A Baseball Weblog

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Throwing 100 pitches

Edwin Jackson's no-hitter yesterday got me thinking about pitch counts (and the beauty of Baseball Prospectus data). There's obviously a greater focus these days on in-game pitch counts and season inning limits now than there was 20 or 30 years ago, making performances like Jackson's all the more remarkable. So I did some digging through some BPro statistics, and was a bit surprised to find that the average number of pitches per game has stayed virtually the same or actually risen since the late 1980s. What's more intuitive is that the average of maximum pitches thrown per start for all pitchers has decreased steadily over the past two decades. Here is the graph that shows average number of pitches per game, and average maximum number of pitches by a pitcher in a season.

There's more fluctuation for average number of pitches; there's no clear trend in one direction or another. I would figure that with more and more attention being put to the 100 pitch mark, starters of this generation are being asked to throw 100 pitches or so (and not much else) than those of previous generations were. It's possible to test this, at least rudimentarily, by splitting up starts by a defined criterion. This next graph shows the percentage of starts that went a certain amount of pitches.

Most notable is the steady rise in appearances between 101 and 110 pitches, and the steady decline in appearances of more than 111 pitches. So, it seems that the the recognition of "century mark" as being meaningful has had some sort of significant impact on how managers handle their pitchers.

Edwin Jackson's pitch count

Congratulations to the Diamondbacks' Edwin Jackson, who on Friday pitched the 267th no-hitter in Major League history, and the 4th of the 2010 season. He walked 8, which was the most in a no-hitter since A.J. Burnett's 9-walk no-no in 2001. Jackson also struck out 6, making it also the first no-hitter since Burnett's in which a pitcher walked more batters than he struck out. Since Jackson was wild early before setting down (7 walks in the first 3 innings, 1 walk and 1 hit batsman after), his high pitch count was a developing story throughout the game. Entering the 8th, Jackson had 117 pitches, and entering the 9th, he had 134 pitches. Any other circumstance, he'd be long gone from the game, but manager A.J. Hinch opted to let his pitcher go for the record books. When all was said and done, Jackson had 149 pitches. Let's put that into perspective for a minute. Courtesy of Baseball Prospectus, here are the maximum in-game pitch counts since 1996:

YearPitcherTeamPitch Count
2010Edwin JacksonDiamondbacks149
2009Roy HalladayBlue Jays133
2008Tim LincecumGiants138
2007A.J. BurnettBlue Jays130
2006Livan HernandezNationals138
2005Livan HernandezNationals150
2004Jason SchmidtGiants144
2003Kerry WoodCubs141
2002Randy JohnsonDiamondbacks149
2001Randy JohnsonDiamondbacks145
2000Ron Villone Reds150
1999Pedro AstacioRockies153
1998Livan HernandezMarlins153
1997Tim WakefieldRed Sox169
1996Roger ClemensRed Sox161

Jackson threw the most pitches in a game since Livan Hernandez in 2005, and there really wasn't a game since Tim Wakefield's 8 2/3 inning, 7 walk, 10 strikeout, 169 pitch outing in 1997 that wasn't within three or four pitches of Jackson's no-hitter. Given the increased focus on pitch counts and decreasing in-game totals, certainly this performance by Jackson is one of the most impressive --- or, depending on whom you talk to, abusive --- we've seen in a while.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Checking in on the Yankees' changeups

"Show-me" changeups were the hot topic at the Yankees' spring camp this year. At least four pitchers - most notably A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and David Robertson - used Spring Training as a way of improving their seldom-used changeups. Though a lot was made of them during March, none of these pitchers has displayed an abundance of confidence in the change so far this year. Let's go one by one and start with the two relief pitchers.


David has a hard, high-80s changeup, usually about 4-5 mph off of his fastball. He has thrown only two this year (both to lefties). Both pitches have been balls - one was about a foot outside and the other bounced up to home-plate. Last year, Robertson's changeup was in the strikezone less than a third of the time, and of those pitches out of the zone, batters swung only once. So, it's understandable that Robertson would want to tighten up his changeup command, especially given that he only has two pitches that he can rely on (fastball/curveball).


