Like Trying To Hit A Gerrit Cole Fastball
To say it would be easy to write an outline on how to break down pitching is like saying it would be easy to hit a Gerrit Cole fastball up in the zone. There are so many different avenues a pitcher can take you, which makes this extremely difficult. The best way to do this is to break it down by website and talk about what to look for and how to utilize them. Without further ado here is how to break down pitching (or at least an attempt to)!
Fangraphs is fantastic because it is very user friendly and provides a ton of information. When you go to a player’s profile you start on the season stats tab where you will see every season in their career and stats for each year. Here, you can easily find essential stats and many others. This tab is a great way to see trends within their career and spot outliers.
Season Stats Tab
On this page, you want to look at ERA indicators FIP and SIERA to get a good grasp on how legitimate a pitcher’s ERA was. FIP is a great stat that is descriptive and tells you what should have happened. SIERA is predictive and tells you what should happen.
Also, take a look at K-BB% here as it is sticky year to year and another indicator as to how good a pitcher’s performance was and will be. K-BB% is simply K% minus BB%, the higher the strikeouts and the fewer the walks the better. This is one of, if not the best stats to use when looking at a pitcher.
BABIP and LOB% will indicate if a pitcher was lucky or unlucky just make sure to look at the player’s career average.
O-Swing% and SwStr% are great plate discipline metrics to see how good a pitcher is at fooling a hitter. O-Swing% shows how often a pitcher gets a hitter to chase and SwStr% shows how often a pitcher creates swings and misses.
Overall, this main tab is useful to get an overall grasp of a pitcher. This is where you look to get a quick overview and to see what direction you should be going when diving into a player.
The next tab that is useful is the splits tab. Here you can see a break down of every stat broken down by month, half, home, away, and others. This tab is another great section to spot trends to support your opinion on a player.
Within this tab, there is another section that should be used a lot. On this page, you will see a pitch type splits section, change “select” to “all” and you will see the splits of every pitch from that pitcher sorted by year. Just like the main page, this is a great way to get an overall grasp on a pitcher’s arsenal.
In the “standard” section check out the velocity on a pitcher’s pitches, check to see if it has increased or decreased compared to other years. Increased and decreased velocity can mean everything (especially in terms of movement) so this is extremely important.
The “advanced section,” holds some important stats. K%, AVG, ISO, BABIP, and wRC+ are the main ones to focus on here. Looking at AVG and BABIP can help lead you to which pitches were lucky or unlucky, thus leading you to dive even deeper on them. ISO helps represent command, K% shows how often the pitch is used to create strikeouts and wRC+ gives you an overall grasp on how successful hitters are when facing the pitch.
In the "batted ball & movement" section take a look at GB%, HR/GB, and movement. GB% will present weak contact, HR/FB will show how prone the pitch is to leaving the park, and xMov/zMov will show you how a pitch breaks.
Last but not least within the pitch splits tab you’ll reach the "plate discipline & value tab." Here you want to look at four statistics, O-Swing%, Zone%, SwStr%, and pVAL. O-Swing% you want a breaking pitch to be around 40%. Zone% you also want around 40% because this will show a pitcher’s control on the said pitch. SwStr% is different based on pitch type but you basically want it around 10% for a fastball and 15% for a breaking ball. pVAL represents how well a pitch is utilized and is a descriptive stat, not predictive.
Heat Maps Tab
The last tab to use on Fangraphs is the heatmap tab, which allows you to see a pitcher’s location by pitch. You can either look for the current seasons, previous seasons, or even by month. This can help you figure out a pitchers command, remember fastballs up in the zone and breakers low in the zone. Nick Pollack just did an awesome presentation on pitch location for PitchCon, make sure to check it out.
Overall Fangraphs as a whole is a fantastic website! Utilize it to get an overall picture before diving further into a pitcher. With that being said, if you use Fangraphs a lot don’t forget to support their website by getting a membership!
Baseball Savant: https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/
Baseball Savant has so much data and can be overwhelming. On this website, you can literally find any stat you want when it comes to a pitcher or hitter. On the surface level, they provide you with a ton of information when it comes to expected stats, pitch usage, and more.
