Category Archives: Baseball

Men With Balls

Paul Nyman, at THT, breaks down what makes fastballs fast.

The piece is a bit lengthy, but very interesting for anyone who is interested in pitching.

Mechanical analysis (especially of pitchers) has become somewhat popular over the past year or two, really starting with Carlos Gomez’ work at The Hardball Times.  Gomez has moved on to be a minor league pitching coach somewhere, and so The Hardball Times has filled the void with Nyman, who appears to be some kind of mad scientist of pitching mechanics.  Lots of charts, a few technical terms, and an overwhelming sense wonder–Nyman is a good writer with an impeccable understanding of his subject matter.  I could ask for nothing more.

The Hardball Times: Workin’ It Out With That Northsoutheastwest Movement

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Playing Favorites, NL

Here we go with the overly long follow up to Sunday’s AL-edition of this meme.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Who. Mike Fetters
Why: A few Twins fans might remember him, and everyone else just sort knows him as a journeyman reliever.  However, he was a beloved pitcher among the members of my uber-competitive Summer/Fall 2002 Wiffle Ball League.  Why?  Because Fetters took the mound standing upright, facing third, and then would sharply snap his head toward home to take the sign.  There was something comical about this, and by the end of the year, every wiffle pitcher dabbled in Mike Fetters impressions.
Wear the Jersey? Despite the semi-hideous nature of the 2002 D-back uniforms, I probably would.

COLORADO ROCKIES

Who. Bret Saberhagen.
Why: I don’t feel good about this.  There are plenty of guys on and off this list for whom I have more affection than Saberhagen.  But, truly, I can’t think of a single damn Rockie for whom I have any positive feelings at all.  Maybe one of the big cats.  But probably not.
Wear the Jersey? No.  Definitely not, for every possible reason.

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Who. Andy Ashby.
Why: Doesn’t everyone like Andy Ashby?
Wear the Jersey? Nah.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Who. Orel Herschiser.
Why: Nerdy pitcher, and holder of one of the more impressive records in baseball: 59 scoreless innings.
Wear the Jersey? Eh, probably not.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Who. Juan Marichal.
Why: There are just too many things to love about the Dominican Dandy.  The high leg kick, the blazing fastball, the clubbing of Johnny Roseboro, the general insanity.
Wear the Jersey? With pride.

CHICAGO CUBS

Who. Andre Dawson.
Why: As a child, it would’ve been Ryne Sandberg, who played second well and could hit a bit.  But the older I’ve gotten, the more unbearable (to me, at least) Sandberg has become.  So, with all that in mind, I choose Andre Dawson, who, of course, is at the tops of the list of players who were more exciting than good.
Wear the Jersey? No.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Who. Rob Deer.
Why: Like there’s any other choice.  I’m a longstanding member in the Rob Deer Fan Club.
Wear the Jersey? 8 days a week.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Who. Bobby Bonilla.
Why: In my mind, as a child, he was Barry Bonds, but bigger, stronger, and, therefore, “better”.
Wear the Jersey? Almost certainly not.

HOUSTON ASTROS

Who. Roy Oswalt.
Why: I like that Drayton McLane gave him a tractor after winning a playoff game.  I once read a story about Oswalt that mentioned that he intended to retire after his 10th year in the majors so he could go back home and farm.  I loved that story.  Of course, that story changed a bit when the Astros decided to give him $73 million, but, maybe, just maybe, he’ll walk away from it all after the 2010 season, anyway.  It’s not that I really want him to retire.  I just like the mythology of it.
Wear the Jersey? Maybe.  I’d probably wear that red alternate jersey.

ST LOUIS CARDINALS

Who. Ray Lankford.
Why:  Excellent player, though overlooked while discussing the better players of the 1990s.  Looking around at Cardinals outfielders, they’ve really had an impressive string of players manning CF.  Stretching back to the late 1970s, they’ve had George Hendrick, then Willie McGee, then Ray Lankford, then Jim Edmonds, and now Rick Ankiel.  There was also a year of the young JD Drew in there.  None of these guys are Hall of Famers, but, really, the Cardinals have hardly had a complaint about CF in 30 years.
Wear the Jersey? Probably not.  Something about the team just rubs me the wrong way.

