Pitching to the corners, part oneby Lucas Apostoleris
May 19, 2011
I am fascinated by pitches on the corners. Commanding pitches to the corners, especially the outside corner, can make it very difficult on a hitter (as Max Marchi showed us in 2009). I'm defining "corner" to be greater than 0.7 feet from the center of the plate and equal to or less than one foot from the center of the plate (the rulebook edge of the strikezone is 0.83 feet from the center of the plate).
Before looking at any specific examples, it's important to set some league averages for how often pitchers reach the edges. The chart below uses 2010 data and shows the percentage of pitches thrown to each corner:
|Pitcher||vs RHB||vs LHB||RHB Outside||RHB Inside||LHB Outside||LHB Inside|
Note that only pitches that were within the height of the strike zone, as specified by PITCHf/x operators in the sz_top and sz_bottom fields*, were included. So, for example, a pitch that would've been right on the corner but was a foot high out of the zone is not included in this study. As you can see, pitchers don't tend to throw a whole lot of pitches to the corners.
*sz_top and sz_bottom values can be error-prone but probably should be pretty good over a large sample.
Those who locate
You're probably wondering, who are the outliers? I was wondering that as well, and as it usually goes with these sorts of things, some of the results I expected and some surprised me. I'll split this up into the four different groups—minimum 300 pitches—for which I established the league averages (lumping pitcher handedness together now). First, the outside corner against righties.
All righties here, interestingly. Some guys with notoriously good command, like Mujica and Saito, and others who were unspectacular last year, like Moehler and Hernandez (there's been work done on Livan's tendency to keep the ball outside). How about the inside corner against righties?
Keep in mind that fewer pitches go to the inside corner than the outside corner. Hey, a Mariano Rivera sighting! Mo will throw both his cutter (front door) and sinker (running in) to that spot against righties. Also cool to see Jamie Moyer on here, given that he's considered to be a crafty pitcher with good command away from the heart of the zone.
Switching gears now to left-handed hitters:
There's Heath Bell again, and Takashi Saito just missed the list (he's #11). Hmm. I'll come back to that train of thought in a bit. Finally, inside corner to lefties:
And there's Mariano, in a league of his own and breaking the bats of those poor left-handed hitters. Lots of lefties at the very top of this list; Rivera and Evan Meek are exceptions, and they both use cut fastballs.
Returning to my previous train of thought, how about those pitchers who threw to the outside or inside corner, regardless of the handedness of the batter?
Mo reigns supreme on the inside corner, and it's not close. If you add up all of the corners and divide by the total number of pitches, Mariano once again tops the list by a large margin with 19.1% of his total pitches at the edge of the zone. Moyer is next (16.3%), with Brandon Lyon, Mark Buerhle, and Carl Pavano (15.7%) highlighting the next tier.
When I come back to this topic, I will look more closely at individual pitch types and how they are used at the corners of the strike zone. And a few other things as well, ideally. Stay tuned!
References and Resources
PITCHf/x data are from MLB Advanced Media's Gameday system and are here courtesy of Joe Lefkowitz's tool.