In the fifth inning of 95th game of the 2014 season, Adam Wainwright made Carlos Gomez, one of the National League's best players, look extremely foolish. Wainwright made Gomez look relatively silly by inducing three swings and misses on three curve balls out of the strike zone, but Gomez took it to another level with his actions that immediately followed the strikeout. Gomez's actions are what will be remembered for a very long time (thanks to numerous .gifs, including one below), but in this post, my main focus will be on the five purposeful pitches thrown by Wainwright on an overcast afternoon in July.
Before we get into the at bat's pitch sequence, let's take a look at three relevant points regarding the All-Star center fielder of the Milwaukee Brewers. According to BrooksBaseball, Gomez has feasted on curve balls this season, to the tune of a .229 isolated power, so it is not surprising that he was taking hacks at Wainwright's curve. Piggybacking off that, Gomez is classified as having a "very good eye" on breaking pitches (48% swing rate on pitches out of the zone versus 82% swing rate on pitches in the zone), but notably, when he does swing, he misses quite often (25%). Obviously, anything can happen in any given at bat, but I still believe that these points were worth noting.
To fully dissect what went down, let's start with the strike zone plot, courtesy of BrooksBaseball:
As you can see, Wainwright successfully struck out Gomez on five pitches without throwing a single pitch clearly in the strike zone (there is a good chance that pitch #3, a curve ball, would have likely been called a strike had Gomez not swung the bat). Well, if Gomez is considered to have a "very good eye on breaking pitches," why did he swing and miss on three breaking balls low and out of the zone?
The most obvious reason is that a Wainwright curve ball is considerably better than the average curve ball, and outside of Clayton Kershaw, it is likely the best in the game. The three curve balls he threw to Gomez were no different than what we have grown accustomed to—averaging 8.7 inches of horizontal movement and 8.5 inches of drop (roughly identical to his career averages).
The second reason is the exact point I was trying to get across in my "set-up pitch" post published on the 4th of July. Wainwright's "set-up" pitch was up, away, and out of the strike zone for a ball, but knowing Waino, this was very clearly a pitch with a purpose. Knowing he had two strikes with room in the count to throw a ball or two, he successfully changed Gomez's eye level, making him vulnerable to a third curve ball low and out of the zone. Gomez likely had a feeling that the curve was coming, but unfortunately for him, he really had no chance at hitting it due to perfect execution from Wainwright.
Considering there are at least two parts to every pitch, let's also take a look at the velocities used by Wainwright in the at bat:
Slow (75.43 MPH), fast (87.66 MPH), slow (76.53 MPH), fast (94.10 MPH), slow (77.91 MPH). A velocity sequence such as this one is almost unfair, even to the league's best hitters. Hitting, in very simple terms, has two main components: location and timing. As I pointed out earlier, Wainwright already messed with the location part by altering Gomez's eye level with his set-up pitch being up and out of the zone. As you can see, Wainwright upset the timing component as well. The set-up pitch was a 94.10 MPH fastball (his fastest pitch of the game, by far) and the put-away pitch was 16 MPH slower, in the dirt. That is textbook pitching right there.
Let's take a look at what went down one last time:
Despite missing a start earlier in the season, Wainwright has thrown the second most innings in the National League with 138.0. His 1.83 ERA is the second best in baseball behind Kershaw (1.78). He has tallied 115 strikeouts, and I could make a case that this one to Gomez was his best one. With Mike Matheny at the helm, will Wainwright start the All-Star Game? I don't know, and to be honest, I really don't care because his ability to maintain his 2014 success after the break is all that matters at this point.
PS, if you ever have the chance to go to Miller Park, do it. I made my second visit to the stadium for this game, and I am convinced that it really is one of my favorite parks. Then again, it has a very modern, industrial architecture, so I am sure some people would absolutely hate it.