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January 25, 2012 3:00 am

Spinning Yarn: Last Pitch


Mike Fast

One of our finest analytical minds says farewell and rides off into the sabermetric sunset to join an MLB team, introducing our newest addition in the process.

I have greatly enjoyed the last 15 months here at Baseball Prospectus. It has been a better time than I could have imagined, in many ways. It has been a privilege to share my thoughts and the results of my research. The conversations that resulted, whether in the comments here or on Twitter or at other sites, are among the things I value most. Baseball is a great game, full of interesting nooks and crannies, and it has been a lot of fun to explore them with you.

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The hit-and-run is much maligned as a small-ball tactic, but it's a surprisingly successful strategy.

In this game you never know enough.”—Dale Mitchell

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Mike continues his investigation of HITf/x data to glean more insights into whether pitchers can prevent hits on balls in play.

In the first part of this study, I used detailed batted ball speed information from HITf/x to examine the degree of skill that batters and pitchers had in quality of contact made or allowed. Here, I will look deeper into the question of why some batted balls fall for hits and others do not.

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When a batter and pitch face off, which has a greater effect on how hard the ball is hit, and what can that tell us about pitcher BABIP?

The last decade has seen much discussion and evolution in sabermetric thought around the relative abilities of batters, pitchers, fielders, and Lady Luck to control the outcome of batted balls. Data collected by Sportvision and MLBAM sheds new light on this question, but before we tackle that data, let’s review some of the history of how we came to our current state of knowledge.

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When is hot truly hot, and when is it not?

A few weeks ago, during the division series, Brandon McCarthy remarked on Twitter that it would be more interesting for TBS to show a diagram of the batter hot and cold zones for every batter than to show the PitchTrax strike zone and pitch location graphic. He argued that knowledge of the hot and cold zones would give viewers additional insight into the battle between the pitcher and the batter.

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In case you missed Mike Fast's extraordinary research into quantifying the heretofore hidden contributions of catchers, we're moving it back to the top of the list for the weekend.

I Was Framed
Catchers play a central role in the game of baseball through their involvement with every pitch that their pitchers throw. One of their key tasks is receiving borderline pitches without discouraging the umpire from calling strikes.

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Does the way an umpire positions himself behind home plate affect the boundaries of his strike zone?

We have known for several years that right-handed and left-handed batters do not see the same strike zone in the major leagues. The strike zone for left-handed batters shifts about two inches toward the outside. This observation goes back at least to Dr. John Walsh’s analysis of PITCHf/x strike zone data in 2007.

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What factors determine how often hitters take one for the team?

Every season major league pitchers throw tens of thousands of pitches inside off the plate, yet they hit batters “only” about 1500-1800 times in a season. Why do some inside pitches hit the batter, while others do not?

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August 4, 2011 9:00 am

Spinning Yarn: Counsell for the Defense


Mike Fast

Dissecting Craig Counsell's 45-at-bat hitless streak

Craig Counsell has been in a bit of a slump lately. Okay, maybe that undersells it a little. Counsell is 0 for his last 45 at-bats. His last hit came a couple months back, on June 10. Another hitless at-bat will tie him with Bill Bergen of the 1909 Brooklyn Superbas for the longest known streak of hitless at-bats by a position player.

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As Jose Bautista can attest, the percentage of pitches a batter sees in the strike zone tells us a good deal about his capabilities.

The pitcher begins each confrontation with a batter with the initiative. He alone controls when the baseball is thrown, how it moves, and where it is located. Thus, the batter is by nature placed in a reactive position. However, the batter, too, has a measure of control over how the plate appearance proceeds. He stands at the plate with a club, and it is within his discretion to swing his weapon or not.

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Examining the approach that has made Ryan Vogelsong a giant among Giants with the aid of PITCHf/x.

In January, Ryan Vogelsong signed a minor-league contract with the San Francisco Giants. He compiled a 3.27 ERA in 22 solid innings in spring training but was sent to Triple-A Fresno to begin the year. He followed that up with two strong starts at Fresno, allowing three runs and striking out 17 in 11 1/3 innings. On April 17, Vogelsong joined the big club when Barry Zito went on the disabled list with a foot injury, and on April 28, he took Zito’s place in the Giants starting rotation.

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When it comes to determining the actual upper and lower boundaries of the zone, pitchers may have more to tell us than the players at the plate.

Three months ago, I investigated the nature of the major-league strike zone, focusing on its inside and outside boundaries. I concluded that the location of a pitch relative to the catcher’s target had a significant impact on the umpire’s likelihood of calling a strike. This article will examine the top and bottom boundaries of the strike zone.

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