Statcast Detective: Throw ’em high

In my first post on high-ball pitchers, I presented the top 10 high-ballers in 2019. On the bottom of the list based on the number of high-balls thrown was Astros starter Jordan Lyles, but his high-ball pitch percent of 28.4% pushed him into the two-spot. Given that the League average in 2019 was 16.8%, Lyles was more than 50% above average.

The strike zone has changed over the years. According to the OFFICIAL BASEBALL RULES, 2019 Edition,

The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoul- ders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.

To appreciate what a high pitch is you need to know the strike zone’s dimensions.

Mike Fast wrote that there are two ways to dimension the strike zone.

One is to use fixed heights for the top and bottom boundaries of the zone for all batters, regardless of the height or stance of the batter.  The most commonly used fixed heights are 1.5 feet for the bottom of the zone and 3.5 feet for the top of the zone.

As the second way involves the statistical technique of normalization, it will not be covered in this post. Those mathematically inclined can find an explanation here.

As Fast’s article was published in 2011, I checked the strike zone a second way. Statcast’s “Plate Z” setting shows a pitch’s height. In 2019, the average height of a pitch in the high-ball zone was 3.65 feet. In all zones, the average height was 2.25 feet. Since 2015, the average heights have been 2.25, 2.26, 2.41, 2.25, and 2.25, so they have been almost identical in four of the past five years.

This is a HIGH pitch.

And some batters can clobber pitches even when they are high.

Lindor’s homer, his 18th, was hit off a pitch 3.53 feet high and was the only homer he hit that season off a pitch at least three above the plate. In 2018, the average pitch height of his homers was 2.16 feet.

To be continued

Statcast Detective: Top High-Ball Pitchers

In 2018, Dave Sheinin wrote about a hitting change in Major League baseball. More hitters, he said, were becoming “becoming launch-angle disciples.”

More batters are focusing not only on hitting the ball hard, but hitting the ball high into the air. The average launch angle — the angle at which the ball flies after being hit — rose from 10.5 degrees in 2015 to 11.5 degrees in 2016.

Dave Sheinin — https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/sports/mlb-launch-angles-story/

To counter that change, pitchers responded by throwing “fewer sinkers, fewer low pitches, more breaking balls, more four-seam fastballs, more high pitches.”

Their pitches were elevating.

Using Statcast Search, I first investigated how many pitches in 2019 were in the upper portion of the Attack Zones. The graphic below from baseballsavant.com shows the nine zones in the “high-ball” area, zones 11-13, 21-23, and 31-33. All are above the heart zone, which is lavender-colored. The heart zone pictures the heart of the plate.

The first question to be researched is From 2017 to 2019, how many pitches were thrown in the “high-ball” area?

To answer it, these Statcast Settings were used:

  • Player Type: Pitcher
  • Group By: League and Year
  • Attack Zones: 11, 12, 13, 21, 22, 23, 31, 32, 33
  • Season: 2017, 2018, 2019
  • Season Type: Regular
YearPitchesTotalPitch %
1League201912300373247316.8
2League201811594472119016.1
3League201711111272124315.4
https://tinyurl.com/yb4mbtvk

Since 2017, the percentage of high-ball pitches increased from 15.4% to 16.8% as the number increased by 11,891. An unexpected result is that the total number of pitches also increased from 2017 to 2019 by 11,230, but that is a topic for another post.

Throwing balls high has its risks.

Sheinen’s article includes this Bud Black quote:

“It’s still dangerous throwing the ball up in the zone. That hasn’t changed,” said Colorado Rockies Manager Bud Black, a former pitcher. “You have to throw it at the right height. If you throw it too high they’ll take it [for a ball], but if you miss it low, they’ll crush it. It isn’t for everybody. There are pitchers whose style and stuff allows them to pitch up there, guys we identify as highball pitchers, and we encourage them.”

That led to the second question: In 2019 which pitchers took that risk the most and what were the results?

Revised Statcast Search Settings

  • Player Type: Pitcher
  • Group By: Player Name
  • Attack Zones: 11, 12, 13, 21, 22, 23, 31, 32, 33
  • Season: 2019
  • Season Type: Regular

Here are the top 10 pitchers in 2019 ordered by number of high-ball pitches they threw.

