The Curse of Jerry Hairston, Jr./Eric Hinske:
 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mariano Rivera’s Pitch Frequency

I was recently granted access to a platform called In Depth Baseball.  It’s a pretty impressive tool that provides heatmaps using pitchfx and hitfx data.  One of the most telling heatmaps I was first shown was Mariano Rivera’s pitch frequency.

Mariano Rivera’s Pitch Frequency in 2010 (915 pitches) vs. All 2010 Major League RHP

Notice how Rivera barely touches the middle of the plate.

Here are Mo’s Righty-Lefty heatmaps vs. the rest of the league:

Mariano Rivera’s 2010 Pitch Frequency against LHB (439 pitches) vs. All 2010 Major League Pitchers

Mariano Rivera’s 2010 Pitch Frequency against RHB (476 pitches) vs. All 2010 Major League Pitchers

As you can see from the top map, Rivera lives on the inside corner to lefty batters.  In fact, the majority of his pitches fall outside the designated strikezone.  Meanwhile, the rest of the league favors throwing down and away to LHB.

Against RHB, Mo spreads out his pitches a bit more.  However, notice how he barely ever throws to the middle inside part of the plate to righties.  He also busts righties up and in, again in contrast to the rest of the league.

As a matter of comparison, here are the pitch frequency heatmaps for 3 other AL closers:

Neftali Feliz’s 2010 Pitch Frequency (1072 pitches) vs. All 2010 Major League RHP

Joakim Soria’s 2010 Pitch Frequency (1086 pitches) vs. All 2010 Major League RHP

Rafael Soriano’s 2010 Pitch Frequency (890 pitches) vs. All 2010 Major League RHP

All three of the above closers tend to pitch to the middle of the plate, a striking contrast to Rivera’s pitch frequency. 

Lastly, here’s Mariano’s pitch frequency since 2008:

Surgical.

--Posted at 3:05 pm by Jonathan / 47 Comments | - (0)

Comments

Page 1 of 1 pages:

Wow, that’s pretty cool.

That is insanely, freakishly precise control.  We already knew about this, but seeing it visually with the heatmaps is stunning.

I don’t understand why the rest of the league is _so_ flat across the zone, unless there are some pitches which are centered because they are meant to look thrown at an edge (e.g. a curveball meant to be swung on as high heat).  I know from my work experience that it’s something of an art to set the scaling function for such plots to get all the useful info out, so maybe that’s part of it.  Otherwise you have to figure that pitchers are basically throwing to the center of the strike zone and relying on noise to get the pitch to the edges.

One day, I want the simulations to be so precise that they could simply show us how a pitcher of Mariano Rivera’s ability and control would have done as a starting pitcher over a season, with just one pitch.

I somehow believe that a person with this good control could tell hitters what pitch is coming, and they wouldn’t be able to do anything with it anyway. As long as he is physically capable of doing it over 7 innings or so.

Also, fantastic stuff, Jonathan!

You had me at heatmap.

I don’t know what this means, except that Mariano Rivera is a Predator.

The devil is in the details, and God lives on the corners.

you have to figure that pitchers are basically throwing to the center of the strike zone and relying on noise to get the pitch to the edges

This is, in fact, what many pitchers do and what many coaches teach.  Assuming we’re talking about guys who have some movement.  I’m also not sure why you find the flatness across the zone surprising for the sum of all pitchers, esp given the scaling issue you note and the platoon distributions.  If there’s anything surprising here, it’s that the “average” pitcher doesn’t try to pitch anybody inside.

Unless the average hitter has a flat strike zone, rather than say being best at the center of the zone or center-up, I would expect some dip at the middle - that pitchers would understand the movement of their various pitches, compensate, and aim at one of the (n/3, m/3) (n, m = 1, 2) spots, or anyway n/x with x tuned so that ~2/3 of pitches are strikes.

And I would naively expect to see a down-and-away island for sliders, a low breakwater for curves in the dirt, a large atoll off the plate for pitches to lefthanders, etc.

