Monday, November 16, 2009

Double Edged Plate

Watching the world series I developed the impression that Yankee pitchers were more effective at keeping the ball on the outer and inner edges of the plate than the Phillies pitchers were. I investigated with pitch f/x data. First, I defined my 2 "edges" of the plate. The pitch f/x strikezone stretches from about -0.8 ft to 0.8 ft in their coordinate system, so I defined the right edge (inside for righthanded batters) as -1.5 ft to -0.5 ft and the left edge as 0.5 ft to 1.5 ft (inside for lefthanded batters). During the entire series Yankee pitchers hit these edges with 55% of pitches to the Phillies 48%, suggesting that yes, the Yankees were more adept at keeping the ball near but not over the plate. To see if these percents are important, I then graphed opponent on base percent against percent of balls thrown to the edges for each game of the series.

As shown above, there was literally no correlation between hitting these edges and the offensive production of the opposing team in this series. This somewhat surprised me but then again I'm not taking into anything like count, type of pitch, stuff, so maybe it shouldn't have. Looking at the edge data however did reveal at least one pretty clear signal. In the series the Yankees pitchers hit the right edge 242 times and the left edge 245 times (out of 889 total), whereas the Phillies hit the right edge 272 times but left edge only 157 times (out of 886 total). The Phillies were much less balanced, as it seems they were trying to keep the ball away from the lefty power on the Yankees. The only game where the Phillies were balanced was game 1 where Cliff Lee hit the right edge 27 times and the left 31 times, which of course was an excellently pitched game.

So was balance actually important in the series? First, I defined balance as the difference between right and left edges hit divided by total edges hit (the smaller the number the better the balance). Then I plotted this against opponent on base percentage in the series. The results are below.

Now there is a correlation, albeit a weak one. The point which appears to be somewhat of an outlier in the top left is the Yankee pitchers in game 1, which was probably due to Sabathia having great balance and then a small sample size of Yankee relievers giving up a ton of baserunners. If we just look at the Phillies pitchers for the series, balance appears to be very important indeed.

In any case, this correlation doesn't prove causation, but it is interesting to see how Phillies pitchers mostly pounded one side of the plate after game 1. Theoretically this just doesn't seem like a recipe for success to me, as it allows the Yankee lefties to sit on the outside corner (Damon's 2 out single off Lidge in game 4 and Matsui's 2 run single off Pedro in game 6 both come to mind).

If anyone wants to investigate the data further, I uploaded it here (note: my if statements are in open office format, not microsoft)



Blogger Pete said...

Interesting, but I think it might be interesting to do something similar but weighted according to the "handedness" of the lineups. For example, for game 6, the Yankee lineup had 7 lefty or switch hitters (3/7 switch), and the Phillies 5 (2/5 switch). Of course the switch hitters, uh, switch depending on handedness of the pitcher, but it strikes me that in game 6, for example, the goal would indeed be to be biased toward one corner - 7 potential lefty bats against a righty pitcher without the stuff to come inside (you really want Pedro pitching inside to Tex, Posada, Matsui, etc.?).

I get the point - "balance", as you've defined it, correlates to OBP, but there's got to be a tradeoff for stuff in some way - the Yankees have more guys capable of getting outs inside (Sabathia, Burnett to name a few).

I guess one way to look at this that might compensate for this in some way would be to also look at slugging percentage - coming inside more to lefties might lead to a pretty dramatic increase in slugging percentage. or maybe do it for ops, to kill two birds with one stone?

Not sure if any of that made any sense. Interesting idea for sure.

2:08 PM  
Blogger John said...

yeah, so handedness was one thing i was planning on taking into account but the pitch f/x data is pretty annoying to work with, not to mention the huge number of switch hitters in the series, but yeah agree that it should matter.

and in regards to stuff, that was going to be my second part of the blog, but i wasn't coming up with an easy way of using the data to quantify it. first i was thinking of doing speed for fastballs and break for offspeed but then again you can have a lot of break on a curve just because it is slower, then i thought maybe just use spin for all three but wasn't convinced. and in any case, burnett probably had the best stuff of the series but he gets hammered when his control isn't good so i just kind of looked at control period.

i did think about whether you want to come inside at all to lefty Yankees at the Stadium and that's kind of why i defined corners as opposed to sides of the plate. regardless of stuff i don't think the inside corner locations i chose are pitches that can be hit well unless you are sitting on them. that's assuming you hit your spots, which i would agree opposing pitchers are usually afraid of against the Yanks. the phillies not being "balanced" could really either be a strategic decision or poor execution. i don't really advise throwing strikes inside often against the yankee hitters but i hate seeing the opposition nibble at the outside corner twice and then throw one down the middle with the guy leaning over the plate (like Matsui homering off Pedro in game 2 on a pitch almost in the dirt). i'd much rather the opposition throw 1 ball outside and then 1 ball inside, if he's going to be missing location.

that brings up another point, i didn't consider at all height, i assumed for this that in/out location which was much more important, which might not be true.

and in regards to slugging percentage or ops instead, i agree, and i wanted to look at this, but do you know of a site that has boxscores with this info (fangraphs didn't), i calculated the obp by hand since it was the easiest of the stats to calculate.

but even with all the fairly arbitrary assumptions and things glossed over i thought the data looked pretty interesting.

5:00 PM  
Blogger John said...

i really wanted to look at stuff because i wanted to see if the yankees' edges or balance didn't correlate as well with results as the phillies' pitchers, because like you said their starters don't really seem to match up stuff wise.

5:04 PM  

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