Working the outside edge

Fastballs on the paint. Backdoor breaking pitches. Not feeding pull hitters red meat.

It’s the allure of the outside edge—and fear of the inside—that lures pitchers from the inside of the plate. The outside edge, for me, consists of just about one inch of actual plate. Starting eight inches out from center and ending four inches later, this is the outer limit of the as-played strike zone.

Despite the risks of working inside, not many pitchers can avoid it all the time. Or, in the context of this survey, not many pitchers work outside against all hitters. Depending on their make-up, they’re more or less prone to working one side or another when the platoon effect is, or isn’t, in their advantage. As a matter of fact, only two dozen pitchers have thrown more than 15 percent of their pitches, split by batter hand, on the outside edge against both left- and right-handed hitters in 2009. And half of those haven’t thrown enough pitches to get down to swing and contact types. There were just 12 pitchers that were left over when I eliminated the extra-small samples.

Five of those guys stuck out, for one reason or another, and got my further attention. The stats mentioned below include:

{exp:list_maker}B:CS (balls-to-called-strikes ratio, umpire calls)
Swing (swings per pitch)
Whiff (misses per swings)
Foul (misses per swings)
nkSLG (total bases per ball in play, including home runs)
rv100 (run value per 100 pitches, 0 is average, negative is good for pitchers; this is a work in progress, my math errors from the Gallardo article are fixed, but there are lingering issues)
GB/LD/FB are what you think they are, I’m giving you the actual totals so you can grasp the limitations of the samples, when it comes to batted balls{/exp:list_maker}

I also broke down their pitches, found the selections that were the most frequent and/or most representative of the overall stats discussed. That effort was merely a means to a gratuitous end—flight paths.

Pitches on Outer Edge

Pitcher Throws LHH RHH
Randy Wolf L 19.1% 15.3%
Danny Herrera L 18.6% 15.4%
Chris Sampson R 17.0% 15.9%
Rafael Betancourt R 24.8% 18.0%
Javier Vazquez R 17.5% 18.2%
Javier Vazquez

The sample pitches are Javy’s sinker (F2) and his four-seam fastball (F4). He mixes all his pitches, but the fastballs are the best fits. The stats are across pitches, the flight paths are the selected pitch in the selected region to the selected batter hand. Click to enlarge in a pop-up window.
{exp:list_maker}Solid against both sides, some stats are nearly identical
Fly balls against lefties
Ground balls against righties{/exp:list_maker}

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pitcher throws vs # B:CS Swing Whiff Foul nkSLG rv100 GB LD FB
Javier Vazquez R L 105 0.7 0.495 0.289 0.365 0.389 -5.46 7 4 7
Javier Vazquez R R 73 0.8 0.425 0.323 0.323 0.182 -5.39 8 0 3
Chris Sampson

As with Vazquez, I chose the sinker for Sampson against lefties, but it was the obvious choice this time. I went slider against the righties, but there were other candidates.
{exp:list_maker}Owns the outer edge against lefties
Gets lots of ground balls, but no whiffs, against them
Lots of whiffs, but fly more balls, against righties{/exp:list_maker}

pitcher throws vs # B:CS Swing Whiff Foul nkSLG rv100 GB LD FB
Chris Sampson R L 27 1.0 0.704 0.105 0.105 0.133 -13.54 10 1 4
Chris Sampson R R 37 1.4 0.351 0.462 0.154 0.200 -2.27 1 1 3
Randy Wolf

A crafty veteran lefty, we shouldn’t be surprised by his presence. Wolf actually throws more sinkers than change-ups to righties on the outer edge, but the change is far more devastating. His four-seam fastball against lefties was the obvious choice for the flight path.
{exp:list_maker}A balanced lefty, but not as balanced as Vazquez
Gets a lot of calls on the outer edge against righties – lots of foul balls
Even more foul balls against lefties, which may help pile-up the strikes,or may wear him down{/exp:list_maker}

pitcher throws vs # B:CS Swing Whiff Foul nkSLG rv100 GB LD FB
Randy Wolf L R 112 0.7 0.473 0.113 0.491 0.381 -3.05 9 4 8
Randy Wolf L L 44 0.6 0.568 0.280 0.600 0.000 -5.53 1 0 2
Danny Herrera

Same pitch, slider, for both sides of the plate. Herrera may want to think that over a bit. In reality, he mixes his pitches on the outer edge, but his slider is the one worth looking at. The rv100 split is big enough, but it’s 30 runs when I isolate the slider (graphed, but not shown in the table).
{exp:list_maker}Totally unbalanced lefty
Right-handed hitters take his stuff for a ball or smack it for a base hit
But he destroys lefties, gets called strikes and poor contact{/exp:list_maker}

pitcher throws vs # B:CS Swing Whiff Foul nkSLG rv100 GB LD FB
Danny Herrera L R 23 2.0 0.478 0.091 0.182 0.500 5.20 4 3 1
Danny Herrera L L 22 0.8 0.591 0.462 0.077 0.000 -9.72 3 0 3
Rafael Betancourt

So far, you’ve seen a balanced right/lefty combo (Vazquez and Wolf), a lop-sided but impressive right-hander (Sampson) and a lop-sided, and somewhat scary, southpaw (Herrera). Betancourt right-handed version of Herrera, sort of.
{exp:list_maker}The unbalanced righty
Not as severe of an imbalance as Herrara, gets a lot of foul balls from lefties
Similar line against the righties, except for B:CS and batted ball outcomes{/exp:list_maker}

pitcher throws vs # B:CS Swing Whiff Foul nkSLG rv100 GB LD FB
Rafael Betancourt R L 41 0.7 0.585 0.208 0.500 0.000 -5.80 4 0 3
Rafael Betancourt R R 42 9.0 0.524 0.227 0.546 0.600 2.42 2 2 1
Closing thoughts

I enjoy the study of individual difference, and I hope this work can build from and complement the broader analysis you see at The Hardball Times and elsewhere. I’m always looking for ideas or questions to play around with, and the best ones come from readers. Why? Because they see guys on their favorite teams do stuff that I may be totally unaware of, and it ends up, sometimes, being worth studying. Drop me a line, either at BallHype or at my e-mail below. I may end up blatantly stealing your ideas for my own aggrandizement. Or something like that.

References & Resources
PITCHf/x data from MLBAM. Pitch Classifications, run values and associated mistakes by the author.

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