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First Pitch After a Mound Visit

Posted By Ben Duronio On March 9, 2012 @ 10:30 am In Research | 37 Comments

During Yesterday’s Phillies and Pirates game, Phillies announcer Garry Matthews Sr. stated that he believes fastballs are almost always the next pitch thrown after a pitching coach comes to the mound to talk to his pitcher. Mike Axisa caught this and passed it along, and the topic seemed interesting and worthy of research.

The logic behind Matthews’ statement seems valid. A pitching coach most often comes to the mound when a pitcher is struggling, and a pitcher’s fastball is often the pitch he can most easily get over for a strike. But if this actually were the case, hitters would sit on fastballs each time the pitching coach came out. Hitters perform exceedingly well in fastball counts already, and this would basically be free knowledge that a fastball was coming if teams and players operated in this manner. I suspect that teams would not be this predictable.

So, I took a sample of 1,000 pitches from last May and June that were thrown immediately after a pitching coach came to the mound. I did not include when a coach came to the mound and changed pitchers. In scenarios where the next batter was intentionally walked, I went to the first pitch thrown to the subsequent batter after the free pass. I also combined both four-seam fastballs and two-seam fastballs for sake of simplicity. Although 1,000 pitches is a decent sample size, it is not large enough to say that the results are definitive. Below are the results compared with the league average frequencies of each pitch.

After a visit CH CU FC FB SI SL Other
10.1% 9.9% 5.3% 44.5% 14.2% 14.8% 1.2%

 

League Avg CH CU FC FB SI SL Other
10.7% 8.9% 5.3% 47.8% 9.0% 15.8% 2%

As you can see, Matthews’s statement is not quite accurate. In fact, it seems as though fewer fastballs are thrown in these situations, but again the possibility of sample size error must be understood. Looking at the rest of the results, most of the rates are relatively consistent with the league averages, but for some reason there is an odd spike in sinkers thrown after mound visits.

While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly why more sinkers would be thrown after a pitching coach talks to his player, my logical answer would be the same reasoning I mentioned in defense of Matthews’ original statement. A pitching coach often comes to the mound when a pitcher is struggling and has allowed men on base. With a pitcher being in a jam, a sinker may be the best way to force a double play and get out of an inning, but I cannot say for certain that this is the cause for the spike..

Another potential reason could be that sinker ballers allow more men on base and are therefore more often in situations where a pitching coach comes out to talk to them. This is similar to having better numbers with men on base than with the bases empty. Worse pitchers usually allow more men on base, so the opportunity for a player to succeed against a lower quality pitcher is greater. There are other factors of course, but the logic behind both situations is sound.

In looking at how each team attacked these situations, the range of fastball percentage for the league was 15.4% on the low end and 67.5% on the high end. The top five teams in fastball percentage after a mound visit were the Yankees, Rockies, White Sox, Tigers, and Pirates. The bottom five, lowest to highest, were the Twins, Braves, Marlins, Diamondbacks, and Indians.

Matthews specifically mentioned Yankees pitching coach, Larry Rothschild, when he was speaking about this topic, stating that Rothschild would call a fastball away. I did not have the time allotted to research the accuracy of his statement, but I plan to research this further. He was certainly accurate in mentioning Rothschild specifically though, as the Yankees were the only team that had a fastball rate above 65% in my sample. If Matthews was incorrect about Rothschild’s suggested pitch placement, at very worst he was one for three, and a .333 average is not too bad when speaking in hyperbole.


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