CINCINNATI REDS

Who: Joe Morgan.
Why: The Reds, honestly, have an extraordinary number of people to choose from.  Adam Dunn!, screams the RDFC member inside me.  Pete Rose is about as much fun to watch (ya know, as a player) as anyone I can think of.  Johnny Bench is, justifiably, a legendary player, and the absolute pinnacle of his position.  But Joe Morgan, despite the frequent crotchety insanity of his broadcasting, was, I think, an even better second baseman than many people realize.  This is a Hall of Famer, with a couple of MVP awards, and a place of honor on one of history’s great teams, and I’m saying he might be a touch underrated.  Joe recently remarked that Utley might be one of the better second basemen in baseball history.  I’m not even sure if Joe’s considerable ego realizes how much better Utley has to get to justify the comparison.  And Utley is, like, really, really good.
Wear the Jersey? Almost certainly.

NEW YORK METS

Who. Tom Glavine, but only if I can get some kind of mention of his final start as a Met.  Otherwise, Turk Wendell.
Why: Glavine’s lousy performance gave the division to the Phils on the final day of the season, before the Phils even started playing a must-win game.  Turk Wendell just batshit crazy.
Wear the Jersey? Glavine, almost certainly not.  I don’t actually like him, I just like what he ended up doing for my favorite team.  Wendell, maybe.  Definitely while drunk.

ATLANTA BRAVES

Who. Greg Maddux.
Why: There are so many reasons to love Maddux.  The speed at which the games he pitches move along (quickly), the absolute dominance of his career, the longevity, the stories of him peeing on rookies in the shower.  Really, he’s the whole package.
Wear the Jersey? Really, my anti-Wahoo sentiments (perhaps best expressed by the second song here), extend to Braves and the Redskins and the rest of the clubs that use Native American stereotypes.  It’s silly, and dumb.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Who. Walter Johnson
Why: I have no interest in considering the Nationals to be the same thing as the Montreal Expos, and though I’m too young to remember the old Washington Senators, the Nats are too young to have earned my affection.  Incidentally, are there any pictures of Johnson pitching?  Or was his pitching motion just that relaxed?  All the Google images are like the one I’ve got, or pics of him looking like he’s just lobbing a ball, as if to a small child.
Wear the Jersey? Depending on which one.  I’ve got mixed feelings about that collar.

MONTREAL EXPOS

Who. Vlad Guerrero.
Why: Vlad is everything Andre Dawson fans wish Dawson was.  Or, at least, as an Expo, he was.  Absolutely incredible arm and bat, and, once, an excellent fielder.  Absolutely unique style of play (as shown by the fact that no scout will ever write the words “looks like a young Vlad Guerrero” about a prospect).  Somehow, despite swinging at everything, he’s walked more than he’s struck out 4 times in his career.  Arguably, the most exciting player of my lifetime, thus far.
Wear the Jersey? I’d even dance with Youppi while wearing it.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Who. Michael Jack Schmidt.
Why: I love Chase Utley.  I love Jimmy Rollin’s charisma.  I love everything about Pat Burrell.  I love the nostalgia of Richie Ashburn, and I miss having him in the booth.  I love Steve Carlton’s slider, and that he was a pioneer in the field of “personal catchers”.  I loved both Curt Schilling’s mouth and his fastball, and how he signed autographs when the grocery store near my parents’ house opened up.  I’ve had bizarre adorations of Mickey Morandini, who could field and hit triples, and David Bell, who could field.  I loved Dykstra.  I love, love, love, Tug McGraw (“Tug, do you prefer grass or astroturf?”  “I don’t know.  I never smoked no astroturf.”).  I loved John Kruk, as a player.  I even loved Geoff Geary’s shortlived, up-and-down, middle relief career as a Phillie.  I loved the disaster that was Turk Wendell.  I rooted so hard I’m sure I’ve ground my teeth down to flat stones while watching Joe Table collapse time and time again.  I can name hundreds of Phillies players, many of whom played before I was born.

But there is only one God, and his name is Mike Schmidt.

Wear the Jersey?  You bet your ass.

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Squeezing the Zone

We’ll get onto the Playing Favorites in the NL soon, but for now, just a quick Pitch F/x aside.  I was at the Phils – Mets tilt featuring Johan Santana and Cole Hamels on April 18th.  The two were pretty even in their handling of the opponent lineups, until the 8th inning, when the opponents started handling them.

