Open to all BP staff, Between the Numbers is about sabermetrics, performance analysis, baseball and data, and anything remotely referring to the subjects of statistical information, its applications and interpretation.
I have seen the future, and its name is FIELDf/x. OK, so we kind of knew that. But today, FIELDf/x started to seem a lot more real, and even more exciting than I’d imagined. You may have noticed that BP had a man on the scene at Sportvision’s PITCHf/x summit whose liveblog was actually live. So why am I doing this, when Colin already did? Well, for one thing, Colin arrived fashionably late, and I was all over those first 14 minutes that he missed. For another, his computer died before a lot of the fun started. And for still another (this is a third reason, now), I thought it might be fun to do a Simmons-style quasi-liveblog (written live, published later) that would free me from worries about frequent updates, and allow me to write at length. Most likely that length turned out to be a good deal longer than anyone has any interest in reading, but if you’re determined to catch up on the day’s intriguing events without sitting through eight hours of archived video, you’re welcome to peruse what lies below. If you’d like to follow along, here’s an agenda, and here’s where you should be able to find downloadable presentations in the near future.
Here we are in sunny California, home of the cutest girls in the world, if the Beach Boys are to be believed (I gather there’s also a more recent chart-topper that expresses a similar view). Okay, so by “we,” I mean the attendees at the 3rd (annual?) Sportvision PITCHf/x summit, held at the Westin San Francisco in—you guessed it—San Francisco. I, on the other hand, am watching from the other end of the continent, via a webcast that dubiously claims to be “hi-res,” despite being blurry enough to make deciphering text an adventure (I guess “hi-res” is relative, in the sense that there are even lower resolutions at which it could’ve been streamed). And sure, maybe the Beach Boys weren’t thinking of this particular gathering when they extolled the virtues of California’s beach bunnies. But never mind that—it’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon here in New York, and how better to spend it than to watch a video of some fellow nerds talk about baseball in a dark room some 3,000 miles away? Well, to describe the experience at the same time, of course. Let’s get this quasi-liveblog started.
Breaking down the Nationals phenom's pitches against the Pirates in his memorable major-league debut on Tuesday night.
Heading into Tuesday night’s game, it seemed impossible for Stephen Strasburg to match the hype. MLB.com was offering free streaming video of the first four innings—but only while Strasburg pitched. When the Nationals batted, MLB.com sat in silence with a graphic telling us to await Strasburg’s return to the mound. The official Twitter account for Major League Baseball announced that the lineup card was being sent to Cooperstown, to be preserved. (Other game memorabilia, on the other hand, would be available for auction, @MLB tweeted.)
So there was almost no way for the game to live up to the hype. Well, except for 14 strikeouts and no walks in seven innings. That would probably be a way. And that’s exactly what Strasburg did as he pitched the Nationals to a 5-2 victory over the Pirates.
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The former major-league pitcher talks about various scientific aspects of the game.
Dave Baldwin is unique among former big-league pitchers. After a 16-year professional baseball career, including stints with the Senators (1966-1969), Brewers (1970), and White Sox (1973), Baldwin was a geneticist, engineer, and artist. He is now retired and living in Yachats, Oregon. His "Baseball Paradoxes" can be found at http://www.snakejazz.com.
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.
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.
Sometimes it's not just a matter of how fast you throw, but from how close to the plate you're throwing it.
Few pitchers utilize their fastballs more frequently than J.A. Happ of the Phillies does, as he throws his four-seamed heater 71 percent of the time. Unlike Max Scherzer, who throws his fastball at a similar rate but routinely registers 95+ miles per hour on the gun, Happ averages a relatively modest 89.7 mph with rather pedestrian movement. Despite these facts pointing towards the idea that Happ's chief pitch is thus somewhat average or below, his plate discipline data has trended in the opposite direction: Happ ranks amongst the leaders in zone percentage yet has very low rates of both swings induced and contact made on pitches in the zone, performance characteristics that portend an ability to deceive hitters when coupled with his velocity and movement marks. Unless we accept that Happ's numbers are fluky, something about his delivery is preventing hitters from picking the ball up and reacting in appropriate fashion, whether that's a question of his hiding the ball well, or having a release that's closer to home plate than hitters are accustomed to seeing.
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.
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.
Popping the hood on King Felix as a demonstration of what's possible with PITCHf/x data
"Hell, yeah, I want to throw that pitch. They don't let me, though. They tell me I'm too young, that it's bad for my elbow. I told them I want to throw it."
--Felix Hernandeztalking about his slider before the 2006 season
Dan uses MLBAM data to reconstruct the no-hitter that wasn't.
"We are approaching a new age of synthesis. Knowledge cannot be merely a degree or a skill... it demands a broader vision, capabilities in critical thinking and logical deduction without which we cannot have constructive progress."
--Li Ka Shing