Chamberlain's changeup is pretty slow, averaging about 10-11 mph off of the fastball. With his move to the bullpen, Chamberlain has been fastball/slider/occasional curveball; he has thrown just one changeup all season long, and none since the first game of the year. Last year, he used it 4.4% of the time (120 pitches). Though he got some encouraging results on it last year (.315 whiff rate on swings, mind the limited sample), it doesn't look like he and Jorge Posada/Francisco Cervelli are willing to go with it that much.


Apparently, Hughes' changeup development was earned him the final spot over Chamberlain in the Yankees' 2010 rotation. It gets similar action to Chamberlain's, though these days he throws it a bit harder - 83.3 mph average as a starter in 2009, 84.7 mph average this year. This might be due to the new grip he's using this year. Despite the pitch's apparent improvement, Phil doesn't show it that much. He's only thrown 26 all year (1.9% of his repertoire), and has only thrown it for a strike (called strike, swinging strike, or hit into play) 9 times. Hughes is having an impressive season, so he probably wouldn't be willing to disrupt the four-seam/cutter/curve combination that has helped him win 10 games thus far.


A.J. has thrown 35 changeups this year (2.3%). His change is kind of like a splitter, and it averages around 88 mph. This year, only 7 have been in the zone, though 4 of those pitches have been swung at. Burnett's really a two-pitch pitcher, since his fastball and curveball make up about 98% of his pitches. Actually, I'd call him a three-pitch pitcher with one off-speed offering since he uses two distinct kinds of heaters - a rider and a sinker. But, obviously, it would be nice for him to be able to throw his change for a strike.


Basically, it's the same story for all of these guys. They came into camp wanting to work on their weakest pitch, and it appears that that pitch is still pretty weak. I think that it's more important for Hughes and Burnett than for Robertson and Chamberlain, since the latter two are relievers and have more condensed repertoires to work with.

Gameday PITCHf/x data is from MLB Advanced Media; it can be easily accessed via this tool.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

More location graphs from yesterday's game: D-Railed Train

The tone for yesterday's sloppy Yankees/Diamondbacks game was set by Arizona starter Dontrelle Willis. Willis was absolutely terrible, and only allowed one hit. Needless to say, he had control issues. He allowed 7 walks and threw a wild pitch in 2 1/3 innings. After struggling mightily out of the gate, Willis got into a groove in the second before losing it again in the third. Here are Willis' pitch locations by inning:

Lots of misses down (particularly in the 1st) and up/armside (particularly in the 3rd). It was painful to see him struggle out there, and it's very sad to see someone who's still young have such a lapse in ability. I really hope he can somehow pull himself together.

Gameday PITCHf/x data is from MLB Advanced Media; it can be easily accessed via this tool.

Rivera's clutch performance

Yesterday's Yankees/Diamondbacks game was one of the better games I've seen all year. That actually seems like a strange assessment, given all of the horrible baserunning plays, walks that didn't come around to score, and other stuff (balks, wild pitches). Alright, maybe "better" isn't the greatest word here --- entertaining? Anyway, the last two innings were incredible. In the 9th inning, the Yankees erased a 5-4 deficit and tied the game without the benefit of a hit. In an interesting move, Joe Girardi pulled Joba Chamberlain, who had pitched well in the 8th inning, in favor of Mariano Rivera. I'd always prefer the closer not be wasted in an extra inning game (as opposed to waiting out a save situation and not pitching at all), but with the off-day today, I thought Girardi might consider squeezing another inning out of Chamberlain. Nonetheless, Rivera came in and pitched a perfect 9th --- his 7th consecutive perfect inning. After the Yankees scored a run on a Curtis Granderson homer and Rivera wound up having to hit, it was time for a second inning of relief. The relief perfect game was promptly broken up on a single, double, and an intentional walk to Miguel Montero. This set up Rivera's ridiculous Houdini act: weak pop-up, weaker pop-up, strikeout. The first at-bat was to Chris Young:

The best location to Young was the third pitch that was popped up. Two-seam fastball right on the inside corner. Up next was the lefty-swinging, Yankee-killing Adam LaRoche:

More jamming on the inside corner, this time with the cutter on a lefty batter. More ridiculous command. Finally, it was time for right-handed hitting Mark Reynolds:

Away, away, away. And that's all she wrote.

