Pitching to the corners, part one

I am fascinated by pitches on the corners. Commanding pitches to the corners, especially the outside corner, can make it very difficult on a hitter (as Max Marchi showed us in 2009). I’m defining “corner” to be greater than 0.7 feet from the center of the plate and equal to or less than one foot from the center of the plate (the rulebook edge of the strikezone is 0.83 feet from the center of the plate).

Before looking at any specific examples, it’s important to set some league averages for how often pitchers reach the edges. The chart below uses 2010 data and shows the percentage of pitches thrown to each corner:

Pitcher vs RHB vs LHB RHB Outside RHB Inside LHB Outside LHB Inside
R 263171 241249 7.3% 4.6% 8.9% 3.5%
L 140225 56864 7.2% 5.1% 8.6% 3.6%

Note that only pitches that were within the height of the strike zone, as specified by PITCHf/x operators in the sz_top and sz_bottom fields*, were included. So, for example, a pitch that would’ve been right on the corner but was a foot high out of the zone is not included in this study. As you can see, pitchers don’t tend to throw a whole lot of pitches to the corners.

*sz_top and sz_bottom values can be error-prone but probably should be pretty good over a large sample.

Those who locate

You’re probably wondering, who are the outliers? I was wondering that as well, and as it usually goes with these sorts of things, some of the results I expected and some surprised me. I’ll split this up into the four different groups—minimum 300 pitches—for which I established the league averages (lumping pitcher handedness together now). First, the outside corner against righties.

Rank Pitcher Handedness RHB Out%
1 Edward Mujica R 14.8%
2 Brandon Lyon R 14.1%
3 Brian Moehler R 13.9%
4 Livan Hernandez R 13.3%
5 Takashi Saito R 12.6%
6 Mat Latos R 12.1%
7 Javier Vazquez R 12.0%
8 Heath Bell R 12.0%
9 Jorge Sosa R 12.0%
10 Jesse Chavez R 11.7%

All righties here, interestingly. Some guys with notoriously good command, like Mujica and Saito, and others who were unspectacular last year, like Moehler and Hernandez (there’s been work done on Livan’s tendency to keep the ball outside). How about the inside corner against righties?

Rank Pitcher Handedness RHB In%
1 Brett Anderson L 9.0%
2 Bryan Bullington R 8.9%
3 James Russell L 8.8%
4 Mariano Rivera R 8.8%
5 Darren Oliver L 8.6%
6 Brandon League R 8.6%
7 Max Scherzer R 8.4%
8 Alex Burnett R 8.3%
9 Jamie Moyer L 8.1%
10 Brad Ziegler R 8.0%

Keep in mind that fewer pitches go to the inside corner than the outside corner. Hey, a Mariano Rivera sighting! Mo will throw both his cutter (front door) and sinker (running in) to that spot against righties. Also cool to see Jamie Moyer on here, given that he’s considered to be a crafty pitcher with good command away from the heart of the zone.

Switching gears now to left-handed hitters:

Rank Pitcher Handedness LHB Out%
1 Rafael Betancourt R 15.9%
2 Heath Bell R 13.8%
3 David Price L 13.7%
4 Arthur Rhodes L 13.5%
5 J.D. Martin R 13.2%
6 David Huff L 13.0%
7 Daniel McCutchen R 13.0%
8 Dustin Moseley R 12.9%
9 Tim Stauffer R 12.7%
10 Luke Gregerson R 12.5%

There’s Heath Bell again, and Takashi Saito just missed the list (he’s #11). Hmm. I’ll come back to that train of thought in a bit. Finally, inside corner to lefties:

Rank Pitcher Handedness LHB In%
1 Mariano Rivera R 15.5%
2 J.C. Romero L 11.7%
3 Evan Meek R 9.6%
4 Dallas Braden L 8.0%
5 Scott Downs L 7.3%
6 Jon Niese L 7.1%
7 Nate Robertson L 7.1%
8 Jesse Crain R 7.0%
9 Fernando Rodney R 6.7%
10 Scott Atchison R 6.6%

And there’s Mariano, in a league of his own and breaking the bats of those poor left-handed hitters. Lots of lefties at the very top of this list; Rivera and Evan Meek are exceptions, and they both use cut fastballs.

