It's also the pitch Lawrie can't hit. There's no reason for a catcher to get all Vizzini on the hitter. Keep calling it, and see what happens.
Also, it turns out the 21-year-old kid is in the majors for a reason. Probably because he can throw a danged curveball like that. Look at it.
Pitch #9: 81-mph curveball
Here, just play this for the rest of the article.
Those are great curveballs. Lawrie should still be able to touch, I don't know, every other one and foul it off, so he's not blameless. Not at all. But as long as we're dissecting this past the point of reason, take a moment to appreciate the quality of all the breaking balls thrown after the hanger in the fifth pitch Lawrie saw.
Pitch #10: 82-mph slider
Now it's Lawrie who's going Vizzini:
If he thinks I'm expecting the slider, then he won't throw it. Unless he thinks I know that he won't throw the slider if I'm looking for it, so he'll throw a fastball. Unless he knows that I know what he's thinking and decides to do the obvious. Unless he knows that I'm from Canada, and that everyone from Canada is completely trustworthy, which means he'll try to deceive me because that sort of thing is not in my nature. Unless ...
Dude, you're going to see breaking balls until you do something with them. This was a hittable first-pitch breaking ball. It was your last chance.
Pitch #11: 82-mph slider
I wasn't going to write about Lawrie's night until I saw this pitch. It's a slider that locks his knees up. Then Lawrie looks up like, "Man, a slider. What are the odds? Does he even throw one of those?" It had been nine pitches since he saw his last fastball. This was the 10th straight breaking ball, and it looked like Lawrie was looking for anything else. He was looking for a fastball, I guess?
Good old fastball, nothing beats that. After nine straight offspeed pitches, in an offspeed count, Lawrie was looking for the fastball. Hey, you have to admire the overthinking. Unless it's underthinking. It's such a fine line ...
Pitch #12: 81-mph slider
Neftali Feliz can throw a slider. Feels like we should recognize that point. That one was up, but it Frisbeed out of the zone with some quickness. Not everything has to be about Lawrie failing.
Still, at what point do you try something different in a night like that? When do you shorten up, think breaking ball, take a pitch, or go the other way with your swing? In 1955, probably before you swing and miss a second time, so your manager doesn't pull you out of the game by your nostrils. In 2015, though, a lot of hitters have just one speed. If it works, it works, and there will be nights when it works exceptionally well for Lawrie.
This was not one of those nights.
Lawrie's 12-pitch, four-strikeout game doesn't have to mean anything. Perhaps it indicates that he'll need to adjust his approach to breaking balls, but there's no sense drawing Big, Important Conclusions from it. These games happen for every hitter, to some extent. It was just a bad night. A really, really, really bad night.
Bad for him. Good for us. Marvel at that really bad night, everyone. Look at Brett Lawrie's really bad night.