You can reach the player page by simply typing in a player’s name in the top right search bar. This page is automatically set to a tab called statcast. On the top right you will see a player’s MLB rankings, it is visually appealing and provides a quick outlook on underlying stats like K%, xBA, Whiff%, Barrel%, and others. This is a great quick overview to look at because the redder the better. Yes, I just rhymed.
Further down the page will be a section called “statcast pitch arsenal,” here you can see pitch usage and the location of every pitch thrown. This is another great way to see consistency in command and control for a pitcher.
Under that, you will see “statcast statistics” which displays underlying metrics throughout the career of a pitcher. Here you can see trends from year to year, make sure to look at every single statistic in this category. For instance, if you see a pitchers xwOBAcon go down from year to year it means they are giving up weaker contact and you should dive deeper to see why.
Just like statcast statistics the section below it is called “pitch tracking” and here you want to look for trends as well. Except for this time you are looking at individual pitches compared to a pitcher as a whole. One of the big statistics here is spin rate and to see if a player’s rate has changed on a pitch and whether that pitch is performing better or worse because of it.
If you go to the top of the main player page in the top left you will see a picture of the pitcher as well as something called “player apps.” These are essentially visual tools for all different aspects of a pitcher.
For instance, the ‘texture map” is a tool to see where a pitcher mainly locates his pitches. You can use this or the heat maps on Fangraphs which was mentioned earlier.
Another app to use here would be the “plinko app.” Plinko gives you a visual of what pitches a pitcher uses in certain counts. For instance last year Blake Snell used his four-seam fastball more than 50% of the time in 0-0 counts. You can use this to check and see how his pitches perform in certain counts and whether he is selecting the right pitches or not.
The Leaderboards tab can be found up top on the Baseball Savant page. The first leaderboard you will see is exit velocity and barrels. This is very straight forward and lets you compare any pitcher to another. The main stat to focus on here is Brls/PA%. Barrel is a stat that indicates the best possible hit based on launch angle and exit velocity, so obviously if a pitcher lets us fewer Barrels the better. For instance, the top five starting pitchers with the lowest Brls/PA% were Frankie Montas, Brandon Woodruff, Blake Snell, Marcus Stroman, and Charlie Morton.
The next drop-down for statcast leaderboards is “expected statistics.” Again, another great way to compare pitchers to each other. Here you want to look at all expected stats to see if anyone under or overperformed in the previous season. A great way to use this is to look at a pitchers wOBA, BA, or ERA and see if their expected stats show regression or positive regression. Then take that expected stat and compare it to another player to get a grasp for how well they should have pitched. For instance, Mitch Keller’s wOBA of .392 came with a .314 xwOBA. A pitcher who had a wOBA around .314 was Max Fried, so perhaps Keller’s numbers should have more so reflected Max Fried’s season.
The statcast search page is tough to grasp a first but once you put the time in you will certainly reap the benefits. It is filled with a mass amount of data, anywhere from perceived velocity to how a pitcher performs in a certain count.
There are a million directions where you can go with this based on the pitcher you are researching so here are a few to look at. Check out true F-Strike, the F-Strike% in Fangraphs is flawed and the true F-Strike can be found here on Savant. If you want to see how to do so check out Alex Fast’s youtube videos on statcast here.
After checking out your players true F-Strike take a look at how they perform in two-strike counts. Do they put away hitters most of the time? What pitch do they mainly use when trying to do so? If they have trouble with getting a batter to strike out which pitch could they use more to help them?
Next, you could check out how often they hit the bottom of the zone with their breaking balls, or the top of the zone with their fastballs. While doing that you can see their results when doing so (xwOBA, xBA, etc).
There are just so many avenues you can go here, especially when it comes to looking at specific types of pitches. Mainly use this tool to see how pitchers pitches match up against the league and if they need improvement or not. To put it into summary when it comes to the search page you are looking for something unique, for instance, you want to find stats like this: The pitcher with the most swing and misses below the bottom of the zone while using a changeup does not go to Luis Castillo. It goes to Joey Lucchesi who had 84 of them (Castillo was second with 71).
