Two starting pitchers are putting up elite strikeout rates this year, without adding new pitches or heaps of velocity. This is how.
Strikeouts are up this season. That, in itself is nothing new: strikeouts have been up in many seasons—most seasons, even—since the dead ball disappeared. The explanations have multiplied almost as quickly as the Ks. The mound is higher. The strike zone is bigger. Hitters are swinging for the fences. Pitchers are increasingly specialized, and they throw pitches they didn’t use to throw, and they throw the ones that they used to throw harder than they used to throw them. Also, Jose Molina keeps tricking umpires into seeing strikes that aren’t there.
Those are all valid theories, and more than one of them, if not all of them, probably contain some truth. But to that long list of culprits behind baseball’s increasing lack of contact, I’d like to add two more: Gio Gonzalez and Max Scherzer.
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.
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?
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.
Before you yell at the umpire, consider making a few adjustments to your dataset.
After the last two postseasons, most baseball fans are familiar with the strike zone location graphic known as PitchTrax. Here’s an example from Game One of the 2010 American League Championship Series:
The challenge of changing speeds while integrating perceived velocity into the mix.
When a pitch begins its flight towards home plate, the radar gun registers a specific velocity-one that correlates quite strongly to the start speed component of PITCHf/x-which unfortunately becomes the gospel as to how hard the pitch was thrown. Various factors, like the natural loss of velocity as the pitch reaches home plate, the true distance of the release, the actual flight time, the location, when the batter picks the ball up, and what pitch the batter initially anticipated all work together to alter a hitter's perception of velocity.
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Changing speeds can depends as much upon where you throw as how hard you're throwing.
The velocity recorded by the radar gun and what the batter perceives do not always match. As discussed previously, several factors can cause a pitch to appear faster or slower to hitters. One such factor is the flight time from the point of release to when the ball crosses home plate relative to the flight time the PITCHf/x system projects at 55 feet away. Pitches released any closer than this predetermined distance result in a higher perceived velocity with the inverse true of pitches let go from distances greater than the default. During our initial look it was observed that a few pitchers generated perceived velocities dissimilar to their recorded velocity, a proof of concept that was much more important than the velocity discrepancies themselves. Johnny Cueto, for example, averaged 92.9 mph with a perceived 90.8 mph, while Ian Snell found himself perceived to throw just 87.6 mph in spite of the reported 91.7 mph. But where Snell threw these pitches must also enter the equation, since the location of a pitch works in conjunction to the flight time to add or subtract perceived miles per hour.
Dissecting a day at the office for the Mets' Johan Santana.
Due to local blackout rules and the lack of a land-line phone capable of proving that my Penn State University residence was not in Philadelphia, I relied on MLB Gameday instead of MLB TV for a good chunk of the 2007 season. The application had been around for a while, but I soon noticed strange terminology and new data accompanying each pitch. Why are there two velocity readings? What does 13" of pFX mean? And what the heck is BRK? A little research soon made sense of the information, and within a few months I became hooked on the data set known as Pitch-f/x. Fast-forward two years, and Pitch-f/x continues to evolve, revolutionizing baseball research in the process. Unfortunately, with updates to system configurations and the amount of information offered, too many readers and baseball fans experience confused reactions similar to mine when they first encounter the data. In an attempt to quash this issue, it seemed prudent to explain some of the more commonly used numbers, discussing what they mean as well as how they should be used. Instead of merely defining terms, the system will be explored in action, with periodic discussions of its inner workings, much as Dan Fox did back in May 2007.
The A's pitching coach talks about the importance of off-speed pitches, imparting wisdom to younger pitchers, and making sure you know your opposition.
Curt Young knows pitching, and with 19 years in the organization, he knows the Oakland Athletics. Originally taken in the 1981 draft, the left-hander spent 10 of his 11 seasons as a big league pitcher with the A's, twice winning 13 games, and contributing to a World Series championship in 1989. Young joined the coaching ranks in 2000 and has served as the A's pitching coach since December 2003. David talked to Young about managing pitch counts, the importance of throwing a strike on 1-1, and why Lenny DiNardo can succeed with an 82 MPH fastball.
After digging through this data, you'll no longer wonder why they say hitting is the hardest thing to do in sports.
"In the last few feet before the plate, the ball reaches an angular velocity that exceeds the ability of the eye to track the ball. The best hitters can track the ball to within five or six feet of the plate." --Ken Fuld, visual psychophysicist, quoted on Live Science.com