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.
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
|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
|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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