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April 1, 2014

Moonshot

Cracking the Location Code

by Robert Arthur


The challenges of hitting a baseball are many and difficult. Depending on the speed of the pitch, a batter may have something like half a second to 1) locate the ball as it leaves the pitcher’s hand, 2) predict its movement based on the kind of pitch it is (fastball, slider, curve, etc.), 3) decide whether to swing, and potentially 4) adjust mid-swing to the path of the ball or check his swing. All of which is to say, hitting a baseball in MLB may actually be the hardest thing in the galaxy (I’ve never done it, myself).

Arguably the most demanding part of this battle is purely mental (as Hank Aaron noted). Because of how little time there is for a hitter to perform all of the above-mentioned tasks, it is helpful to have some notion ahead of time of what, where, and how the pitcher is going to throw. Conversely, the more uncertainty and confusion a pitcher can create in the hitter, the more chance he has of catching him off guard.

I’ve written about this topic before in the context of pitch type. In that study, I found that pitchers who threw more pitch types and mixed them more evenly were better able to get strikeouts. A lurking caveat in that initial analysis was that it ignored location, and location is important. I aim to fix that blind spot, at least partially, in this article. As before, I’ll quantify uncertainty using a measurement called entropy, and see how the entropy of location affects each pitcher’s outcomes. The greater the entropy of location, the harder it is for a batter to predict where the next pitch will be.

Location, Location, Location
Location is unlike pitch type in a couple of important respects. Whereas pitchers tend to throw a finite number of pitches, location does not divide itself so cleanly. To apply entropy to location, I need to define a grid in and around the strike zone and then ask how evenly pitches are distributed across that grid. From the hitter’s perspective, the more evenly pitches fall, the harder it is to predict where the next pitch will be.

Secondly, it’s not clear whether entropy in location should necessarily be a good thing. On the one hand, varying location gives the batter more to think about and could potentially cause confusion. On the other hand, there’s an inherent penalty to locating one’s pitches too unpredictably: walks. Simply pitching far outside of the strike zone for the sake of befuddling the batter is a losing strategy. To put it another way, unlike an eephus, a pitch four feet out of the zone isn’t fooling anybody.

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Related Content:  Pitching,  Sequencing,  Location,  Pitch Sequencing

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<< Previous Article
Baseball Prospectus Ne... (04/01)
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Premium Article Moonshot: Attrition Ov... (03/25)
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Premium Article Moonshot: Miguel Cabre... (04/08)
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Premium Article Baseball Therapy: The ... (04/01)

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