August 26, 2012 at 3:06 pm
Good effort here – thanks for sharing your work.
A few observations:
(1) The first part of your analysis in which you tried to directly compare relative importance may have failed because of your use of averages when looking at location. Using averages, inside and outside locations cancel each other out, leaving you with no useful information.
(2) You may want to broaden your analysis by including called strikes too. From an outcome/run creation standpoint, there’s no difference between a swinging and a called strike, and there are some pitches that we think of whose intent is to produce a called strike — against a right hander, for example, some pitchers throw a cutter meant to start outside the strike zone but breaking in towards the batter into the zone.
August 26, 2012 at 3:13 pm
This is awesome, and I want to see things this good every day at Fangraphs. Would it be possible to look at hit balls classified as fly’s or line drives vs. grounders?
August 26, 2012 at 3:47 pm
I’m not sure that you can make a very strong conclusion when only taking swinging strikes and homeruns into account. It’s inherently biased towards strikeout-type pitcher’s fastballs, as not every pitcher’s fastball is intended to produce a swinging strike. It’s still a good start, though.
I think both called strikes and line drives should be taken into consideration. I would guess that called strikes might be more likely to favor location than swinging strikes, and line drive rates might favor movement.
Thomas Karakolis says:
August 26, 2012 at 7:20 pm
Thanks for the comments thus far.
I chose the outcome measure of SS:HR for this study because I was really interested in what makes a pitch difficult to hit. I wanted to focus only on pitches were the batter had decided he wanted to try and hit the pitch. Swinging strikes represented the pitches most difficult to hit, and home runs represented the easiest pitches to hit. I would have liked to include fly’s, line drives, and grounders but I felt since those classifications are based on the opinion of the mlbgameday stingers, they were too subjective. I couldn’t be confident that the additional value they may have provided would be outweighed by the additional noise they may have introduced.
August 26, 2012 at 8:36 pm
Thomas, you began with the question, what makes a pitch good or bad? That is a different question than, what makes a pitcher harder or easier to hot once a batter has committed to a swing, and I would suggest to you your original question is the better one.
The reason your original question is better is because in most circumstances a batter does not decide whether to swing until the pitch is thrown. And if a pitch is thrown in such a manner that it tricks the batter into taking what he thinks is a ball or taking a pitch simply because it’s location or type is so unexpected, than such a pitch, assuming it is a called strike, is a key component of what makes a pitch good or bad.
In fact, if we assume an umpires ball-strike calls are less variable than the outcome of swings — a safe assumption — than a thrown strike that is not swung at is a superior pitch to any pitch that is swung at.
And called strikes don’t introduce any noise into the data, at least not more than what would already exist.
I think what you have done is both interesting and helpful. I also think your work would benefit from including call strikes too and seeing what if any difference that has on the quality of a pitch.
Thomas Karakolis says:
August 27, 2012 at 12:19 am
rotofan, I’ve done an additional analysis including called strikes and posted the graphs in a google doc here:
You can see for the most part the trends remain the same.
Just to give some context for the graphs, 32,225 righty vs. righty fastballs were called strikes in 2011. Combine that with the 11,790 swinging strikes and 1,134 home runs, this yields a [called strike + swinging strike]:home run ratio of approx. 40x (38.8 to be exact).
August 27, 2012 at 7:13 am
Excellent work, Thomas — thanks for the all your work!
(1) Most interesting change to me was with horizontal movement showing that balls the broke the most towards the batter were the most effective at inducing called strikes, more-so than balls that broke away or broke hardly at all. That’s the opposite of what you found with swinging strikes.
(2) Extreme high velocity matters less with called strikes than with swinging strikes — not a big surprise.
(3) The range of pitches low in the zone to induce called strikes is bigger than to induce swinging strikes.
Keep up the great work!
Thomas Karakolis says:
August 30, 2012 at 10:01 am
rotofan, I agree with your first two observations. I’m not really sure I follow what you mean by ‘range of pitches low in the zone’ in your final observation.
Regardless, thanks for all the positive and constructive feedback.
August 31, 2012 at 1:46 pm
Great analysis. I’m a Rockies fan so I’m always focused on what might work at Coors. Obviously the team itself hasn’t even figured that out – but this reinforces one hypothesis I’ve come up with.
A high heat FB pitcher only really needs one plus fastball pitch to succeed here (see Ubaldo) – looks like 95 mph is that threshhold (maybe 93-94 because Coors itself adds 1-2mph)
A regular FB pitcher is going to need two different FB pitches to succeed here. One as their core pitch – and a different one as their safety pitch for when they get behind in the count – or mixnmatch if they have good enough command of both. I suspect that all of these graphs shift here. And unless a pitcher has elite command (none of them are ever going to want to pitch here since elite is elite), their core-safety FB’s are going to have to work in combination – by creating a bit of deception due to slight differences in velocity and location where both can be thrown. With only one FB in that situation, it’s too easy for batters to key in on it as they see more of them.
