With so much technology available, it is easier than ever for pitchers to view data from hundreds of plate appearances. With just a single click of a mouse even the common fan can see where to pitch to a player to get a popup, groundball, or even where he is most likely to swing and miss.

Before WiFi and iPads, there were laptops with DVDs, and before that VHS tapes. Both held roughly 120 minutes of video. Video that the team’s scouting department would have to go through games worth of film in order to edit out the pieces they needed, burn or copy the film to the DVD or VHS and then make sure the players could get them, all in time for them to still have enough time to watch over the film in preparation for the game. To give an idea of how much raw data we are talking about, think about it this way. In 2013 the average time for a pitch was 22.6 seconds. Joey Votto that year had 762 Plate Appearances (PA) and an average of 4.18 pitches per PA. That means if you applied the 22.6 seconds to Votto’s PA, you would be looking at roughly 19.05 hours of footage. That is 10 VHS or DVDs of raw data that has no way to narrow down the search for what you are looking for.

Now though, players have it all at their fingertips with companies who have the sole purpose of breaking down all game data in an easily searchable form. With all this in a convenient device a player can take just about anywhere with them, the iPad’s release in 2010 just might be one of the biggest causes for offense to plummet in MLB.

In the ten seasons prior to 2010, the average number of teams that had an On base Plus Slugging (OPS) of at least .700 was 29.2, with no single season having less than 27 teams that did such. From 2010 to 2014, though, the average number of teams that OPS’d at least .700 is only 20.

Not only that, but the fact that all plate appearances are tracked and charted automatically and put online means the wait for film to be cut and edited together to be a useful highlight reel is removed, making the ability to change approach on a hitter year-by-year or even month-by-month even easier, leading to teams having a larger than previous gap between pre-All Star and post-All Star performance.

From 2000 to 2009, there was an average of 28.4 teams that OPS’d at least .700 before the All-Star break. The number of teams that managed to OPS at least .700 after the All-Star break lowered down to 27.4, for an average of 1 team less. Those numbers the last five years though are 20.4 and 18.4, for a difference of 2 teams. Pitchers are getting the better of hitters more so as that season’s tendencies with each hitter become available for them to study and plan for.

Nick Carrington explained earlier how technology showed how the strike zones are getting larger in his Strike Zone Expansion article. But while it’s getting larger, thanks to technology, it is also getting more accurate. Just eight seasons ago for starting pitchers, when an umpire had to make a call on a pitch inside the strike zone, 22% of the time it was falsely called a ball while 9.2% of pitches outside of the strike zone that umpires had to make a call on were falsely called strikes. Thanks to the umpires able to study with technology like Pitch f/x, in 2012 for a starting pitcher the number of falsely called balls has dropped down to 14.4%, and the number of falsely called strikes dropping down to 7.4%. For relief pitchers in the same time frame The difference between then and now greatly reducing the advantageous calls batters were seeing from the umpires due to poorly called balls and strikes.

Between the pitchers and the umpires both studying up, it has helped contribute to the run deficit we are seeing now in baseball and led to a lot of teams seeing a lot more of Milton when the game is finished.

8 Responses

  1. zaglamir

    On a gut reaction, I feel like having the umpires actually enforce the true strike zone should benefit the hitter more than the pitcher (or at a minimum, balance between the two). The strike zone is enforced for the hitters benefit mostly. That is the zone where hitters are most likely to make contact, so a more accurately enforced zone should mean that only those balls which are “hittable” are being counted against the hitter. I realize that the falsely called strikes percentage is smaller, but it’s the threat of falsely called strikes that makes a hitter attempt to hit bad balls, and any reduction of that percentage at all seems like it should benefit the hitter more than the pitcher (on the falsely called balls percentage), if nothing else because of 4 balls vs 3 strikes.

    However, your second (or first, really) about pitchers having nearly unlimited data on hitters is very interesting. The ability to know thine enemy will always skew a confrontation in the direction of the better studied. It’s a point I hadn’t given much thought, but now I must reconsider.

    Very good breakdown and post. Very thought provoking.

