Friday, April 11, 2008

How They Do What They Do

One of the more interesting developments in baseball analytics these days is the emergence of pitch data. New data is emerging that reveals pitch movement, a pitcher's release point, and the usage patterns of each pitcher.

This kind of data really can reveal how a pitcher does what he does. The mix of pitches he employs and his strategy for attacking hitters. So, without further ado, here's a glimpse of how the Reds starters worked in 2007.

Aaron Harang

Personally, I didn't realize just how heavily Aaron Harang relies on two pitches. He throws a fastball, slider, and a show-me curveball. Not to mention, his fastball velocity isn't really anything to write home about, as on average his fastball clocked in at 90.73 MPH.

In 2007, 66.52% of his pitches were fastballs, 29.66% sliders, and 3.82% curveballs. Usually, when you hear about starting pitchers, you hear about how they need 3 or 4 pitches to be successful. Aaron Harang succeeds largely with just 2, which is a tribute to his command and pitching IQ.

When he gets into a 2 strike count, he relies heavily on the slider. When it was 0-2, Harang throws a slider 53.28% of the time. When it was 1-2, Harang threw a slider 57.36%. When he got into a hitter's count, he relied mostly on the fastball. When the count went to 2 balls, Harang threw almost exclusive fastballs. When it was 2-0, Harang threw a fastball 87.88% of the time. When it was 2-1, Harang threw a fastball 84.38% of the time. When it was 2-2, Harang threw a fastball 50.55%.

Harang may not have the most diverse offerings, but he certainly gets the job done.

Bronson Arroyo

Arroyo is very different pitcher from Harang. He's more of an "everything but the kitchen sink" type pitcher. Arroyo throws four different pitches, including a fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup. He relies heavily on mixing his pitches and throws all four with great frequency.

In 2007, Arroyo threw a fastball 42.75% of the time, a curve 15.61% of the time, a slider 19.01% of the time, and a changeup 22.63% of the time. It's a much more diversified attack employed by Bronson.

Against righthanded hitters, Arroyo relied more heavily on the slider (25.04%) than the curveball (9.53%). Against lefties, Arroyo relied more heavily on the curveball (22.19%) than the slider (12.48%). This seems counterintuitive to me. Given the common wisdom that lefthanded hitters like the ball down and in, it would seem likely that the slider is the better choice. Evidently common wisdom isn't so common or wise.

Oddly enough, Bronson preferred 0-2 pitch is the fastball (61.18%) followed by the slider (29.41%). When Bronson got to 2 ball counts, he didn't have a strong preference, but rather threw just about everything.

Arroyo is confident in all his pitches and it shows in his pitch selection. He's not dominant, but his ability to throw anything at just about any time is a big key to his success.

Josh Fogg

Fogg is another pitcher with a diversified 4 pitch arsenal. He features a fastball (88.15 mph), sinker (88.21 mph), slider (77.99 mph), and change-up (81.39 mph). He also relies fairly heavily on all four pitches. Given the low velocity on the fastball, it would seem likely that he would benefit from taking more speed off his change-up to increase the difference between the two pitches.

In 2007, his pitch breakdown looks like this: fastball 47.83%, sinker 14.16%, slider 12.74%, and change-up 25.28%. He threw fastballs 60.23% of the time against righties, but only 33.91% against lefties. On the other hand, he threw sinkers 9.18% of the time against righties, but 19.74% of the time against lefties. He also threw many more change-ups against lefties (37.98%) than righties (13.96%).

In 2 strike counts, Fogg relied heavily on the fastball, slider, and change-up, but rarely threw the sinker. In 2 ball counts, Fogg relied heavily on the fastball and changeup, but almost never threw the slider.

Given his overall performance, Fogg may be advised to utilize a different pitch mixture. Or, maybe his attack strategy is perfect, but his stuff just isn't good enough to get the job done.

Edinson Volquez

Edinson features a 3 pitch mix. He works with a fastball (94.46 mph), curveball (80.39 mph), and change-up (83.33 mph). Edinson clearly has good hop on the fastball and a nice 11 mph difference between the fastball and change-up.

In 2007, Edinson had the following pitch mix: 64.78% fastballs, 23.2% change-ups, and 12.03% curveballs. He had good success against lefties, even though he relied almost exclusively on the fastball (67.7%) and change (22.68%). He didn't throw the curveball much against lefties (9.62%). He used all three pitches against righties hitters.

Clearly, Edinson is having much greater success in 2008 than he did in 2007, so it'll be interesting to see if he's using a different pitch mix or strategy. In 2 strike counts, Edinson utilized a similar pitch mix to his overall percentages. He doesn't seem to feature a real out pitch, but rather seems to use all of his pitches as out pitches.


Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, Johnny Cueto doesn't have any pitch data, but it'll be interesting to see how he goes about his business. The Reds have several different kinds of pitchers, so it's interesting to see how they attack hitters. The Reds starting pitching is much improved thus far, so let's hope they continue to succeed, regardless of how they do it.

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