FanGraphs Baseball


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  1. it’s too bad cliff lee can’t match up against the 2004-2005 era chipper jones, with his sub-10% O-swing; it’d be an immoveable object vs. irresistible force showdown!

    Comment by Dudley — August 23, 2010 @ 3:32 pm

  2. Sorry, I don’t follow. Is this a measure of command (putting the ball where he wants it,) or command (not walking people?) All I can tell is that he throws his fastball right down the middle. Am I right, is he really just pounding the same spot over and over?

    Coincidentally, I was just watching Josh Bell’s 2 HR highlights last night (both off Cliff Lee,) and both pitches were in the same spot… and right where that one red dot is vs LHB. Obviously, it seemed like a mistake, given the results.

    Bell’s two HRs not withstanding, Lee’s obviously got a good enough fastball to get away with putting the pitch in the same spot as much as he does, but I wonder why he doesn’t locate it around the zone?

    Comment by BobLoblaw — August 23, 2010 @ 3:49 pm

  3. Am I reading that right, where it shows Lee throwing the ball down the middle of the plate much more often, while other pitchers are going more for the corners?

    I ask because his fastball has neither great velocity nor great movement, but his cutter appears to be very good (and very effective against Jeter and ARod, even up in the zone, during the playoffs). Changing speeds effectively could also account for him being able to throw the ball there (center) a lot and still be effective.

    Admittingly, I expected his chatr to look more like Tommy Glavine, but it doesn’t. His location appears to much more in line with a power pitcher like Clemens or Schilling.

    Looks like his pattern is likely “start move and move away” to both RHBs and LHBs.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — August 23, 2010 @ 3:50 pm

  4. Sorry, pattern = “start center and then move away”.

    Batters should likely be looking “first pitch fastball”, since if Lee gets ahead of you, you’re likely not going to see anything hittable for the rest of the at bat.

    I wouldn;t worry about not “making Lee work” because you swung at the first pitch. His lack of walks ensure that he isn;t going to rack up an early big pitch count anyway.

    Would love to see the swing stats on those balls that are right down the middle, or just a little up and away. I wonder if those are primarily first pitch strikes, where batters are taking, or looking for something “middle-in”.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — August 23, 2010 @ 3:54 pm

  5. So after Cliff Lee gets lit up, and has given up 18ER in his last 19.2IP , we get yet another we love Cliff Lee article?

    PS – I think you are looking at Cliff Lee’s control with those charts. Command is throwing the ball where you want it (not necessarily for a strike)… A ball over the outside corner is great, but if the pitch was intended to be inside that is poor command (and wouldn’t show up on your graphics)

    If you want further evidence of Lee’s command show the pitch location relative to where the catcher is setup not a graphic showing Cliff Lee’s control. Your conclusion on location in the zone also seems to be what you want it to be, not what the graphic shows…. on LHB the highest frequency location appears to be right down the middle

    Comment by joe — August 23, 2010 @ 3:56 pm

  6. funny, three very similar comments all written at the same time.

    While these charts show remarkable consistency, and you can’t argue with his results, it doesn’t seem like a good strategy. If you can tell you’re getting a fastball, you don’t have to guess location. But it certainly does cut down on the walks, which is what Dave Allen is talking about, and maybe that alone makes it a good strategy.

    Comment by BobLoblaw — August 23, 2010 @ 4:03 pm

  7. So after Cliff Lee gets lit up, and has given up 18ER in his last 19.2IP , we get yet another we love Cliff Lee article?

    I thought I just dreamed him giving up 4 HRs.

    I do agree the timing of the article is interesting given what has taken place. I wonder if MLB teams have noticed the same data as the author … only a couple of weeks ago, and are now jumping on that first strike they see?

    I would LOVE to hear batters talk amongst themselves about Cliff Lee. I think we might be surprised at what they think. Since Lee doesn’t really have the typical lights out stuff of say, Lincecum, Verlander, etc … they might just be dazed and confused about how Lee gets them out continually.

