Who’s Been Pitching Where

Earlier, FOX posted a piece I wrote about hitters who do and don’t see many inside pitches. Since the start of last season, Yasiel Puig has seen more inside pitches than anyone. Andrew McCutchen has been the very opposite, among righties. As far as lefties are concerned, pitchers are more willing to try to blow up Chris Davis and Ryan Howard than they are Chase Utley and David Murphy. It’s simple stuff, but I think it’s interesting stuff, and stuff we don’t get to see very often.

Now, in an outright display of corporate synergy, I thought it’d be useful to look at some similar kinds of data for pitchers, since pitchers represent the other half of the pitcher-batter equation. Consider this a companion article. Which pitchers throw inside the most to righties? Which pitchers throw inside the most to lefties? Which pitchers work down most often, and which pitchers work up most often? Probably, the data doesn’t have many surprises, but probably, the data does have some surprises. So let’s get into some tables.

I wound up setting a lower threshold of 1,500 pitches thrown since the start of 2013. This yielded a sample of 165 pitchers, and while it basically excludes relievers, starters are the more interesting pitchers anyway. As far as pitching inside, I split the plate into equal thirds, and I classified inside pitches as pitches over the innermost third, or even more inside than that. Let’s get started with throwing inside to righties. On the left, the ten highest rates. On the right, the ten lowest rates.

Inside, Right-Handed Batters

Pitcher In%, RHB Pitcher In%, RHB
Luis Mendoza 58% Aaron Harang 14%
Derek Holland 54% John Lackey 15%
Roberto Hernandez 50% Tyson Ross 18%
Jarrod Parker 50% Clay Buchholz 18%
Rick Porcello 47% Kyle Lohse 19%
Clayton Kershaw 47% Dan Haren 19%
Jeremy Hellickson 47% Marco Estrada 20%
Doug Fister 46% Ryan Dempster 20%
Erik Bedard 45% Zack Greinke 20%
Drew Smyly 44% Carlos Villanueva 20%

Any post with a table led by Luis Mendoza is a post that’s sure to go viral. Mendoza isn’t even in the continent anymore, having signed to play in Japan, but a year ago, no one worked inside more often against righties. That comes across in his heat maps. He pounded righties in with his fastball, and then he’d go low or away with his breaking ball, and maybe that predictability was a problem, but it’s not like righties lit Mendoza up. Something you’ll notice among the leaders is a fair number of lefties, and also other sinker-ballers like Hernandez, Porcello, and Fister.

At the other end, you have the guys who stay away. No one’s stayed away more than Aaron Harang, and what that’s gotten him is clobbered in 2013, and a sub-1 ERA in 2014. For the most part you see pitchers who aren’t blessed with true plus velocity, but then there’s Ross, who you’d figure might be more willing to try to blow righties away inside. But, inside isn’t where the slider goes. Incidentally, outside is where there might be called strikes to be found.

Moving on:

Inside, Left-Handed Batters

Pitcher In%, LHB Pitcher In%, LHB
Jeff Locke 55% Scott Diamond 12%
A.J. Burnett 46% Bruce Chen 13%
Charlie Morton 42% Jorge De La Rosa 15%
Tyson Ross 39% Bartolo Colon 15%
Nick Tepesch 38% Paul Maholm 16%
Brandon McCarthy 38% Alex Wood 16%
Adam Wainwright 36% Jason Marquis 16%
Alfredo Simon 36% Drew Smyly 16%
Clay Buchholz 36% Jered Weaver 16%
Gerrit Cole 36% Mike Minor 16%

Would you look at that? In first, a Pirate. In second, a Pirate, mostly. In third, a Pirate. In tenth, a Pirate. Sure seems like there could be something going on here. What does the data show? In 2013, Pirates pitchers threw inside to lefties 38% of the time, leading baseball. So far in 2014, they’ve thrown inside to lefties 31% of the time, second in baseball. Between 2009-2012, the rates were in the 20s. There’s a decline, but then neither Burnett nor Locke has thrown a pitch as a Pirate this season, and the team’s still well above average. This could be something organizational, or this could be something to do with Russell Martin. Or this could be a blend of a bunch of things, or this could be nothing.

A lot of guys who don’t throw in to righties do throw in to lefties. A lot of guys who do throw in to righties don’t throw in to lefties. That’s not a surprise — guys have different pitches, and different pitches belong in different areas against different hitters. Scott Diamond throws just one of eight pitches to a lefty inside. Bartolo Colon lives around the outer edge. This table’s version of Luis Mendoza might be Nick Tepesch. Who didn’t want to read something about Nick Tepesch on this Friday?

Let’s keep going. I defined low pitches as pitches no more than two feet off the ground.

Low, All Batters

Pitcher Low% Pitcher Low%
Jason Marquis 55% Zach McAllister 23%
Jake Westbrook 51% Mike Pelfrey 23%
Francisco Liriano 50% Hector Santiago 24%
Lucas Harrell 49% Barry Zito 24%
Luis Mendoza 49% Kevin Slowey 25%
Martin Perez 48% Bruce Chen 25%
Jeremy Hellickson 47% Chris Tillman 25%
Wade Miley 47% R.A. Dickey 26%
Tim Hudson 46% Tony Cingrani 26%
Wily Peralta 46% David Price 26%

That’s two tables, now, with Luis Mendoza in them. For the most part, these names make sense. You’d figure there’s a relationship between pitching low and getting groundballs, and sure enough, that’s true. Between groundball rate and low-pitch rate, there’s an r-value of 0.51 — on average, the more often you pitch down, the more often you’ll get grounders. The interesting players are the exceptional players.

