A look at whether a two-strike hitting skill exists.
In last week’s Painting the Black, I introduced a table that showed the top five two-strike hitters since 2007, as judged by True Average. Said table included Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, and a trio of Red Sox teammates. An observant reader emailed me, asking if I thought the Boston bunch was a coincidence or a sign of something more. Because prodding Ben Cherington for an answer could lead to a placating lie or a restraining order, deductive reasoning is the best route to take in identifying if the Red Sox chase good two-strike hitters.
Featuring three of the top five two-strike hitters in the league is a good way to catapult up the team rankings, and sure enough, the Red Sox are in a tie for the top spot with the Yankees. There is no northeast modifier in the True Average formula, but that New York and Boston are the top two teams is an unsurprising outcome, and pretending otherwise is ignoring the realities of the game. But more on that in a moment. First, here are the top five teams in two-strike hitting, as well as the two-strike hitting player equivalent:
Is the traditional strike-ball dichotomy too simplistic?
Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
Matt Lentzner has carved out a (very) small niche in the baseball analysis world by examining the intersection of physics and biomechanics. He has presented at the PITCHf/x conference in each of the last two years and has written articles for The Hardball Times, as well as a previous article for Baseball Prospectus. When he’s not writing, Matt works on his physics-based baseball simulator, which is so awesome and all-encompassing that it will likely never actually be finished, though it does provide the inspiration for most of his articles and presentations. In real life, he’s an IT Director at a small financial consulting company in the Silicon Valley and also runs a physical training gym in his backyard on the weekends.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Is having pitch data available helpful in determining a pitcher's walk rates?
Last week, I looked at Predicting Strikeouts with Swing and Whiff Rates, breaking down pitch-by-pitch data to see if things like swinging-strike rates could provide more enlightenment when combined with the previous year’s strikeout rate to predict future strikeout rate. The answer was mostly negative. This was primarily due to two reasons. One was that much of the data on pitch locations is poor, and ensuing discussions highlighted just how poor it is. The other reason, however, is that strikeout rate is the quickest statistic to stabilize over small samples, so one year of strikeout data does a very good job of predicting subsequent strikeout data already. However, this week I will look at walk rate, and attempt to determine whether this data is more useful in predicting future walk rates. There is certainly evidence of value added in this case, far more so than with predicting strikeouts.
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Pitch data shows that the amount of swinging strikes is not predictive of strikeout rates.
When I wrote about pitchers with major divides between their ERAs and SIERAs two weeks ago, a reader inquired why Clay Buchholz had such a pedestrian strikeout rate while having an above average swinging-strike rate. Buchholz has mustered just 6.2 K/9, nearly a full strikeout below the 7.1 league average, but has induced batters to swing and miss on 9.5 percent of his pitches according to FanGraphs, a full percentage point above the 8.5 percent league average. The question was apparent: Do pitchers who get a lot of whiffs increase their strikeout rates over time?
When MLB.com askedCarlos Zambrano to point to one thing he did during his no-hitter that he'd want to repeat in the postseason, he said, "Strike, first pitch, strike, and challenge the hitters." It is fascinating that Big Z responded this way because he had one of the lowest first pitch strike rates in the major leagues last year along with an uninspiring walk rate. More on what pitchers would like to do versus what they actually do a little later. In the meantime, it is worth looking at how correct his sentiment was and what value the first pitch strike mantra really has.
An evaluation of who's been inducing hitters to swing and miss.
On May 28, 2007, Freddy Garcia took the hill for the Phillies, squaring off against the Diamondbacks in a standard, run-of-the-mill game that would ultimately have no bearing on the standings. Nor would it boast any outstanding feats you'd have cause to recall. Quite simply, the meeting served as the perfect example of a nondescript game that lives in the memories of a few avid baseball fans for one minuscule reason or another. Though Garcia proved to be a bust for the Phillies, he pitched very effectively in this particular outing, missing a flurry of bats. By missing bats, I am not referring to the shorthand for fanning a hitter, but rather the literal definition: he induced a lot of swings and misses. A quick glance at the box score shows that Garcia recorded 18 swinging strikes against the Snakes, an impressive tally, and one he had not reached in almost two years. Swinging strikes are rare in major league baseball, especially when compared to the other events capable of occurring on a pitch, and they usually signal some sort of overpowering of the hitter, whether that's with a deceiving off-speed delivery or an ample supply of late movement.