    Maybe he was nibbling early in his career, and the result was a demotion. he may have just said “screw it” and started pounding the zone to get ahead, and then use change of speeds and movement to put batters away. I don;t see his “stuff” as just overwhelming, but he sure as heck does mix it well. Like I said, in the playoffs, he had Jeter and ARod so fooled that he was striking them out with cutters up in the zone, which would typically be a “no no” in pitching. He must be a master at “disrupting timing”, because he’s not dazzling location on the corners like we might think a Glavine, Maddux, Saberhagen, etc would.

    Really, I thought he would just be pounding the corner low and away (and then extending the zone like TG47), but he’s not … he’s pretty much saying “here it is, hit it if you can” … and then when they don’t, they don’t get another good one.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — August 23, 2010 @ 4:13 pm

  8. Also looks like he pitches more up and away and less low and away than the rest of the league.

    Comment by bisonaudit — August 23, 2010 @ 4:16 pm

  9. I wouldn’t just assume that it’s a good strategy to throw fastballs in the center of the zone. But, I would agree that it may not be as dangerous as we might assume.

    What it does compell is further examination to see if it is pitch sequence, getting ahead, or challenging the hitters early, that is the difference between Lee’s success and the other pitchers. It may be better to give up a center cut FB on 0-0, rather than 1-0 or 2-0 … as strange as that may initially sound. But, once you get behind, the batter shifts his thinking to “dead red”.

    I admit, this has me rather confused, and very interested in more information.

    If you were to show me the charts and ask me “Whose location chart is this?”, my first qiestion would have been [1] who leads the majors in home runs allowed?, or just assumed it was Jimenez or Verlander, given their velocity.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — August 23, 2010 @ 4:19 pm

  10. Here’s what I want to know about Cliff Lee, why is he so good for the past 3 years, but mediocre before that? What changed in 2008?

    His walk rate dropped in 2008, and stayed dropped. Could this pounding of the zone be the answer?

    He never had a GB% near 40% until 2008, but it’s been 40% or higher ever since. Anyone know what else he might be doing differently?

    Comment by BobLoblaw — August 23, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

  11. I was thinking about Lee, and how he tends to go through these “stretches” where he just gets lit up. Whether the FIP, BABIP, and/or HR/FB is abnormal in these starts, it’s now happened two years in a row (he actually finished with a relatively poor last few starts in Philly before the postseason last year).

    Now, I’m absolutely no expert on pitching, but it seems to me that Lee is just a different type of dominant pitcher than we’re used to seeing. He doesn’t really have “blow away” stuff. He just trusts his fastball and his cutter. For instance, if Felix or Ubaldo have their stuff working, they can get hitters out even if the command is iffy.

    Cliff Lee only walked one guy against the Orioles, but if you watch the highlights of the game, he was clearly missing spots. What these charts don’t show is that he missed his spots and put the ball in a better place to hit, rather than out of the zone. I don’t think this is necessarily “bad luck”, because despite being strikes, the pitches were cookies.

    I go back and forth on this. I think this tendency actually makes his dominance more incredible, because just a few bad pitches can mean a bad, bad day for Cliff. You wonder if the way he’s pitching is something he can sustain for years, or something he’ll just lose one day and become just another guy. I tend to lean toward the former, but I don’t really know a guy to whom to compare Lee.

    Comment by Eem — August 23, 2010 @ 4:25 pm

  12. I know that both of Josh Bells’ HRs (mentioned earlier) were first pitch fastballs, and crushed to dead center.

    After getting burned once, Lee went right back a second time, nailed that red dot on the chart a second time, and got taken to dead center a second time. Didn’t seem like a good strategy at the time, but maybe over the course of the season, the damage isn’t so great. Unless teams have adjusted…

    Comment by BobLoblaw — August 23, 2010 @ 4:25 pm

  13. To clarify, the pitches hit the spot on the vLHB chart, but JB was swinging right-handed.

    So, actually, maybe they weren’t where Lee wanted them.