Two men in the row behind me commented that the umpire, Brian Runge, appeared to be squeezing the strike zone on Hamels, or stretching it a bit for Santana.  I’m not sure if any of the wizards at Baseball Prospectus or elsewhere have tracked any sort of tendency among umpires to give better calls to the larger celebrity among players, and we’re not about to go in a full-blown study here, but we can at least look at the location of the calls from that game for both pitchers.

All these charts are taken from Jnai’s website, which can be found here.  If you have any interest in Pitch F/x, I cannot recommend this tool highly enough.  It’s thoroughly wonderful.  And a big thanks to TangoTiger, who seems to always find the most wonderful toys.

Anyway, here are the pitch locations from 4/18/08 for pitches thrown by Hamels.

If you click on the picture, you should get a slightly larger image.  It’s a bit hard to read, anyway, but here are the facts:

Hamels threw 5 pitches well within the strike zone that were called balls.  Most of these are located in the lower left quadrant of the strike zone.  All 5 were in the lower half.  He also threw several pitches that were on or near the border of the strike zone that were also called balls.  Hamels threw one pitch that was outside the zone which was called a strike.  It would certainly seem that Hamels was getting squeezed a bit.  Well, a good amount.  The question, of course, is, was Johan Santana getting the same treatment?

Here’s the same chart, but for Johan:

Santana also gets a few would-be strikes called balls, though only one or two of these are egregious (one all by itself in the bottom right, and another one high in the zone, in the middle).  The rest are all on or near the strikezone border.  Santana did get four pitches outside the zone for called strikes, as well.

It would seem that Santana did get a bit more benefit of the doubt than Hamels, as Runge was more likely to call a ball a strike for Johan than for Cole.  Obviously, we’re only talking about 5-10 total pitches, here, but the difference between a 1-0 count and an 0-1 count are significant.  Needless to say, Brian Runge, at least from Friday night, is not a friend of the Curious Mechanism.

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Playing Favorites

So, ShysterBall started this bit of nonsense over here, debating whose jerseys he’d be willing to wear from each team.  Since then, Jeff Snider has picked up on the game, and Mr Thursday is nothing if not a cheap ripoff artiste.  So, here, below, our favorite player from each team in the Junior Circuit (we’ll send up the NL choices soon), and whether or not that player rates highly enough on a nebulous system of judgement to warrant a jersey purchase.  Ya know, if we weren’t broke over here.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM

Favorite: Bert Blyleven.
Why: Everyone remembers him as a Twin, and I imagine a few fondly remember his years Cleveland and Pittsburgh, but when I was a young, wide-eyed child, Bert was busy sporting sub 3.00 ERA for the California Angels, as well as grooming an outstanding beard, and I distinctly remember being given one of the first analogies of my young life: Blyleven : Curveball :: Nolan Ryan : Fastballs.  I loved him.
Wear the Jersey? You bet.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Favorite: Dave Parker
Why: I have never liked the A’s.  I think, perhaps, the first off-color joke I’ve ever known involved postulating what the “A” on the cap stood for.  Furthermore, most of their good players, during my lifetime, are or were in some sort of disgrace:  Rickey Henderson’s a nut, Jose Canseco…well, Pat Jordan’s pretty much got him nailed, Mark McGwire hides in disgrace, Tony LaRussa is a pompous ass (the A’s! Get it?), and Eckersley, to me, is just the guy who gave up the Kirk Gibson homer.  That said, Dave Parker has always been cool.  I mean, his nickname was Smoke.  Smoke!
Wear the Jersey? Not a chance.  I like Parker relative to his Oakland peers, but I still don’t like him that much.

TEXAS RANGERS

Favorite. Nolan Ryan
Why: He’s an easy answer, especially for someone under 30 who grew up watching the National League almost exclusively.  But, I love pitchers like him.  He has easily the most strikeouts, ever, but he also has easily the most walks, as well.  His “stuff” was so filthy that on any given start, he was approximately equally likely to implode as he is to toss a line of zeroes.  There are a lot of pitchers like that nowadays, though none of them have been able to harness their powers as consistently as Ryan: guys like Carlos Zambrano, Oliver Perez, and Daniel Cabera, and, to a lesser degree, Edwin Jackson.
Wear the Jersey? Certainly.  I think of Ryan more as an Astro (a product of rewatching Game 7 of the 1980 NLCS so many times), but he’s the best I’ve got for Texas.

