Pretty much all people are creatures of habit, meaning pretty much all baseball players are creatures of habit, meaning pretty much all pitchers are creatures of habit. There’s a reason why pitchers don’t like getting unusual rest between starts. There’s a reason why pitchers don’t like having uncertain roles in the bullpen. Pitchers are all about routines, all about doing the same things over and over and over. They know of a process, and they want to stick to that process.
If you want to take this to the extreme, there have been those pitchers who’ve said they don’t pay attention to who’s at the plate. Of course, that can’t be true, or at least that shouldn’t be true — the identity of the hitter is very important. Thankfully catchers are usually paying attention. Pitchers are mindful of who’s hitting, because different players should be pitched differently.
Thinking about this got me thinking about how pitchers pitch differently in different situations. Then eventually that got me thinking about how pitchers pitch against other pitchers, because I just wrote a post about Tommy Hanson‘s offense, and pitchers hitting just fascinates me. We know that pitchers like to have a certain general routine, a certain general approach. To what degree do they deviate from this approach when the guy hitting just isn’t much of a threat?
I should warn you now that what’s included in the table below is in no way surprising. This is research that probably didn’t need to be conducted because everything in the table you easily could’ve guessed. At least with regard to the pitchers hitting. With that said, let’s get a complete positional breakdown. All of the statistics should be familiar to you, as loyal and intelligent FanGraphs readers. Let’s take this moment to congratulate ourselves on being intelligent. Now, a table:
This is just 2012 data, by the way, although past-season data isn’t meaningfully different. Here are the minimums and maximums for each column, excluding the pitchers:
Pace: 21.8 seconds, 22.6 seconds
Zone: 48%, 51%
Fastball: 55%, 60%
1st-Strike%: 58%, 61%
There are some differences, but they are slight. I thought for a moment while putting these numbers together that we might get them to mirror the defensive spectrum, and indeed, second basemen and shortstops have been pitched to the most aggressively. But there’s very little spread, until you look at how the pitchers compare. Pitchers, completely unsurprisingly, are fed a ton of fastballs, a ton of first-pitch strikes, and a ton of pitches in the zone. That’s what you do when the hitter sucks. You pitch to him like he sucks. You might expect that pitchers might see fewer pitches in the zone, since they might be more prone to chasing, but most pitchers are somewhat disinclined to swing in the first place so you might as well groove what you’re throwing.
The bit that most grabs my attention is the pitcher pace against pitchers. On average, pitchers take 22 seconds between successive pitches, according to PITCHf/x. There’s very little difference in this, even against shortstops and designated hitters. When facing other pitchers, pitchers take 19 seconds between successive pitches. This is where we get to thinking about that pitcher routine. It stands to reason that each pitcher has a routine in between his pitches. These numbers show that that gets hurried up. One explanation might be that the pitchers on the mound just spend less time thinking about what they’re doing. An alternate explanation might be that the pitchers at the plate spend less time out of the box, which means less time fiddling with their gloves and less time taking signs. Most pitchers, when batting, probably aren’t given very complicated signs.
We can take this a step further. Pitchers, on the whole, are terrible hitters, and American League pitchers are even more terrible than National League pitchers. Might there be differences in how AL pitchers and NL pitchers are approached? There certainly are.
Again, just as you’d expect. AL pitchers get even more fastballs, even more first-pitch strikes, even more pitches in the zone. AL pitchers are an embarrassment. They should probably just be put in jail. Check out the Pace column and you see a slight difference in there. NL pitchers are pitched quickly; AL pitchers are pitched quicker. With that said, the average pitcher’s pace this year with Chris Getz at the plate has been 19 seconds. Chris Getz has been pitched as quickly as National League pitchers. Not a whole lot of thinking going on with Chris Getz at the plate. Take that sentence to mean as many different things as you’d like.
We’ll conclude with some trivia. We have reliable PITCHf/x data going back to 2008, and since 2008, 146 pitchers have batted at least 50 times. Here are the fastest and slowest paces:
- Jordan Lyles, 16.7 seconds
- Erik Bedard, 16.8
- Andrew Miller, 16.9
- John Maine, 17.0
- Josh Johnson, 17.1
It had to be Micah Owings. Just this season, it’s Greinke and Randy Wolf, tied at 22.0 seconds. And at the other end, it’s Josh Johnson, at 16.1. Josh Johnson slugged three home runs in 2009, posting a .620 OPS. Pitchers weren’t afraid, and as it turns out, pitchers were right not to be.