Presumably only pitchers with excellent control can afford to pitch inside - I guess that means hitters have won that part of the plate.  I would have thought a HBP is worth less these days compared to periods of less offense, but maybe they were overly discounted before.

Maybe this is a stupid question, but are these showing us actual location of actual pitches, or some kind of probabilities—“red is where you’re more likely to see a pitch thrown, green less so”?  Or is there no difference?  I’m medicated today, so probably slower even than usual.

I would love to see Mo’s L/RHB splits charts compared to that of Doc Halladay’s and Cliff Lee. Watching the latter two, it just amazes me how well they command their fastballs throughout a start.

[10] as long as you are talking about observed probabilities, there is no difference.

[9] I would imagine that many of the pitches right in the middle of the plate are “misses.”  It seems perfectly reasonable to me that the sum of all pitchers attempting to hit one side or the other would show a bias toward the middle, since that’s an equally likely miss whichever half you’re shooting for.  Misses off to one side or the other are less frequent because you rarely miss inside when you’re aiming for the outside corner and vice versa.  And then you have to add in the times when the pitchers really are just trying to throw it down the middle.

Maybe this is a stupid question, but are these showing us actual location of actual pitches, or some kind of probabilities—“red is where you’re more likely to see a pitch thrown, green less so”?

Yeah, actual locations.  So the darker red means that location saw more pitches compared to the rest of the zone.  So if we simply took one AB with 4 pitches, all in completely separate locations, all 4 would have red heatmap designations.

So many purty colors….gulp

Oh, and Mariano is teh awesome. Duh.

Yanks announce ALCS rotation:

Game 1 - LHP CC Sabathia Game 2 - RHP Phil Hughes Game 3 - LHP Andy Pettitte Game 4 - RHP A.J. Burnett

/threadjack

Good thing it ain’t a swing and miss heat lamp, it’d be pretty cold for Hughes.

[16] YES! PLAYOFF HUGHES GAME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SO FARNSWORTHING EXCITED!!!!!!

I’M NOT YELLING MY CAPSLOCK IS STUCK ON!!!!!!!

[17] Hughes’ swinging strike percentage is above average.

[18] I hope you realize that if you go to that game and Hughes gets bombed, you’ll have a bunch of nerds on you with pitchforks faster than you can say “Heredia”?

Good thing it ain’t a swing and miss heat lamp, it’d be pretty cold for Hughes.

HughesSwingMiss2010.png title=Phil Hughes 2010 Swing and Miss Frequency

These are all of Phil Hughes’ 267 swing and misses in 2010.  Looks like most came up in the zone.

I meant with two strikes!  He stinks with getting the batters out!

I went to see his swing and misses on foul balls.

[22] Phil Hughes gets strikeouts and swinging Ks at a rate above the average reliever.

In other news, I will try to not dress up like a robot and run onto the field to get near to Phil Hughes.

Yeah, it is very possible that one of the reasons that Mo is effective (especially in short spells) is that he is simply different from other pitchers. He throws so many inside pitches to lefties and lefties hardly ever see inside pitches, so it simply takes time for them to adjust. And with one inning left in the game, they simply don’t have any time to adjust.

Pitching in college, I always threw inside a lot, even to lefties, and the first reaction you would get from a lefty batter after busting them inside was annoyance or even outrage. They were so unaccustomed to being pitched in there that they felt like I was throwing much more aggressively in than I actually was—especially if it was up. Lefties really lean out over the plate because they aren’t often being pitched inside and don’t have to worry much about a right handed pitcher’s curves, so they really hate the ball up and in at almost all levels. It was always pretty effective, and I was just throwing 4 seamers in the low 80’s.

Fangraphs and Hardball Times have done some interesting stuff with pitch fx and shown that a lot of pitches that MLB pitchers rarely throw can be counter-intuitively successful, like high curveballs and changeups on the inside half. Part of the reason those pitches work is because they are rare and therefore unexpected and/or hard to adjust to. But they might not work so well the 2nd or 3rd time through a lineup. Much as I love Mo, I doubt that would work.

I meant with two strikes!  He stinks with getting the batters out!