SEATTLE MARINERS

Favorite. Ken Griffey Jr.
Why: I had roughly 10,000 baseball cards, collected from eras.  The collection began in 1988, but picked up steam in 1989, when I got a first edition Topps Ken Griffey Jr rookie card.  It was one of my favorite cards.  In 1994, when the players went on strike, I quit little league and started giving away the cards.  I distinctly remember selling Junior’s (mint condition, in case) card to a lady with a 4 year old son for 50 cents at garage sale.  I also sold her a 1983 Carl Yastrzemski and an autographed Curt Schilling.  She paid $1.50 for the three.  I took the strike pretty hard.
Wear the Jersey? I’m not sure.  I’m not much for nostalgia, and as much as I adored the Kid, my love for him is something remembered, and not something that has endured.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Favorite. Carlton Fisk
Why: Played catcher in little league and admired the guy.  Also, I would happily piss off Boston fans.
Wear the Jersey: Yes, but I doubt I’d pay the necessary money to own it in the first place.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Favorite. Bret Saberhagen
Why: I cannot explain why I loved him so much when I was younger.  I have no particular attachment to George Brett (likely because I grew up knowing that Mike Schmidt is God), and, to me, Danny Tartabull represents disappointment.  But Saberhagen, as a younger man, could throw it with the best of them.  Sure, he was almost certainly a victim of tossing too many pitches at too precious an age.  But, at least, I remember him only fondly.
Wear the Jersey: Certainly.  Especially since Bill James/Rob Neyer/Rany Jazeryerli/Joe Posnanski have turned all of us into secondary fans of the Royals, I have no problem remembering where my fondness for the team began.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

Favorite. Jim Thome.
Why: Class act.  Legs like tree trunks.  Reported wonderful teammate.  Hits thunderous homers.  Thunderous.  Hit his 400th homer while I was sitting in the (second) best seats of my life: 12 rows behind home plate.
Wear the Jersey? Not a chance.  It has nothing to do with Thome, but, like others, I cannot abide the Wahoo.

MINNESOTA TWINS

Favorite. Chuck Knoblauch.
Why: Not all of us remember him for Steve Blass disease (some of us just ignore it when our favorite players become Yankees).  Some of us just like to remember 143 OPS+, 45 SB, and apparently good defense from second base.  Loved that guy.
Wear the Jersey? Nah.  I never liked those uniforms.

DETROIT TIGERS

Favorite. Can’t I just get some Ernie Harwell swag?  What about a Sparky Anderson jersey?  Is that weird?  Okay, fine, Lou Whitaker.
Why: No great reason.  Wonderful player, second baseman, and I’ve always had an affection for players who just aren’t quite good enough to be Hall of Famers.  Well, actually, Lou might have been good enough.  Excellent hitter, outstanding defender, and part of the legendary Trammell-Whitaker double play combo.
Wear the Jersey? Probably.  I like Whitaker, and I have no problem with the Tigers.

BOSTON RED SOX

Favorite. Pedro Martinez
Why: Largely for the same reasons as everyone else.  Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, and Greg Maddux have been, at times, nearly as good as Pedro was.  But Pedro’s combination of stuff–the crazy fastball, the changeup, the hard breaking stuff–and control, and “pitching smarts”, not to mention a mean streak.  I mean, he brought out the absolute best in baseball writers, trying to describe what they were witnessing every time he went out to the mound.
Wear the Jersey? No, thanks.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Favorite. Billy Ripken.
Why: Partly because he played second base, and largely because I owned The Card, too.
Wear the Jersey? Nah.  Despite a long professed love of irony, I don’t want to (literally) wear it on my shoulder.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Favorite. David Wells.
Why: Big, blustery, and funny.  Any interview with David Wells is a good interview.  Also, as a fat, soft-tossing lefty, he gives me hope that I, too, could still be a professional baseball player.
Wear the Jersey? No.  Cannot abide those uniforms.

