Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sobyrd Up; The Goggles are Off

Plato contrasted Ideals, known through the pure intellect, with the imperfect world we see. I've been idealizing finesse pitchers lately, Paul Byrd being the salient instance, but what I saw Friday was certainly imperfect.

(Does Byrd just slightly resemble Socrates, by the way?)

Byrd was serviceable, technically delivering a quality start- 3 runs in 6 innings, though that amounts to an entirely common ERA of 4.50 (and being common, 'quantity' rather than 'quality' seems appropriate.) More important to me than the many hard hit balls that went for outs, though, disguising the weak showing, was the real lack of artistry on the mound. There was no one pitch sequence that wowed me; the art critics' epithets of 'pedestrian' and 'derivative' sprung to mind during this underwhelming performance. I never oohed nor ahhed. Pitches tailed back over the middle of the plate, Tek had to cross over, curveballs hung, suspended in mid air.

Worse, I felt critical of his approach to lefthanded hitters, rather than delighted; there was no magic, no suspension of disbelief, just a guy with his hand up a puppet's butt (as they say.) Byrd doesn't go inside enough on lefties, which amounts to pitching with one hand tied behind his back. After the Rolen double in the second, he got a called strike on a rare inside fastball to the lefthanded Zaun, which straighted him up. He then accidentally threw a changeup in, which also surprised Zaun, called for strike 2. Then he threw a backdoor curve that didn't even make it back to the outside corner, but Zaun drilled an RBI double to left anyway, obviously looking for the pitch away; Zaun saw through the smoke and mirrors, and even after two in, didn't think lightning would strike thrice.

Byrd has terrible splits this year; he pitches well against righties, .249 BA/.277 OBP/.418 SLG, but .313/.355/.528 against lefties (that's an .883 OPS). Of his 32 walks all year, 24 are to lefties, the asymmetry of which suggests trepidation, and 5 of his 7 hbp's are against righties, suggesting he goes in only to them. Remy called Byrd's "purpose pitch" up and in to Vernon Wells; finesse pitchers must pull off the illusion of looking like power guys sometimes. But to lefties too; they're not just righties in a mirror.

I think a large part of Mussina's renaissance this year has been his improvement throwing the front-door fastball to lefthanded hitters; it looks like its coming inside off the plate from the righthanded pitcher, but moves back over the inside corner. Byrd would benefit greatly from that pitch. (Mussina in 2008: .858 OPS vs. righties, .592 vs. lefties. In 2007, .822 OPS vs. righties, .799 vs. lefties.)

That pitch is magic, after all; it bends backwards, going against the grain, back from whence it came. It hypnotizes; lefties freeze in their tracks.

And as Derek Lowe showed both Terrence Long and Adam Melhuse in the '03 ALDS, that pitch comes about as close to approaching a Platonic Ideal as any one pitch can.


JS said...

They have the same nose.

Barry said...

It's uncanny! Their noses are nearly identical.

What the living fuck? It's one thing if he knows Socratically, but this is ridiculous!