Thomas Karakolis says:
September 1, 2012 at 4:59 pm
jfree, I think your hypothesis might hold true for more ballparks than just coors field.
Elite fastball command or elite velocity on their own are probably good enough for a pitcher to be successful anywhere. With respects to a pitcher that doesn’t have either elite command or velocity, the idea of mixing their fastballs to be successful is something I plan on looking at in the near future. Perhaps variability in fastball movement has a stronger association with successful outcomes than just looking at movement alone.
September 2, 2012 at 11:32 pm
thanks for the work. it’s very interesting. i have basically the same suggestions as other people (called strikes mostly), except that i would say the element of surprise is the most important element to me. you can throw a 99 mph fastball in the perfect spot, but if a hitter knows it’s coming, it’s going to get hit.
September 6, 2012 at 1:26 pm
Am I misunderstanding or do you mean cutting when you say tailing. Cutters move away from a righty like a curve would, tailing fastballs tail into a righty. If “Figures are from the catchers perspective, therefore negative horizontal numbers represent inside on a right handed batter”, then isn’t negative movement the tailing fastball and positive movement a cutting fastball?
Therefore the analysis would conclude cutters are lightly better than tailing fastballs. I may just be misunderstanding it, but wanted clarification. Great analysis.
Thomas Karakolis says:
September 10, 2012 at 9:38 am
You’re absolutely right McAnderson. The last sentence of the second to last paragraph should read, “Cutting fastballs seem to be slightly better than tailing fastballs.”
September 14, 2012 at 5:36 pm
I have a humble suggestion to add to your very interesting study. While called balls seems to not be an equally bad thing as a home run, they would be an interesting opposite to called strikes, since neither are really all that good or bad.
And to further that, it seems that called balls and strikes are both not all that extremely good or bad, unless they are called THIRD strikes or called ball FOUR. These pitches do lead to a good or bad outcome. So is there a way to get Swinging strikes with called third strikes VS. Homeruns with called ball fours?
A further thought I have may be resolved by the previous request. In short, a called strike on a 3-0 count shouldn’t be considered good, since most hitters will be asked to not swing. This is more “not bad” than good. In the same way, a called ball on a 0-2 count isn’t a bad pitch. Contrariwise, it’s a good time to see if the hitter will chase something outside the strike zone. If seems like the next level to seeing if a pitch is good or bad is determining the situation of that individual pitch.
Phil R. says:
September 28, 2012 at 9:41 pm
Very interesting work, and enjoyed reading through all the thoughtful comments. As a former pitcher and student of the game, I think it’s safe to say that the effectiveness of any pitch is multi-factoral. Having lights out stuff is a huge plus, but in addition to velocity, location and movement, I think some other, perhaps equally important factors need to be considered. Examples: the count, the previous pitch (pitch type, location, outcome), game situation (score, men on base, etc). All of these things factor in. For instance, lets say a pitcher’s avg fastball is 95 mph. But his team is up by 7 runs late in the game and he just threw a 95 mph fastball for a ball to make the count 3-1. If his next pitch is a get-me-over fastball at 92 mph and it gets hit for a HR, was it just the velocity and location that factored in? Would that same 92 mph fastball in an 0-2 count from a pitcher who averaged 88 be just as likely to get hit out? Just some thoughts, again good stuff, and love seeing all of this available data being put to use. Keep up the good work.
Thomas Karakolis says:
September 29, 2012 at 9:25 am
Thank you for the positive feedback. I agree with most of your comments. There is more to pitching than just velocity, location, and movement. I think a pitcher’s effectiveness can be broken down into two categories: his ability and his makeup. The sequence of his pitches, how he deals with the game situations he finds himself in, and the pitching decisions he makes, all result from his makeup. For my article, I was not looking at any of these factors. Instead, I was looking at a pitcher’s raw ability. I think ability can be fairly well described in terms of velocity, location, and movement. I wrote this article to try and shed some light on how ability is currently evaluated. Often we hear about a young pitcher’s ability in terms of how good his ‘stuff’ is. Presumably, this is in reference to both velocity and movement. I wanted to show that movement is not nearly as important as some would have you believe, and when evaluating young pitching ability, we should place much more emphasis his ability to locate rather than his ‘stuff’. Again, thanks for the positive comment and I hope you continue reading my work.
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