NEW YORK YANKEES

Favorite. Alex Rodriguez.
Why? Partly just for the history.  It’s interesting to watch one of the all-time great players do his thing.  It’s equally interesting (though less fun) too see his home crowd despise him while he does it.  So, partly because I like A-Rod, and partly because I hate Yankee fans.
Wear the Jersey? Unlikely.  I’ve never been one for pinstripes, and I’d hate for anyone to think I’m a Yankee fan, instead of just an A-Rod fan.

TAMPA BAY MEPHISTOPHERAYS

Favorite. Edwin Jackson.  Seriously.
Why: Unlike a lot of baseball fans, I’ve never felt like the Rays should be contracted (or, at least, I’ve never appreciated the jokes to that effect), and I’ve been on the the “2009 World Champion Devil Rays” bandwagon since, like, 2005.  I mean, I’m not driving the bandwagon, but I do get to ride shotgun to Jim Callis.  That said, for reasons I cannot explain fully, (though the Nolan Ryan tidbit explains part of it), I love Edwin Jackson.  I want him to succeed, badly.  He doesn’t have to become Nolan Ryan or even Mike Mussina, but if he could end up like Mark Langston or Mark Boddicker (decently long career, and generally average or slightly above), I’d be thrilled.  Also, for some reason, I really love his fastball.  It’s an aesthetically pleasing pitch to watch him release.
Wear the Jersey? Absolutely.

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Cole Hamels, 4-2-08

The Phillies best pitcher, Cole Hamels, made his first start of the season on Wednesday night.  The Phillies normally mighty offense couldn’t muster a runner past first base, and so Hamels was hung with a loss, despite pitching well.

By the numbers:

8IP
5 hits (1 HR), 2 BB
6 K
11/8 GB/FB
1 run
106 pitches
GameScore 72

From those numbers, we can say that Hamels pitched a really nice game.  The 6 strikeouts is slightly below his career strikeout rate, but not much below, and the skimpy walk total is par for the course.  As is the home run, for the matter, as Hamels allowed 25 homers in 28 starts last year.

Major League Baseball, last year, began a system of pitch tracking that they call Pitch F/x.  This system uses a number of high speed cameras positioned around the ball park to follow the path of the ball from the pitchers hand to the catcher’s mitt (or the hitter’s bat), and calculate the ball’s speed and trajectory.  The system has been installed in every ballpark, I believe, and many of the kinks that existed last year have been ironed out.  Really, this is one of the biggest advances in baseball analysis in years, as it allows, essentially, for rigorous objective analysis of performance in a way that can only normally be done by the subjective measure of scouts.  While in the past, a pitcher might be categorized as having a huge curveball, we can now say exactly how big it is.  A hitter might be said to be a mistake hitter–that is, he only makes solid contact when the pitcher accidentally leaves a pitch in the middle of the zone, or if a slider doesn’t, ya know, slide.

What we’re going to do with it is, well, look at some pitchers.  Probably mostly just Phillie pitchers, but we’ll see how good we get with the data, and how it all strikes our fancy.

Anyway, and now what you’ve all been waiting for: CHARTS!

It is said (“Who says it?”, “They.”, “They talk a lot, don’t they?”) that a pitcher needs four things to succeed.  Namely: velocity, movement, location, and deception.  With Pitch F/x, we can talk about the first three things.  Velocity, of course, is the most famous of all these, as every baseball fan can name their favorite flamethrower,  whether it’s someone like Joel Zumaya recently, or Roger Clemens, Nolan Ryan, or going back a bit farther, someone like Sudden Sam McDowell or Walter Johnson.  Flamethrowers get all the love.  If you can throw 95, some baseball team is going to want you.

Movement, of course, refers the “break” of the pitch.  When Bad News Bears’ ace Amanda Whurlitzer tells you that her curveball breaks 2 feet, she’s talking about the kind of movement she gets on the ball.  The most common way to discuss movement is to imagine a straight line from the pitcher’s hand to the cather’s glove.  Whatever sort of deviation from this line the ball makes on its actual path is, often, considered the “break”.  This isn’t necessarily the best way to think about pitch movement, but we’ll talk about that in a moment.

