The Unhittable Pitch

In a story of remarkable on top of remarkable, San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson had appeared in four straight games heading into last night’s Sunday Night Baseball contest on ESPN. It’s quite likely that manager Bruce Bochy would’ve preferred to use me out of the bullpen than Wilson after a workload like that.

Fortunately for him, the rest of the Giants, the people of San Francisco and everyone watching the game live, on television and through illegal streams on the internet, Bochy didn’t have to rely on such desperate tactics.

That’s because Jeremy Affeldt had, what we in the industry refer to as, “it going on.” Big time.

Coming into the game in the eighth inning, the lefty reliever needed only eight pitches to strike out Michael Brantley, induce a ground out from Orlando Cabrera and positively embarrass Asdrubal Cabrera with a swinging strike curveball that was two feet inside and a foot below the strike zone (that’s it in the picture above and graphed below).

Smartly, Bochy allowed Affeldt to pitch the ninth, where he carried on, striking out the side with only sixteen more pitches.

So, how did he face six batters and allow only one ball to be put into play? He thew a curveball that was basically as unhittable as a pitch can possibly be. Of the twenty four pitches it took Affeldt to complete two innings, ten were curveballs. Of those ten, four were called strikes, three were swinging strikes, two were properly called balls, one was actually a strike that was called a ball and zero were put into play by Cleveland batters.

Looking back through the last month, Affeldt has used his curveball 37 times, and during that time it’s only been put into play once by an opposing batter. For the entire season, Affeldt has thrown his hook 109 times, and it’s only been put into play seven times. In fact, batters have only made contact with his curve 13 times, including six foul balls since the start of the year.

Of course, Affeldt isn’t alone in his dominance. Right handed set up man Sergio Romo has the lowest FIP and xFIP among relievers in the entire league, and Brian Wilson leads all of Major League Baseball with 25 shutdowns. People look to the Giants’ 22-11 record in one run games as something of a fluke or anomaly, but the power of their bullpen suggests that it’s no accident that they’re so good in one run games. With relievers as reliable as Affeldt, Romo and Wilson an anemic offense doesn’t seem all that bad.