You Call That a Spray-Chart Split?

As soon as I heard about the new split data at FanGraphs I had one thought: Aaron Hill. Maybe not everyone’s first thought, but if you recall, the surprise third-leading AL HR hitter pulled his HRs like crazy. Dave C. had a post about it, you could see it over at HitTracker, and I reproduce the data for you here:

Crazy. Not only almost all pulled, but most extremely so and no HRs on pitches on the outer quarter of the plate. That one HR to right was off Joba Chamberlain on July 5th at Yankee Stadium. Thanks to the indispensable HitTracker we know that the 369-foot shot was a home run thanks to the short porch in right at Yankee Stadium and would not have made it out of any other park. So even that one opposite-field HR hardly counts, which also discounts one of his few HRs on a pitch on the outer half of the plate.

So what do Hill’s 2009 spray-chart splits look like?

              ISO   wOBA   HR/FB
 to Left     .410   .503   .443
 to Center   .127   .317   .042
 to Right    .078   .240   .013
 Average RHB
              ISO   wOBA   HR/FB
 to Left     .282   .419   .272
 to Center   .126   .340   .054
 to Right    .124   .279   .028

They do not disappoint. To his pull (left) field Hill is nearly the equal of Mark Reynolds or Russell Branyan to their pull fields (the examples are pulled from Dave C.’s post about power to all fields and, to be fair, those guys are noted for their even power to all fields, but still Aaron Hill has just slightly less power to left than Mark Reynolds does). To right, though, he has much less power than the average RHB, so much so that — and remember this is the AL batter with the third most HRs in 2009 — an opposite field ball in play from Hill had the same ISO as the average David Eckstein ball in play. Yikes.

So Hill has enormous power when he pulls the ball, how does this power look as a function of where he he is pitched?

Although the pattern is not surprising I think the extent of it is. Hill’s power reaches its peak about a half farther inside than the average RHB and it only drops off slightly as you move in from there. The drop off is so slight that he has more power on pitches right on the inner edge of the plate than the average RHB has on a pitch down the fat of the plate. That is not to say I think this is his true talent; as with all stats, if we want to predict how he will do in 2010 it would be best to regress this back to average some. Still, I think it is safe to say Hill should crush inside pitches in 2010 even though it may not be to the same extent as it was in 2009.

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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.

17 Responses to “You Call That a Spray-Chart Split?”

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  1. JoeR43 says:

    Given this data, it looks like teams would be borderline insane to pitch Aaron Hill inside. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised, given this data, that pitchers will start to nibble on the outside half of the dish vs. Hill, and in turn see his ISO go down and BB% go up in 2010.

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    • Josh says:

      That seems like a wise prediction.

      As stated in the post, it appears that Hill would probably fare worse if other teams pitched him right down the middle as opposed to inside.

      If I was an opposing team, I’d still try to bust him in on the hands with fastballs early in an at-bat, follow it with breaking stuff low and away, and if necessary, finish with a fastball on the outside. Of course the risk comes from the initial inside stuff if the pitcher can’t get it in far enough.

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      • JoeR43 says:

        Especially since Hill was in the top 10% of league eligible hitters in swing rate in 2009. And 15.5% of his PA’s lasted just 1 pitch, vs. the league average of 11.19% (essentially, he was 30% more likely to go after the first pitch vs. the average MLB hitter). Giving him a ball in his sweet spot on the first pitch seems like a risky proposition, IMO.

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    • PhD Brian says:

      I have to agree. I guess I wont draft him this season like I did last season.

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  2. Grant says:

    Wonder how teams didn’t pick on that throughout the year. I recall a quote from Cito Gaston saying he’d see from the bench where the catcher was setting up on a pitch to Hill, and turn to his bench coach and say “that’s not smart”. With splits that pronounced you really wonder what opposing pitchers and catchers were thinking.

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  3. Sky Kalkman says:

    Would love to see some further breakdowns. Did Hill see more or fewer pitches over each part of the plate (or outside)? Did he see different types of pitches, and different locations of different pitches? Did he swing at certain pitches/locations more often or less often? Did pitchers’ approaches change throughout the year?

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    • Dave Allen says:

      Sky these are great questions. If I have a sec later today I will check this out and either give you some answers here in the comments section, or if it looks like there is a lot there maybe make another post about it.

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  4. Choo says:

    This reminds me of vintage Gary Sheffield. Pitchers would often go way inside on Sheff to get a cheap strike, usually in the form of a 450-foot laser beam yanked foul. But if the pitcher missed by a couple of inches, *bam* whiplash. Scouts are quick to recognize a pattern this drastic and repetitive, and the latest video footage is always studied by the battery before each start. In other words, pitchers and catchers were well aware of Hill’s tendencies last season. Sheffield was respected (and feared) for his ability to destroy mistakes at a high rate and it appears Hill deserves similar credit.

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  5. vivaelpujols says:

    Hi Dave, this is really cool.

    I have a suggestion for more informative spray charts I think. Maybe you could also chart the vertical location in the strike zone, as a function of the depth of the plate. So home runs on pitches around 3.5 pz would extend to the furthest part of the square part of the plate. Home runs on pitches at 1.5 pz would only extend to the front of the plate.

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  6. Travis L says:

    Man I just can’t help myself posting on this series on splits. Once again, Dave, this is REALLY cool stuff.

    I think the reason I find it so powerful is that it is directly connected with strategy. Moreso than other analysis I’ve seen — this should be a primary scouting source for teams looking to come up with a strategy for pitching to hill / mauer.

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  7. Anthony says:

    Maybe Hill and his hitting coach were noticing that he was getting thrown fastballs in at a heavy percentage in the past being that he was not a big ISO guy prior to last season and the fear of him turning on one was not there. Hill and his coach could have made an adjustment where they worked on standing a little farther from the plate making Hill’s “middle” the inside pitch. This may explain why his outside the strike zone swing percentage went up as well. He could have benefited from a better strength program and some luck as shown in Dave C’s post. If you notice the ISO/Plate graph, if you were to shift the average hitter farther from the plate, his line should move relative to that way as well. Now his line will have a similar peak and decline to Hill’s in the same area of the “true” plate.

    This could just be a very good adjustment from a hitter and his coach, and it should be interesting to see how pitchers pitch Hill in 2010, and how he is able to react and adjust to what i suspect a much heavier dose of pitches middle away.

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  8. brent in Korea says:

    I know he went to a heavier bat. That was well documented early last season.

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  9. max says:

    Hill should stand closer to the plate.

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    • TCQ says:

      If he did that to the extent needed to be useful, you’d think that pitchers would be able to go inside and have success, even with his profile.

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  10. Ewan says:

    One thing I noticed about watching Hill a lot last season is he is very good at fouling off pitches on the outer half for someone his size and who used a heavier bat. Because of this he almost forces the pitcher to throw him something a bit more hittable.

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