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BP's new expert on pitcher mechanics debuts with a primer on the most important components of the pitching motion.

My name is Doug, and I am a baseball junkie.

It all started with an eight-year old kid and an innocent pack of Topps baseball cards. There must have been something laced into that stale piece of gum, because my formative years are nothing but a haze of cardboard stats, makeshift whiffleball fields, Mark McGwire moon shots, and heated Saberhagen-Valenzuela duels in RBI Baseball. By college I was on to the hard stuff, with fantasy baseball teams stretching as far as the eye could see, buoyed by the mass consumption of designer statistics like VORP, PAP, and EQA.

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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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Evaluating each pitcher who appeared in the Futures Game and identifying the most similar current major-league pitchers and pitches with the aid of PITCHf/x.

Sample size or apple pies? You can choose only one. Apple pies—that’s what I thought. A quick glimpse of a prospect might not tell us all we need to know, but it’s still plenty tempting to draw possibly premature conclusions. With that in mind, I decided to watch the Futures Game for the second straight year and make snap judgments on every single pitcher, even though none of them threw more than a couple dozen pitches. Last year, my main takeaway was that Zach Britton was the man. He still is. This year, I came to the conclusion that the only way to top a Bernie Williams rendition of the national anthem is to catch a Sal Fasano first-base coach sighting.

The following table lists every pitcher who appeared in the game, in order of appearance. I’ll tackle them one by one, offering comps to current major leaguers where applicable, as well as links to videos of similar pitches.

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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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June 21, 2009 11:18 am

Future Shock: NL Draft Wrap

11

Kevin Goldstein

The senior circuit's sweet 16 draft crops, reviewing the top picks and the late-round surprises.

Arizona Diamondbacks

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May 6, 2009 11:55 am

Zumaya's Zooming

11

Ben Lindbergh

Diagnosing how a phenomenon gets hot, goes bad, and comes back might involve changing things up.

Three years ago, Joel Zumaya took the AL by storm, flashing an overpowering fastball on his way to a full season of stellar relief. Since 2006, though, he's fallen on hard times. Now that the big righty has recently reclaimed his role in Detroit's bullpen, let's take a look at his prospects for future success by using all of the tools at our disposal.

Zumaya broke camp as a member of the Tigers' bullpen in 2006, after fellow rookie Justin Verlander had claimed a rotation spot in spring training. Except for a single appearance in relief as a 17-year-old in the GCL, Zumaya had worked exclusively as a starter in the minors, but his migration to the pen didn't come as a complete surprise. Although Baseball America ranked him among Detroit's top four prospects in each year from 2004-2006, talent evaluators frequently cited his intensity, max-effort delivery, inconsistent mechanics, limited repertoire (before 2005), and three DL stints (for back and shoulder spasms) as factors arguing for a shift to short relief work.

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Why have Cincinnati's pitchers done poorly? The ball-strike count plays a big part. In a previous column, I noted that the Reds' strike rate was tracking with their wins and losses. This is an essay about the importance of strike rates, but let me get the caveat out of the way: Strike rates play a big part, but of course they don't explain everything. High strike rates don't necessarily mean success. Brian Anderson rarely gives up walks, but he gets hit hard. That said, strike rates have a big influence on outcomes. Pitchers and batters alter their approach to an at-bat on where they are in the count. Whether or not a pitcher works ahead in the count and can use his whole repertoire matters, and it matters whether a batter has to protect the plate because he's behind in the count. Strikes reflect how well a pitcher controls a game. What might surprise a lot of people is that there is no official method of scoring balls and strikes, just as there is no official way to publish a box score. You won't find anything in chapter 10 of the official rules on box score formats or ball-strike tabulations. There is no official method, but for both box scores and pitch scoring there is a customary, standard way of doing things. Under the standard, swinging strikes, called strikes, foul balls on full counts, and balls in play are counted as Strikes. All balls, including those thrown for pitchouts and intentional walks, are counted as Balls. As strikes are recorded now, a called third strike is no different than a 500-foot homer. An intentional ball is no different than a wild pitch.

This is where the Pythagorean record comes in handy. The Reds are actually 21-19, but their expected record is 16-24; because no matter how good their hitting has been, their pitching has been much worse. Going forward, the expected record is the better indication of how the Reds will finish the season.

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May 7, 2003 12:00 am

Behind the Mask Q&A

0

Jason Grady

Baseball Prospectus: Where in the rulebook does it say? a) Tie goes to the runner. Jim Evans: It doesn't. It states that a runner is out IF the defensive team tags him or his base BEFORE he reaches it. The implication is if the tag doesn't occur first (not at the same time or after), the runner would be safe. BP: b) A check swing is a strike if the batter breaks his wrists. JE: The wrists are never mentioned in the rulebook. A swinging strike is based solely on the umpire's judgment of whether or not the batter committed to the pitch. Check swings are very difficult calls. Base umpires are often able to make more accurate decisions on check swings because their attention can be focused solely on the bat since they are not obligated to call the pitch. BP: c) The hands are part of the bat. JE: This is another misconception. The hands are NOT part of the bat. If a pitched ball hits the hands and the batter did not attempt to swing, it is a hit batsman. If a pitched ball hits the hands as he swings, it is a strike and the ball is dead. Reference: Rule 2.00 Strike (e.)

Baseball Prospectus: Where in the rulebook does it say? a) Tie goes to the runner.

Jim Evans: It doesn't. It states that a runner is out IF the defensive team tags him or his base BEFORE he reaches it. The implication is if the tag doesn't occur first (not at the same time or after), the runner would be safe.

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