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The ultimate equalizer in the batter vs. pitcher matchup—the one thing that can turn the hardest thing to do in sports into roughly the 37th-hardest thing to do in sports (right behind catching a Brett Favre spiral)—is a pitcher who’s tipping his pitches. Suddenly a deep and nasty repertoire starts to break down–a 95 mph fastball moves in slow motion when a hitter knows it's coming and a hard-biting slider out of the same arm slot is magically easy to spit on.

Many otherwise perfectly capable pitchers have been undone by hitters picking up on their small idiosyncrasies, and although usually ironed out in time, it can take the offender a while to even realize what he’s doing wrong. What about the reverse, though? What about a hitter tipping his … well, tipping his thought process? Is it possible that a hitter can make some type of repeatable yet barely noticeable movement to cue in the opposition as to what he’s thinking?

If it is possible, Wil Myers might be a good case study. A few weeks back I wrote about Myers’ season in San Diego, one in which he accumulated 3.5 WARP and a .290 TAv yet still disappointed, somehow, thanks to even loftier expectations. In discussing his swing mechanics with former BP'er R.J. Anderson, something interesting came up. Anderson noted that sometimes Myers “adds bend” to his stance in breaking-ball situations, potentially tipping the pitcher off as to what kind of pitch he’s expecting.

Since Myers has an extreme upright stance, even a slight alteration should be relatively easy to recognize. So, intrigued and frankly a bit bewildered by Anderson’s ability to catch such things, I went searching for video evidence. I checked on a bunch of Myers’ at-bats in both fastball counts (2-0, 3-1, 3-0) and breaking ball counts (0-2, 1-2) and, yup, it’s there. It’s subtle, but it’s there.

Here’s Myers against the Cubs’ Hector Rondon back in May:

On the left is Myers in a 1-1 count, likely looking for one of Rondon’s 97 mph fastballs. On the right is Myers in a 1-2 count, where he’s probably warier of Rondon’s slider, a pitch he throws 41 percent of the time against right-handed hitters in two-strike counts. It might be tough to see in real-time, but check out Myers’ front leg when Rondon starts his delivery (1-1 on left, 1-2 on right):

Here’s one against Sergio Romo, whose slider usage (71 percent against same-sided hitters in two-strike counts) dwarfs Rendon’s:

And one more, against John Lackey (0-0 left, 0-2 right):

It’s not as though you have to go searching for these; for around half the pitches I watched in breaking-ball counts, it was pronounced enough to notice, although there are times when it’s less exaggerated (vs. Romo) or non-existent.

Why does Myers do it? Without getting into his head, it seems like Myers—for whatever reason—likes to resort to a near straight-up stance as his default approach, perhaps setting him up well for belt-high heat. When he gets behind in the count and starts anticipating a higher percentage of breaking balls, he crouches down some to give himself a better chance to get to low-and-away off-speed stuff. That’s the theory, anyway.

Do other teams notice? The short answer is yes—they notice pretty much everything. While some stuff probably does slip through the cracks, it’s not hard to imagine someone picking up on this pretty quickly, particularly when Myers is being watched by both battery mates, plus numerous coaches and other players, plus a crew of video-based and in-person advance scouts. It’d be more surprising if Myers made it through a season—or, shoot, even a series—without anybody picking up on it.

Can they exploit it? Maybe. If Myers is thinking low-and-away every time he gets to a two-strike/breaking-ball count, and he’s telegraphing it, then it’d be relatively easy for pitchers to bust him up-and-in with a high fastball every now and then—at least at a higher rate than they would to a hitter without the same tell. Of course, the advantage could be mitigated some by context; namely that most hitters are probably thinking breaking ball in breaking-ball counts, but maybe just aren’t giving it away. Also, hitters just aren’t very good in those situations anyway, so there’s not much left to exploit.

In fact, Myers hasn’t been particularly bad when behind in the count, at least when compared to the rest of the league:

Situation

League (2016)

Myers (career)

Behind in count

.203/.211/.310

.217/.220/.333

Two strikes

.176/.246/.276

.188/.272/.296

And pitchers haven’t really attacked him all that differently, either. In 2016, when behind in the count against a righty, Myers saw a breaking pitch 34 percent of the time, a number that jibes well enough with league-average rates. Of course, it’s possible that pitchers don’t want Myers to know that they know what he’s thinking, so they’re saving a heavier diet of two-strike fastballs for super important situations or, someday, the playoffs. It’s also possible that there’s some immeasurable benefit in knowing that the hitter is thinking breaking ball and still throwing one. It’s also possible that you’re Sergio Romo and throwing breaking balls is just what you do.

If there’s one thing hitters have going for them, it’s that pitchers—with their high-90s fastballs and wipeout sliders and generous strike zones—haven’t yet mastered telepathy. Instead they’re left to engage in a guessing game with hitters, trying to out-think them if not simply overpower them. Myers is a good young hitter, but he might be giving too much away to his already well-armed adversaries.

