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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.