Location is simply where the ball is when it crosses the front of home plate.  The plate is merely 17 inches wide, and your average batter’s strikezone starts about 19 inches above the ground, and extends another 25 inches from there.  The upper limit of the strike zone is just over 3 and 1/2 feet up.  Throwing a pitch on the corner, low and away, is a strike.  Throwing a pitch straight down the middle is a strike as well, but those pitches are bit more likely to end up near the outfield wall.  As everyone’s favorite soft tosser, Greg Maddux, once said, “You can do a lot of things when you put the ball exactly where you want it.”

Deception is the one thing we can’t really measure with Pitch F/x, though it is about as important as the other three.  Most pitchers, if not all pitchers, involve a certain amount of deception in their delivery of the ball.  Whether it’s using their body or their glove to hide the ball before releasing it, or using a slow windup to screw up a hitter’s timing, deception is certainly important.  Unfortunately, at this time, we can’t really talk about it.

Let’s look at location first.  This chart is easily the most difficult to look at of the three we’ve got, so, don’t worry, if you make it past here, it’s smooth sailing.

What you’re looking at there, is the location of nearly every pitch Hamels threw on Wednesday (a few pitches weren’t documented by the Pitch F/x system), as seen by the catcher.  The black square in the middle represents the approximate strike zone.

We can see that Hamels was a bit on the wild side on Wednesday, which is also indicated by the fact that 12 of the 32 batters Hamels faced worked at-bats of at least 4 pitches.  Other things we can learn are that Hamels tends to throw his fastball up in the strike zone (despite the wildness, most of the blue dots are in the upper half of the chart), he keeps his changeup low in the zone, and he appears to have little idea where his curveball is going to go.  High, low, inside, outside, that curve could be going anywhere.  On the upside, Hamels threw a lot of curveballs on Wednesday (19 of them), which is encouraging, since at times last year, he seemed to go throw games where he wouldn’t throw more than a couple of curveballs.   Curveballs (and other breaking pitches) are often referred to as “feel” pitches, because the pitcher must grip the ball somewhat delicately (to keep the speed of the pitch down), but apply substantial fingertip pressure on the ball to get the kind of spin neccessary to create break.  The traditional wisdom is, basically, practice makes perfect, and so the more Hamels throws the pitch, the more likely that he’ll start to harness it a bit better.

Let’s take a look at pitch speed now:

Unfortunately, I’m not sure how to get Excel to create a scattergraph with a line of best fit, so you’ll have to make do with my squiggly lines for the time being.   The vertical axis here indicates pitch speed, while the horizontal axis refers to time.  That’s what the (blue) line for the fastball is slightly longer on both ends than either of the other lines: Hamels’ first and last pitches were fastballs.  Things to note: Hamels fastball was greatly exaggerated when he first came up.  First, Hamels was reported to throw in the low to mid 90s, then just the low 90s.  The truth is the Hamels tends to throw in the mid to upper 80s.  Or, at the very least, that’s how he was throwing on Wednesday night.  Personally, I don’t have a problem with this, though I’d be curious to know how many other pitchers are as successful as the Phils’ ace with a fastball as slow as his.

Also worth looking at is the separation between Hamels’ fastball and changeup.  Now, the idea behind the changeup is that, coming out of the pitcher’s hand, the pitch looks like a fastball.  The hope is that the pitcher can do everything just as he does with a fastball–same delivery, arm speed, arm angle, and release point–but pitch the ball at least 7 mph slower than the heat.  Hamels is outstanding in this regard, as his changeup often sits 10-12 mph slower than the fastball.

Hamels curveball is interesting.  It’s just a smidgen slower than his changeup, but it breaks significantly more, so I wonder how it appears to a hitter.  When Hamels can throw it for strikes, especially, it appears to be quite the formidable third pitch.

A few facts:

Fastest FB: 88.5
Slowest FB: 83.1
Average FB: 85.6

Fastest CH: 77.9
Slowest CH: 74.4
Average CH: 76.3

Fastest CB: 74.8
Slowest CB: 69.8
Average CB: 71.8

Now, getting on to movement.  This is an easy graph to look at, but it’s somewhat difficult to understand.  A quick primer: as we previously mentioned, people intuitively talk about the break of a pitch thrown relative to a straight line, drawn from the pitcher’s hand to the catcher’s mitt.  This line, however, isn’t realistic.  A ball cannot be thrown straight like that, as the effects of wind resistence and gravity cause the ball to sink, and, to a lesser degree, move left or right.  The amount of spin put on a ball (backspin on fastballs, front and sidespin on various breaking pitches) cause the ball to drop and rise, cut and tail.