PlayerPitchesTotalPitch %
Trevor Bauer875368723.7
Gerrit Cole869336225.8
Jake Odorizzi826278729.6
Rick Porcello793296026.8
Steven Matz745270227.6
Justin Verlander745344821.6
Caleb Smith743266127.9
Reynaldo Lopez708316322.4
Jacob deGrom699329721.2
Jordan Lyles698245628.4
Source: baseballsavent.com

Minnesota Twins starter Jake Odorizzi led the Top 10 in high-ball percent, nudging 30%. Last season, he also had his personal bests in won-lost percentage (.682), strikeouts per nine innings (10.1), and wins (15). Surprisingly, his 2019 Pitch % of 29.6% was not his career high. In 2017 with the Rays it was 30.3%; however, his won-lost record was 10-8, so just keeping pitching high may not have been the main cause of his increased success in 2019. But that too is a topic for another post’s investigation.

Given that in 2019 Odorizzi’s improved by 114% the number of games he won in the previous season, did the other members of the Top 10 experience a similar gain?

Eight of the Top 10 won more games in 2019 than in 2018, Trevor Bauer failing to match his 2018 win total by one game though he started six more games, a league switch likely the cause. He had a winning record with the Indians, but then a losing one with the Reds. In addition, Rick Porcello had three fewer wins in 2019 though starting only one fewer games.

Player20182019
Trevor Bauer12-611-13
Gerrit Cole15-520-5
Jake Odorizzi7-1015-7
Rick Porcello17-714-12
Steven Matz5-1111-10
Justin Verlander16-921-6
Caleb Smith5-610-11
Reynaldo Lopez7-1010-15
Jacob deGrom10-911-8
Jordan Lyles3-412-8
Won-Lost records for Top 10 high-ball pitchers in 2019

To be continued

Statcast Search: Called Strikes

In 2019, which Met pitcher threw the most called strikes?

This post reveals how to find the answer using Statcast Search.

Settings

  • Pitch Result: Called Strike
  • Player Type: Pitcher
  • Team: Mets
  • Season: 2019
  • Season Type: Regular

You can view the Search Results here.

Noah Syndergaard threw the most called strikes — 3095.

Among the starters, was that the highest percentage of called strikes?

To answer that, change the Position setting to “SP.” In the Search Results, the Pitch % column contains the answer. If the column is not in descending order, click the column title until it is.

The starter with the highest percentage of pitches that were called strikes was Steven Matz. Of the 2,702 pitches he threw, 479 were called strikes. That is 17.7%.

Noah Syndergaard had the third highest called-strike percentage.

Free Baseball Book Not Just for Yankees Fans

I like to read books, especially baseball books, and today I found one that appears to be a standout. I say standout though I have only read about 8% of the book — according to the Kindle app — but at least I’m not judging it just by its cover. In fact, I don’t even remember what the cover looks like.

It’s written by Phil Pepe, a long-time sportswriter who covered the Yankees beat. He wrote for the World-Telegram and Sun, a New York newspaper that I once delivered by bicycle and the New York Daily News, a paper that had a great sports department until 2018 it downsized it from 30 to 9 and then in 2019 had the chutzpah to write a story headlined “The Sports Illustrated layoffs are disgraceful.”

But this post is not a bearer of bad news. Instead, it is about a company that deserves a shoutout: Sports Publishing.

Today, while browsing through Amazon’s baseball books I found Phil Pepe’s Yankee Doodles: Inside the Locker Room with Mickey, Yogi, Reggie, and Derek. Though published in 2015, the book is not dated. It’s about Yankees like Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle, Yankee greats who played the game when baseball was still America’s pastime.

On its Amazon page, the book’s print list price of $24.99 is crossed out. Its Kindle price is not. It is $0.00.

That is not a typo.

I don’t know for how long it has been free nor for how long it will continue to be. What I do know is that it appears to be a great read. So even if you are not a Yankees fan, just being a sports fan is a good enough reason to treat yourself to this Sports Publishing giveaway.

Thank you Sports Publishing.