Updated: Oct 28, 2022
The other day, I was having a conversation with my friends Eric and Colton. We were discussing the age-old question pondered by generations: could you, given a certain number of opportunities, get a hit off of an active MLB pitcher?
It’s a popular topic of conversation. There are two main factors to consider: how many pitches will you see, and can you put the ball in play? These, and many more variables, create a fascinating debate. But really, chips on the table - can you do it?
No. You couldn't. Not even the slightest chance. Unless you played in the minors or in college, I don’t even want to hear your case. I’d be surprised if you got the bat off your shoulder.
I’m not trying to be mean here, I just think that anyone who thinks they can stroll up to the plate with nothing but hyper-confidence and pure, sweet adrenaline is D.U.M.B:
Does not have experience
Under selling the task at hand
Massively overrating their ability, and
Ok, that was a joke, but let’s start with the obvious - when was the last time you held a baseball bat? And not just any bat, a wooden bat. A 32+ oz chunk of lumber. Now, when was the last time you swung a bat? Not a tennis racket, not a golf club, not when playing dizzy bat, not when you’re miming Gary Sheffield alone in your apartment…hmm, maybe that’s just me.
When was the last time you swung at a pitch? An overhand pitch, too. This isn’t beer-league softball or batting cage stuff we’re talking about. A genuine pitch off of a mound in a baseball game. For me, it’s been over thirteen years.
MLB pitchers are almost by definition throwing their fastballs at least ninety miles per hour. There are probably some of you reading this who have never even driven your car that fast and you expect me to believe you can hit a 3-inch sphere (approximately orange-sized) moving upwards of 132 feet per second?
Picture this: the ball is coming at you at 90 mph, from 60-feet, six-inches away, and you have less than half a second to swing.
Now subtract at least a few hundredths off that time, because every pitcher releases the ball closer to home plate than the mound. Someone like Aroldis Chapman, the former Cincinnati Red and current New York Yankee, not only can deliver a baseball over 100 mph, his stride towards the plate on every pitch is nearly seven and a half feet. He’s also six foot four, and left-handed.
Feeling confident? You shouldn't. All hurlers offer more than just a fastball. Luis Castillo has a nasty change-up. Jacob deGrom throws a 93-mph slider. Clayton Kershaw's curveball drops 68 inches. Shohei Ohtani brings a splitter to the table. If you’ve never heard of some of these pitches, that’s a bad sign. And even if you have, that means squat, frankly.
That’s because there’s a near infinite variety of variations to each of these pitches. You think a curveball is neat, well how ‘bout a knuckle-curve? You wanted a slider? Or did you mean a slurve? Do you throw a change-up, or a circle-change, a Vulcan change-up, a split-change…you get the idea.
And it’s not just the variety in pitches, either. Every pitcher’s delivery is unique. From their wind-up to their stride, to their arm angle to their release point, each tiny detail can make a huge impact on how the ball approaches the plate. Some pitchers hide the ball so well before they throw it, that it can be extremely hard to pick up the ball out of their hand. Some pitchers take such a large stride toward home, that a 95-mph fastball can appear like it's closer to 100.
So, let’s game this out. How do we settle this argument? Well, for one thing, we need an MLB pitcher. As to who exactly, that’s hard to say. I imagine most wouldn’t want to face, say, Chapman and his 100-mph fastball, even if he just finished the worst season of his career. At the same time, you probably wouldn’t want to face the Chicago White Sox’s Dylan Cease and his ridiculous slider or Sandy Alcantara's sinker. For this experiment, we need less of an outlier.
I propose Luis Cessa of the Cincinnati Reds. Here are my reasons:
He’s 4 - 4 on the season, which is perfectly mediocre
He’s 30-years old, which is a pretty average age for an MLB pitcher
He’s pitched as a starter and a reliever this season - which feels important for some reason
He’s not that good, but also serviceable enough to have a somewhat-lengthy career in the majors, and that’s what we want in our hypothetical pitcher
His stuff is pretty average, too - no 100-mph fastballs, no breaking balls with absurd movement, no crazy stuff like knuckleballs, splitters, gyroballs…whatever
Pretty good, eh? So, we’ll have Cessa as our pitcher, but we can’t ask this guy to just throw pitches until his arm dislocates from his shoulder - we need a game plan. I propose that you get five at-bats. Three strikes, you’re out. A walk grants you an extra at-bat. You might end up seeing 50 or more pitches, you might see 15. My bet is on the latter.
Take a second to picture the enormity of the task at hand. You’re facing a professional athlete. This guy has spent his entire life refining and perfecting his unique, God-given talent to throw a baseball. You don’t know what’s coming, you don’t know how it will get there, and you don’t know where it will end up. And, drum-roll please…you have less than half a second to react and swing (and pray the first pitch isn't heading directly toward your ribs!).
This isn’t Randy Johnson we're talking about, either. Cessa isn’t going to be blowing you away with a 100-mph heater and a slider that breaks two feet. He doesn’t stand a gargantuan 6 foot, 10 inches. He’s mediocre - in his size, in his stats, in his stuff.
But you still won’t get a hit. Because Cessa routinely prevents MLB hitters from reaching base. Even in this past season, one of his worst as a professional, Cessa only allowed on average 1.29 walks or hits per inning. Translation: the best hitters in the world were only reaching base against Cessa, an average pitcher in the middle of one of his worst seasons, slightly more than a quarter of the time. Do you really think that you, in five at-bats, can do better than current professional hitters?
When you break it down, this conversation is preposterous. Getting a hit off an MLB pitcher is hard enough for the guys who get paid to do it. You, Eric-Schmoe, are not getting it done. Unless, of course, you played in college or in the minors - then I give you a small, but not infinitesimal, chance. But that’s because you have experience, which is exactly what everyone else lacks.
For most of us, this hypothetical scenario would be the very, very, very first time we’ve ever seen a 90-mph fastball, let alone tried to hit one. This is so, so, so much harder that people want to believe. The next time you think to yourself, “That doesn’t look so hard,” do yourself a favor and just take a few swings in an 80-mph cage, and then take a moment to reflect on how absurdly fast that ball was moving.
Saying you’d get a hit off an MLB pitcher is like saying you could score on an active NBA player in one-on-one. It’s like saying you could tackle an NFL running back in an Oklahoma Drill. It’s like saying you could stop a hockey player in a shoot-out. It’s not happening.
For professional baseball players, going hitless in a game is a regular occurrence. For your average-Colton, it’s the only possible outcome. Getting a hit is hard.
I’m so sorry, Eric. Colton, I hate to say it. You’re both out of your league. But don’t worry, so is everyone else.