Before you start reading this article, you should know that the conclusion stinks. This isn’t one of those articles where facts stack neatly upon facts, revealing a hidden truth of baseball at the eleventh hour. It’s the opposite of that, essentially. Sometimes the hidden truth doesn’t reveal itself. Sometimes the stack of facts collapses, and you’re left trying to put the pieces back together. Anyway, I warned you.
The story starts with promise. Howie Kendrick, a 15-year veteran with a swing-first-and-ask-questions-later game, was doing something weird. Take a look at an extremely specific statistic, current as of August 9 — first-pitch balls in play, by year:
First Pitch Balls in Play
|Year||First Pitch BIP|
Of note, I’m only going back to 2008, because that’s the first year of pitch tracking data — Kendrick started in 2006, but those two missing years don’t really change the narrative here. That zero in 2020 doesn’t look all that suspicious — the Nats had only played 10 games — but it looks a little suspicious….