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roarke
10/19
Would there be enough time for the pitcher to change what he's going to throw after the "tell"? It seems to me that Myers probably doesn't get into the "set" part of his stance until the pitcher comes set or starts his windup and at that point the pitcher can't really change what he's going to throw without crossing up the catcher or stopping his motion. So, in effect, what you are describing is just a tell for his general approach and not any useful tell for a particular pitch. And, as you said, it's fairly obvious that guys are more likely to expect a slider when they are down 0-2 in the count, so that information isn't really all that useful.
oldbopper
10/19
That is the first thought I had. The catcher has called for a certain pitch and would be facing a nasty cross-up if the pitcher changed his mind during the delivery. It seems like this is superfluous information.
LlarryA
10/19
Because what baseball really needs is hot reads on pitches... "so this signal means I'm calling the breaking ball, and if he stays standing straight, you throw it, but if he bends down a bit, switch to the fastball up and in..."
dutt22
10/19
So I was going to get into this in the piece, but didn't. Myers is generally is his stance before/as the catcher is ready to give the sign, so I think it's possible that the catcher could glance over at him and adjust his sign based on Myers' stance. I only grabbed the images as the pitcher was in the wind-up to kind of get them from a corresponding point in time. As to your other points--that this might not have much utility, etc.--ya'll definitely might be right.
Howler37
10/19
I can see this crossing up the catcher, if it's a 'low and away' to 'up and in'. That would also mean the catcher can't set up any target because of the possible change, and you'd get a passed ball.
dutt22
10/19
I think, in general, Myers gets in his stance ready for a particular pitch and doesn't really change until it's on its way. So the catcher could glance at Myers early, then give sign and set up.
wbw6b6
10/19
Myers isnt telling you what he is looking for.... this isnt him wanting to protect low and away. This is him, when in two strike counts, trying to minimize his head movement so as to make better contact. Whether fastball or curveball the adjustment is made to limit the amount the head moves from straight up into bent legs.... it provides more momentum from the upright stance but more room for error.... Myers is adjusting not telling....
dutt22
10/19
Huh, good point. Certainly possible. I guess he could also be trying to shorten the strike zone a little.
woodson
10/19
How is this much different from a batter choking up with two strikes?
dutt22
10/19
I'm not sure *many* hitters really do that anymore, but it's kind of on the same line but also a little different, depending on Myers' actual reason for doing it.
Reverseman
10/19
I think it's just a two-strike approach. He's shortening his stride.
lichtman
10/20
As some of the other readers commented, there is NOTHING wrong with "tipping" the pitcher as to what a batter is looking for, AS LONG AS THE BATTER IS LOOKING FOR WHAT HE SHOULD BE LOOKING FOR, which appears to be the case here. If the count is 0-2 and a pitcher throws a slider 70% of the time in that count and that situation (and to a batter like me) then I can bend my knees or shout out to the pitcher, "Hey I'm looking slider," and there's nothing the pitcher can do about it because EVERYONE knows that the pitcher is going to throw a slider 70% of the time. Letting the pitcher know something that HE ALREADY KNOWS YOU KNOW cannot be exploited. This may be a little hard to wrap your head around because you might be tempted to think, "Well as soon as he bends his knees, expecting me to throw a slider (70% at least), I'll just throw him a FB! That can't work because THAT would be extremely exploitable. If the pitcher did that, all the batter would have to do is bend his knees and then know he was getting a FB! This is all about game theory which is THE essence of the pitcher/batter combo. And game theory, as I explain above, tells us that this can NOT be a tell by the batter that can be exploited.
dutt22
10/20
So, just for argument here, if Myers stands straight up every time he's thinking fastball and bends down a little every time he's thinking breaking ball (and isn't really aware what he's doing), pitchers wouldn't be able to exploit that to some small degree compared to a hitter who stands the same regardless of the situation?
lichtman
10/21
Assuming that he is thinking fastball when he should be thinking fastball and thinking off speed when he should be thinking off-speed, then yes, that is correct. He is not telling the pitcher anything that everyone doesn't already know. If he is just guessing FB or not randomly or incorrectly, then yes, of course he can be exploited. But you specifically mentioned that he was thinking FB in fastball counts and off-speed in off-speed counts, at least against the pitcher you have in the video. Even if he were incorrect in his thinking and he was exploited how long do you think that would last?
lichtman
10/21
The key is that the pitcher chooses a pitch randomly from a fixed distribution of selections. The batter merely takes an approach that reflects what he knows about the selection distribution. That is something that presumably everyone knows. He doesn't have to keep that approach a secret. Why would he? The bench coach might as well yell out, "Hey, my batter is going to have an approach that suggests you are more likely to throw a FB in this situation." The pitchers just says, "Hey tell me something that everyone doesn't know. You still don't know exactly what pitch I'm going to throw."
dutt22
10/21
Fair enough. But if the pitcher knew, for sure, what the hitter was looking for, couldn't the pitcher change that distribution of pitches somewhat? So, instead of going 55 percent sliders (or whatever) to Myers in a certain count he goes 45 percent, in the long run throwing Myers off a small bit (because he's expecting 55).
lichtman
10/21
No. Myers is in essence by changing his stance/approach telling the pitcher, "I know you are going to throw 55% sliders (rather than say, 25%)." He can't change that to 45% because then he would be exploitable since presumably 55% is the optimal frequency for him. Your argument would be the same whether Myers "tipped" his approach or not. A pitcher could say, "Well, I normally throw 55% sliders in this situation, and I know the batter knows that (even if he is not "tipping") so I'll throw 0% sliders now. Ha ha! I fooled the batter." Of course he can't do that. If he did he would no longer be throwing 55% sliders and quickly everyone would know that and he would be way suboptimal. So again, as long as the batter is acting/thinking optimally and his tell reflects that optimal strategy, there is nothing the pitcher can do to exploit it. In poker, for example, on the river (last card) one player can say, "I am going to call your potential bluff 75% of the time and throw may hand away 25% of the time," assuming that those are correct GTO percentages, there is nothing her opponent can do to exploit that.

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