We used to have a regular feature around here called “Closer Strikes Out the Side.” It was abandoned for a few reasons. The first is I forgot about it. The second, and you’re not going to believe this, is that Santiago Casilla didn’t strike the side out a lot. He did it twice in his time as Giants’ closer. The third is that Sergio Romo strikeouts were funny. While Casilla strikeouts are nice, they were relatively unremarkable when it comes to GIF-worthy pitches.
Cory Gearrin is not a closer. He entered Wednesday night’s game in the sixth inning with two runners on and nobody out, but he didn’t get a save. He was awarded the save of my heart (literally and metaphorically), though, because he was an absolute mecha-beast in the highest-leverage situation of the game. The Giants’ WPA (win probability added) was .291 as a staff; Gearrin’s was .203 by himself.
He struck out the side and snarled a lot, and it was the best Giants relief performance in recent memory. This is the story of those pitches.
Before we start, a reminder:
Cory Gearrin is the only pitcher in baseball with a sinker that goes over 92 mph and has more sink than Marcus Stroman’s.— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) October 5, 2016
Gearrin just might have the nastiest sinker in baseball. He threw 13 pitches, and the Diamondbacks swung at 10 of them. Here are those swings:
Swinging strike #1
I have used up my Jack Handey references for a lifetime, but I would like to at least allude to the “because what is that thing???” joke once more. This is the first pitch that Gearrin threw, and here’s how PITCHf/x categorized it, at least on GameDay:
The algorithm looked at the raw data and said, “Oh, that was clearly a left-hander’s slider.” Probably in a Daft Punk voice, too.
If you get a hitter to look that bad, maybe see if he can hit it again ...
Swinging strike #2
Like that. GameDay again says it’s a slider, and you can’t blame it. The location is perfect, down in the zone. He’s pitching for a double play, and Brandon Drury is swinging like he’s never heard of Gearrin before and/or thinks that he throws a straight four-seamer.
Swinging strike #3
This was the hardest sinker of the night, and that might not be a good thing. It flattened out and stayed up.
On the other hand, it was at 94, and Drury was late.
Swinging strike #4
ha ha haaaaaaaa
That pitch is so good. It broke more than an inch more than any of the previous pitches, according to Brooks Baseball, and you can’t even blame Drury for swinging at it. It looks like it’s coming right down the middle, and then it flips Newton off and goes through a wormhole.
Again, I’m pretty sure Gearrin is just trying to get them to hit the sinker at this point.
Swinging strike #5
CHRIS OWINGS: Oh, yeah, tough guy? Well, I’m just going to look for that sinker on the first pitch, then.
CHRIS OWINGS: [slowly shrinks and transforms into a corn cob]
That was a very good slider, and it was thrown in the perfect spot at the perfect time. Nick Hundley made an excellent call against an aggressive hitter (unless the call came from Bochy on the bench).
Swinging strike #6
Now, with that slider in the back of his head, Owings gets the sinker. I want to send him $5 for fouling it off, really.
Swinging strike #7
Owings has problems with breaking balls. Later in the game, he swung at a curve from Derek Law that bounced on the pitching rubber. Still, the slider-sinker-slider combination just wasn’t fair
Swinging strike #8
It looks like it stays up, but the center-field camera is harder on this pitch than it should be. It’s on the outside corner, and it has more than a little late movement. It turned out to be a great first-pitch strike, and I’m surprised that Jeff Mathis swung.
Swinging strike #9
They can’t all be great pitches, and I’m wondering what would have happened if that were Paul Goldschmidt instead of Mathis. Still, as you’ll see in just a bit, the location really wasn’t that bad. The movement still took it to the outside, even if it was a flatter slider than Gearrin normally throws.
Swinging strike #10
Sinkers aren’t supposed to be swing-and-miss pitches. They’re supposed to force the hitter to pound the ball straight into the ground, not miss completely. Except this sinker is thrown at 92 and moves more than most of them. It’s an absurd sinker.
My favorite part of the inning might be the locations of all the pitches. From Brooks Baseball:
What a clever ruse. He had them swinging at balls, the sneaky chap. My favorite is the yellow square that would be on the outside corner if you put another strike zone next to the real one.
The moral of the story isn’t that Gearrin is an unholy amalgam of Kevin Brown and Andrew Miller now. If Mathis takes one of those sliders into Triples Alley, the game is tied, Matt Cain’s outing looks less impressive, and this inning is filed under “General Giants bullpen screwery.” That’s the unfair life of a reliever.
No, the moral of the story is that this was an awesome inning that deserves more attention. Gearrin came into a game with a two-run lead, two runners on, and nobody out. He threw 13 pitches. He struck out the side. It was impressive on several levels.
Don’t look at Gearrin’s ERA from last year. Nine of the 23 earned runs he gave up came immediately before or after going on the DL. The FIP suggests he was much better, as did his stuff.
I like his stuff. Won’t you join me in appreciating his stuff. Look at that danged stuff.