The Anatomy of 2,999

There is beauty in the penultimate. While hit number 3000 will be the moment that is played at Albert Pujols’ inevitable Hall of Fame ceremony, that milestone could only be reached due to the 2,999 victorious battles waged before it. This is the story of Miguel Castro vs. Albert Pujols. The following article focuses on the complicated beauty of everything that surrounded the penultimate hit of a cherished milestone. The following piece is also showcase of how being in touch with batting analytics can and should help managers make the correct bullpen calls.

Miguel Castro is a young, below average reliever. Since his trade from the Rockies to the Orioles in 2017, Castro has posted an ERA of 3.25 and a WAR of -0.1. These numbers are far superior to the ones posted during his stint with the Rockies, but they are not anything particularly special. During his development, Castro has all but ditched the fastball, as he initially (2015) threw it 63% of the time. By 2017, when he would first duel with the aging Pujols, batters saw a fastball from Castro a mere 1.7% of the time, with even less of a fastball dish rate so far in 2018. Castro now makes his career on Changeups, Sliders and especially Sinkers. Castro threw batters a Sinker 58.8% of the time in 2017, this puts his Sinker rate at 6th among 2017 relievers. These numbers have stayed relatively the same so far in 2018, although Castro has thrown slightly less Sinkers in favor of more Changeups. As baseball writers have lamented the death of the Sinker, Castro has been one of the few pitchers that still rely heavily on the dying pitch.

The Albert Pujols of St. Louis needs no introduction, he is one of the most prolific hitters of all time, and a future Hall of Famer. The Albert Pujols of Anaheim is a different player altogether. Much has been written recently on FanGraphs about the decline of Pujols, so I will spare those details here. Instead, I want to focus on how Castro allowed hit number 2,999 to occur against a batter that had been unable to get on base in all their previous meetings. 

In 5 meetings at the plate that span from August 18th 2017 to May 3rd 2018, Pujols has hit on Miguel Castro one time. On May 3rd, Pujols hit a 96 mph sinker (Castro’s average sinker speed this year) and in doing so acquired his 2,999th hit. In all of their three previous meetings Pujols hit into an out, and on their subsequent meeting Albert was hit by an inside Changeup. So what was different about their 4th meeting? For the first and only time, Castro threw a sinker close to the center of the strike zone. In their previous 3 meetings, Castro threw Sinkers on the inside and outside of the plate, as well as mixing in Sliders that got looking strikes on multiple occasions. On Thursday night however, after a Slider that got called a ball and, just like in previous encounters, a Slider that got Albert looking, Castro threw a Sinker down the middle-right, and paid the price.

From 2016 to 2017, Pujols’ Batting Average slid across the board against every single pitch but two. One of those pitches just happens to be Miguel Castro’s specialty, the Sinker. (The other is the Curveball.)  In fact, of all the pitches that Albert sees on any given day, he has the best chance to get on base while facing a Sinker by a wide margin. In 2017, Pujols batted .338 against the Sinker, compared to .250 against the Changeup, his next highest batting average against a given pitch. Average is not the only thing Albert was better at while facing a Sinker. His stats across the board are at their highest in 2017 and now 2018 when facing the Sinker. Pujols has a higher SLG% and more HRs when facing a Sinker. He had the most doubles in 2017 against the Sinker compared to any other pitch. One of the three Triples in his entire career came against a Sinker. In short, Albert undoubtedly likes to see a pitcher that throws Sinkers.


Analyzing Pujols’ batting average in the strike zone with and without the data for Sinkers since June 1st 2016 shows just how effective Albert has been against the afformentiond pitch. Almost every area of the strike zone saw an increase in average when attempts at Sinkers were factored in. Of special note is the mid to upper right quadrant, where averages increased in every sector. This is the area in which Castro threw the Sinker that would create Pujols’ 2,999th hit.

To futher analyze Pujols’ batting preference for Sinkers, I also compared the heatmaps of Albert’s average against Fastballs compared to Sinkers.

Unsuprisngly, we again see a great disparity between Pujols’ performance when facing Sinkers and when facing other types of pitches.

The conclusion here is that on Thursday night Buck Showalter replaced Chris Tillman with the worst possible choice. With runners on and Pujols’ soon coming up to bat, Showalter subbed in Castro, a pitcher whose main pitch was the favorite of the upcoming batter, who then summarily hit the Sinker into play and scored runs on a breezy double. An event that would put the former St. Louis slugger one hit way from history. If Baseball Clubs would have teams of analytics people, those who could have warned Showalter before he sent out Castro, teams could make more informed decisions about who to put out in relief in high risk situations as seen on Thursday night.

  • Data was sourced from Fangraphs and BaseballSavant

Thank you for reading! This is my first piece in the whole baseball analytics realm, and chances are this thing has logical fallacies or something of the like. Any helpful comments/critcism/pointers are much appreciated.

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