# Into the next dimension with HIT f/x

Note: Last week I wrote an article on hit f/x, and within 15 minutes a number of astute and informed readers pointed out that I was wrong about where the point of contact was being measured from, which led to some incorrect conclusions. Mea culpa, but it did start an interesting discussion which you can still find in the comments below, although the numbers and conclusions in the following article have been corrected:

Warren Spahn once said: “Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.” And for all that PITCHf/x has told us about who has the nastiest pitches and what locations hitters feast off of, it has had very little to say about such a critical aspect of the hitter-pitcher duel as timing. As a result, while PITCHf/x can easily tell **where** in the strike zone batters are succeeding or struggling to make solid contact, for the most part **why** that is the case is just guesswork.

Further complicating saying anything useful about hitters is that the normal PITCHf/x data gives the location of each pitch as it crosses the very front of the plate. That’s fine for pitchers, since that’s where balls and strikes are decided. But with breaking balls moving wildly as they pass the plate and a full six feet of batter’s box in which the hitter could theoretically be standing as he reaches for the ball, where the pitch crossed the front of the plate and where the batter actually made contact with it could be far apart.

Enter HITf/x to save the day on both counts. Along with the horizontal and vertical location at which the bat struck the ball, it measures how far along its flight path the ball was when it was struck. This will be especially useful once we have enough data to compare a hitter’s normal contact point to where it is when he is in a slump or on a streak to see if anything has changed. But for now, here are the average travel distances for each type of pitch using the available April data. I have converted the values hit f/x provides to where the ball is in relation to the front of the plate (as pitch f/x measures things), with positive numbers how far out front of the plate the ball was struck, and negative numbers for when a ball was hit after crossing the front of the plate.

Pitch Type Average Distance Average Velocity (mph) in front of Home Plate (ft) Fastball 1.06 91.2 Slider 0.84 83.1 Changeup 0.79 82.4 Curve 0.71 76.5 Total 0.95 87.0

So on average, batters make contact with the ball about a foot in front of the plate, with fastballs hit sooner than offspeed pitches by about four inches. Here’s a look at the distribution of contact for every batted balls in April (hat tip to Alan Nathan in the comments):

There isn’t much variation between hitters, with batters at the extremes (of earliest and latest contact) in the league taking their cuts at balls within a foot of each other. Here are the top five of each through April—for the full list, you can download this Excel file .

Earliest contact (at least 25 balls in play)

Player Name Average Distance In front of plate (ft) Alexei Ramirez 1.44 Mike Lowell 1.42 Hank Blalock 1.35 Justin Morneau 1.32 Garrett Atkins 1.30

Latest contact (at least 25 balls in play)

Player Name Average Distance In front of plate (ft) Anderson Hernandez 0.40 Emmanuel Burriss 0.46 Nick Johnson 0.51 Kazuo Matsui 0.53 Chipper Jones 0.55

One player on this list who demands attention is Alexei Ramirez: he hit .214 in April but has hit .288 since, suggesting that he may have been jumping at pitches too soon in April. But it’s really too early to know if these are typical numbers for these hitters, let alone what this might all mean about their swings and approaches at the plate.

But in general, *should* different pitches be hit at different depths? We saw above that offspeed pitches on average travel about an extra four inches before they are hit. But should batters actually try to let certain pitches travel further, and contact others aggressively before they cross the plate, or is that just a result of the type of pitch? The following two graphs show how batting averages are affected on balls hit into play by how far in front of the plate contact is made. Zero is the very front of the plate, which extends 1.417 feet past that (picture a pitcher throwing from the right hand side of the following graphs, with 0 being the front edge of the plate).

**Fastball distance**

**Offspeed Distance**

As both groups of pitches (I lumped all the offspeed pitches together because they were essentially identical) peak at about the same point, there seems to be no difference in where hitters should try to make contact with the ball for maximum results. However, while offspeed pitches are equally hittable where they are contacted, batting average against fastballs rises steadily the later they are contacted, to a difference of almost 200 points between hitters when they make relatively early to late contact.

Once all the data are available, that will open up a new area of study—not just for hitters, in terms of little tidbits like who has the best timing on each pitch, or who can still get a hit when they’re fooled, but for the whole art of pitching that is disrupting timing, and how they do it as well. For now, here’s a rundown we’ve learned during our preview of the third dimension:

— Hitters tend to hit the ball about a foot before it crosses the front edge of the plate.

— Batters hit fastballs earlier, and let offspeed pitches travel further before making contact.

— However, if hitters are able to stay back and contact fastballs later, they get better results.

