Five Select Players, Heat Mapped

Sometimes it’s more fun to play with toys than get down and dirty with analysis. David Appelman recently released one such toy in the form of a new heatmap tool. I’ll let him describe what it is and how to use it. My interest today is to look at a few interesting fantasy hitters to get a better sense of their strengths and weaknesses. I’ll use the granular 10×10 grid and a three-year time period when possible.

Carlos Gomez: We know Gomez destroys lefties. We also know Gomez gets a ton of first pitch strikes, and he hits very well against them. Here’s a simple heatmap with pitch percentage on 0-0 counts by location. Red means he sees an above average rate of pitches at that location.

Gomez 0-0 count

Let’s see if pitchers have adjusted this season.

Gomez 0-0 count 2014

It appears as though pitchers are still throwing a ton of first pitch strikes to Gomez. He hit leadoff for the Brewers until recently, so it’s not too surprising. It does look like there is more focus on working down and away from him. Given how he jumps on fastballs, this is an obvious development.

Chris Denorfia: He’s very quietly among the top 30 hitters in baseball against left-handed pitchers over the last three years. I’ve only heard two people describe Denorfia as powerful (the Giants broadcast team when he was facing Madison Bumgarner), so this map might catch you off guard.

Denorfia v LHP

The heatmap shows ISO per pitch. If lefties want to avoid allowing big hits to Denorfia, might I recommend a steady diet low and away. His batting average per pitch is still pretty good down there, he just doesn’t hit for power.

Jonathan Lucroy: He’s best known for his catching and elite pitch framing, but Lucroy is also a very accomplished lefty masher. How about his average per pitch?

Lucroy AVG

And his ISO per pitch?

Lucroy ISO

Lucroy is weakest against lefties on the outer edge. Not only does he hit for a high average against southpaws, he hits for a lot of power too. If only he could face lefties every day.

Seth Smith: As the Padres best hitter, Smith has leaped to fantasy relevance. He’s always been pretty darn good against right-handed pitchers, by wRC+ he’s ranked 36th in baseball against righties over the last three seasons. His 128 wRC+ is matched by Adrian Gonzalez, Victor Martinez, David Wright, Matt Joyce, Jayson Werth, and Ben Zobrist. Pretty good company.

Pitchers like to work Smith away, but it does appear he can handle the outside edge against northpaws.

Smith AVg

Smith ISO

Smith is a mistake hitter, and it shows in his heatmap. He’s waiting for righties to leave the ball up and over the plate. His best averages are peppered around the middle of the zone, while his best power is mid-zone and higher towards the outer half.

Danny Espinosa: We all know the story – once promising middle infielder forgets how to hit (or never knew how), gets demoted, then finds playing time due to an injury and hits well. Espinosa is teasing fantasy owners once again, but watch out. He currently possesses the worst swinging strike rate in baseball – tied with Mark Reynolds with a 17.1 percent SwStr%. He whiffs more frequently than Chris Carter. What does that look like on a heatmap?

Espinosa Contact

I expected more blue. Perhaps the near absence of red is the real story. Most hitters have a happy zone, but Espinosa seems to lack that particular advantage.




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Brad is a former collegiate player who writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times, RotoWorld, MLB Trade Rumors, and The Fake Baseball. Follow him on Twitter @BaseballATeam or email him here.


6 Responses to “Five Select Players, Heat Mapped”

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  1. 21_22 says:

    Regarding Gomez comparison:

    Since the colors represent differences above/below league average for a given time frame, comparing the 1st heatmap for 2012-2014 to the second which is just 2014 can be a little misleading because league averages may have changed. You can directly compare the numbers, but since the whole point of these is easy visualization this is one type of comparison that requires more than just looking at the colors.

    note, im not suggesting a problem in the analysis

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      I’m not sure I see the issue. If anything, the colors do extra work for us by adjusting to the different averages. It’s kind of like comparing between years by using wRC+ instead of wOBA.

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      • 21_22 says:

        thats a good way to put it. my brain just defaulted to an absolute (“wOBA”) perspective when thinking about a player compared to himself, so I was confused about what I was actually seeing at first.

        i just wanted to point it out because we don’t have the background yet (at least that i’ve seen) to know how big or small of a difference is significant.

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  2. Shah says:

    Cool stuff. Now do one for the AL.

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