The graph below shows the break of pitches relative to a pitch thrown with no spin whatsoever.  That mean, essentially, a ball that is thrown and the only action on it is caused be gravity.  As you can see, pitches thrown with backspin resist gravity a bit–thus, a fastball with a substantial amount of backspin appears to “rise”.  The ball isn’t really rising, of course, it’s just sinking less than expected.  As for the horizontal deviation from the center of the graph, this results in tailing or curving action.  On this graph, the pitches that are shown to the left of center are pitches that bore in on a righthanded batter (and away from a lefty), whereas the pitches to the right of center move away from righties and in toward lefties.

It’s perhaps worth noting that how crazy some of this is.  Toronto Blue Jays blog recently took a look at RHP AJ Burnett’s first start of the year, and provided a graph much like this one.  You can find it here.  Burnett throws the same three pitches as Hamels.  Both Hamels and Burnett throws a fastball that rises about 10 inches, and Burnett’s cuts substantially, moving back toward a righthanded batter between 5 and 10 inches.  Hamels doesn’t get that kind of lateral movement, but the movement he does get is more interesting, in a way.  Because, you see, the ball can go anywhere.  Only 20% of his fastballs behave the same way Burnett’s do–that is, by tailing back toward a lefthanded batter (again, Burnett’s pitch is the same because, he’s a RHP with a FB that tailed toward a righty batter).  The other 80% actually move away from lefties.  Now, I’m not sure how he accomplishes this.  If he’s throwing a different fastball, it only shows up in the movement.  Average speed of fastballs that head left: 85.6 mph.  Average speed of fastballs that head right: 85.6.  I haven’t looked at Hamels’ pitch data beyond this start, but it’s very interesting (to me, at least), that he can make a baseball go both ways.  If I get the chance, I’ll try to figure out if he’s doing this on purpose–he may have a tendency to throw the one kind of FB to lefties, and the other to righties.

Comparing Burnett and Hamels, again, we can see that Burnett throws an occasional changeup that moves back toward righthanded batters  quite a bit, but doesn’t rise or drop much at all.  Hamels throws his change frequently (about 30% of his pitches on Wednesday were changes), and while his doesn’t move laterally quite as much as Burnett’s, it rises quite a bit more.

And now the curveball.  Burnett’s drops between 6 and 11 inches, it would seem, and curls away from a righthanded batter about 1-4 inches.  Hamels?  Well, he throws some kind of gem.  The pitch sinks about 4 to 8 inches, but can move laterally, away from a lefty, anywhere from 1 to 7 inches.  In fact, nearly half of his curveballs broke more than 5 inches away from a lefty bat.  That’s a nasty pitch, it would seem.

There’s a ton of information available here, and I’m just learning to manipulate it.  We’ll try to keep using it throughout the season, though I doubt we’ll regularly post things as lengthy as this.  Generally, I suspect, we’ll use Pitch F/x to illuminate only one aspect of a player’s performance: just the movement or location or speed of a pitcher on a given night, or to see what, exactly, Shane Victorino is able to hit, if anything.

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1-2

040308_phils270.jpgIn a nail-biter, the Phils staved off getting swept in the opening series for at least the third season in a row (I am not up to checking if they did it in 2005).  Certainly, they didn’t make it easy.  A quick recap:

Old Man Moyer takes the mound for the Phils, and promptly got shellacked to the discordant tune of 5 first inning runs at the hands of just about everyone on the Nationals.  It’s always a treat when the hometown fans get to see the opposing pitcher batting before they see him pitching.  According to Tom McCarthy, one of the horses on the Phillies’ carousel of game callers, after the inning, Mr Thursday favorite Pat Burrell could be heard encouraging his teammates: “No worries, plenty of time left.  Plenty of time.”  Of course, by the time he finished those words, the Phillies had already gone down in order, and Pat hat to grab his glove and head back to the field.

The second inning, though without additionally scoring from the Nationals, was terrifying enough as Moyer reloaded the bases, and reached down into wherever Crafty Wizened Veterans reach when they need a lot of damn luck.  He escaped the jam.  The Phils did nothing in the 2nd, and the Nationals did likewise in the top of the third.

