Back when Major League Baseball streamlined the intentional walk from four minimum-effort pitchers, I wrote about the one intentional walk that made me glad the sport had taken its time ironing it out: Kevin Jepsen’s go-ahead wild pitch.
Let’s roll that beautiful bean footage.
That 99.8 percent of intentional walks proceed without incident was a great argument for letting umpires award the base without going through the motions of throwing the pitches. That said, when those alternative outcomes for an inefficiency make themselves known, I’m always happy to have seen it. Judging from their delayed responses, Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone didn’t even catch it the first time around. They had no reason to see it coming. That made it better.
That botched intentional walk is my only defined memory of Kevin Jepsen. It took place in the 10th inning of a Wednesday night game in Anaheim, which means it happened around 1 a.m. when I had to wake up for work the next morning. I should have been asleep by most normal priorities, but mine are severely warped.
Had Paul Konerko homered off Jepsen, I might have remembered it, but definitely not as clearly. Jepsen’s game log shows 22 other appearances against the White Sox over his MLB career, which José Abreu effectively ended his career with this homer.
I didn’t remember what the homer looked like, because Abreu hits a lot of homers. I did recall that that Jepsen was DFA’d afterward, because Jepsen established himself in my memory as a subject of unusual misfortune at the hands of the White Sox. And all because one pitch designed to accomplish nothing changed that one game.
“I wouldn’t have remembered Kevin Jepsen in a very specific way” was not a reason to keep the intentional walk, just like Madison Bumgarner or Bartolo Colón highlights aren’t an appropriate counterweight for the massive amounts of evidence that pitchers just aren’t cut out for hitting. A universal DH opens up more jobs for players who do their particular things well, which is a noble purpose. As far as the White Sox are concerned, there are no more Terry Forsters coming down the line, so let’s focus on Yermín Mercedes getting twice the opportunities to entertain fans on the biggest stage possible.
Yet even as an American League fan who prefers the DH in the big picture, I find myself aligning with the National League diehards on opposing the implementation of universal DH for 2020 and 2021, which appears to be a fixed part of the exchanged proposals. It’s not because of some George Will-grade pastoral purity test (which is BS), or because the successes of good-hitting pitchers outweigh all the failures (they don’t). I just found pitcher triumphs to be a reliable source of discrete events whose memories manage to survive the flood of games that follow.
White Sox pitchers went 19-for-204 (.093) over the 2010s, and two of those hits were by position players masquerading on the mound (Adam LaRoche and Dewayne Wise). By baseball standards, that’s objectively terrible. Regard it as a game of chance, and that’s two or three times better chances of a cashing in a single number on a roulette table.
My brain treated it like the latter. When a White Sox pitcher got a hit, I felt like I beat the house by watching, even if the winnings were closer to “friends made along the way” than “35-to-1.” The world malfunctioned and a regular season game was now irregular. The prize: Remembering Dylan Axelrod popping up a bunt just out of the reach of a diving LaRoche, and maybe better than Axelrod does. I’ll take it.
In a world with the universal DH, the Matt Albers Game never happens. Is an isolated moment like that worth the dozens of other games where pitchers coming to the plate sapped the life out of innings? Kinda! I wouldn’t vividly recall a DH hitting a non-RBI gapper in extra innings, but I remember when the order of baseball broke down and somebody with the shape and experience level of Matt Albers seized the moment.
Some look at these inefficient vestiges of baseball like nails that stick out. Maybe they were flush before the foundation shifted or a leaky pipe wore away at the lumber, but if they’re not addressed now, they’re going to keep catching on perfectly good innings and ruining them.
I see it more like cracks in the asphalt. Most of the time you’ll get weeds or ants, but sometimes you get wildflowers. Here are some wildflowers that are about to be paved over.
Lucas Giolito’s two-RBI single, Sept. 1, 2019
White Sox pitchers went 1-for-20 in 2019, and the “1” was Giolito’s inside-out line drive that tied the game at 2. Giolito struck out in all of his three other plate appearances last year, so he embodies the whole debate.
Gavin Floyd’s single off Stephen Strasburg, June 18, 2010
We discussed this game in the post about White Sox games worth reairing: The White Sox in Washington, playing in front of Barack Obama against Stephen Strasburg at the peak of his rookie hype, which is the most electric regular-season game I’ve experienced start to finish. Strasburg delivered, throwing seven innings of one-run ball, striking out 10 while allowing just four hits.
One of those hits: A muscled flare by Floyd that floated over the head of the first baseman and kicked into foul territory after landing. Faster runners would have legged out a double. Floyd didn’t push his luck.
I can’t find a video of this game, but I can describe this hit to you without looking it up, whereas I couldn’t recall the other three hits off Strasburg without jogging my memory with the game log.
Mark Buehrle’s homer, June 14, 2009
The No. 2 argument for letting White Sox pitchers hit. Braden Looper was the pitcher.