— On the other hand, it doesn’t matter when a player makes contact with offspeed pitches.

— Fastballs and offspeed pitches are equally bad with which to make very late contact.

Print This Post

That second strikezone chart doesn’t look right. How could the pitch rise a foot after it crosses home plate?

Great point about needing to know how much a pitch moves from the front of the strike zone to when it’s contacted. I’m having trouble believing some of the data in the charts, however.

For example, the change-up to Chipper dropped a foot vertically while only traveling 1.6 feet horizontally? That seems really steep. And the curve to Josh Johnson traveled 1.5 feet sideways over 1.3 feet horizontally? That’s a ridiculous angle.

I’m open to having my world flipped upside down, but those seem unlikely. Or I’m reading the graphs wrong.

>Almost all balls are hit BEFORE they reach home plate, not after.

Bravo Mr. Jensen!

Some of those saberanalysts musta never seen real baseball.

Otherwise, the author makes a great point:

“… that will open up a new area of study … for the whole art of pitching that is disrupting timing”

And that’s why I wanna see not just Pitch f/x and Hit f/x,

but BAT F/X!

~~~

PS Mr. Hale, why doesn’t your article mention MGL? This study was all based on his original ideas, no?

Nick: Bad graph! It should be the other way around.

Thanks Jon, I probably should have figured that out.

Also, I hate to be a bother, but do you think that you or Peter could give me a quick explanation of some of the fields in Hit f/x? I’ve just started playing around with my data, and I’d be nice to know what I’m dealing with.

Sky: I know, they messed me up too. But I checked them again and against others and that’s what we’re looking at in terms of amplitude at least (although as I mentioned that sideways curve to Johnson was kind of unusual) of the distance between the two.

Maybe something is just completely wacky with the data, but I managed to convince myself that a curveball travelling down and away at a 45 degree angle (i.e. down and sideways as much as it’s going forward) right before it got to the catcher’s glove wasn’t a completely ridiculous idea.

Alan – Thanks Alan for correcting me. All Pitch f/x and Hit f/x Y values are measured from the back of home plate, not the front. I new that, of course, but in my haste to correct Jonathan’s error I made one of my own.

Jon, but if your initial assumption was wrong, and contact is being made in front of the plate, I don’t see how your graphs can be right. Again, that would assume that the ball is rising.

Sergei: If MGL has written an similar article, please share. Otherwise these are my original ideas (and mistakes).

Scratch my last comment.

With all due respect to everybody else, I have to confess that Mr. Alan Nathan is my king!

Keep up the good work.

Alan, I’d only ask you to maybe forward the Bat f/x idea – I’m sure you understand what I’m talking about – to people who might be actually able to make it possible someday.

Or maybe even tomorrow.

– Sergei from Moscow

Sergei: I saw your bat f/x comment but actually don’t know exactly what you refer to. Please expand on this a bit. And while you’re at it, tell us how someone from Moscow got interested in baseball (privately, if you prefer, at

).

Here is a link to a hastily prepared plot of the distribution of hit_y values for the 15k hits in the hitf/x data base. Note that y=0 is the point of home plate, y=1.417 is the front of home plate. The data are binned in 0.25 ft buckets.

(I just posted this also at The Book)

Note that the distribution is peaked just in front of the front edge of home plate (1.5-1.75 ft)

Alan, e-mailed you with some thoughts on bat f/x.

Don’t see a real reason to post it here – briefly, it’s just about capturing the bat itself – because you’re the only one to reply on it anyway.

But I’ll answer you second question right here as well – just for fun

> And while youâ€™re at it, tell us how someone from Moscow got interested in baseball.

Mostly a typical case of “seeing the greener grass where we ain’t” – it was back in the 80s.

But now, having watched enough of Russian baseball, turning to cricket instead.

Great stuff, Jonathan!

Jonathan – I am afraid that you are misinterpreting the Hit f/x data. The Hit_Y values are the distance toward the pitcher from the front of the plate where contact was made. Almost all balls are hit BEFORE they reach home plate, not after.

Just want to thank Professor Nathan for representing the University well.

Go Illini

This analysis is getting very interesting. I suspect the key to how early a ball is struck is not the pitch type but the location. Offspeed pitches are more likely to be outside, so they must be struck later, otherwise the batter will miss or hit the pitch off the end of the bat. At he same time the hitter has to get the bat around more quickly and hit the ball further in front to get around on an inside fastball.

Doing this same analysis but breaking the hitting zone into 9 quadrants might be very informative.