Mauer’s Performance by Pitch Location

Playing around with the new splits yesterday Dave C. noted Joe Mauer‘s bizarre spray chart numbers. To right field Mauer hits ten grounders for every fly ball and Mauer’s ISO and wOBA by direction in play resemble a RHB more than a LHB peaking in left (opposite field for Mauer) and smallest in right (pull field for Mauer).

Some commenters to Dave’s article questioned how Mauer handled pitches to different parts of the plate, and whether that was responsible for this pattern. I thought these were very interesting questions. I plotted the average angle of his grounders and balls in the air based on the horizontal location of the pitch. I show the average lefty for comparison. Here -45 corresponds to the left-field line, 0 to second base and dead center, and 45 to the right-field line.

Not surprisingly all of the lines are increasing, the farther inside a pitch is the more it is pulled (greater angle meaning farther to right field). For LHBs grounders are, on average, pulled while balls in the air depend on the pitch location: inside pitches hit in the air go, on average, to right while outside pitches go to left. I have previously shown this with the HITf/x data and Matt Lentzner has a simple, but very cool, bat-ball collision model that shows why this is the case. Anyway Mauer’s ground balls are not all that different than the average lefty’s, but his balls in the air are. No matter where the pitch is Mauer, on average, hits balls in the air to left field. Even on far-inside pitches the average fly ball Mauer hits will be to center-left. This is how he ends up with all his pulled hits as grounders.

This backs up Dave’s suggested defensive alignment, “teams should consider employing two different shifts against Mauer; an outfield shift playing him as if he was a pull-heavy right-handed batter, and an infield shift treating him as a pull-heavy left-handed hitter.”

How does this affect how well he does on those pitches? Here is Mauer’s and the average LHB’s ISO by horizontal pitch location.

The average lefty has the most power on pitches middle-in and on such pitches Mauer has about average power. But Mauer’s power keeps increasing as pitches get father away from him and peaks middle-away. On pitches on the outer half of the plate Mauer has substantially more power than the average lefty. Since Mauer is going the other way with his fly balls anyway it makes sense that he would do best on pitches slightly away.

Taro, a commenter to Dave’s post, noted maybe it would be best to pitch Mauer inside, where he has just average power. Have pitchers adapted against Mauer and thrown more inside pitches to him?

Doesn’t seem so; in fact if anything pitchers pitch even farther away to Mauer than they do to the average lefty. It looks like faced with the already Herculean task of trying to get Mauer out pitchers are not doing themselves any favors with their approach. It will be interesting to see if that changes this coming season.

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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.

11 Responses to “Mauer’s Performance by Pitch Location”

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  1. glassSheets says:

    Can I get some credit for commenting on it in the “Intro to Splits” comment section prior to Dave C’s article? Loving the articles by the way.

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  2. Michael says:

    Great stuff Dave, as always. Are these performances from 2009 only? If so, I wonder if that power on the outer half of the plate was there in 2008 and whether it’ll stick in 2010 and onward.

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  3. Mike Green says:

    Excellent. I imagine that there might be difference vs. RHP and vs. LHP. That might be worth exploring.

    We know that Mauer hits fastballs better than off-speed stuff. It might be interesting to have a look at off-speed stuff inside, in particular.

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  4. Mike Green says:

    Incidentally, if turns out that RH sinkerballers can get Mauer out inside, Bryan Smith will find some way to mention it in his prospect reports. The usual modus operandi for a RH sinkerballer is to attempt to get the LHH to turn over on an outside pitch, but it won’t work with Mauer.

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  5. Bill&TedsExcellentAdventure says:

    From what I remember last year it seems like pitchers were throwing more inside on mauer towards the end of the year. I do specifically remember mauer turning on a Verlander fastball towards the end of the year. The problem for most pitchers is throwing inside is not a very easy thing to do. In my mind (as a former pitcher) it is the hardest pitch to throw – to throw inside & off the plate. I very much doubt that Major league teams do not know that pitching Mauer hard and in is probably the best way to get him out. That being said, Mauer does have the ability to turn on pitches. He doesnt need to do it very often, but I imagine if pitchers started pounding him inside constantly he would swing earlier, and hit more flyballs (homeruns) to right field.

    About the defensive alignment, from what I can tell most teams do shift him correctly. Outfield shifts like a right handed pull hitter, and infield shifts like a left handed pull hitter. The infield does not put on a full shift, from what I have seen the shortstop is usually up the middle but still on the shortstop side of 2nd base.

    I think if you were to completely pull over the infield (with the shortstop on the 2nd baseman side of 2nd base), I am pretty sure mauer would adjust to it. If the 3rd baseman is playing too far away from home Mauer will bunt until he positions himself in a spot to field a bunt.

    Basically what I am trying to say is I think Major league teams know where to defend Mauer, and they know where to pitch Mauer. Mauer is a good enough hitter he is going to be able to adjust to either. Although, I do believe he is not pitched inside enough, I think that is because the pitcher isnt following scouting reports, not because Major league teams do not already know that he doesnt usually handle the inside pitch as well.

    It will be interesting to see how pitchers start attacking him. The one plus to when a pitcher throws inside is that Mauer does not swing if it is going to be a ball, or if with less then 2 strikes he isnt going to be able to handle the pitch well. So even if you throw him inside, most likely you are going to have to do it more then once.

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    • Steven ellingson says:

      Yeah, there are some pitchers who just never seem to go inside. They aren’t going to try something new when Mauer’s at the plate. The problem is, if you miss inside, he doesn’t swing, and if you miss over the middle, he smashes it. You need to be able to hit that corner if you want to get him out inside.

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  6. The Hit Dog says:

    God this site is awesome.

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  7. Luke in MN says:

    Enjoyed both the original article and follow-up. I’ll just add that I wouldn’t mind if all your analysis for the rest of the season dealt with Mauer.

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  8. Taro says:

    Interesting stuff.

    There seems to be a tendency for umpires to call inside pitches on LHBs, so that shouldn’t be an issue for opposing pitchers. Even if you “miss” you are better off missing middle-in than middle-away with Mauer. Worst case scenario you hit him.

    Clearly Mauer’s approach at the plate is to stay back on the fastball (almost to an extreme), giving him some extra time to recognize a pitch, adjust to the offspeed, and lay off of the high fastball.

    Pitchers need to force him to try to pull the fastball and then they can start messing up with his timing with offspeed pitches and opening up the rest of the plate.

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  9. delv says:

    As I said in the prior Mauer thread, Cano is great comp except with more of his HR inside. Plenty of FB and power the other way, weak grounders to the right side, etc.

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