  2. MrRed

    Great discussion, Jeremy. I am among those believe that scouting and sequencing of pitches does play a role in suppressing offense. The problem is how to quantify it. I think you provide us with circumstantial evidence of the effects of scouting but at this point, I’m not aware that anyone has separated out the scouting and resulting pitch sequencing from other factors to determine the effect on hitters.

    To respond to Zag’s note above, I think the increased accuracy of umpires calling strikes and balls is still largely a benefit to pitchers over batters. That’s because not all strikes are created equal. A strike low and away is less preferable to most hitters than a belt-high strike down broadway. Not having seen the data, I can only speculate but the increase in strikes called now are pitches that were on the fringes of the strike zone that were formerly called balls.

  3. VaRedsFan

    Just curious, but is there any knowledge about how a pitch is actually charted? If one were to watch the Gameday broadcast of the game, you can clearly see that it isn’t very accurate. Is that the official source of the data input. Some team’s broadcast keeps the K-Zone pitch graphic up all the time (I really like this) while other teams only show it on close pitches. And when they do show a K-Zone graphic, isn’t the box the same size for every player when its actual size should adjust? (think Dunn and Altuve).

    I sometimes think maybe the Reds advanced scouts are napping, or either the players aren’t following the game plan. Why is it that we constantly get beat by McCutchen, Molina, and Rizzo. There are no other players on the Cubs and Pirates that can do the damage that they do, but yet the Reds continue to give them pitches to handle.

  4. cfd3000

    I’d be very curious to know how the Reds as an organization, and how specific individual pitchers and hitters are using this information. Anyone with any insights?

  5. Carl Sayre

    This is a neat article. I am old enough to remember when hitters first started openly keeping a notebook on pitchers. Rod Carew had done it kind of on the sly in the dugout but “The Hawk” Andre Dawson didn’t attempt to hide that he was taking notes on a pitcher during the game. I don’t know how much it helped but those two could hit a little.

  6. Jeremy Conley

    I agree with some comments above, this is a good discussion of what’s going on, but doesn’t provide much evidence that any of the new scouting tools are actually having an effect. Anyone can say that something new is happening, but that doesn’t mean it’s working. When did players start wearing the magnetic necklaces? Do we think that they are having an effect on offense too? What about walk-up songs?

    I think we always need to start by developing a hypothesis that we can then test.

    If what you’re saying is that there are specific ways to pitch to different guys to get them out, and that scouting tools are showing these ways to pitchers and they are pitching differently, then for the scouting tools to have an effect on league-wide offense, you should be able to see some changes in pitching patterns, right? From the old to the new?

    I would start with the old pitching axioms: hard-up and in, soft-down and away. That’s how most pitchers have been taught since time immemorial. Fastball on the hands, slider down and away (or change up down and away if it’s righty on lefty). So, if there are specific batters that you want to take a different approach with, you might expect to see more fastballs away and more off-speed pitches in, right?

    So there’s a workable hypothesis: if all of these scouting tools are having an effect, we should see more fastballs away and more off-speed pitches in. Now you would just go and get some of the data that you’re talking about being widely available, and see if that’s the case.

    • MrRed

      Jeremy, you’re on the right track with testing the hypothesis. Obviously, it’s a lot more complicated than isolating just the data you describe above. For example, some hitters are prone to chasing high fastballs (with little success). Or some guys are susceptible to breaking balls. You’d have to see how patterns have changed against specific hitters to really get an idea of how scouting has affected hitting.

      • Jeremy Conley

        That would only be the case if all of the changes that pitchers have made offset each other. Since I believe that prior to all of the data there were pretty tried and true methods of pitching, I think that if scouting data had changed things, there would be an aggregate level effect. That is, overall, I think you could see more fastballs up and away, and more change ups up and in, or whatever you chose to look at. Basically because no one really threw those pitches before, because those were “where you get hurt.”

        Now there may be data that shows that some players don’t do well with those pitches, so it should show up. There weren’t very many, or any, players in the old days that were pitched that way. So there shouldn’t be much to balance that effect out, which would require going to player-level data.

        I do think an investigation of player-level could be interesting, but I would focus it on pitchers that reports have said are now using more scouting data. That would be a good place to start the investigation, because you would already have a hypothesis that their pitching patterns should be changing.