This is obviously just one game, but it's a microcosm of what makes Mariano Rivera so special.

Gameday PITCHf/x data is from MLB Advanced Media; it can be easily accessed via this tool.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

First pitch swing percentage

I've been working on getting some hitter statistics working with the PITCHf/x I compile (courtesy of Joe Lefkowitz's amazing site). I don't have as many metrics yet for hitters as I do for pitchers; one I've been fiddling with recently is first-pitch swing percentage. Since I don't have much more to say, here are MLB-wide leaders and trailers for first-pitch swing percentage (out of total plate appearances, minimum 200, data as of 6/21/10).

1. Vladimir Guerrero .498
2. John Buck .486
3. Jeff Francoeur .448
4. Delmon Young .443
5. Josh Hamilton .431
6. Carlos Pena .428
7. Brad Hawpe .425
8. Pablo Sandoval .424
9. Vernon Wells .424
10. B.J. Upton .412

1x. Franklin Gutierrez .046
2x. David Eckstein .057
3x. Brett Gardner .073
4x. Carlos Ruiz .074
5x. Bobby Abreu .081
6x. Luis Castillo .083
7x. Kevin Youkilis .083
8x. Dustin Pedroia .091
9x. Joe Mauer .105
10x. Ryan Sweeney .107

Gameday data is from MLB Advanced Media.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Chan Ho Park's dominance

Lately, Chan Ho Park has been impressing me out of the Yankees' bullpen. His season started out horribly, with a few high-profile meltdowns against the Boston Red Sox, but he's really started to put it together recently. He's had good control all year, and now the strikeouts have come along --- his K/9 is up to 7.71, and his K/BB to 4.00. He has started to miss bats consistently, which was not the case at the beginning of the year. Check out his cumulative whiff rate for 2010:

Starting with a two inning relief appearance on May 31st, when he induced 9 swings and misses against a weak-hitting Indians lineup, the whiffing has really taken off. For the whole year, here is how each pitch breaks down:

Pitch#Swing#Whiff Rate


Park's repertoire includes a four-seamer, a two-seamer, a slider, a changeup, and a curve. I'm pretty sure there are two kinds of sliders --- a harder cutter-like one, and a slower slurvier one, but it's hard to say, particularly since I haven't seen any pitch grips from Park. For now, I'm lumping the sliders together.

I wouldn't be surprised if Park's success would lead to a promotion in Joe Girardi's bullpen pecking order. Joba Chamberlain is currently the primary setup man, and David Robertson appears to be right behind him, but Chamberlain's recent lack of dominance and Park's recent surge could very well lead to a shake-up in the bullpen.

Gameday data is from MLB Advanced Media; it can be easily accessed through Joe Lefkowitz's invaluable tool.
Other stats are from the similarly invaluable fangraphs.com.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Remaining starting pitchers without a no-decision

Clay Buchholz won his 9th game of the year yesterday in a game against the Diamondbacks. Buchholz also has 4 losses, making him one of the few pitchers this year without a no-decision. Here is the full list, minimum 10 starts:

Ubaldo Jimenez (13 starts) 12 wins 1 loss
Clay Buchholz (13 starts) 9 wins 4 losses
Carl Pavano (13 starts) 7 wins 6 losses
Jamie Moyer (12 starts) 6 wins 6 losses
Charlie Morton (10 starts) 1 win 9 losses

Data is from Fangraphs.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Notes: The Doc vs The Big Man

Tonight at Yankee Stadium, we will be treated to quite a pitching matchup --- in a battle of aces, it'll be Roy Halladay for the defending NL Champion Phillies, and CC Sabathia will go for the defending World Champion Yankees. At their best, they're both as dominant as anybody in the majors, but they go about their dominance in different ways. Quick notes on both of them:


Basically, Roy Halladay is a monster. He doesn't walk anyone, strikes out a lot, and tends to keep the ball on the ground. That's helped him to a 1.96 ERA and a perfect game this year. Halladay throws two kinds of fastballs: a cutter and a sinker. The cutter has generated better than a 50% ground ball rate this year, and the sinker better than 60%. Halladay doesn't usually try to get either of his fastballs by hitters (.156 whiff rate for the cutter, .117 for the sinker) --- he uses his two offspeed pitches as his swing-and-miss stuff. His changeup is whiffed at 45% of the time, and his curveball 39%. Those are both incredible; it's interesting to note that the changeup is in the strikezone less than 28% of the time, by far less than any of Halladay's other offerings. This is offset by the highest out-of-zone swing rate of his pitches.