In the bottom of the inning, Chris Coste lifted the spirits of Philadelphians everywhere, ever so slightly, as he slapped the first pitch he saw in the 2008 season over the left field wall.  The Legend of Chris Coste continued, but everyone thereafter found their way to some quiet outs.

In the forth, Moyer found himself in trouble yet again, and this time Charlie Manuel gave him the hook, bringing in one of the Flying Durbins (JD?  Chad?  Does it matter that I don’t know which one?), who miraculously kept things from getting any worse.  Two innings go by quietly, with the only thing changing were the chances that the Phils would make a comeback.

And then came the sixth inning, when the the Phillies and their mighty power hitters strung together half a dozen sissy singles to kill the Nationals lead, leaving themselves on top, 7-6.  In the 8th, the Nationals tied things up on their own string of soft hits.  The Phils threatened again in the bottom frame, eventually leading Luis Ayala to intentionally walk both Utley and Howard–loading the bases–to get to Jayson Werth, who, disappointingly, couldn’t capitalize on the bizarre strategy of giving free passes to two guys in a row to bring up a hitter who is still pretty good.

The game went to extra innings, which, of course, brought about one of the more bizarre and fabulous game endings in recent memory.  Jimmy Rollins, who is, apparently, irresistable with the game on the line, grounded to second base, but screamed up the line and managed to reach when Ronnie Belliard’s throw pulled Nick Johnson from the first base bag.  Next up, Shane Victorino dropped a bunt right in front of the plate.  Third basemen Ryan Zimmerman, who already has 2 game winning home runs this young season, fielded the ball and made a strong and clean throw to first to out the Flyin’ Hawaiian.  Rollins, meanwhile, didn’t even pause at second base, and advanced from first to third on a bunt.  Recalling Harry Kalas’ wild declaration when Chase Utley scored from second on a bunt, let me say: “Jimmy Rollins, you are the man”.  With two bases left open, the Phils two best hitters, Utley and Howard were intentionally walked.  Both of them.  For the second time.  This time, the strategy made more sense, as any run ends the game, and it’s easier to have a force at home than a tag play.  However, Jesus Colombe couldn’t recover from throwing ball after ball, and couldn’t find the strike zone at all with Jayson Werth.  Werth made up for failing to capitalize on a bases loaded situation earlier, and he didn’t even have to take the bat off his shoulder to do it.  Four pitches, all balls, and Werth jogged to first while Rollins jogged on home to claim victory.

Really, if you’re going to wait 3 games to get your first win of the season, you can’t do it much better than that.  Lots, and lots of fun, even as we ignore the possibility that Jamie Moyer may be thoroughly washed up.

Coming very soon: Mr Thursday makes his first foray into Major League Baseball’s Pitch F/x data.  We’ll talk about Cole Hamels’ first start, with some interesting charts and half baked observations.  For tonight, we enjoy pizza, and winning.

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0-1

lego-citizens-bank-park-of.jpg

Our long national nightmare has begun, again. My heart is as empty as this Lego Citizens Bank Park, which is, obviously, more sturdy than the Phillies’ pitching. Sure, the Phils lost their first game last year, and that team made the playoffs. Of course, they were 0-1 here, too (shucks), though not this year (double shucks), or this year (damn), though, terrifyingly, they did lose their first game this year.

Will the Phillies rebound tomorrow? No, no, they won’t. Because Major League Baseball is a prude, the Phillies have lost today, and will take tomorrow off so we, the wretched masses, can twist on our hooks for just a few hours more, before our team seeks out ways both ancient and novel to enthrall or disgust us. Super.

Will we keep tabs on the Phillies in this space this summer? It’s too early to tell whether the delights and defeats of the national pastime will lend themselves to this sort of storytelling, or if we’ll just take the sorrow of our meager expectations (prediction: the Phils will miss the playoffs) internally.

While sitting in the family abode watching the opening games with brother Goose (speaking of which, prediction #2: the Royals will win more games this season than the White Sox), I remembered the joy that comes with baseball. Sitting in that same abode several hours later, with no one but me and Tom Gordon, I remembered why I hate baseball with a sort of oozing, black, vulgar obsession, too.

Cole Hamels pitches on Wednesday. As always, I’m predicting (#3) a no-hitter.

(Hat tip to Home Run Derby for the pic)

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