My first post at The Hardball Times went up today. I take a thorough look at whether eye color influences players’ splits, and discuss the importance of vision for hitters.
Since his June 2014 trade to the Marlins, Bryan Morris has posted a 0.91 ERA with a 3.06 FIP in 49.1 IP. Pretty good. Obviously, you can anticipate that his numbers come back to earth–by Steamer’s rest-of-season projection, he’s expected to have a far more ordinary 3.46 FIP and 3.55 ERA this year–but Morris has made some changes to his mound positioning and approach that are worth a look.
Morris has shifted his position on the rubber, moving from the first base side to the extreme third base side. This is shown in the two photos below; on the left, Morris pitches for the Pirates at PNC Park on 5/21/14. On the right, he’s in his set as a Marlin in a 7/9/14 game at Chase Field. I circled (what appears to be) the rubber on each mound. Neither the pictures from the TV feeds nor the circles match up perfectly, but the shift is still plainly obvious.
That will change the point at which PITCHf/x picks up his release; the Brooks Baseball chart below shows Morris’ horizontal release point by game from the start of the 2014 season and onward.
By PITCHf/x, we can see that Morris’ horizontal release point moved over a foot closer to the third base side. The first big drop came while Morris was still with the Pirates, so his experiment likely began before the trade.
Along with the change in where he toes the rubber, Morris is attacking hitters differently. The two charts below show Morris’ pitch type locations against left-handed hitters (in the left image) and right-handed hitters (in the right image) during his time with the Pirates in 2014.
By PITCHf/x’s classification algorithm, Morris threw a lot of four-seamers inside and outside to both LHH and RHH. He also featured a sinker with a slight concentration to the arm side, and sliders and cutters that often ended up catching plenty of the plate. We’re left with a rather amorphous cloud of pitch locations.
We see a clear contrast in the charts below, which show all of Morris’ pitches in his tenure with Miami. Once again, LHH are displayed on the left, and RHH on the right.
Against LHH, Morris has abandoned the four-seamer, going just about exclusively to the sinker running away to the arm side and the cutter breaking in toward the hitter. He’s done a better job staying away from the heart of the plate, keeping pitches on the edges and out of the zone. When facing RHH, he’s thrown way more cutters, again staying towards the edges and looking to induce chases. He’s also kept his sinker low and/or inside, and occasionally mixed in four-seamers to the glove side.
(The last two sets of charts are via Baseball Savant.)
Despite playing a shallow center field, Juan Lagares almost never allows batted balls to go over his head. This drive from Atlanta’s Jace Peterson seemed like one that would actually land untouched in the warning track, due to its high hit velocity (99 mph) and the windy conditions at Citi Field this past Wednesday. And yet, it beget another terrific play to add to Lagares’ growing highlight reel.
Ahead of last night’s Mets-Yankees game, MLB Network ran a short segment in which Statcast data was used to compare Lagares’ play with the home-run-stealing grabs by Kevin Pillar and George Springer from a few days ago. Here’s a screenshot of their graphic:
Notice the “route efficiency” figure below the measurement of each fielder’s total distance covered. MLB.com’s Matthew Leach describes route efficiency as such:
It’s a measure of the shortest point-to-point distance between where the player starts and where he ends, relative to how far he actually traveled.
So a player who takes a perfect straight-line path in his fielding effort registers a 100% efficiency rating. A player who struggles to get a beat on the ball and drifts will earn a decreased rating. This is a proxy for a player’s judgment in the field. Obviously, that’s hugely useful for defensive evaluation, but this approach is still deceptive.
Lagares is docked ~4 percentage points in route efficiency for changing direction twice, implying that his route to the ball was suboptimal. But keep in mind that the conditions at Citi Field were blustery that night, with strong, swirling winds. In the face of those gusts, a batted ball’s projected landing spot will fluctuate throughout its flight. Neither Springer nor Pillar dealt with comparable wind conditions (and to boot, Pillar was playing with Rogers Centre’s roof closed). There’s context that “route efficiency” isn’t accounting for.
A more accurate version of route efficiency would be calculated on a continuous basis in order to see how well the outfielder adjusted his route depending on changes in Statcast’s projected landing spot for a given batted ball. Until that’s done, it’s misleading to directly compare players’ route efficiency and dock those whose zig-zagging routes actually may have been appropriate for specific plays.