    Comment by BobLoblaw — August 23, 2010 @ 4:32 pm

  14. A couple of things I’ve noticed…(not sure if this is the reason behind his success)

    1. His fastball speed is up (he was ~89mph early in his career, since 2008 he’s over 90 and has been just a bit over 91 the last few years. I’d be curious as to why his speed has gone up, but this as well as control/command has probably been why his fastball is a lot more effective
    2. He’s throwing a lot more cutters the last few years (assuming this is not an issue with pitch f/x classification). Even looking at cutters+sliders, he’s still using them more frequently the last 2 years
    3. He’s throwing fewer fastballs the last 2 years (this was surprising to me – though probably shouldn’t as he is throwing more cutters)
    4. The lowest 3 HR/FB rates of his career have been the last 3 years. He was 8-12% at the beginning of his career and now he’s at 5-6.5% over the last 3 (don’t know if this is him throwing fewer sliders and fewer fastballs or location or something else?)

    Comment by joe — August 23, 2010 @ 4:40 pm

  15. The Bell home runs appear to be in to different locations in the zone. One was a little down and in, the other was just a little up in the zone. But both were well within the red/pink region of the RHB image.

    Comment by Steve C — August 23, 2010 @ 5:27 pm

  16. I’m curious whether Lee really throws that many more cut fastballs the past 2 years, or if more of his cutters are were previously being counted as regular fastballs? I never remember Lee only averaging 88 mph with his fastball, I wonder if some of those 85-86 mph cutters were getting misclassified and dragging down the fastball speed average?

    Lee used to be an incredibly frustrating pitcher to watch, he couldn’t put hitters away. He’d often get ahead in the count, but then the hitter would foul a bunch of pitches off, Lee would miss with a few and pretty soon the count would be 3-2. I remember watching many a torturous, 11-pitch at bats with Lee on the mound earlier in his career. I don’t think there’s been any big secret to his success since ’08, just much better, consistent command of all of his pitches

    Comment by isavage — August 23, 2010 @ 5:31 pm

  17. I have followed Lee’s starts very closely since the beginning of his Cy Young year in 2008, having seen 90% of his starts since that point. The workload and Texas heat seem to be catching up with him in the last couple of starts. Lee was missing more bats in the zone earlier in the year, but that little bit extra movement on his cutter seems to have disappeared.

    When you pitch in the strike zone as much as Lee, that means you are going to give up big hits (4 Homeruns to the O’s) when your movement declines just a touch. There is really such a small difference between being an elite pitcher and just a good pitcher at the MLB level. I assume his level of play will return to typical quality this season. Over a long season, there will always be some variation in results due to luck and fatigue. He would still be my #1 choice to start a playoff game if my life depended on it.

    Comment by Phantom Stranger — August 23, 2010 @ 5:35 pm

  18. I use the term command to mean both putting the ball where he wants and not walking people. The region he hits the most compared to the average lefty is slightly away, though still in the zone, not in the heart of the plate.

    Comment by Dave Allen — August 23, 2010 @ 5:54 pm

  19. In the 2008 season Lee added a two-seam fastball. I think this is a big reason for his drop in gb% you can read about it in the 2008 Hardball Times Annual in the article by Mike Fast.

    Comment by Dave Allen — August 23, 2010 @ 5:56 pm

  20. And to isavage, I am pretty sure that those really are more cutters and not just a change in the classification.

    Comment by Dave Allen — August 23, 2010 @ 6:00 pm

  21. Looking at Brooks pitch F/X tool Lee threw about 9 of his 28 first pitches down the middle with 3 of those resulting in hits (one a Bell HR). Of those 9 pitches, 8 were two seamers and 1 cutter (To Lugo in the 3rd).

    Two seamers and Cutters have a tendency to produce ground balls, so this may not be a terrible strategy.
    Pitch one, down the middle for a ground ball
    Pitch two, work the edges of the zone being up in the count

    This could quickly turn into a problem if the two seamer is running a little high on that day, though it was not the other day.

    Comment by Steve C — August 23, 2010 @ 6:04 pm

  22. Good point Dave…

    Though this makes his velocity increase even more curious – wouldn’t a 2 seamer drop his average velocity a bit though? It seems he picked up a few mph starting in his age30 (or 29?) season.

    If he was throwing ~89, with primarily 4 seamers in his 20’s, somethings changed to be throwing 91 with 2 seamers mixed in (delivery mechanics? conditioning/strength?)

