Home Runs Up and Down the Zone

The topic of Charlie Furbush and his elevated (but small sample) home run rate came up for discussion between Jeff Sullivan and I over the weekend and it got me thinking. That’s not true. It would be impossible for it to have gotten me thinking; otherwise I need to talk to the Red Cross about some new and unusual first aid techniques. It did direct my thinking however and the first hypothesis that came to my mind was that to wonder if maybe Furbush’s pitch locations played a part in his home run proclivity. Specifically, I wondered if Furbush was elevating his pitches. That seemed a plausible engine for more home runs.

However, such an explanation relies on an assumption that elevated pitch location does in fact open up a pitcher to a higher home run rate. Usually that’s in part attributed to simply more fly balls coming from pitches above the knees and not actually an increase in home run rate as we typically (per fly ball or ball in air) measure it. I decided to look at both. Using pitch F/X, I grabbed all the batted balls and separated them into horizontal bands. It turned out that the two plots (one using home run per ball in air and the one below) aren’t radically different.

The curved shape of the plot is what I expected, but I was surprised to find it more of a gentle, rounded (turn your head. No. Other way) peak rather than a more triangle shape. Between roughly 27 and 42 inches there is little variation in the home run rate, wobbling in the 4-4.5% range. Over 600 balls in play (a good number), that’s about a two home run spread. Those 15 inches cover almost a foot and a half worth of vertical space and most of the vertical strike zone, which past studies have shown is usually called between 21 and 42 inches.

So most of the strike zone ends up with being about equally susceptible to home runs. It’s often remarked how pitching “up in the zone” is the danger zone for home runs. It makes intuitive sense and it’s not wrong; but from the data, the general wisdom appears overblown to me. There’s a difference between a pitch at the knees and a pitch at the belt for sure, but not much of a change between pitches thigh-high and at the belt.



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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.


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Kenny Ocker
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Is there enough data there to be able to look at the effects of elevated breaking balls/off-speed pitches versus elevated fastballs? I think there may be a difference between the two, but I’m not sure. I’m basing this off the logic of the “hanging breaking ball” that gets stuck up in the zone before being deposited in the bleachers.

James Gentile
Member
4 years 8 months ago

yeah, or how velocity in general effects the HR rate. For instance, Pineda is said to live up in the zone, but as of last year he had enough heat to get away it. It is feared that once he loses a mph or two, more of those fastballs will be deposited into the bleachers as well.

Solidarity
Guest
Solidarity
4 years 8 months ago

Interesting stuff, Jeff. Any ballpark figures (no pun intended, I swear) for where the top and bottom of the strike zone tend to fall for the measurement-impaired among us?

MangoLiger
Member
MangoLiger
4 years 8 months ago

1.) That’s not Jeff.
2.) It says in the article that the strike zone is “between roughly 21 and 42 inches.”
3.) If the pun wasn’t intended, you could have rewritten your post after having noticed the pun.

Solidarity
Guest
Solidarity
4 years 8 months ago

1) Got linked here from Jeff, and thought he said he wrote it. Apparently not.
2) Missed that in the reading (running theme here), so thank you.
3) If it’s a fine way of expressing what I mean to ask, I don’t really see a need to edit it.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
4 years 8 months ago

What’s the range of the height of players and their stances? Belt high could be 27-42 inches right? Or thereabouts? Say 3-4 inches below and above belt high is a good range for “meat”, so you have some guys who’s “meat” zone is 27-33ish inches and some guys who’s “meat” range is 36-42 inches.

Also, maybe look at pitch FX and see if guys can locate corners better at different heights.

davisnc
Member
Member
davisnc
4 years 8 months ago

Just think about pant inseams. I sincerely doubt there’s anyone in MLB with a 27-inch inseam (and pants don’t even go all the way to the ground). I’d say belt-high would be like 34-38 inches, in most cases. So given your 3 inches on either side standard, you’d expect to see a lot of damage done to pitches between 31 and 41 inches. Which, looking at the graph, seems about right.

davisnc
Member
Member
davisnc
4 years 8 months ago

I guess I’m not really taking crouches into account. Meh. Whatever. Seems pretty close.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
4 years 8 months ago

IMHO, this has a lot to do with the changes in players swings, from a more level linear approach (hands to the ball) to a rotational c-path swing approach.

With the c-path swing, getting to the high pitches are more difficult, but it’s easier to launch the thing/belt pitches.

Since no one really calls a high strike anymore, it’s a low risk swing, provided you can lay off the high ones.

I would not be surprised if the same data in 1960 showed that high strikes were the ones that were “goners” more often.

Pitchers adjusted to keep the ball down, batters adjusted their swing to hit those pitches better. Be interesting to see if pitchers start moving the ball up in the zone more often.

This also likely reflects the changing zone.

It’s a shorter, but wider zone … so it can narrow how a batter has to look for a pitch. Anything above the navel might as well be over the batter’s head.

jimbo
Guest
jimbo
4 years 8 months ago

Great analysis topic! Amazing how one chart can call so much conventional ‘wisdom’ into question…

If the effective zone is 21-42 that’s a height of 21 inches. Given the steep increase between 21 and 27 in the chart that’s still almost 30% of the zone no? Maybe keeping the ball down is more important than not elevating.

Perhaps a useless tangent, but does anyone else think that home runs off elevated pitches just look better to the human eye? If all I had was the usual tv view of pitcher/hitter I’d guess that I could tell what is/is not going to be a home run more accurately when the pitch is up. Maybe that’s where some of the adage comes from??

joser
Guest
joser
4 years 8 months ago

Maybe, though I think the comments above on the type of pitch — the proverbial “hanging breaking ball” — might hold some of the answer. Certainly worth further investigation, anyway.

wobatus
Guest
wobatus
4 years 8 months ago

I wonder if there is any difference between lefty hitters and righty. The conventional wisdom of your average announcer seems to be that lefty sluggers love the ball down and middle in, golfing homers. Righties tend to like it up, supposedly.

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