Visually Comparing Clay Buchholz, 2012-2013

Greetings FanGraphs readers, I am Drew Sheppard, and if you recognize my name it is probably from the Yu Darvish pitch selection GIF that made the rounds last week. Over the coming months, it is my goal to use similar techniques to put a visual spin on some of the information FanGraphs has always provided, including but not limited to similar pitcher breakdowns.

Today I will be offering a look at some of the repertoire for reigning American League Pitcher of the Month Clay Buchholz, using overlaid pitches from his up-and-down 2012 campaign as a reference point.

Buchholz Cut Fastball

These two cutters are from Aug. 4, 2012, against Ryan Doumit and April 25, 2013, against Marwin Gonzalez. I won’t be diving into statistics today, but the cutter has been a valuable weapon for Buchholz in 2013.

Buchholz Two-Seam Fastball

Here we have a May 1, 2013, two-seam fastball to Jose Bautista in Toronto that has been the topic of some discussion, while the Sept. 15, 2012, pitch to Moises Sierra appears to have more movement.

However, this is somewhat of an optical illusion. Toronto has slightly shifted its center field camera angle for 2013 to a lesser offset, affecting the appearance of the pitch’s very similar movement. This is something for viewers to consider when watching any game, as a straight-on camera provides a significantly different look than the more offset angles.

Buchholz Curveball

Finally, we have an April 25, 2013, curveball to Jason Castro matched up with one from Aug. 4, 2012, to Brian Dozier.

This is too little information to provide any conclusions on Buchholz’s banner month — it is just six pitches. This merely provides some further reference for your consideration.

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Drew Sheppard is a writer for FanGraphs, graphic artist and GIF enthusiast. If you have a topic you would like Drew to take a look at in the future using overlay GIFs, please let him know in the comments here or on Twitter @DShep25.

37 Responses to “Visually Comparing Clay Buchholz, 2012-2013”

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  1. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    Welcome, Drew! We’re glad to have you and to gawk at your artful GIFs. I have but two thoughts.
    - If a criticism were to be made: it takes a certain level of concentration to see that Marwin Gonzalez swings in the first GIF. Have you experimented with a slightly greater ‘presence’ for the second batter? (Maybe you have and the result was visually confusing…)
    - How do you pronounce ‘GIF’?

    Welcome to FanGraphs and cheers!

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    • Thank you Englishman, appreciated.

      - Ability to track the ball is first and foremost, and with such minor differences in pitches I wanted to be careful. There are always tweaks to be made though, I’ll take a look in the future.
      - This is a topic of much debate. It stands for Graphics Interchange Format, thus I’ve always said it with a hard G. However, format’s creator states it to be sounded as “jif”.

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      • Persona non grata says:

        Just remember, choosy developers choose GIF.

        +11 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Another distinguished personage who says “jif” (as do I) is comedian Paul F. Tompkins, for example in the YouTube video my username now links to!

          P.S. Thanks for the explanation, Drew.

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      • Tak says:

        I’m hijacking this comment since this it at the top…

        I’ve been following your awesomeness on Reddit (Tigers flair, SwT…) and I can’t wait to see more of your work!

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  2. Ed says:

    I think it is a bit much to draw direct correlations between any two pitches as empirical evidence. I’m guessing you chose pitches that appear to have the same release points and then look at the end results. But each pitch is so individualized that I think it is very difficult to make any judgments off of any of these gifs. One curveball is in summer of last year, another in April of this year. It doesn’t account for humidity, temperature, wind, etc all of which can impact grip and ball dynamics. Over the course of a season, it is easy to see statistical groupings and any anomalies, but impossible to jump to conclusions over two pitches superimposed.

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    • No argument from me Ed, as stated in the article I’m not trying to draw any conclusions. Just offering a quick look, I’ll leave the real analysis to others on this one.

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      • Baltar says:

        A very cool quick look.

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      • Ed says:

        Thanks for the quick look, nice visuals here. I didn’t mean you were drawing conclusions, but based on the high volume of attacks and criticisms on the Spitball Accusations page, I was afraid this would devolve into a “He did” or “He didn’t” comment section.