“Kevin Jepsen? Oh, he botched that intentional walk to lose a game” is a descendant of “Braden Looper? Oh, he gave up Mark Buehrle’s homer.”
Jon Garland’s homer, June 18, 2006
I always felt bad for Garland, who checked a lot of the same boxes as Buehrle — reliable for 200 innings and 10+ wins! a great defender! showed up in October! — but got a fraction of the love. He beat Buehrle to hitting his first career homer, but because he wasn’t Buehrle, the White Sox didn’t prioritize helping the video survive platform changes.
It was a two-out solo shot in the seventh inning off Esteban Yan. Ozzie Guillen let starting pitchers hit for themselves in the eighth inning while holding a three-run lead. We’re better for it.
Mark Buehrle’s double, June 29, 2011
When Albers reached second on his unlikely double at Citi Field, Buehrle’s double off Ubaldo Jimenez in Coors Field five years earlier came to mind. Not because he was such an unlikely source of an extra-base hit, but because Jimenez promptly picked off Buehrle before he threw his next pitch.
When asked about the trends of Major League Baseball, Paul Konerko likes to say, “The game corrects itself.” This one did, and with extreme prejudice.
Jose Quintana’s sac fly, July 8, 2017
Another thing I’ll miss about pitchers hitting is trying to judge future competency off a single swing. A couple of guys have supported my first impressions. Carlos Rodón looks like he knows a little about hitting, and he’s 2-for-10 with a double. Clayton Richard had my favorite swing of any White Sox pitcher, and while his .114 lifetime average ultimately undermines my assessment, his three homers validate the potential I saw.
Judging by swings alone, I didn’t understand how Chris Sale had two more hits than Jose Quintana over his White Sox career. Sale’s swing looked like a freshman tennis player’s backhand, and he went 2-for-20 (including a single off second base). Quintana’s hand path looked designed for at least a little slap-hitter success, yet he went 0-for-27 with 16 strikeouts.
Then again, it wouldn’t be Quintana if he actually got what he deserved with the White Sox, which is why his sacrifice fly stands out as an outsized triumph. Just like the Albers’ double, Harrelson’s immediate impression to Quintana’s contact was an astounded “Look at this!”
Anthony Ranaudo’s homer, July 27, 2016
Ranaudo’s brief White Sox career peaked on this pitch, when he gave himself a 1-0 lead while holding the Cubs hitless through 4½ innings.
Ranaudo carried the no-hitter into the sixth before his start dissolved into just another one of many, many, many casualties of Robin Ventura’s fatally slow hook. The dinger remains untarnished.
I watched the video of this homer after writing the blurb about Quintana’s sac fly, so I was pleased to hear Harrelson and Stone commenting on their own attempts to sleuth out Ranaudo’s offensive potential during his first game hitting for the White Sox.
Harrelson: And that ball hit hard into right field. He looks up — you can put it on the booooooooooooooooard, YES! YES!
Stone: How about that?
Harrelson: Well he had some good swings the first time!
These are the things I’ll miss when White Sox pitchers stop hitting, even if you may argue that they never really started. The Jepsen fiasco wasn’t nearly enough to keep four-pitch intentional walks on life support, but the White Sox got enough memorable outcomes from their most overmatched hitters to sustain this endeavor. Would I want to see White Sox pitchers every game? Goodness no, but interleague play interspersed an agreeable amount of chances for absurd success stories during a long season, and it was so, so satisfying when they delivered. Sure, the compliments about their prowess might’ve been laced with irony, but the enjoyment is 100 percent earnest.
Wildflowers thru the cracks. Unmatching nightstands.
Quite a week. Gol-darn wordsmith, Margalus. Bra-VO.
One of my favorite things about Jim’s writing is that he so reliably expresses sentiments that I also hold in my heart but with words I never would have found.
And I’m a writer myself!
I admit to being one of the suckers who likes the strategy aspect of pitchers hitting, but the giant bullpens have largely diminished that anyway. So now I love the idea of having a DH in both leagues, but you lose the DH when your starting pitcher leaves the game.
I’m glad I’m not the only one who always thought Quintana looked like a better hitter than he was. When he was traded I distinctly remember thinking “at least now he can take advantage of his hitting skill” then looking up his stats and thinking “yipes, never mind.”
Looks like Quintana was the second most valuable starting pitcher by fWAR for the cubs last year at 3.5.
But he was literally the least valuable pitcher at the plate with -0.3 fWAR in just 63 plate appearances. (No walks, which implies he really does enjoy swinging that bat. But 26 Ks to just a 6 hits implies he is not very good at it.)
I know one guy who’ll be unhappy. When Gio was streaming on Twitch about a month ago I asked him about hitting, and he was like “Oh yeah I love NL rules, I love taking BP before the games, I’m always excited to go up to bat and try and get a hit!”
Yeah, I also enjoy the competition among pitchers, akin to position players wanting to get out on the mound. I find it enjoyable in moderation, but depressing when it becomes a regular feature.