It's the year of the utility relief pitcher.
We've already seen Philadelphia Phillies part-timer Wilson Valdez(notes) notch a surprisingly impressive win in relief in a 19-inning marathon victory over the Cincinnati Reds on May 25. And on Saturday afternoon, it was Toronto Blue Jays utilityman Mike McCoy(notes) — who actually started at second base for an injured Aaron Hill(notes) — taking the mound against the Boston Red Sox in an effort to help manager John Farrell conserve his bullpen in a game they lost 16-4.
The result for McCoy? A 12-pitch inning in which he set down Carl Crawford(notes), Marco Scutaro(notes) and J.D. Drew(notes) in order. It was only the second 1-2-3 inning for Toronto pitching all day, but it wasn't just that McCoy pitched a perfectly clean frame, it was the dominating manner in which he accomplished it. He actually had major league hitters looking completely lost at the plate.
Check out these Fangraphs GIFs of McCoy getting a swing-and-miss on 25 percent of his pitches, which is three times more often than your average pitcher. All right, so it's a small sample size, but the third whiff was so filthy it almost put J.D. Drew back on the disabled list.
So what was McCoy's secret to success in his big league pitching debut?
"Throwing softer is usually more effective," said McCoy, who added he once threw 3 2/3 innings in a Minor League game in 2009 after his team ran out of pitchers. "Big league hitters are used to seeing 90 mph and I'm throwing 72-73; they usually get themselves out on that."
As the Fangraphs piece mentioned, McCoy's offerings weren't just fooling professional baseball hitters, they were fooling modern technology.
Nine of McCoy's pitches were classified as knuckleballs — not actually because they were knuckleballs, but because, as Dan Brooks tells us, they were thrown so slowly that Pitch F/x — like most parents — just didn't understand.
With the information we're gathering here, millions of men who gave up pitching baseballs in their teens are ready to make a comeback. Matter of fact, I think I'm heading down to the park for a little bit of long toss later this afternoon.
McCoy's fine work also earned him a standing ovation when he was announced as the pitcher and hit for himself in the bottom of the ninth. A fun moment and a nice way to end a rough afternoon for the home team.