We can use the relationship to calculate a simple “expected groundball rate”. Then we can look at the difference between expected groundball rate and actual groundball rate. Justin Masterson has an expected rate of 42%, but an actual rate of 58%. He’s been an extreme groundballer, while pitching low but not that low. With him, it’s clearly more about pitch movement than pitch location. Samuel Deduno has a very similar story. Charlie Morton and A.J. Burnett have also greatly exceeded their expected grounder rates. At the other end, Todd Redmond has an expected rate of 42%, and an actual rate of 30%. So, Redmond and Masterson have the same low-pitch rate, but Redmond has gotten grounders almost exactly half as often. A.J. Griffin and Tommy Milone have also both undershot the expected rate by 12 percentage points. Brett Oberholtzer and Jeremy Hellickson have been off by 11 points.

There’s probably something to be studied, here. It’s also beyond the scope of this particular study, which is not intended to be exhaustive. Clearly, there’s a lot more that goes into getting a grounder than throwing the ball down.

At last, I defined high pitches as pitches at least three feet off the ground. This is mostly the reverse of the previous data, but it’s not exactly the reverse of the previous data.

High, All Batters

Pitcher High% Pitcher High%
Zach McAllister 35% Jason Marquis 8%
Barry Zito 35% Jake Westbrook 9%
Tony Cingrani 34% Jeremy Hellickson 11%
Josh Collmenter 33% Jerome Williams 12%
Chris Tillman 33% Martin Perez 12%
Jason Hammel 31% Charlie Morton 12%
Shelby Miller 30% Luis Mendoza 13%
R.A. Dickey 30% Nick Tepesch 13%
J.A. Happ 30% David Phelps 13%
Matt Moore 30% Gerrit Cole 13%

The guy with the lowest low-pitch rate is the guy with the highest high-pitch rate. The guy with the second-lowest low-pitch rate doesn’t show up. Mike Pelfrey’s actually 40th in high-pitch rate, which means he’s posted a substantial middle-pitch rate, which might explain why he’s been absolutely terrible. On the other hand, consider: Pelfrey has been the leader in middle-pitch rate. Right behind him have been Bartolo Colon, David Price, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. So, it’s not like that’s preventing a pitcher from having success. It’s just been preventing Pelfrey from having success, along with, presumably, other factors.

Throwing high is risky, given the increased likelihood of giving up a dinger, but it can also come with a lot of success, since the pitches look tempting and can be tricky to catch up with. Tony Cingrani’s whole career is going to be about deception and elevated fastballs. Zach McAllister has found himself a steady job, and he’s allowed a perfectly acceptable dinger rate. It’s worth noting that the perceived velocity of high pitches is greater than the perceived velocity of equivalent low pitches, so you could say a fastball plays up when it’s up, which might explain names like Barry Zito and J.A. Happ.

On the right, Mendoza and Tepesch, back-to-back. Just giving the people what they want.

There’s a lot of stuff to be done with this type of data, and this post is only a start. I imagine we could see some even more extreme numbers with relievers. Since the start of last season, Brad Ziegler has posted a 62% low-pitch rate. Rafael Soriano has posted a 40% high-pitch rate. Danny Salazar has posted the highest high-pitch rate out of any starter. Jaime Garcia has posted the highest low-pitch rate out of any starter. It’s interesting to see where suspicions are confirmed, and it’s even more interesting to see where there might be surprises or exceptions. In baseball, there are potential studies everywhere. The trickiest part is just recognizing them.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


7 Responses to “Who’s Been Pitching Where”

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  1. vslyke says:

    Wonder if there’s anything to the fact that there are 3 Braves hurlers on the low end of throwing inside, left-handed batters (counting Maholm because I’m sure his 17 innings with the Dodgers haven’t made too much of a difference).

    Also, in other Braves news, it appears BJ Upton is getting cheated out a hit on Fangraphs – MLB and B-Ref both have him at 16 while Fangraphs has him at 15.

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  2. kevin says:

    this is awesome. exactly what I’ve been looking for.
    Saying Justin Masterson has an expected ground ball rate of 42% just because of the location doesn’t take into consideration that he is 6’6 and a mid level strike still has tons of sink and downhill plane. Where as Tim Hudson who is maybe 6′ can’t throw a sinker anywhere but low and have a downhill plane.

    Pitchers throw their breaking balls off of their fastball and then extend out of the zone from there. Liriano who has nasty sink on his slider is going to start it out low and masterson who has a very flat slider will probably cost himself swing and misses if he starts it out low.

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    • Jim Price says:

      But Mastersons release point doesn’t look that high. I think it’s more about the movement.

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      • kevin says:

        well that’s the same point i am making (that it’s all about the movement), except for the release point which looks low but is still high considering. I am going off of the eye-test though (because in real life a low fastball thrown off a mound by a 6’6 guy with gravity is going to sink more than a medium high pitch)and not pitch fx which says that he is the only guy whose sinker generates downward vertical movement (maybe) and doug fister’s two seam generates twice as much lift as his 4 seam. Whaa?

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  3. FanGraphs Supporting Member

    Cool Names Power Ranking Update

    Nationals TV commentator F.P. Santangelo, tonight: “Kevin Quackenbush. That’s my new favorite name in the majors. I like it better than Arquimedes Euclides Caminero. That was my old favorite. Ten letters [sic]. Quackenbush.”

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  4. Loose Seal says:

    I got a fever and the only cure is more tables with Luis Mendoza.

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  5. Jon Roegele says:

    Mendoza will be on the “pitching inside” list for several years in a row if you go back in time Jeff, IIRC. Actually the name I’m surprised to see missing from there is Glen Perkins! He and Mo Rivera used to lead that year after year in the way that I defined/measured it, anyway.

    Nice article!

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