That about does it for Baseball Savant, it is a tremendous resource that every analyst uses. In fact, it is so useful it was extremely hard to put down the above information without going on a ten-minute tangent. Definitely get used to using the search function and as said earlier, Alex Fast did a great tutorial on the website and can help out anyone who is just starting out.
Brooks Baseball: http://www.brooksbaseball.net/
Brooks Baseball is another great tool for doing research, especially when it comes to pitchers. Here we mainly look at splits, movement, and even release point. There are plenty of useful tabs on this website and we will go through some of them one by one.
The best part about Brooks Baseball is that it is very customizable when it comes to dates. On the top left, you will see the date and game type selection. The default is a pitcher’s entire career, if you want to just look at 2019 you click on the quick date selector and click “2019 season,” which will change the stats from career to just last year.
Under table types you will want to check out pitch usage, this will completely break down the usage percentages for a pitchers arsenal in all different counts. It also gives you left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters splits in terms of usage. How is this useful? Let’s say a pitcher raises his strikeout rate in the second half. You can come here, split the dates into the first half and second half of the season and see if they trended towards another pitch in a two-strike count. There are plenty of ways to use this information and is definitely a great tool.
The last table type to look at here is the game logs table, this just breaks down a pitchers pitch usage by game which can be helpful in seeing pitch mix changes. There are a bunch of other tables on this page but if you come to this website last, you have already seen the information on Fangraphs or savant.
Velo and Movement
Remember earlier when we talked about the date selector in here, this is where it becomes useful. If you are trying to prove a breakout or regression here is where you want to try and find changes in a pitchers arsenal. Break the season up by halves, look at the difference in a pitcher’s movement, speed, and even release point. For instance, Luis Castillo’s four-seam wasn’t as effective in the second half last year, how come? Well, maybe it has to do with the vertical movement severely decreasing in the second half. This is where you find that kind of information, this is what makes Brooks Baseball so great.
In terms of movement, it is hard to know what exactly is considered "good," luckily Eno Sarris once laid it all out for us. Here is what you should look for and his personal checklist (can see the article here):
Do they have velocity (94+ mph)?
Does their four-seam have good ride (10+ vmov)?
Does their two-seam have tremendous fade (-9+ hmov) or sink (3- vmov)?
Is their curve hard (80+ mph), and/or does it have a ton of drop (-7+ vmov)?
Does their changeup have great separation by velo (10+ mph)?
If not, does the change separate itself by movement (3+ hmov difference, 5+ vmov difference)?
Do they have a slider that’s similar to their fastball in velocity with more drop than a cutter?
If not, do they have a slider that could be considered a curve (84- mph, 2- vmov)?
Usage and Outcomes
This section is straight forward and the tab name describes it very well. Here you will find outcome usages and the results of a pitchers pitches. This is the place to go if you are looking for pitch mix changes. It defaults to “percentage pitch usage,” which breaks down a pitchers usage by month. For instance, if you look at Sandy Alcantara, you will see his sinker usage go from 10-16% in June and July to 36-44% in August and September.
Another great way to look at this is to break down the pitch usage with the pitcher facing a left-handed hitter and right-handed hitter. Here you can see if they changed their pitch mix as the year went on and the results of those pitches as well.
Brooks baseball is one of the better tools to use when breaking down pitching. With it being very customizable and split friendly it quickly becomes a must-use tool for every analyst. While merely scratching the surface here, you can see this website has plenty to offer.
Method To The Madness
This is one of the harder things to explain, breaking down pitching can take you down so many different avenues and routes that it is almost impossible to describe. When it comes to analyzing players everyone has a different method to their madness. Everyone also sees things differently, which is why there are always two sides of opinions to every player. The surface was merely scratched here and the main reasoning for this article is hoping that you learned at least one thing new. Please let me know if you have any questions, as always thank you for reading!