Friday, June 18, 2010

Axiom to Grind

In my haste to assert my wide-reaching baseball knowledge, I fell victim to the classic/laziest blunder possible: axiomatic thinking. In the comment section of the post below, I prattled on and on about throwing change ups to same-handed hitters and what not.

Luckily wise commenter Peter Gentleman jumped in and set me straight with a great post from the Baseball Analyst Archives. It turns out change ups don't have real platoon splits, that right handed pitchers throwing change ups to right handed hitters isn't the end of the world.

But I got lazy, I fell victim to the same tired thinking that astute guys like Overmanagin Joe Maddon and the like exploit. Joe Maddon doesn't stack the lineup with righties against Marcum because it gives him an explicit advantage, he does it because Shaun Marcum thinks it gives the Rays an advantage. I imagine hitters to as well. One can assume they're more confident that they can handle that type of pitch from that type of pitcher, perhaps they incorporate it into their plan at the plate.

The issue of confidence is impossible to quantify, but it really plays into the game in innumerable ways. A seed of doubt is the goal of every pitcher, make the hitter keep something other than "see ball, hit ball" in the forefront of their minds. Which is why a guy like Marcum —changing speeds and locations at will—is so effective with such iffy stuff.

It's the same reason you don't bunt into the extreme lefty shift - you're playing into the other team's hands. Even the finest David Ortiz bunt has zero chance of turning into a home run; you can't say the same when he swings away. Just like numbers show most pitchers aren't much worse when from the stretch, they often believe that they are.

The same thoughts polluted my brain this week as I tried to think of the best possible batting order for the worsening Jays offense. Traditional thinking says your best hitter in the third spot, masher at 4, fast/OBP guy leads off. More recent research shows 1,2,4 as the spots for your best hitters.

I tried to apply that thinking to an optimized Jays lineup but couldn't get past the traditional thinking. Adam Lind looks so good as the number three hitter, who cares that he's often hitting with two outs? The Jays make outs/hit dingers at such a crazy rate anyway; I don't think the order matters too much anyway.

So please accept my apologies for the earlier post and credit to Peter Gentleman for calling me on it. Hopefully Shaun Marcum and the Jays brass realize a good change is a good change, no matter who stands in the box. Hopefully Travis Snider's return can return the offense to its unlikely rightful place as the most potent in baseball. Hopefully Alex Gonzalez staves off pumpkinhood for a little while longer. Hopefully somebody notices how awesome a cleanup hitter Vernon Wells is. Hopefully...


  1. This - the mental aspect - is why I've become more of a baseball guy in recent times. It's all about, as you say, that seed of doubt; the mind-game between batter and pitcher. It's a beautiful thing.

    I can't wait for Snider to return. As much as I love that Encarnacion tune, I can't stand to watch Edwin play much longer. Vernon's had a God-awful June. Still slugging, though. Hope he can snap out of it. And as for Gonzalez, I keep looking at the clock, too.

  2. Not to be a dick, but pitchers are actually significantly worse out of the stretch. The current MLB OPS with runners on is .759 versus .718 with the bases empty. That's a 41 point difference. And you'll notice a similar a similar discrepency in other years.

    For a good idea of how big a 41 point difference is, the difference between the MLB average OPS from 2009 ("The steroid era is finally over! Fundamentals! Play the game 'the right way'!") and 2000 (when the league scored 5.14 runs per game; Nomar and Helton both hit .372) is only 31 points.

  3. To Maddon's credit, I think the mental effects of this move go a lot further than the traditional idea of "confidence" in that they more or less remove the changeup from his arsenal for the game, since he's not confident throwing it to RHP.

    I don't know that I'd agree with the idea that the hitters are more successful because they're more confident in their ability to hit the changeup; I'd argue (albeit without any actual evidence or research) that they're more successful because they know that the probably won't see the changeup at all, or at least not very often. Like you said, a guy like Marcum makes a living by keeping guys off balance, but if hitters can effectively eliminate what is arguably his best off-speed pitch, they won't be fooled nearly as easily.

  4. Oops, of course by "RHP" I meant "right-handed hitters".

    To test that theory, is there a way to find out how many changeups Marcum threw in the game against Tampa? Or more specifically, how many he threw against righties? I'd be really interested to find out if he got hit around because he wasn't throwing enough changeups, or if he got hit around because he WAS throwing his changeup and the righties were just hitting it exceptionally well.

  5. I can tell you he didn't get hit any harder but he certainly threw fewer

  6. Yeah, from my novice fiddling around with the PitchFX tool it looks like he threw a total of ONE changeup to a right-handed hitter in that game. That's almost unbelievable... he was completely afraid to throw his best pitch.

  7. Crackpot theory, re: Nick Green signing... maybe the Jays want McCoy to play every day at AAA to see if they can afford to trade Gonzalez at the deadline if/when the opportunity arises.

  8. I just happened to start watching The Wire a couple weeks ago. This scene you posted is an absolute classic! I would watch a spinoff show with just McNulty and Bunk.

  9. Still have to wonder about the effectiveness of Marcum's change-up versus RHB. The way his change works - that is, how it moves down and away from the LHB - will have a totally different effect against the righty. Marcum has probably tried using it against righties at some point during his career. His lack of 'confidence' in the pitch could easily be based on past experience, not just axiomatic thinking.

    This needs to be taking into account when looking at aggregated stats. Sure, there are RHP who have success throwing changes to RHB. But most of those RHP are likely pitchers who know that they have changeups that work against RHB. Or, RHPs who use their changeups less against righties, knowing that overusing the pitch against RHBs would expose it.

    The stats cited above didn't come out of a controlled experiment in which pitchers who don't normally throw changeups to same-handed batters gave it a try and were pleasantly surprised. They are stats based on decisions made my major leaguers - like Shaun Marcum - who have a good idea of which of their pitches is most effective against which kind of batter.

  10. The quality of video clips you pick combined with the quality of content in the posts below them make this my favourite baseball blog in the world.

  11. Just wanted to mention that I more or less concur with the poster above.


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