Where Not to Locate

Wow, what a trading deadline that was! One for the ages certainly and one that people will remember whenever trade deadlines are mentioned, forgetting that the vast majority are closer to snoozefests than the shop-a-thon of this year’s.

Given how active it was, it is easy to have July 30′s Chicago-Colorado game get a bit lost in the shuffle. To recap, here is what happened with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning:
Carlos Gonzalez single
Troy Tulowitzki double
Brad Hawpe double
Chris Iannetta triple
Ian Stewart home run
Clint Barmes single
Melvin Mora double
Dexter Fowler home run
Ryan Spilborghs single
Carlos Gonzalez single
Troy Tulowitzki double
Brad Hawpe walk
Chris Iannetta walk
Ian Stewart fly out

Thirteen consecutive hitters reached base spanning three pitchers: Sean Marshall, Andrew Cashner and Brian Schlitter. Cashner was the worst of the offenders, coming in after Hawpe’s double and being relieved after Spilborghs’ single. He faced six hitters and recorded no outs on six balls in play. Here Cashner’s pitch location chart, courtesy of BrooksBaseball:

Cashner's pitches

Note the light blue marks representing balls put into play of which there were six and none resulting in an out. Five of the six were centrally located vertically and the one that wasn’t was over the middle of the plate at the knees. Four them could be called center-center. Suffice to say, that’s not the great place to try and live for a pitcher and it’s no wonder that the Rockie hitters were able to tee off so effectively.




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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.


25 Responses to “Where Not to Locate”

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  1. CircleChange11 says:

    The pitch location that ended the game was “piss poor” as well. CarGo hit the crap out of that.

    I know the information is just from one game but this is what I mean when I state that pitchers have *some* influence on BABIP and HRA.

    I would not be surprised if the leaguewide wOBA on “center” pitches is .400+. In pitching this is what is referred to as “missing in the zone” and is the difference between “control” (they were strikes) and “command” (likely not where the pitcher wanted it).

    Instead of looking at it and thinking “bad luck on BIP”, this would be a good example of what one should expect when so many pitches are centered at the ML level.

    That’s what makes pitching at the ML level so difficult, you can make multiple good pitchers to a batter, and one mistake, and you’re hurt. What makes hitting so difficult is that pitchers that do that aren’t long for MLB. Very unforgiving.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      A large part of the increased performance on center-center pitches is going to come from fewer strikeouts and more HR, though.

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    • Nathaniel Dawson says:

      I always think of control and command as entirely different qualities. Control would be his ability to hit his spots. If he misses his target location, he didn’t have good control. I think of “command” as his ability to consistently deliver his pitches in the way he intended, i.e., throwing them at a certain speed, with a certain amount of spin and spin angle so they have the desired break, etc. If some of his pitches come out flat, or don’t have good movement, aren’t thrown with the proper velocity, he is lacking command of his pitches.

      That’s all about nomenclature, of course. I think those terms mean different things to different people.

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  2. CircleChange11 says:

    The Rockies had a similar comeback against StL not too many games ago.

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    • quincy0191 says:

      This wasn’t a comeback so much as an outburst. They were already leading the game 17-2. But your point is taken.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Yeah.

        I was thinking of two different situations, and confusing them as similar.

        You got the main point, that the Rockies have been putting some big numbers up in a single innning lately (at least going by ESPN highlights).

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  3. vivaelpujols says:

    IMO, that location chart doesn’t look very bad. Most pitchers throw plenty of mistake pitches over the course of a game and they don’t all get hit. If you throw 5 mistake pitches and all of them get hit, that’s unlucky.

    Cashner at least was in the strike zone and had plenty of pitchers on the black. If you look at, say, Taylor Buchholz’s location plot for that game, it’s hard to say that one is definitely better than the other:

    http://www.brooksbaseball.net/pfxVB/cache/numlocation.php-pitchSel=430587&game=gid_2010_07_30_chnmlb_colmlb_1&batterX=&innings=yyyyyyyyy&sp_type=1&s_type=.gif

    Buchholz threw nearly as many pitches as Cashner that were centercut and fewer on the black. However, he pitched a shutout inning.

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    • biondino says:

      Lucky you arrived – someone’s praising the Rockies! Quick, shoot them down!

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    • Ray says:

      I was thinking the same thing and Buchholz’s location looks light years worse given that half of them had little to no chance of being strikes. Center-center pitches look to actually have neutral to negative run values, and of the five Cashner pitches called balls, he was squeezed on two and the other three were debatable, at least where the rulebook is concerned.

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  4. Stu says:

    Well Pinella certainly made the correct decision

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  5. CircleChange11 says:

    Not all mistake pitches are crushed. It’s a probability thing. We’ve all seen example that are exceptions, whether it be Soriano hitting a low and away fastball into the LF stands (he’s a freak), or Wainwright freezing Beltran with an 0-2 deuce right down the middle.