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    • l1ay says:

      I don’t think anyone else read this topic and instantly thought ‘direct correlation’ and ‘evidence’. As Shep mentioned, this is more for visual reference and we all know that we are a visual culture so these GIFs are great, in my opinion.

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    • KDL says:

      I suspect these are randomly chosen pitches…not cherry-picked examples of the best 2013 cutter vs. the worst 2012 cutter.
      So, the chances of each being representative of each pitch in the given year is pretty good, right? Granted, they still come with a caveat regarding usefulness…but probably not as big a caveat as it would seem on first thought. Or am I being illogical in some way I haven’t thought of? (not a snarky rhetorical question)

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      • Selection primarily based on PITCHf/x location data so that the movement could be compared. They are not moved to be on top of each other, that’s just where they are located. And yeah, the movement was close to the season norms.

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  3. B-Smack says:

    This is great stuff. I agree with Ed that the GIFs are too small a sample size to draw conclusions, etc. One thing I would like to see over the coming months e release points/stride length. Those are the precursor to velocity/movement. Take a pitcher that was terrific one year and has since fallen off (or vice versa). Are those things different YoY for those that are struggling or excelling from prior year? Mechanics are where it all starts, the pitches are simply the results. Just an idea thought I would share.

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    • Bibby says:

      Drew – Your attempt to determine if Buchholz if was cheating by analyzing a few pitches has not convicted him and possibly proven him innocent. Who knows? But, if he was doctoring the ball, as some say, don’t assume he’s been scared straight. Keep your compound digital eye on him! Bibby

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      • KDL says:

        If you didn’t read the article, raise your hand. (psst…Bibby, raise your hand.)

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      • PetCharles says:

        Perhaps it would apropos for HOF voters to assume Jack Morris was cheating throughout his career and require him to prove the negative.

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  4. James says:

    At reddit (r/baseball), we’ve dubbed these supergifs “Shep Diagrams”. We hope the name catches on!

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  5. Sandy Kazmir says:

    Awesome stuff, Drew I look forward to seeing what you put together with these.

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  6. mrkwst22 says:

    Orew: Compelling work… mesmerizing visuals that work on the non-verbal level so prevalent throughout baseball. And like umpire calls (also part of that non-verbal level) your work will have nay-sayers. But the greatest gif in baseball (TGGIB) proves it’s value. I was fascinated by the consistency of Darvish’s release point to throw his different pitches. If nothing else I think this technique of viewing a pitcher’s performance can be a great tool to help struggling pitchers to learn from their inconsistencies. Like the Supreme Court Justice said….”I may not be able to define pornography , but I know it when I see it!”

    Keep the work coming. It is a metric worth pursuing.

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  7. Marcus Tullius Cicero says:

    Very cool – the two-seam fastball one in particular is very interesting. I wonder if one could also use this to illustrate the degree to which umpires miss calls on high curveballs? Overlay a few different curves up in the zone that were called differently and see whether the shape/depth of the pitch appears to have an impact on whether umps call it a strike?

    It wouldn’t “prove” anything, but it would be cool.

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  8. John Fleming says:

    It would be be nice to know which overlay belongs to which pitch. For example is the 100% opacity 2013 Buchholz? because if that’s the case then I will offer an observation.

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    • Trader says:

      You can tell by the hitters.

      In all images, the opacity is this years pitch.

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      • Actually, the 100% opacity goes from 2012 on the cutter to 2013 on the two-seam and curveball.

        I’ll be sure to be consistent on that in the future for clarity and note it in posts when relevant. The batter themselves are secondary, but it also effects which pitch is on top of the other which is a larger concern. Thank you both for the input.

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        • Trader says:

          Oh yeah, you reversed the writeup on the Cutter too. My bad, read it as 2013 as well, apparently since Doumits name was so close to the 2013 date in the sentence.

          No problem though. Would make it easier to possibly spot mechanical differences if pitches from the same year had the same opacity, but if they were clearly labeled it isnt a huge deal

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  9. Daryl Strawberry says:

    Those look a lot like the pitches I saw back when I played for the Mets.

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  10. jcxy says:

    Great stuff Drew–glad to know we’ll be seeing these all season! Welcome aboard!

