Tulowitzki’s SwStr% vs. Fastballs and Sliders

Dave Cameron wrote on Monday about Troy Tulowitzki and his case for the NL MVP award against Joey Votto. I thought I’d take a look at how pitchers in the rest of the NL West, particularly the Giants, could cool down Tulo’s recent hot streak, especially when the two teams face off this weekend.

I will only look at fastballs and sliders instead of all major pitch types, due to small sample size. I contemplated taking all of Tulo’s pitches since 2007, but Tulowitzki was a much different hitter in 2008 (.263/.332/.401) than he is now in 2008 (.325/.390/.588).

First up, let’s look at where pitchers get Tulowitzki to swing and miss on fastballs, whether the pitcher is right-handed or left-handed (pitches from 2009-2010, 1353 fastballs from RHP, 505 fastballs from LHP):

The red circular regions are what I call 50% swing zones and represent a concept I borrowed from Jeremy Greenhouse. Essentially, Tulowitzki swings at over 50% of all fastballs thrown inside the swing zone. The heat maps in this example are of swinging strike percentages (SwStr%), which is swinging strikes per pitch (as opposed to swinging strikes per swing, which I term Whiff%). Nothing too terribly surprising here, as Tulo, like most hitters, swings and misses the most when a high fastball comes. Tulo’s swing zone from RHP fastballs is larger than the one from LHP fastballs though, and it seems right-handed pitchers should occasionally throw the high and inside fastball. Let’s look at Tulowitzki against sliders (pitches from 2009-2010, 600 sliders from RHP, 159 sliders from LHP):

Here, you see smaller swing zones from Tulo, meaning he is less likely to swing at a slider than he is at a fastball. But when he does swing, the probability of a swinging strike is higher, especially on low and away sliders from RHP or low and inside sliders from LHP. If you look at the position of the swing zones relative to SwStr% hot spots, it would seem to me that Tulo chases low and inside LHP sliders more than he does low and outside sliders from RHP. In either case, Giants pitchers should look to throw timely low sliders going toward the pitcher’s glove side.

However, for the most part, Tulowitzki is very patient at the plate, only swinging the bat 43.4% of the time this season (recall from yesterday’s post that Vladimir Guerrero swings at 60.7% of all pitches). His patience seems to pay off in terms of limiting swinging strikes, as he whiffs on only 6.2% of pitches. As a comparison with other NL MVP candidates, Joey Votto whiffed on 10.3% of pitches this season while Ryan Zimmerman whiffed on 7.3% of them. If the Giants want to shut down Tulowitzki this weekend, looking to induce swinging strikes would be one possibility, but I believe it would be better to approach Tulo by avoiding solid contact.

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Albert Lyu (@thinkbluecrew, LinkedIn) is a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, but will always root for his beloved Northwestern Wildcats. Feel free to email him with any comments or suggestions.

19 Responses to “Tulowitzki’s SwStr% vs. Fastballs and Sliders”

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  1. Tom B says:

    I’m gonna go with the obvious answer… because he doesn’t lead the NL in a single statistic? He basically ranks behind Votto in every measurable way.

    Maybe if he (or the rockies for that matter) showed up and did this for the entire season, it wouldn’t even be a question…

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  2. adohaj says:

    1. He doesn’t have 100 runs or 100 rbi
    2. The so called Coors effect

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    • Travis L says:

      Why did you refer to it as “so called”? There is an effect; it is measurable; we do know what it is.

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    • Trebecois says:

      how many SS are there with even his road numbers?

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      • Patrick M says:

        His road wOBA is .400 which is better than the season marks for Cano, Beltre, Ryan Zimmerman, Adrian Gonzalez, and Prince Fielder. In short, the answer is no. He is one of the best players in the game, regardless of position, and regardless of his home stadium.

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  3. David G says:

    An editor could improve this site greatly.

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    • James says:

      I think people need to chill out on the editing expectations… It’s not like errors on this site are different from other raw technical/research documents…

      In many cases, the errors are obvious and don’t require correction for comprehension. In any event, I think the comments regarding them add nothing. Personally, I am content with a free site with frequent postings, limited advertising, and occassional errors. Isn’t this all primarily a diversion anyway?

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  4. fredsbank says:

    you made a typo, i believe you said ryan zimmerman was an mvp candidate?

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  5. Jim Lahey says:

    Because he got hurt earlier in the year… and didn’t help the Rockies win last night despite batting first in the 9th inning down 3-1… if only he could have hit a 3r HR..

    (i want to see him win MVP)

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  6. The Duder says:


    Is the 50% swing zone incorrect for RHP sliders? Why doesn’t it surround the high swing area? Great stuff overall though. Really enjoying these.

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    • Albert Lyu says:

      The “high swing area” you are referring to is where swinging strike percentage is high for Tulo. The 50% swing zones are where Tulo likes to swing, as opposed to the heat maps, which are where Tulo swings and misses per pitch (not per swing).

      So the low and outside area for Tulo is where Tulo has a high swinging strike percentage, which is not affected by how many sliders are actually thrown there. Let me know if that makes sense.

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    • Albert Lyu says:

      That’s actually a much better way of saying it, but yes, that’s correct.

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  7. Scott B says:

    “Here, you see smaller swing zones from Tulo, meaning he is less likely to swing at a slider than he is at a fastball.”

    Just because the area is smaller in the heat map does not mean that he is less likely to swing- there could have been a higher concentration of pitches thrown in that location.

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  8. John says:

    “Just because the area is smaller in the heat map does not mean that he is less likely to swing- there could have been a higher concentration of pitches thrown in that location.”

    By definition, if the area in which Tulo pulls the trigger on sliders 50% of the time is smaller than the area in which he does the same for fastballs, it would suggest that he’s more selective with the former.

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