Last night, at 333 West 35th Street in Chicago, Illinois, Yadier Molina and the St. Louis Cardinals were down to their last strike with David Robertson, the White Sox closer, on the mound. Of course, it was only the eighth inning, but considering Robertson is one of the very best relievers in the game, it was evident that the Cardinals' most likely chance at tying (or dare I say it, take the lead) rested in the hands and bat of their seven-time All-Star catcher.
Molina worked the count to two balls and two strikes, and what happened on the fifth pitch of the at bat was probably option number 17 on a list of possible outcomes for this matchup: an opposite-field, three-RBI, go-ahead, stand-up triple. Sure, Avisail Garcia could have been quicker to gather the ball and/or make an accurate relay throw into the infield, but it was a ruled a triple nonetheless. When a Molina triple decides to make an appearance (last night's was his first one in 2,071 at bats per Jenifer Langosch), it is only right to include four hyphenated descriptors before it.
Just how significant was Molina's triple? The Win Probability chart from FanGraphs says it all:
After Zach Duke managed to blow away Jhonny Peralta on a middle-of-the-zone 88 MPH fastball, Chicago's win expectancy increased to 87.1%. It decreased to 80.9% after Jason Heyward's swing was interfered with by the mitt of Tyler Flowers. Still, their $46-million closer, with an official nickname of "Houdini" per Baseball-Reference and a lifetime split of .169/.243/.265 versus the first batter of an outing, was coming into the game, so the White Sox were still technically "in the driver's seat" of this one. More often than not (this is admittedly anecdotal), when the batter succeeds in a situation like this, the pitcher ended up making a mistake (i.e. left a pitch up and over the plate). This was not the case last night. In fact, it was the exact opposite:
David Robertson on Yadier Molina's 3-run triple: "I threw my best pitch and he got me."— Dan Hayes (@CSNHayes) July 23, 2015
The graph below (via BrooksBaseball.net) makes it difficult to argue with Robertson:
With two strikes and a right-handed hitter at the plate, Robertson goes to his cutter 64% of the time. Thus, as a right-handed hitter with two strikes, it would be a decent plan to sit on Robertson's cutter. Yet, as you will see below, when Robertson is able to locate his cutter down and away to right-handed hitters, they have had virtually zero success. In fact, since 2011 (I chose this year because this is when Robertson became the level of pitcher that we see now), right-handed hitters have managed a measly isolated power of .024 on cutters in the zone outlined in yellow.
Thus, as we are all we aware, it was already incredibly unlikely to see a Yadier Molina triple, but to see a triple on a David Robertson down-and-away cutter takes the occurrence to a whole new level. In fact, it has never been done before...until last night, of course.
Credit to @mstreeter06 for the GIF, FanGraphs for the chart, and BrooksBaseball for the Robertson heat map.