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  11. Wayne says:

    The glossy substance on his arm may have just been ice cream or something. Sure, he was rubbing it on his fingers, and sure, his pitches are moving significantly more, and his performance has been significantly better (he sucked last year), but that doesn’t mean he’s cheating.

    Just because he illegally put a foreign substance on his arm and is rubbing his fingers on said foreign substance and has become a completely different pitcher because of it doesn’t mean he’s cheating.

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    • Trader says:

      His pitches were moving the same to even LESS; not more…

      “All info per Brooks Baseball:

      4 seam Vert Movement in 2012: 10.18.
      4 seam Vert Movement on Wed: 9.68.
      4 seam Hor Movement in 2012: -4.25.
      4 seam Hor Movement on Wed: -4.36.

      2 seam Vert Movement in 2012: 7.95.
      2 seam Vert Movement on Wed: 6.63.
      2 seam Hor Movement in 2012: -6.00.
      2 seam Hor Movement on Wed: -7.58.

      ** Please note, for his career, his 2 seam Hor Movement averaged -7.21 **.

      Changeup V Mvmt in 2012: 5.78.
      Changeup V Mvmt on Wed: 4.86.
      Changeup H Mvmt in 2012: -1.36.
      Changeup H Mvmt on Wed: -1.59.

      Curve V Mvmt in 2012: -6.78.
      Curve V Mvmt on Wed: -7.97.
      Curve H Mvmt in 2012: 9.82.
      Curve H Mvmt on Wed: 9.01.

      Cutter V Mvmt in 2012: 7.23.
      Cutter V Mvmt on Wed: 5.11.
      Cutter H Mvmt in 2012: 1.69.
      Cutter H Mvmt on Wed: 1.87.”

      Oh, and there is supposedly photos of him actually rubbing the rosin bag (you know, the thing supplied to all pitchers to use in the exact way you describe him as having used it) plus no one on the other team ever bothered to question it what so ever and instead recognized it as nothing, so, well yeah…

      But I love the dedication to the conspiracy theory! Do you have such an argument to support claims little green men have replaced congress and are setting up an eventual takeover of the US to steal our military secrets as well?

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  12. Old Timer says:

    I believe that the 2013 pitch in the first image should be labeled “Gaylord Perry slider,” not “cutter.”

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  13. Kevino de Tejas says:

    I think the overall point is

    1) He wasn’t “doctoring the ball” to put a freak-a-zoid spin on it
    2) He was using the combination of wet, sweaty hair, dirt, and likely suntan lotion to improve his grip – LIKE EVERY OTHER MLB PITCHER

    and the big one:

    3) He didn’t even attempt to disguise his wet hair, dirty buttocks, forearm swipe routine. It actually seemed like he went through it with a military-like precision.

    Perhaps he should’ve been more low-pro, but heck Jack Morris watched the whole game and didn’t notice. Some cameraman hack did.

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    • Trader says:

      JA Happ and Junichi Tazawa were openly doing the exact same thing the very next night – Morris decided to similarly call Tazawa out for cheating (not Happ though, oddly…) while Dirk Hayhurst was off claiming all pitchers, randomly specifically naming Cliff Lee for some strange reason, actually cheat

      Meanwhile players and Coaches on both teams, as well as many across the game and countless retired players have all watched the game and I have yet to see even one of them think anything what so ever was fishy or being handled incorrectly

      Perhaps what we should do is just ignore lunatics when they are throwing mud in an attempt to get someone to pay attention to them or their conspiracy theories instead of their teams horrific play

      Oh, and what he was using on his arm was just Rosin. There are shots of him applying it, and most of this is being talked about because of the misconception over what Rosin even is – a problem helped by Dirk and Morris actually openly lying about it themselves, claiming it should be white and powdery and not leave a shiny spot. What Rosin really is though:

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  14. Kyle says:

    This is amazing. It shows you half an inch is the difference between a pitch being deadly or a ball the batter won’t chase. His two seam fastball shows why he’s pitching so well. His curve was pretty inconsistent before but a plus pitch at times. His cutter was the best pitch watching him go for a perfect game. Didn’t notice the difference in his fastball as much.

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  15. Catoblepas says:

    gah these are so pretty

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