    As I said it’s probability. Sometimes hitters take a pitch, foul it off, get fooled/surprised, etc. But the odds of the pitcher being successful or the batter making weak contact on centered pitches are not good. It’s not like HS where your flamethrower can just “knock the bat out of his hands” for the 6-9 hitters.

    BA and HR rates per zone are revealing. At that point it’s not random luck.

    Dan Haren gave up a HR to Vlad on a pitch low and away, Vitto tagged Halladay on a low and in cutter. On those situations you tip your cap to the hitter or chalk it up to luck, but when a ML pitcher gives up a hard hit on a centered pitch, that should be expected.

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    • vivaelpujols says:

      Overall though, pitches center cut are only hit for homers or doubles a small percentage of the time. They actually have negative (meaning good) run values for the pitcher, per the link above.

      When one hitter makes hard contact on a center pitch, that’s to be expected. When you throw 8 center cut pitchers and 6 of them are jacked, that’s not to be expected – that’s getting unlucky.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        When you throw 8 center cut pitchers and 6 of them are jacked, that’s not to be expected – that’s getting unlucky.

        Well, yeah. That may not even happen in BP for some hitters.

        From the link …

        •Pitches down the middle of the zone have the highest run value of pitches in the strike zone.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        From the link …

        •Pitches down the middle of the zone have the highest run value of pitches in the strike zone.

        Well no shit. But those pitches overall have a neutral to negative run expectancy. That contradicts your statement that “the odds of a pitcher being successful on a down the middle pitch is not good”.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I’ll read the article in the link for the methodology, as well as the commentary from Tom Tango on the limitations of the study.

        I am open to changing my mind and learning something new, but think about what we’re saying that “pitching down the middle” is a neutral situation. The wild assumptions and conclusions could be crazy.

        I would point out a couple of things:

        [1] The run value for “down the middle” pitches is neutral. It’s neutral in a game that is set up in a way that good hitters make an out 6 to 7 out of 10 times (i.e. favors the pitcher/defense, big time). The run value “down the middle” is neutral. That seems very “hitter friendly” to me.

        [2] I have been talking about BABIP and HR rates on pitches down the middle. You bring up run values as if you just debunked the whole teaching concept of “you can’t live in the middle of the plate” (to major league hitters, not youth baseball). Show me where BABIP and HR rates are not significantly different on balls down the middle versus elsewhere, and I will accept it and count is as learning something new.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        That contradicts your statement that “the odds of a pitcher being successful on a down the middle pitch is not good”.

        Context man, context.

        We’re comparing success in that zone to success in other zones.

        What is the wOBA (BA, HR%, etc) on pitches down the middle? How does that compare to the same metric in the other zones?

        I repeat, your odds of success are not good pitching the ball down the middle. Now “not good” doesn’t mean a .950 wOBA against or anything like that (that might not even be statistically possible given the slant toward the defense). But, as compared to throwing the ball in other zones, your odds are worse pitching down the middle. Guys that do that continually (outside of extreme talent — i.e., Rob Dibble, Nolan Ryan, etc) will not be in the league for long.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        That contradicts your statement that “the odds of a pitcher being successful on a down the middle pitch is not good”.

        Context man, context. We’re comparing success in that zone to success in other zones.

        What is the wOBA (BA, HR%, etc) on pitches down the middle? How does that compare to the same metric in the other zones?

        I repeat, your odds of success are not good pitching the ball down the middle. Now “not good” doesn’t mean a .950 wOBA against or anything like that (that might not even be statistically possible given the slant toward the defense). But, as compared to throwing the ball in other zones, your odds are worse pitching down the middle. Guys that do that continually (outside of extreme talent — i.e., Rob Dibble, Nolan Ryan, etc) will not be in the league for long.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I wish you would have read the link within the article instead of just looking at the pictures.

        [1] The study did not break the pitches into “take” and “swing” (as Tango points out).

        This is important, because …

        [2] 3-0 pitches where the hitters do not swing leads to a big negative value in that situation.
        [3] 3-0 pitches where the hitter swings have a huge positive run value.
        [4] Hitters take 3-0 pitches 9 times out of ten (I’m repeating Tango at this point, but what he is saying is very obvious … and important).

        This increases the negative component of “pitches down the middle”. I also wonder how many first pitches ‘down the middle’ are taken since “it’s the first pitch”.

        I’m talking about hitting pitches down the middle. I would like to see the run value numbers for BIP on pitches “down the middle”.

        Care to speculate whether those will favor the pitcher or hitter? (as compared to other zone, not compared to batting 1.000 or .000 (almost everything will favor the defense in that model, and something that was “neutral” would be pretty good for the batter.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        You’re missing the point. For one, run values are the same thing as wOBA, just in a different unit. Each thing that happens (homer, double, single, strike, ball, foul, etc.) is assigned a value and the run value is the aggregate of those values for a specific type of pitch. BABIP and HR/FB are already included in run values, so there is no need to look at those seperately.

