Friday, May 10, 2013

Hitting Outside Pitches and 2007 Top Hitting Prospects

In a previous post, I looked at how some elite hitters were pitched when they first came up to the big leagues. I found that they were pitched low and away with heavy frequency. In this post, I will look at the 1st real season frequency of hitters in the Majors, and compare it to their TAV zones and their career frequency zones. In this post, all data is right-handed hitter normalized, all using Brooks Baseball's heat maps again. I want to test the thesis that hitters are pitched low and away more than average when they first come up, and then add another thesis. The secondary thesis is that one of the key differences between hitters that prove to be successful versus some that aren't is the ability to handle the low and away pitch in strike zone.

Here I think is a good example of a successful hitter showing that the thesis is correct as the hitter showed that they can hit the pitch on the outside part of the strike zone and low. Pitchers then have to go inside, or at least quit throwing in these zones as much, in the future. Here is Justin Upton's 2008 map, where we see that pitchers threw a lot of pitches on the mid outside part of the plate, and off the plate in general:

Now, let's fast foward to now, looking back at his career so far, in which he has accumulated 66 runs more than an average player (according to BR's RBAT):

Notice that Upton is a good hitter no matter where in the zone, but that he is actually better (when compared to other right-handed hitters) on low and outside pitches than inside pitches. Thus, Upton's frequency map now looks like this:

Pitchers mainly try to throw it to him low and away, but outside of the zone, as he gets about an average amount of pitches low and away in the strike zone. I think this argument gets stronger when we look at Andy Laroche. Laroche was a big bust, worth -45 runs with the bat in his career. Because the sample sizes for 2007 and 2008 are small in themselves, I included maps from both of those years below:

Up and Away was also a spot pitchers tried to challenge Laroche, but low and away was common as well. Laroche proved to be okay in his career on up and away balls, but low and away was his worst zone:

Therefore, pitchers continued to exploit the hole:

So in the rest of the post, I will look at the rest of the right-handed hitters on the top 100 prospects in 2007 according to Baseball America (I didn't include Brian Barton because he had just one real year in the Majors) and see if my thesis holds weight on a larger scale. To cut down on the amount of maps and amount of words you have to view (and I have to insert), I am only going to look at two zones for each hitter, the low and away part of the zone and away middle part of the zone, that is, the one in the strike zone that is on the bottom right and the one just above that, and I'll just use a numbers format.

Delmon Young: -15 rBAT

2007 Frequency: 67.94, 79.25

Career TAV: 115, 108

Career Frequency: 99.22, 104.76

Support Thesis: No

Evan Longoria: 128 rBAT

2008 Frequency: 106.94, 117.01

Career TAV: 119, 117

Career Frequency: 104.08, 101.05

Support Thesis: Yes

Brandon Wood: -55 rBAT

2008 Frequency: 98.23, 97.43

Career TAV: 53, 68

Career Frequency: 103.02, 96.39

Support Thesis: Mostly

Cameron Maybin: -23 rBAT

2009 Frequency: 98.93, 115.73

Career TAV: 95, 93

Career Frequency: 91.95, 102.86

Support Thesis: No

Chris Young: -33 rBAT

2007 Frequency: 122.36, 90.67

Career TAV: 103, 92

Career Frequency: 111.91, 103.95

Support Thesis: Not Really

Andrew McCutchen: 109 rBAT

2009 Frequency: 111.86, 96.08

Career TAV: 100, 100

Career Frequency: 104.52, 104.44

Support Thesis: Not Really

Troy Tulowitzski: 80 rBAT

2007 Frequency: 126.56, 76.5

Career TAV: 122, 119

Career Frequency: 100.99, 99.13

Support Thesis: Not Really

Billy Butler: 99 rBAT

2007 Frequency: 116.36, 86.92

Career TAV: 116, 98

Career Frequency: 89.25, 92.28

Support Thesis: Yes

Ryan Braun: 245 rBAT

2007 Frequency: 69.04, 101.08

Career TAV: 135, 132

Career Frequency: 88.06, 98.12

Support Thesis: No

Jose Tabata: -8 rBAT

2010 Frequency: 106.43, 94.97

Career TAV: 110, 93

Career Frequency: 99.08, 85.23

Support Thesis: No, in the sense that he isn't a good hitter. He did improve in that space and get pitched less there.

Adam Jones: 34 rBAT

2008 Frequency: 87.49, 85.68

Career TAV: 120, 103

Career Frequency: 95.51, 97.9

Support Thesis: Strangely, even though he proved to be really good in those zones (and a good hitter), he gets pitched there more now.

Hunter Pence: 92 rBAT

2007 Frequency: 103.08, 69.36

Career TAV: 113, 127

Career Frequency: 92.79, 109.99

Support Thesis: Same as Jones

Josh Fields: -17 rBAT

2007 Frequency: 77.45, 76.43

Career TAV: 106, 83

Career Frequency: 86.12, 91.29

Support Thesis: Not Really, he was never especially good there, but pitchers threw in on him his whole career.

Carlos Gomez: -46 rBAT

2008 Frequency:  102.77, 109.62

Career TAV: 94, 126

Career Frequency: 98.49, 110.56

Support Thesis:  Not really, despite showing he can hit there (and not being successful overall), he has continued to be pitched there.

Elvis Andrus: -45 rBAT

2009 Frequency: 89.62, 90.11

Career TAV: 81, 84

Career Frequency: 92.01, 93.75

Support Thesis: No, he struggles there, but isn't pitched there a lot.

Elijah Dukes: 7 rBAT

2007 Frequency: 107.23, 75.04

Career TAV: 139, 84

Career Frequency: 97.46, 105.99

Support Thesis: Mixed really.

Drew Stubbs: -30 rBAT

2010 Frequency: 83.32, 123.62

Career TAV: 114, 77

Career Frequency: 91.77, 115.26

Support Thesis: Sort of, though it is not definite.

Kurt Suzuki: -45 rBAT

2007 Frequency: 111.75, 84.11

Career TAV: 94, 91

Career Frequency: 101.22, 97.84

Support Thesis: Again, sort of.

Chris Iannetta: 2 rBAT

2007 Frequency: 142.65, 68.64

Career TAV: 108, 74

Career Frequency: 106.21, 97.6

Support Thesis: Same, sort of.

Brent Lillibridge: -35 rBAT

2008 Frequency: 117.38, 124.19

Career TAV: 68, 80

Career Frequency: 112.22, 100.62

Support Thesis: No. Even though he proved to be bad, and terrible in the zones, he was actually pitched less in the zones for his career.

So when the twenty hitters profiled, when they first came up, they had an average normalized frequency in the specified zones of 102.37 and 93.12. So they don't actually seem to be pitched low and away more than an average right-handed hitter when they first came up. For their careers, they have a 103.66 and 100.45 normalized frequency, meaning that on average, they were pitched more in that zone after their first year in the Major. If we break it down by successful and unsuccessful hitters (above average being successful), the unsuccessful hitters have a 98.92 and 100.23 frequency in those zones, while the successful hitters had a 97.65 and 100.72, no real difference between the two.

It would seem that my thesis is incorrect, or at least too simplistic. There doesn't seem to be any relationship between success and frequency in the low and away strike zone.

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