When you watch a baseball game on TV, hitting can seem like it should be pretty easy. You see the pitches from the centerfield camera angle, and you think: There it is … right down the middle. Hit the ball, man. It’s right there!
When you’re in the batter’s box, though, it’s a whole different deal. When you watch it on TV you don’t realize how much the ball moves. That camera angle fools you. Trust me, it’s crazy how tough it is to hit a great pitcher who throws hard, can locate several pitches and has movement.
To have any shot at all, you can’t be intimidated. Ever.
Let’s be honest here: If you’re going up to the plate lacking confidence, having a quality at bat becomes impossible. So you have to convince yourself that you’re going to win every battle. You almost have to trick yourself into believing that success is always on the horizon, no matter how many times you’ve gone up there and gotten it absolutely handed to you by a guy.
And you think that way even when you’re 0 for your last 20. Sometimes you’ll go up to the plate and you’ll feel so bad about your swing, so out of whack, that there’s no chance that you’re getting a hit. But somehow you have to convince yourself otherwise. Like, It’s going to happen for me right now.
So without any further ado, here are five guys who I’m constantly having to battle. They’re the five toughest pitchers in our division.
Noah Syndergaard (2 for 14, .143, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 6 Ks):
It always seems like we face this guy at the beginning of the season, in New York, when it’s like 40° out and misting and windy. You’re just freezing your ass off, and you have to go up there and hit a 100 or 101 mph sinker. Good luck.
People in the stands look at the radar gun, and it’s all oohs and ahhs, and He’s throwin’ 100. But that’s not really what makes Syndergaard so tough. His stuff isn’t a straight 100. The ball’s sinking. It’s doing all kinds of stuff. And that’s just his fastball.
The slider from that guy is 93 to 95. That’s ridiculous. You don’t really see that ever — a true slider at 95, not a cutter. It has depth. It changes levels on you. The first time I faced him, he struck me out on that pitch. I didn’t know a ball could move that much at that velocity. I just went back to the dugout and sat down.
Max Scherzer (7 for 18, .389, 2 HR, 4 RBIs, 3 Ks):
Here’s the main thing you need to know about Max Scherzer: You have to get to that guy before he starts strutting around out there on the mound.
When he gets on a roll, he’ll get the ball back from the catcher and start taking these long walks around the mound. If you see that, it’s too late. You messed up. You absolutely have to get to him and score some runs early, before he reaches that point.
If he’s out there strollin’ around … he’s already in the zone. And that’s when the velocity will tick up. He’s 93, 94 for the whole game and then, all of a sudden, he’s going for those walks and you’ll notice that he’s up to 98.
If you let him get to that point, it’s just not going to end well for you. That’s when the 20-strikeout games and the no-hitters start happening.
He’s one of the pitchers who you can really see it when he’s locked in. That’s just his thing. That’s Max Scherzer. He’s got filthy stuff, obviously, but it’s the aura he brings to the mound that sets him apart. And I have to admit, he’s a guy I actually really love watching. I battle against him, of course, but you can also appreciate a guy who is a truly great competitor.
Jacob deGrom (11 for 29, .379, 0 HR, 2 RBIs, 6 Ks):
What makes deGrom so tough is that he’s got four different plus pitches, and when he’s going good he can locate them exactly where he wants to. I mean, pinpoint location — both sides of the plate, any pitch at any time. And he’s so long and tall that his release point is so far out in front of his body. The ball explodes out of his hand. So his pitches play much harder than the radar gun says.
We just faced him a couple of weeks ago, and he was up to 97, 98. In that game, he got Derek Dietrich on a 3–1 curveball followed by a 3–2 backdoor slider. Dietrich came back to the dugout and just laughed because it was one of those deals where he basically had no chance.
Jeurys Familia (2 for 7, .286, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K):
This guy is ridiculous. His fastball is 98 to 100, but he’s also got one of the best sinkers in baseball. And for real, every time I face him I’m glad I’m lefthanded. Having to face that guy righthanded looks nearly impossible.
People don’t realize how hard it is to hit a fastball that moves that much. It starts right over the plate and then before you know it it’s chasing a righty into his own batter’s box. The pitch will look good, and you’ll commit to swinging at it … and then by the time it reaches you it will just disappear.
Sometimes I’ll be facing him, and I’ll have no idea what a pitch even was. It’s like, Was that a split? Because he has one that’s 92 or 93. Or a sinker? That’s how much his ball moves. I’ll have to look up at the pitch speed on the scoreboard to figure it out. I try not to look at those readings a lot, but when you get fooled on a pitch — like when you think you’re right on something, but you end up completely missing it — you peek. You can’t help it. You need some kind of visual confirmation for what just went on. You’re in the box thinking, What just happened here?
And for guys from the American League who have never seen him before, good luck, man. I remember being impressed when Alex Gordon hit that home run off him in the World Series a few years ago.
Having faced Familia all year, and knowing how good his stuff is, and then watching Gordon do that, I was just thinking, Wow! Because hitting that home run, against that guy, having not really seen him much, was extremely difficult to do.
Blake Treinen (1 for 4, .250, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 3 Ks):
I’ve only faced Treinen a handful of times, but this guy is just flat-out a tough at bat. I know he’s been going through a bit of a rough patch at the beginning of this season, but let me tell you: He’s nasty.
Treinen is one of those pitchers who guys talk about all the time as having some of the best stuff in the game. When you go up there and face someone like that … it is absolute power s***. He’ll walk some people, but man that guy has some good stuff.
He always throws that two-seamer right at me. He’ll start it at my front hip. And as soon as you see it coming at you and freeze, you’re done. If you flinch at all at the plate, it’s over. So you have to know when he starts that ball right at you at 97, even if it looks like it’s going to hit you, you can’t give up on that pitch. He’s done that to me with two strikes, and it’s so frustrating as a hitter when it happens. You know he has that pitch, and you know there’s a good chance that he might throw it at you … and he still just locks you up with it for a K.
To someone just watching that happen on TV, it looks like any other strikeout on a pitch that ended up over the plate. But there’s so much more to it. So maybe the next time you’re watching a game on television you’ll see it from a different perspective. There’s a game within a game, but that’s what makes baseball beautiful.