It looks like CC is starting to get it together. His strikeout rate is now up to 7.28, near his career norm of 7.56. Similarly, his BB/9 is down to 2.85 and is right in line with his career mark of 2.81. The home run ball has plagued Sabathia so far this year; his current 1.27 HR/9 is far and away the worst of his career, as he's never posted one above 1. He also has a career-worst 13.5% home runs per fly ball rate, which should probably come down over the next few months, particularly given his much lower career numbers. One marked improvement Sabathia has made this year is in his groundball rate. He was at a league-average ~43% last year, and now he's just under 51%. The biggest change has come in his four-seamer, which is being hit on the ground at an even 50% rate this year. Last year, that number was at 35%. Watching him, I've noticed him throw a lot of four-seamers down in the zone this year; I would love to give a closer look to this significant ground ball uptick. As for his other pitches, Sabathia will throw a two-seamer, a changeup, a slider, and an occasional curveball. The curveball is just a "show-me" pitch that he likes to throw early in the count to get ahead. The changeup (.339 whiff rate, .400 last year) is thrown to righties --- only two lefty batters have seen Sabathia's changeup so far this year. The slider (.392, .385) is seen by both righties and lefties.

Gameday PITCHf/x data is from MLB Advanced Media; it can be easily accessed via this tool.
Other stats are from Fangraphs.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Appreciating Justin Masterson

Justin Masterson has had a tough year. Despite making 12 starts, he only has 2 wins. Before last week, his ERA was sitting in the 5s. He's also playing for one of the worst teams in the league. However, as is often the case with young pitchers, there is a lot to be encouraged about with Masterson. First, he's just 25 years old, so he obviously has a lot left to give. Second, he has ridiculous stuff that's helping him produce some solid peripheral stats that will likely cause his ERA to drop. Before I get to the third great thing about Justin Masterson, I'll look at that ridiculous stuff.

Masterson has the great and rare combination of missing bats and getting ground balls. He works with four pitches: a sinker that he uses as his primary pitch, a four-seam fastball, a slider, and an occasional changeup. Masterson's four-seamer also gets significant sink on it due to his low arm angle.

pfx_xpfx_zAverage VelocityMaximum Velocity

Here are some pitch outcomes for Masterson's offerings:

Pitch#Pitch%Whiff RateZone RateChase RateWatch Rate


Whiff rate is misses/swings (league average ~19%), zone rate is pitches in the strike zone (~47%), chase rate is swings/out of zone pitches (~28%), watch rate is takes/in zone pitches (~36%). When looking through these, I was struck by how Masterson uses his sinker. Sinking fastballs tend to induce the most contact of all pitches, but Masterson's whiff rate on the sinker is above the major league average. This is because he throws it out of the zone frequently --- it's in the strikezone less than 40% of the time, and its movement causes hitters to "chase" it when it's a ball. And when it's a strike, it's probably going to be hit into the ground. The full batted ball report:

Obviously an extremely sample size warning for the changeup; only six have been put into play. As for the other three pitches, everything is significantly above average in the groundball department (compare to Harry Pavlidis' pitch-type benchmarks): .720 for the sinker, .486 for the fastball, .625 for the slider.

So far this year, Masterson's problem has been with walks. His 4.61 BB/9 rate is the highest of his young career, and is fourth highest among 2010 starters. All of those sinkers out of the zone are helping him pick up strikeouts but are also causing him to let batters reach base on balls. However, his current skill set adds up to a 3.89 xFIP; if he can get his ERA down into the sub 4 range, I'm sure that the Indians would be elated.

