Posted by: Peter | July 21, 2009

Hitting the big time

Well, that was cool. I was certainly hoping to catch some attention with the last post, but I never expected such effusive praise from the godfather of Twins-blogging himself! Of course, now I feel like I actually need to start posting here regularly. Hopefully posts will be somewhat more common than .400 hitters from here on out.

I am not in any way interested in talking about what happened last night, though. So let’s look ahead instead. Kevin Slowey is still hurting, so we’re going to get another Anthony Swarzak start. I thought I’d dig into my pitchf/x database and see what Swarzak’s six starts so far this year have looked like. Below are charts of where his pitches crossed the plate, seen from the catcher’s perspective. The colors correspond to pitch type, classified using a cluster analysis of my own devising. I think Swarzak is actually supposed to have two fastballs, but I lumped them all together because it’s too hard to distinguish them without doing some data corrections that I don’t have time for right now.  B, S and X refers to pitches that ended up as ball, strikes, or in play (for an out or a hit):


My first reaction was: egads, this guy loves to hang out in the top of the strike zone! “Keeping the ball up” is not generally regarded as a winning strategy in major league baseball, so this is not a good sign for the future.

Next, just for fun and because I figured out how to do it, I thought I’d make plots of what Swarzak’s pitches look like coming in to a right-handed hitter, and to a lefty. See here for more on these plots.


I love these plots, because they give those of us who don’t actually play the game some sense of what the mysterious “platoon split” is about. To a right-handed batter, Swarzak’s three pitches look very similar coming in, whereas a left-hander can easily pick up the path of the curveball and off-speed pitches.

Of course, so far this year Swarzak has had a crazy reverse split: a 1.63 WHIP against righties as against only 1.25 against lefties, which would seem to make a mockery of the above analysis. But that’s why they warn you about small sample sizes: I don’t think he’s going to sustain that any more than I think he’s going to keep sneaking those chest-high fastballs by hitters.

On the positive side for Swarzak, he’s going from getting shellacked by the AL’s best offense (826 OPS) to facing its worst (698 OPS). So maybe his luck will last for at least one more game.


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