With all the talk of late of the proposed initiatives by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred to speed up the pace-of-play in baseball, I took it upon myself to find the longest plate appearance by a Blue Jays batter in 2016. Why? Because I love long at-bats. And I was curious to see if the longest at-bat by a Blue Jays hitter felt really long in the scheme of the game.
The unlikely hero for my theory was utilityman Darwin Barney, who faced Texas Rangers pitcher Jake Diekman on May 3rd. Barney, batting in the bottom of the seventh inning, came to bat with the Blue Jays down 1-0.
During the at-bat, Diekman throws 15 pitches to Barney (which falls one short of the longest at-bat in Blue Jays history – or the longest at-bat that Baseball-Reference had on record for the Blue Jays). It is a long at-bat. It is eight-plus minutes, and there is a lot of downtime.
Barney’s hitting situation is complicated by two things; the Jays are down a run, and when Barney comes up to bat with no outs. Oh, and there are two runners on base.
So, you’re Darwin Barney, your team is down by one run in the bottom of the seventh with Kevin Pillar on second and Russell Martin on first, what is John Gibbons asking you to do? He’s asking you to bunt, obviously.
And Barney, being the sort of player who can’t really say no when Gibby asks him to lay down a bunt, tries to do exactly that. Tries to. He is woefully unsuccessful in his bunting attempt, on two pitches. Two pitches!
He takes one strike trying to put down a bunt, and gives away another strike fouling the bunt back. He’s down 0-2 in two pitches in the at-bat, but somehow manages to get Diekman to throw thirteen more pitches. It’s quite a thing to behold, and because it is, I’m going to break down the at-bat, pitch-by-pitch.
First, here’s the full at-bat, condensed, because who has eight minutes to watch a single at-bat by Darwin Barney:
90.3 MPH Two-Seam Fastball – Called Strike – 0-1
On the first pitch of the at-bat, Barney squares early, tipping his hand. Diekman’s first pitch to Barney is a two-seam fastball, that, by all accounts, is a strike. Barney obviously disagrees (seemingly thinking it’s outside) as he pulls the bat back.
Pitch F/X data (courtesy of Brooks Baseball, show here from the catcher’s perspective) seems to corroborate home plate umpire Sam Holbrook’s strikezone:
This is Darwin’s worst moment in the at-bat; Diekman throws a fastball roughly five MPH less than his average fastball, and all Barney needs to do is meet the pitch with his bat. He does not. Advantage Diekman.
Barney steps out of the box and walks up the third base line to talk to third-base coach Luis Rivera. They have a quick conversation; I assume it goes something like the following:
“Hey coach, should I bunt again?”
“The hell do you think?”
“Get back in there and actually bunt it this time, idiot.”
45 seconds elapse between the first and second pitch.
93.1 MPH Two-Seam Fastball – Foul Bunt – 0-2
OK, better attempt by Barney here. He at least puts wood on the ball, and even though he completely fails to put the ball in play, he seems to remember that he’s being asked to bunt, and not being asked to hit a three run home run.
Diekman’s pitch finds much of the middle of the plate, but, let’s face it, this is Darwin Barney we’re talking about here, and everyone in the Rogers Centre knows that he’s bunting here. I have no way of, or no appetite to, find out what Gregg Zaun thought of Barney’s bunt attempt. I would imagine he wasn’t pleased.
Gibby scowls from the dugout, visibly displeased that his master plan to bunt Pillar and Martin over has failed.
At an 0-2 count, Diekman has the advantage. 32 seconds elapse between the second and third pitch.
94.5 MPH Two-Seam Fastball – Foul – 0-2
The first of the foul balls, on a questionable pitch up-and-in. Probably shouldn’t have swung at that, Barney.
Josh Donaldson waits eagerly on the bench. He’ll be waiting a little bit longer.
95.6 MPH Two-Seam Fastball – Foul – 0-2
Another fastball from Diekman, and another foul ball from Barney on an even-more-inside-pitch than the third.
Diekman calls catcher Brett Nicholas to the mound. Maybe Barney is starting to get in his head…
Jeff Bannister looks on from the bench, unconcerned. For now.
95.4 MPH Two-Seam Fastball – Ball – 1-2
Maybe Diekman and Nicholas decided they were going to throw a ball here just to test out Barney. Nice try, guys.
