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A common sentiment amongst pitching coaches, dads, and your regular everyday baseball fan is that if you try to throw harder, you will be more wild. I’ve written plenty on this topic about it being a load of crap, because the human body learns to throw a ball effectively and more efficiently – not “harder” and “more controlled.” In a properly designed training program, kinesthetic sense improves and force application improves, so velocity and control both go up – not necessarily in lockstep, but they do improve together.
The idea that you first learn how to throw strikes and then learn how to throw hard is the cornerstone of every pitching coach out there that charges for a lesson, throws on a catcher’s mitt, and has the pitcher throw 24 pitches off a mound – regularly being interrupted to demonstrate some drill or pausing at the balance point. It’s garbage, and that’s why we don’t do very many private pitching lessons here – it’s generally a giant waste of time.
Enough Talk, Show Me the Data
Despite all of our experimental data that shows that pitchers in our MaxVelo program improve both velocity and control through the use of strength training, high-speed video analysis, weighted baseballs, and other training methods, I figured I’d show everyone some data from MLB pitchers in 2012.
This first chart shows the results of a regression analysis between average fastball velocity of MLB pitchers and the PITCHf/x Strike Zone % – so whether or not their pitches landed in the strike zone (click for full size):
As you can see, there’s basically no relationship between fastball velocity and strike zone %, despite there being a wide band of strike zone % represented.
This next chart reaffirms what is common sense – that the more pitches you throw in the zone, the fewer walks you will issue:
This last chart shows the relationship between higher fastball velocities and walk rates:
Interestingly enough, despite there being no relationship between higher fastball velocities and strike zone %, there is a moderate relationship between higher fastball velocities and walk rates – so another factor must be involved.
Send people this post when they repeat the mantra that “throwing harder means throwing with less control.” The data just doesn’t back it up.
I made my reboot of minorleaguesplits.com open source over at GitHub. Due to too much going on in my life right now, I have decided to share the code with the public in the hopes that it goes somewhere.
The world wants to see minorleaguesplits.com reborn. Take the code and run with it. I’ll respond to pull requests.
I wrote this email to the parents and players of our Elite Baseball Training program and figured I’d share it with the public. We use data-driven decisions to form our opinions here, rather than traditional groupthink and coaching platitudes.
All pitchers (and parents of pitchers):
My fellow author at The Hardball Times wrote an awesome article 2+ years ago about pitch types, and updated it in 2011. It’s pretty data-intensive:
Large-scale data mining of MLB pitches using my database as well as Harry’s work has formed the backbone of why I teach the pitches I do, and the sequencing of them. Though I don’t get too in-depth into this when I work with you guys one-on-one, I figure it’s good to get this information out there for those who are really interested.
For the younger guys, we always recommend training as a starter first, which means commanding two fastballs (four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball/sinker), a curve ball (12-6 or 1-7, preferably the former), a slider/cutter (depending on arm angle and comfort level – how we teach the cutter is basically a slider anyway), and a change-up (can just be the sinker if four-seam velo is < 80 MPH).
Reproducing the relevant chart:
Aside from splitters (not a pitch we generally teach for a variety of reasons), sliders (SL) have the best Whiff Rate, while curveballs (CU) have the best Watch Rate. Fastballs (FA) are the easiest to throw for strikes and generate a lot of foul balls, but the primary reason to throw fastballs is to set up the other pitches. Change-Ups (CH) and Sinkers (SI) have very good GB% rates.
Everything works together. It’s important to realize the role of each pitch:
-Fastballs set the hitters’ expectations for velocity, location, and allow you to easily get ahead in/back into strikeout counts (at the risk of being the easiest pitch to hit)
-Curveballs should be thrown early in counts to tough hitters to disrupt timing and late in counts (2 strikes) to weak hitters who are likely to take strike 3 (at the risk of being a pitch most brutally punished when the spot is missed)
-Sliders should almost always be thrown late in counts to strike hitters out; giving hitters an early look at your left-right breaking ball is generally a huge mistake (at the risk of being a very hard pitch to throw for reliable strikes)
-Change-Ups should be saved for the 2nd and 3rd time through the lineup for a secondary “breaking ball” to get hitters out with; can be used for GIDP situations (at the risk of being a high-contact high-average pitch)
-Sinkers/two-seam fastballs should be used against opposite-hand hitters as you would use your fastball; lean on it heavily to neutralize the platoon advantage and minimize the # of four-seam fastballs thrown to opposite-side hitters (at the risk of being a high-contact high-average pitch)
–Use sinkers/two-seam fastballs for GIDPs, though I recommend against this for pitchers not playing for elite college/select teams (how many GIDPs does the average youth team turn anyway?)
A same-handed hitter perceives a pitch thrown up-and-in to be up to 10% harder than a pitch thrown low-and-away. Watch/take rates go up the bigger the difference between pitch n and pitch n+1 become – this means you should use fastballs in to setup curveballs which setup sliders. Be economical with your pitches and don’t be afraid to experiment. While you don’t need to throw your cutter/slider for strikes reliably, you need to get into as many 1-2 or better counts as possible.
First pitch strikes are important, but the first three pitches together matter the most. The difference between 1-2 and 2-1 is incredibly huge, which is why pitchers should be able to throw all pitches for a combined strike rate of 66%+.
Hope this isn’t too much data!
Pitchers at all levels of the game are told to locate their pitches in the bottom half of the zone so they can get hitters to swing over the top of the pitch and produce ground balls. As everyone knows, ground balls are the best way to prevent runs, since you can’t hit ground balls over the fence and it’s tough to hit them into the gaps for extra bases. Apologies to all coaches of youth, high school, and many college pitchers, but: You’re wrong. Pitchers should locate their fastballs and breaking balls in the top half of the zone to get the most success when competing against average youth, high school, and most college hitters.
Ground Balls: Be Careful What You Wish For
It’s happened to everyone – including me - you get a ton of ground balls, your defense boots the ball around, you end up giving up 1 or 2 earned runs but a plethora of unearned runs. When your coach comes and pulls you from the game, he says: “Nothing you could have done, kid. Defense just didn’t play behind you,” pats you on the butt, and tells you to get your running in.
Your teammates apologize for booting that easy ball in the hole, for not picking that ball at first base, and dropping that easy double play opportunity. Being a good teammate, you say “Ah, it happens. Get ‘em next time.” Then while running your poles, you reflect on how particularly unlucky you were that day. If only Bobby hadn’t lost that ball in the sun and Roger didn’t sail that ball from shortstop, you would have gotten out of that long inning. But were you unlucky? Think about it: You did everything you were supposed to – get a few strikeouts, not walk too many, and got a lot of ground balls. And what were you rewarded with? Hasn’t this happened before? What if you got fly balls instead? Don’t hitters swing and miss on your fastballs up in the zone – and when they make contact, don’t they often go for fly ball outs? How many home runs does the entire school have, anyway? Four? But what’s the team batting average – .380? Here are the two major reasons you want to get ground balls at the MLB level:
- Sluggers often hit fly balls over the fence.
- Defense at the MLB level is insanely elite.
Think about those reasons for a minute. Do either of those reasons apply to your high school league? What do you think the average HR rate on fly balls is in your league? I guarantee it’s not 11%. (MLB Average HR/FB rate.) We’ve already established defenders at the HS/College level are orders of magnitude worse than the Dominican and Venezuelan infielders of MLB (to say nothing of the local product), so why are you applying a heuristic to a completely different game?
Tons of data and a shattered myth after the jump… Read the rest of this entry »