Returning to my previous train of thought, how about those pitchers who threw to the outside or inside corner, regardless of the handedness of the batter?

Rank Pitcher Handedness Outside Corner%
1 Heath Bell R 12.9%
2 Takashi Saito R 12.5%
3 J.D. Martin R 12.4%
4 Edward Mujica R 12.3%
5 Livan Hernandez R 11.6%
6 Dustin Moseley R 11.6%
7 Brandon Lyon R 11.6%
8 Tim Stauffer R 11.4%
9 Wilton Lopez R 11.1%
10 Brian Moehler R 11.0%

Rank Pitcher Handedness Inside Corner%
1 Mariano Rivera R 12.0%
2 Brett Anderson L 7.9%
3 Fernando Rodney R 7.3%
4 Dallas Braden L 7.1%
5 Jon Niese L 7.0%
6 Eddie Bonine R 6.7%
7 Ted Lilly L 6.6%
8 James Russell L 6.4%
9 Chad Durbin R 6.3%
10 Roy Halladay R 6.3%

Mo reigns supreme on the inside corner, and it’s not close. If you add up all of the corners and divide by the total number of pitches, Mariano once again tops the list by a large margin with 19.1% of his total pitches at the edge of the zone. Moyer is next (16.3%), with Brandon Lyon, Mark Buerhle, and Carl Pavano (15.7%) highlighting the next tier.

What’s next

When I come back to this topic, I will look more closely at individual pitch types and how they are used at the corners of the strike zone. And a few other things as well, ideally. Stay tuned!

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References & Resources
PITCHf/x data are from MLB Advanced Media’s Gameday system and are here courtesy of Joe Lefkowitz’s tool.

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Peter Jensen
Peter Jensen

As you can see, pitchers don’t tend to throw a whole lot of pitches to the corners

Perhaps that’s because you have taken a particularly narrow definition of what is a pitch thrown on the corner.  The difference between .70 and .83 feet is 1.56 inches or only slightly greater than half the width of the ball.

I would have to think about this some more, I wouldn’t one want to know something about the location of their other pitches before concluding anything about the quality of these pitchers?  Throwing a high percentage of pitches on the corners could be a result of having poor command or great command, depending on the location of the other pitches I would think. And certainly pitch type and count (as well as inning, score, and the quality of the batter) is really important. This is the kind of research that needs to be done in order for us to understand… Read more »
Nathaniel Dawson
Nathaniel Dawson

Peter, he said from .7 feet to one foot from the center of the plate, for a zone of 3.6 inches. That still seems like a pretty narrow zone, unless you’re Mariano Rivera. That’s really hitting your spot if you can pitch there.

Lucas Apostoleris
Lucas Apostoleris
Addressing all of the above points, I would consider re-working my calculation of what the “corner” is, though for upcoming posts in this series I would like to have the same values as in this one.  For these studies, I’m using the “wide zone,” which is one foot from either side of the plate; that zone can then be split into inside, middle, and outside.  What I like about this “corner” definition is that it winds up being almost exactly half of the outside/inside third of the plate.  An upcoming post will have more about the different zones, not just… Read more »
Linux Linus
Linux Linus

Some of this data, particularly that first table, is totally counter-intuitive to me. I would have figured that lefties would spend lots of time trying to paint the outside corner against righties, and be loathe to come inside. Instead, at least from that data, it seems I had it backwards.

Learn something every day.

Linus, Two things that might be relevant to what surprises you. 1) Coaches often ask pitchers to focus on working to the outside corner (particularly low and away) as a way of refining mechanics.  Once you’ve gotten repeatability to that spot down, it’s easier to move around from there in the zone. 2) Second, a lefty’s slider/curve and 4-seam fastball both are going to break across their bodies (i.e., in to RHB).  Since throwing that to the outside of the plate means the ball is breaking into the barrel of the bat, I’d be more inclined to throw it to… Read more »

Incidentally – anyone want to venture a guess as to Darren Balsley’s philosophy for RHPs facing LHBs?