    Comment by joe — August 23, 2010 @ 6:36 pm

  23. But your charts give no actual indication of the pitch being where he wants, just where the pitch is relative to the plate. The problem with this analysis (if you are measuring command) is you are basically assuming every pitch is intended at the same location when clearly that is not the case.

    You’re mixing and matching control with command. If you are using the term command to mean not walking people then you are using the term incorrectly.

    Comment by joe — August 23, 2010 @ 6:58 pm

  24. I agree with CircleChange11 and joe. It’s as if he could indeed give up 18 ER in 19.2 IP, but nothing else matters–location, mistakes, meltdown innings, etc.–provided he doesn’t walk batters. A little tiresome.

    Comment by WY — August 23, 2010 @ 8:01 pm

  25. I’m pretty certain Lee always threw a 2-seam fastball. He may have started throwing it more often and with better command in 2008. Here’s a scouting report on Lee from 2002, from an article on the trade that brought Lee to Cleveland:

    “Cliff Lee’s game really fell into place in 2002, mostly due to a smoother delivery that he did a better job of repeating, prompting better command. He throws both a two-seam and a four-seam fastball in the 88-93 mph range, and mixes things up with an 81-mph slider, a slow (72-mph) curve, and a 79-mph change-up. He has an athletic/slender build and has shown some durability.”

    Sounds like the same pitch mix and speed that he has 8 years later.

    Comment by isavage — August 23, 2010 @ 8:28 pm

  26. What these charts don’t show is that he missed his spots and put the ball in a better place to hit, rather than out of the zone. I don’t think this is necessarily “bad luck”, because despite being strikes, the pitches were cookies.

    In pitching, we call this “missing in the zone”. It’s not usually a good thing.

    It also demonstrates the difference between “control” and “command”. Control is throwing strikes, command is throwing what you want, where you want it … or a variation is “if you’re gonna miss, miss where you want to miss”. In other words, if you’re going for the outsid corner … if you miss, miss off the plate, not over the center.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — August 23, 2010 @ 9:45 pm

  27. This is fairly confusing. On first glance it looks like he has a higher density of pitches on the inside half of the plate for both RH and LH, but you say the opposite. Or by “outer proportion of the zone” do you mean inside the strike zone, but not dead down the middle? That would be very hard to argue with this data, as he is all over the heart of the plate. TBH I was hoping for a lot more of an article with this title. I am sure there is a ton here that hasn’t been touched on, and a new set of graphics is probably a good place to start.

    Comment by The Duder — August 24, 2010 @ 9:28 am

  28. Is the chart from the “view” of the pitcher/mound or the catcher/plate?

    Generally, charts are published as if the reader were in the position of the catcher. But, if the charts are published as if they are being read from the mound, then everything would be reversed.

    I’m guessing this is why websites put little batter graphics next to the information. I’m not saying we have to or should, but we should establish or label the charts as “viewpoint: Pitcher/Catcher”

    Comment by CircleChange11 — August 24, 2010 @ 2:00 pm

  29. From the catcher’s perspective like always. I will make sure to always label.

    Comment by Dave allen — August 24, 2010 @ 2:16 pm

  30. Joe, there is no data available on where the catcher sets up, so we have to be creative in our interpretations of command. I agree that Dave should probably have explained his position a bit more though.

    Comment by Nick Steiner — August 24, 2010 @ 8:00 pm

  31. Dave, those charts are beautiful. My favorite visual of the site.

    I am still amazed that Lee pitches to righties middle, and even up, in the zone so often. It defies convention. I do remember in the playoffs, Lee was dominated ARod and Jeter especially with high cutters. It’s as if he “pitches backwards”, and the hitters are not used to it (and he has pretty good stuff).

    Anyway, keep these charts coming. I would love to see some of the more extreme patterns out there.

    Do you recall what the chart might look like for 1st pitches? I ask because I wonder is one of the big differences between Lee and others is getting ahead in the count with the first pitch. Looks like quite a few pitchers nibble, and I wonder if they start nibbling and eventually have to come over the plate when the batter is expecting it, while Lee starts middle and moves away.

    Anyway, great stuff. I don;t think the label for the chart is a big deal, but probably helps readers new to charts.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — August 25, 2010 @ 9:48 am

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