J.P. Howell Pitches Inside | The Process Report

J.P. Howell Pitches Inside

I was reading this Q&A from earlier today and ran across Greg Maddux’s answer to what about pitching has changed and it got me back to thinking about something I wanted to write before. Here is the part that caused the epiphany:

Greg Maddux: Today, pitchers throw a lot harder; they come after you with faster fastballs. That’s really about the only thing, although I think that pitchers maybe pitch in a little more now, because back then the hitters didn’t really cover the outside part of the plate as well as they do now.

The act of pitching inside is synonymous with masculinity. Grandparents talk about Bob Gibson, parents about Roger Clemens, and maybe children will talk about Dylan Bundy in a similar vein one day. You have to own the inside of the plate—no renting, no leasing, ownership is necessary—otherwise, the batter will take it as his own. Often these pitchers are burly, or display the crazy gene just enough to keep batters from taking action should they find the inside pitches offensive.

I did some research during the spring about the pitchers most likely to throw their fastballs inside. The results spelled out about half-common wisdom and half-shocking. J.C. Romero is all about busting lefties in, Matt Albers desires to have righties roll over his stuff, Mariano Rivera with his cutter is unafraid of going inside against lefties, but the left-handed pitcher who goes inside to righties the most shocked me. It wasn’t David Price, or CC Sabathia, nor Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee, but J.P. Howell.

And that’s funny to me. Howell isn’t physically intimidating and his mound presence lacks the bravado of a real headhunting plate owner. Heck, his fastball at its hottest is still colder than the low-end of Clemens’ present-day offering, but he owns that inside corner. He might be the most unexpected landlord in baseball, and easily the most likable. Whenever I think about Howell going inside, I am reminded of a touching Howell piece by Chris Jones, who often writes for Esquire and is now on Grantland; of the many Howell quotes and stories out there, this might be my favorite:

In the Rays’ clubhouse, J.P. Howell sat in his underwear at his locker, his back heaving with upset. He kept shaking his head and wiping away tears, and he stayed like that for a long time, until a reporter tapped him on the shoulder and asked if it would be all right to talk.

Howell stood up, just a skinny kid with a couple of tattoos wearing an old pair of boxers. He looked the most like me and the most like you. He turned around and swallowed. “Oh, man,” he said, his eyes red and filling again. “I f—ed up.”

James Shields, the pitcher who would have pitched Game 6, stood next to him. “J.P., man, go take a shower,” he said.

“Take a shower?”

“Yeah. Take a shower.”

“Okay,” Howell said. “I’m going to take a shower.”

There was something touching about the exchange, the shock of loss mixed with the bond of teammates.

“This is where we’ve wanted to be since we were little kids,” Shields said in Howell’s place. “J.P.’s upset right now, and he needs to go do his thing. But when we look back on this year, it’ll be all smiles, man. All smiles.”

Howell returned from his shower and pulled on a pair of jeans. The time off hadn’t helped much. His eyes still betrayed him. “If I went fastball in, I could have beaten him,” he said. “It’s tough to have it come to an end, because this was one of the most fun years of my life. I can’t be bitter, even though I am.”

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