Growing up with Hawk Harrelson narrating nearly every game I watched ingrained the idea of “the will to win” into my brain. It took years of reading Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, and Beyond the Box Score before that idea had been thoroughly flushed out. At times, especially when I talk to my dad about baseball, it makes its way back into my head. Perhaps for that reason I cannot focus solely on the metrics that tell me when a player is good. Sure, I look at FIP and DRA almost immediately after pulling up a player’s stats page. Those things are important. But what I can’t shake is the thought that players, and pitchers in particular, need that extra drive to succeed.
The fact that this sort of thing can’t be presented in a quantitative manner makes it difficult to present a real argument. While each of Kershaw, Scherzer, and Sale have a fastball with a velocity averaging over 93 mph and a breaking ball that makes hitters look foolish, it’s their more human side that makes them interesting. When they’re pitching well, each of them is incredibly fun to watch as they mow through even the best lineups. Naturally there are some subdued celebrations when the outcomes go their way, but where they really start to become entertaining is when things don’t go their way.
Let’s start off with Clayton Kershaw. He holds the title of best pitcher in baseball despite both Scherzer and Sale nipping at his heels. Everyone knows that his fastball is good, especially when paired with a looping curveball and devastating slider. Those things are fun. What is even more fun is watching when he makes a mistake. His high talent level means he knows a mistake as soon as it leaves his hand.
Take, for example, a home run he gave up to Buster Posey earlier this season. It happened in the midst of Kershaw’s stretch of struggles with the long ball and with the game tied. He was not pleased.
That is one of many examples of Kershaw being emotive on the mound. He made a bad pitch to a great hitter, and it went over the fence. Perhaps even more amusing is an example from a little further into the season against the Twins. This reaction was based simply on giving up a hit.
He’s quite literally so good that a common, everyday occurrence for most pitchers sends him into the wildest of fits. That jump reaction was followed by screaming as he gave up a run. There is no word to describe this except for insane.
Let’s move on to Scherzer. He was the Cy Young winner a year ago, and he’s having a season that could put him into the discussion for another. His fit of insanity is even more confusing than Kershaw’s. While Kershaw is seen reacting to mistakes, this particular instance for the Nationals ace seemed to have almost no trigger at all. He had just struck out Austin Barnes, and Chase Utley came to the plate. The camera then catches Scherzer going on a rampage as he talks to himself. Apologies for the crude language if you are able to lip read.
Finally, we draw our attention to Chris Sale, who is having a monstrous season. A year ago he was oddly using a lower velocity to some success in the early part of the season. That’s where we find this particular example of insanity. Unfortunately we don’t have footage of the now Red Sox ace cutting a White Sox throwback uniform to shreds, so this fit of insanity from May of last year will have to do. He was facing the Twins, a team he has struggled mightily against. The first inning was not going well, and he had just hit a batter to force in another run with two outs on the board. He did not take it too well.
Kershaw, Scherzer, and Sale are three of the best pitchers in the game today. They all have specific talents that have taken them to that place. They’re all incredible baseball players. But apart from the talent they all have the innate, unquantifiable quality about them. To the eyes of the fans, it looks like insanity. One tiny mistake and they’re set into a fit of rage despite in most cases still providing dominant outings. While some will call it insanity, others argue that it’s simply their drive to win games.
Pitchers carry a ton of weight on their shoulders, having a distinct impact on every play for half the game. These three pitchers in particular carry even more weight as the touted aces of both their staff and the league in general. That weight, combined with high personal expectations leads to some wild outbursts. It appears insane, but it is part of what makes them great pitchers and so wonderfully entertaining to watch.
Ryan Schultz is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. His work can also be found at BP Southside and BP Wrigleyville. Follow him on twitter @rschultzy20