        And I’m not saying that pitching down the middle is a good strategy. I’m saying that pitches down the middle have a below average run expectancy. If a guy throws a fastball down the middle – based off of historical data – you would expect it to be hit a certain amount of the time, be swung on and missed a certain amount of time, be taken for a strike a certain amount of the time and be fouled off a certain amount of the time.

        My whole point is that when a pitcher, say Cashner, throws a handfull of pitches down the middle, you only expect a certain percentage of them to be hit hard. What happened in the other night is that a far larger percentage of Cashner’s down the middle pitches were hit compared to what you’d expect. And a far smaller percentage of Buchholz’s pitches down the middle were hit compared to what you’d expect. Cashner got incredibly unlucky, whereas Buchholz probably got lucky.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I agree completely with what you are saying about Cashner, that’s an extreme situation.

        Even when you look at a player’s BA on pitches in the “center zone”, there may be none of them with a BA great than .500

        Baseball is set up in a manner that favors the pitcher and defense. When you take a diagram of a field and draw a circle around each player to demonstrate their range, there is actually not a whole lot of room for a hitter to get a hit. Combine that with the difficult of hitting a pitch well, and it makes players like the great ones even more mystifying.

        This might be illustrated in the charts in the link, ALL of the pitches in the strike zone have a negative run value, due to the weighting used. The pitchers in the cente have the most neutral or least negative. All of the other negatives work off of that. The actual run value of a BATTED ball in the center, is most reasonably a positive value, since it’s neutral now … and that incorporates a negative value on ALL middle of the plate pitches not swing at (even 1st pitch or 3-0 counts, where a good number of players do take … and almost all take on 3-0).

        I think we pretty much agree on the base premise. As I said before, even in BP, there will be a good number of balls out of 100 that would be “outs”. Matter of fact you can watch the goofy relief pitchers out there in the outfield making a game of it.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        Yeah I guess we agree. IIRC, even Pujols only hits like .400 on down the middle balls. I’m sure guys like Helton in his prime absolutely slaughtered the down and in pitches though.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        LHBs v. RHPs do have a very good value on pitches low and in. Some stereotypes are based in reality more than others.

        Another thought on Cashner …

        One of the most important aspects of the “influence” or “luck” that gets neglected is “count”.

        If Cashner, who has good heat, threw those 4 “down the middle’ fastballs in a count that favored the hitter, and was an obvious fastball situation, then the hitter was likely looking “dead red” … and the pitcher is basically hoping for the batter to take and/or some “bad luck” or “probabilities” to work against the hitter.

        Count, location, sequence, and a host of factors work together.

        For example, it is entirely possible, and perhaps probable, for a pitcher with a slider with a negative value (bad for the pitcher in this case), to have the following “splits”:

        +12 on sliders low and away ahead in the count.
        -20 on sliders middle.

        The key then, isn’t the pitch, but rather location.

        Same thing with Marmol. His value on sliders off the plate, outside HAS to be outstanding. Batters often swing and miss, when they have NO chance of doing anything productive with that pitch. It’s a testimony to how good and decieving that pitch is. But, thrown over the middle (hanging) and sliders are one of the easiest pitches to crush.

        I keep coming back to the old addage, “The wrong pitch thrown at the wrong time in the right location, is still a good pitch”. The data supports this.

        Only a few unique talents get away with poor location consistently, and in this case I am referring to the “Rob Dibbles” of the world (in his prime).

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  6. Dann M says:

    Cashner has struggled recently, and part of it seems to be that someone somewhere is telling him not to use his best pitch. Sure, he can hit 100 on the radar gun with his fastball. And he certainly has solid movement on his highly touted slider. But his change-up (thrown <9% of the time) is a thing of beauty when better employed. He's been getting more than 50% grounders, but when they do hit it in the air, his HR/FB rate is 24% – 6 homers, 25 fly balls, 27.1 innings. One would suspect that, as a flamethrower, he'd be a strikeout pitcher, but his low K-rate in MLB isn't an anomaly: his K-rate in the minors is 7.8 K/9 alongside a 4.1 BB/9.

    The home runs are the troubling part. In 177 innings between rookie ball in 2008 and Triple A before his call up this year, he had allowed 3 home runs. Total. Out of 139 hits and 745 batters faced. The Tootsie Roll Pop Owl repeats: one…two…*crunch*…three. So he comes up to the majors and gives them up at a 1.98 HR/9 rate. Is it location (chop off the bottom-left and top-right corners of the graph and observe the swath he throws to), pitch quality (unmoving fastball/cement mixer slider), jump in quality of competition, or what?

    And is Cashner a big league reliever, or a starter down the line? Zambrano started and relieved in the minors, much as Cashner did, and turned into a pretty good starter for a while there.

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  7. Zack says:

    Having nothing to do with where not to locate, but something I enjoyed about the play-by-play: the Rockies had a team cycle, in order, including the ground rule double. Very cool.

    In order:
    C. Gonzalez singled
    T. Tulowitzki doubled
    B. Hawpe ground rule double
    C. Iannetta tripled
    I. Stewart homered

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