Research – PitchZone

There were nearly 700,000 pitches thrown during the 2005 season and Baseball Info Solutions tracked pretty much every single one of them. Whether it be location, speed, pitch type, or the result of the pitch, there’s data on all of them. The real question is, what the heck is anyone to do with all this data? There’s probably thousands of ways you could try and tackle this “pitch data”, but I was particularly interested in trying to see if I could visually display a batter’s coverage of the strike zone.

What I decided to do was put a grid over the strike zone and see the percentage of pitches thrown to each section that became hits. I’m calling these charts PitchZone charts. For starters, let’s take a look at the major league average for left-handed and right-handed batters. The box in the very center is the strike zone and the color code represents the percent of balls thrown to each area that become hits.

The results are not really surprising at all. As pitches get closer to the center of the strike zone, they become more hittable. I’m sure you already knew this (or at least suspected this), but now you can see it. The next step was to take an individual batter’s pitch data and make it into a PitchZone chart. Let’s see how good Albert Pujols is at covering the plate. Please note the scale change; instead of 20% being red, 50% is now red.

Pujols covers the strike zone extremely well. The only area that it looks like he’s not able to cover is down and inside (the pink area in the bottom right corner of the strike zone). Throw the ball right over the center of the plate and there’s a near 50% chance Pujols is going to get a hit. For comparison sake, let’s see what a not so great batter looks like. Here’s Corey Patterson (my current whipping boy):

Doesn’t look nearly as good, does it? Patterson appears to have a lot of gaps in his swing. Additionally, you can compare each player’s PitchZone to the league average to get charts that show you which areas a batter excels. Here’s Pujols against the major league average for right-handed batters. Please note the scale change again as this is now percent over or under league average.

To no one’s surprise, Pujols is league average or better in just about every area. Patterson on the other hand (compared to other left-handed batters) is worse than league average in a lot of spots and only better in a few select areas. It looks like he might be ok at handling pitches on the outer edge of the strike zone.

How many times have you heard an anecdotal account of a batter not being able to handle an inside pitch, or a batter chasing pitches down and away? Hopefully charts like these (and future versions) will give a more concrete understanding of why batters perform like they do. What your eyes tell you and what’s actually true may not always be the same. Obviously there’s still a lot of work to be done here and in the coming months I’ll be writing a number of articles on pitch data for batters and pitchers alike.

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David Appelman is the creator of FanGraphs.

7 Responses to “Research – PitchZone”

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1. Mike says:

David, great stuff as always!! Your data on Patterson is very interesting…he does seem to have a lot of holes. What are you thinking about writing next for pitch data? It seems like you have a wealth of info now on the topic…

Oh, and the lefty/right splits is another great addition. It helps a lot.

Did you get my last few emails too? haha…

2. David says:

Hey Mike. Not entirely sure what I’ll be looking at next, but it will probably have something to do with pitch location on the pitchers side of things. I also want to look at BABIP by location.

I got your e-mails, but I just haven’t had a moment to sit down and research them properly, hopefully later this month. Just don’t want you to think I’m ignoring you or anything. :) So much to do before the season starts, it’s really not that far off!

3. Mike says:

David:

For pitchers, I would be interested in seeing Carlos Silva. He had the highest % of pitches in the strikezone this year – I bet his PitchZone would be pretty interesting.

I did have one question concerning the Pujols graph. You said: “The only area that it looks like heâ€™s not able to cover is down and away (the pink area in the bottom right corner of the strike zone).” Since he’s a righty, down and away would be the bottom left corner wouldn’t it? Or am I misreading something?

Don’t worry about the emails, I figured you have been working on some things. I know you’ll get to the stuff, and I’m interested in you sending me some of those graphs. There are some more things that I would like to talk to you about, but I’ll wait until you send me a reply.

Keep up the good work!

4. David says:

Actually, you’re absolutely right. Down and away would be in the bottom left hand corner. I forgot that these are from the pitcher’s point of view, so a right hander batter would be on the right side. So it shoud say: it looks like he has trouble covering pitches down and inside. I’ll fix this.

5. Rob McMillin says:

I’d be very curious to see Adrian Beltre. He’s infamous for chasing outside sliders in the dirt.

6. David says:

I haven’t run Beltre’s graph (these currently take a while to do), but just taking a quick look, I’m pretty sure he does have a tendancy to swing at pitches down and away. Actually, the current graphs don’t really tell you much about a batter’s plate discipline, but more more so what location they handle pitches in the best. No one handles pitches outside of the strikezone very well, but that doesn’t stop some of them from swinging. ;)

7. Rory says:

These PitchZone charts are great! Is there anyway they can be made available for all hitters? (Or more hitters?) Thanks