I almost forgot the other great about Masterson. By all accounts, he's a gem of a human being; his unofficial fan club is probably headed by his former manager, Terry Francona. Before his major league debut with the Red Sox, Francona called him "one of the nicest kids you'll ever meet." When Francona met with him before Masterson's start against his former team last week, he talked with him for a while and told him that he hoped that he'd win every start after the Red Sox got out of Cleveland. Like Masterson said, he's apparently not a very good listener. I, like Francona, hope that his complete game shutout last week is the beginning of a long run of success for him.

Gameday PITCHf/x data is from MLB Advanced Media; it can be easily accessed via this tool. League averages for pitch results are approximated from Fangraphs' plate discipline stats.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Strasburg through PITCHf/x

I'm not going to say a whole lot about Stephen Strasburg's MLB debut yesterday --- we all know that 14 strikeouts and no walks over 7 innings is other worldly for a first game. And surely that's been said many times this morning already. I would, however, like to put on my PITCHf/x glasses and dive into Strasburg's outing from the dimension.

The report on Strasburg was that he throws HARD. That's just what he did yesterday, averaging 97.95 mph on the 50 4-seam fastballs he threw. The 8 sinkers he threw averaged 96.4 mph. Here is how he distributed the velocity on his 4-seamers yesterday:

So, he was sitting 98-99 yesterday. That's pretty impressive.

But it's not all about the velocity with Strasburg. He is able to support the upper 90s cheese with two offspeed offerings: a curveball, which averaged around 82 mph yesterday, and a hard changeup, which averaged around 90 mph. Both of these pitches were dynamite for him yesterday, with the exception of the one changeup he hung for a home run to Delwyn Young. This is data from only one game, so it's unclear as to whether the pfx_z values are fully reliable, but Strasburg's changeup appeared to be generating a ridiculous amount of vertical break yesterday; its vertical spin deflection averaged only 0.22 inches above a theoretical spinless pitch, which is good for a slider, let alone a changeup. From what I saw, it looked more like a splitter than a typical changeup.

For the whole game, Mr. Strasburg got 18 swings-and-misses. Over 41 total swings, that makes for ridiculous .439 whiff rate. The breakdown for his three pitches (the sinker was swung at twice and was the only offering to not be whiffed at):

Pitch#Swing#Whiff Rate

And how about those 14 strikeouts? Of them, only two were looking --- one on a fastball, one on a curveball. This is what his 14 strikeouts look like in pie form:

Remember, of course, all of this comes with severe small sample size warning. And this was the Pirates he was facing. But that doesn't mean we can't get excited, right?

Gameday PITCHf/x data is from MLB Advanced Media; it can be easily accessed via this tool.

DISCLAIMER: The distinctions between Strasburg's two fastballs aren't that easy to distinguish, so these classifications are subject to change.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Quick notes on the Great Rivera


So far this year, Mo's peripheral rates are not as impressive as they were last year. His walk rate is up from 1.6 to 2.5, his strikeout rates has dropped from 9.8 to 7.4, and his groundball rate is down a bit, even though it is still solid at 48.9%. All of this accounts for a run and a half rise in xFIP, to 4.03. Though it would be nice to see the rates improve, I fully believe that Rivera is one of the few pitchers in the majors that has the ability to defy pitching metrics; his impeccable command would conceivably suppress batting average on balls in play --- this might explain his -0.75 ERA-xFIP differential since 2002.


Joe Girardi has said that Mariano has had a few lapses in command this year, explaining his poor performances against the Twins and Red Sox in the middle of the month. Sometimes it involves missing inside the strike zone, which led to the rare hard-hit balls he's suffered against him over the past month; sometimes it involves missing outside the zone, which goes with the increase in walk rate (Mo walked a batter and hit another yesterday).


In yesterday's game against the Orioles, Mariano was throwing as hard as he had in two years. He threw both types of fastballs at 95 mph, something we have seen extremely infrequently. Last year, he threw only one pitch that registered at 95 mph (94.5 on the potentially hot PITCHf/x gun); that was in California against the Angels last September. Before that, the hardest we had seen Mariano throw was in Boston in July 2008 (again, the Fenway PITCHf/x gun seemed to be running a bit fast then) when he threw both a cutter and a sinker at 96 mph in an at-bat to Mike Lowell.

Gameday PITCHf/x data is from MLB Advanced Media; it can be easily accessed via this tool.
Other stats are from Fangraphs.