HughesSwingMiss2STRK2010.png title=Phil Hughes 2010 Swing and Miss on Two Strikes

102 pitches.

This looks like a really nifty tool. Does the heatmap normalize pitch frequencies in order to use the whole color spectrum, or does it present absolute frequency? i.e., if you had a sample space of just one pitch, what would that look like - would it go all the way to red, or stay in the blue-green range?

[18] The amount I am pleased with the results of the swear poll is quite overwhelming.

I was just kidding, sheesh.

I heart Hughes forever.

[27] It does look like high heat.

Man, Hughes is going to lock down those Rangers.

This looks like a really nifty tool. Does the heatmap normalize pitch frequencies in order to use the whole color spectrum, or does it present absolute frequency? i.e., if you had a sample space of just one pitch, what would that look like - would it go all the way to red, or stay in the blue-green range?

Yes, if you had just one pitch represented, it would be red.  As more and more pitches are added to the map, the spectrum begins to normalize.

I was just kidding, sheesh.

I know.  I was having some fun too.

Yeah, this is really freaking cool. 

It’s not just good enough that Mariano’s cutter is a simply awesome pitch.  It’s his ability to command it with such precision that really makes him the best closer ever.  That’s probably why he’s been able to continue to remain effective despite losing a bit of velocity, and it’s also probably why he suppresses BABIP consistently well.

He he…pitch locations…“heat” map…he he. Eckersley would call it a “cheese map”.

Heat maps are the new pie chart.

That’s probably why he’s been able to continue to remain effective despite losing a bit of velocity, and it’s also probably why he suppresses BABIP consistently well

That raises an interesting question: has anyone done an analysis of BABIP as a function of pitch location?

[26] Nice post.  Good to hear that all the stuff I’ve been trying to hammer into my son’s head actually worked for someone who pitched in college.  This past season, I got him to move over to the first base side of the rubber against lefties and there was an almost immediately noticeable effect.  They seemed to react as though his pitches were much further inside than they really were.  Just messing with their visual cues a little bit went a long way.

Along these lines, I’d really like to see Halladay’s maps.  I would guess that he pitches lefties in more than any other right-handed starter.

[30] I know. I’m not that dense.

[20] That’s something I’m willing to risk.

“I will try to not dress up like a robot and run onto the field”

Is that some new Lady Gaga thing, like Polaroid?

Awesome stuff, Jonathan.  It’s too bad we didn’t have this around for Maddux, but I’d love to see it for Halladay if you have it.

Where is everyone?  Did I miss the party last night?

I don’t have ESPN Insider, so I can’t read this entire Keith Law article.  But here is a blurb “for free” about Banuelos:

In Wednesday’s night game, Yankees lefty Manny Banuelos showed a good combination of above-average stuff, command, and an easy delivery. He worked at 90-93 mph, locating the pitch to both sides of the plate, with a straight change at 79-81 with very good arm speed. His curveball has an 11/5 break and good depth, and he commanded the pitch about as well as he did the fastball, throwing it for quality strikes and putting it below the zone as needed. He throws from a 3/4-slot and the ball comes out of his hand very easily and deceptively quick. He’s 5-foot-11 but well built, certainly strong enough to be a starter; the only concern I’d have off this look was that hitters did square up his fastball when he came toward the middle of the zone, as the pitch has some downhill plane but not much lateral movement.

Awesome stuff, Jonathan.  It’s too bad we didn’t have this around for Maddux, but I’d love to see it for Halladay if you have it.

I’ll try to put some Halladay maps up before the NLCS Game One.

What about putting an actual good closer up there with the scrubs, like Paplebon?

“a straight change”

As opposed to a circle change or something?

[46] I’m no expert, but yes.  You know I just referenced The Neyer/James Guide to Pitching in a Fangraphs comment and it is again appropriate here, as they define pitches.  Mostly it’s on the movement of the pitch - both changeups go “down”, but the circle-change also has some tailing action to it, whereas the straight-change is, um, straight.

Not sure if there is an advantage of one over the other, or if it is just a matter of some pitchers can’t throw one but can the other.

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