Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Medical School

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say over the past few weeks I've come close to losing my religion. Closer than you think and closer than I'm ready to admit. The offseason lends itself to this kind of hyperbole and horseshit, but I've had enough. Mix in a mild existential criss and I'm ready to dive into something far removed from front office games. Instead I want to think about baseball.

One area of analysis that I believe will gain more and more importance is pitch sequencing. How to set up a hitter, how to let him get himself out. I looked at this topic in less detail at Walkoff Walk a couple weeks ago, only using the first two pitches to an entire order. I thought here I go a little more in-depth with probably the best pitcher I've seen at carving up hitters: Roy Halladay.

Halladay is an easy selection because his control is superb and he commands all his pitches so well, he is known for building a pitching plan, and because he makes such a pitiful example of so many hitters. Also, his Brooks Baseball page is sponsored by the awesomest site in the world.

After watching Alex Rodriquez tee-off on all manner of playoff pitching, I thought I'd examine how Roy Halladay goes about getting him out, something Halladay does well considering how great A-Rod is against everyone else. I don't know if that's credit to Halladay for holding down such an offensive force or A-Rod for managing a .788 OPS against our lord and savior. Gregg Zaun of Sportsnet did a great job showing how Rodriquez is so difficult to pitch against because he always tries to take the fastball the other way and turn on breaking stuff. Below I selected two games from late in the year. The first on September 4th was Halladay's one hit masterpiece at the Rogers Centre. The other is an outing from September 15th in which Halladay struggled (11 hits over 6 innings) but only surrendered two runs. Click to enlarge either chart.

  1. Pop out: Cutter (whiff), cutter (ball), two seam (ball), four seam (in play)
  2. Fly out: Four seam (in play)
  3. Strike out: Two seam (foul), curve (ball), cutter (foul), four seam (called strike)
  4. Fly out: Cutter (ball), cutter (in play)
This game was Halladay at his best as we all remember. This is impressive stuff. In to out, up to down. The first AB Halladay throws a cutter down and away that A-Rod can only hope to bloop into right field even if he hits it. Halladay then goes off the plate away with another cutter before coming back inside with a four seamer. The inside fastball keeps the batter thinking, especially knowing (as A-Rod surely does) how much Halladay likes to front door his cutter if you lean out over the plate. Rodriquez did well to take both these pitches and probably would like another shot at the 2-1 fastball over the plate. This are the kind of mistakes Halladay gets away with because of his ability to both cut and sink his fastball.

The second AB saw Rodriquez trying to jump on a fastball away only to fly out. The third at bat gives Alex his first look at the curveball. Halladay again starts out with a sinking fastball that Rodriquez fouls away, a pitch that likely started over the heart of the plate. Halladay shows Rodriquez the curve but just misses to even the count. The key 1-1 pitch is a tough cutter that A Rod can't take (again due to Halladay's mixed bag of fastballs, especially after the four seamer in nearly the same spot last AB) before Roy finishes him off with a fastball on the inside corner. Impressive stuff.

The final at bat sees Halladay miss with a cutter and get Rodriquez to fly out for the final time. Interesting that Halladay offered but one curveball all day to Alex Rodriquez. His fastball command seemed to take of it for him.

  1. Fly out: Four seam (whiff), curve (in play)
  2. Double: Four seam (ball), four seam (whiff), two seam (ball), four seam (whiff), four seam (in play)
  3. Ground out: Two seam (ball), two seam (ball), curve (called strike), four seam (whiff), two seam (in play)
Halladay wasn't as sharp on this day but still limited Rodriquez to only a double. The first AB we see Halladay throw a fastball past Rodriquez before getting him to fly out on a nice curve down in the zone, definitely a pitcher's pitch.

Rodriquez notches a double during an at bat that featured only fastballs. Halladay falls behind and leaves a fastball over the plate where A Rod finally can get good wood it. I'm sure Halladay wanted that pitch a little further outside. Or inside. I dunno.

The third at bat is the only one I've detailed to end in a groundout. Halladay misses with two straight sinkers only to come back 2-0 with curve for a strike. That's fair. A fastball (which might actually be a cutter) that Rodriquez misses before a perfectly placed two-seamer finishes Alex off. A pitch he can't take as Halladay makes bank tailing that fastball over the outside corner. Beautiful.

So a couple questions: would you say Halladay has a specific plan in mind to retire Alex Rodriquez? He seems to rush out with fastballs to get ahead, generally on the outside part of the plate. He tends to come immediately back inside to keep Rodriquez honest and then works hard to keep him off-balance. My other question? Does anybody care about this other than me? Is this interesting to you? Would you like to see more? Let me know in the comments or by email.


  1. Great work, Drew. I find this analysis fascinating and I am jealous of your ability to breakdown the data.

    Keep it up over the long, cold winter.

  2. I don't beleive pitch fx when it comes to Doc and his alleged four-seamers.

  3. You aren't alone. Some of the pitches I classified above differed from pitch fx. I think he does throw three distinct fastballs. I classed the two seamers above based on the marked difference to other pitches classed as four seamers.

    You're right to be skeptical, I'm on the same page.

  4. Well done, you could almost pass for a real journalist like me! But I already knew all of this.

  5. Agree with anon. Roy does not throw a four seam. And yes, we do care. The best pitcher facing the best hitter is about as good as it gets.

  6. I was at Doc's near no hitter against the Yankees in September. Him striking out ARod looking, with the bases loaded, was flat out the sexiest baseball related thing I have ever seen. I was all ready to become second wife, and Brandy and I could co-raise little red-headed babies and collect canned goods. And it'd be baseball's Big Love.

  7. Great stuff. Keep up the good work.

  8. Could you show Doc's pitch selection against hitter's tendecies? Something like "this hitter tends to club fastballs here out of the park and usually chases sliders here, and because of these Doc chose this particular pitch sequence"

  9. I could certainly try. Maybe when I do the next one of these (Teixeira? Youkilis? NotCarlCrawfordbecauseitwouldonlymakemesad?) I'll include his hot zones or something like that...

    Anything more than that is veering towards actual smart guy territory (i.e. Jon Hale) not plays a smart guy on the internet (me).

  10. Very nice Drew, it scratches us right where we itch this particlar time of year. It basically confirms what we have known all along - Halladay has a game plan for each and every at bat. I wouldn't be surprised if he memorizes the exact pitch sequence for every batter prior to each start. It certainly seems that way.

    And sexy new banner too!

  11. I actually would be quite curious to see Halladay's pitch sequencing on Carl Crawford, just to see what it is that makes Crawford so dangerous against him. In any case, just beautiful analyses. The amount of deep data that can be parsed is no doubt fueled by the tears of other sports, jealous of baseball's reign over logic.


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