Diekman’s pitch is way outside.
94.5 MPH Two-Seam Fastball – Ball – 2-2
SECOND BALL IN A ROW. I’m picking something up here from Diekman; I think it’s fear. Fear of Darwin Barney.
Kevin Pillar looks on from second base, trying to remember what the dugout bench feels like, hoping his teammates haven’t all gone home and left him by himself.
85.8 MPH Changeup – Ball – 3-2
THIRD BALL IN A ROW. Diekman throws a changeup, the only one he’d throw during the at-bat.
Diekman’s fraying at the seams now. He’s a shell of a pitcher; a husk. He’ll have nightmares of this at-bat for months.
94.2 MPH Two-Seam Fastball – Foul – 3-2
Barney spoils a pretty good fastball from Diekman right on the outside of the plate.
Josh Donaldson still waits on the bench. He was a young man when the at-bat started.
94.8 MPH Two-Seam Fastball – Foul – 3-2
A borderline pitch from Diekman elicits a defensive swing from Barney. Nice try Diekman; Barney’s locked in.
94.8 MPH Two-Seam Fastball – Foul – 3-2
Another pitch from Diekman, another foul ball from Barney.
The Rogers Centre crowd, now realizing it is witnessing something special, becomes more animated. Some fans are probably considering the purchase of a Darwin Barney Blue Jays jersey.
94.9 MPH Two-Seam Fastball – Foul – 3-2
Another Diekman fastball, another foul ball from Barney, another souvenir for a Blue Jays fan.
This is a battle of wills; neither will give in.
Jeff Bannister, once sitting, is now standing. Things must be serious. He picks up the Rogers Centre phone; he’s probably canceling his dinner plans.
The Rogers Centre faithful, previously sitting, have now also begun to stand. They are even more animated. They are becoming Darwin Barney converts.
95.3 MPH Two-Seam Fastball – Foul- 3-2
Diekman dials up the velocity on the 12th pitch; but it’s still not enough to overwhelm the unflappable Darwin Barney.
Diekman and Nicholas meet again. They haven’t spoken words to each other for what feels like hours.
Ryan Goins watches enviously from the bench. Darwin has just tied his longest career at-bat of 12 pitches. Barney will obviously break it on the next pitch. Just another thing Darwin Barney has taken from Ryan Goins.
85.2 MPH Slider – Foul – 3-2
Another slider from Diekman, another foul ball from Darwin Barney, Bringer of Souvenirs. The ballboys have surely been busy this at-bat. Considering this pitch was piped down the middle of the plate, Barney should have done more damage to it. Diekman’s gotten away with one.
95.4 MPH Two-Seam Fastball – Foul – 3-2
Diekman resists the urge to plunk Barney, instead choosing to pitch very inside.
Barney, like Tom Petty, will not back down.
85.2 MPH Slider – Called Strike – 3-3
And that’s it.
For some reason, on the fifteenth pitch of the at-bat, Darwin decides that he’s had enough of swinging, even though he has swung at far worse pitches in the entire at-bat.
The called strike on Diekman’s slider ends the at-bat, eight minutes after it began.
After all that
The final pitch breakdown (from the catcher’s perspective):
Barney watches two pitches on the outside part of the strikezone, but swings at five pitches inside.
In the grand scheme of things, Barney’s at-bat meant little for the Blue Jays; their win probability dropped eleven percent after the at-bat. Pillar and Martin are left stranded on base at the end of the seventh inning, and Toronto does not score in the bottom of the eighth, either.
Justin Smoak would homer in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game 1-1; Justin Smoak would also homer in the bottom of the 10th to walk it off for the Blue Jays. It was a strange game.
Barney’s at-bat, meaningless for its contribution to the boxscore, accounted for three percent of the total time of the three-hour and 25 minute game. The ball is not in play once during the eight minute at-bat, and when time for visits to the mound, councils with the third-base coach and all the time Darwin Barney spends outside of the batter’s box are removed, you end up with one and half minutes of actual gameplay.
I love long at-bats in baseball games; measured in number of pitches. I could do without the extra time around those 15 pitches that Darwin Barney took, and I am completely onboard if Commissioner Rob Manfred wants to put certain initiatives in place to minimize that downtime.