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nerdshirt.jpgWelcome to this week's edition of Kicking and Screaming, a Walkoff Walk introduction to Pitch F/x. Today we learn the importance of a favorable umpire.

Much is being made of the Yankees decision to pitch A.J. Burnett on three days rest. The somewhat-erratic starter was electric in Game 2 but putrid in Game 5. While starting Chad Gaudin might sound like a good idea (when you ignore his struggles to retire left-handed batters), many are suggesting that Burnett was either awful or squeezed by home plate umpire Dana DeMuth. Which was it?

Before I get to the nitty gritty, understand I one thing: I started writing this post with hopes of absolving Burnett. I'm hardly an apologist for the Girardenius, I thought starting Burnett was the right move. The Yankees, currently in the driver's seat to becoming World Series champions, don't have a fourth or a fifth starter. Burnett pitched well in lower-leveraged situations on similar rest. There was no noticeable difference in his velocity (average fastball was 94.17 on Sunday night, 93.14 in Game 2.) What happened? Let's look at his stuff first.

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So we see A.J.'s movement in both games on one graph. Nothing really stands out. His curveball (in the bottom right) moved just as much as did his fastball (upper left. Four seamer above and two-seamer below). A few flatter curves last night but neither did any damage. One thing we can certainly see is far, far more curveballs during his 7 successful innings in game 2. How come? Find out after the jump!

nerdshirt.jpgWelcome to this week's edition of Kicking and Screaming, a Walkoff Walk introduction to Pitch F/x. Today we examine two great World Series starts.

The 2009 version of the Fall Classic has already yielded two classic pitching performances. First Cliff Lee and then A.J. Burnett turned in gems this week in the Bronx, in their own unique ways. Lee's known for his incredible control and ability to throw strikes with any one of his four pitches. A.J. is famous for his electric fastball and one of the best curveballs in the game; his Hammer of Doom.

Lee's outing utter domination of the Yankee bats is due in large part to his ability to mix his pitches. He kept the powerful sluggers from keying on any one pitch by moving the ball around the plate and changing speeds. Burnett, once known as more of a thrower, relied on his fastball as always but kept the Phillies at bay by working well to both sides.

Below I've tracked the first two pitches thrown to each batter by Lee and Burnett during their initial runs through the lineup. Not the movement of the pitch itself, but the change in location from one pitch to the next. Did they "change the hitters eye-level" as Tim McCarver loves to claim? Did they pound inside early to set up soft stuff away late? Find out after the jump!

nerdshirt.jpgWelcome to this week's edition of Kicking and Screaming, a Walkoff Walk introduction to Pitch F/x. To say that Mariano Rivera's had a successful career would be, for the first time in Yankee history, an understatement. The long time closer was victimized by a walkoff homer on Friday night for only the 5th time in his career! The list of players to take him deep is hardly illustrious (it features two current Blue Jays!) but a sure-fire Hall of Famer added his name to the tally in Seattle.

The internet's favorite mancrush Ichiro hit the first pitch he saw from the great accumulator of saves deep into the right field bleachers. Did the great Mo Rivera leave a fat cutter up and over the plate? Never! Ichiro did what Ichiro does, he beat a good pitcher by hitting a pitcher's pitch.

Let's use our faithful strikezone plot to examine all the pitches thrown by Mariano Rivera in the fateful ninth inning. The first two batters struck out before Mike Sweeny doubled and our hero jacked the first pitch he saw. Please to enjoy, click to enlarge:

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Yup, that is a Rivera special cutter 6 inches off the inside of the plate. Ichiro, who some believe "cheats" by hedging out of the box towards first base, found it right inside his wacky wheelhouse. It wasn't a "bad pitch" in as much as it was identical to every other pitch Rivera has thrown in his big league career: it was a cutter between 92 and 93 miles per hour with about 4 inches of break. Ho hum. Mariano Rivera's average break chart looks like a game of pin the tail on the donkey played unblindfolded by Ms. Rutledge's enriched geometery class. Boring.

This outing showcases Rivera's rare ability to keep the ball out of the middle of the plate. Ichiro hit a pitch that most people can't, which is what makes Rivera successful and Ichiro a damn legend. Those in the know insist the Japanese dynamo has the power to knock 20 home runs a season were he so inclined. I think Mariano Rivera would tend to agree, especially on fastballs everyone in the stadium knows are coming.

Pitch F/X data via the good people at Brooks Baseball.

nerdshirt.jpgWelcome to this week's edition of Kicking and Screaming, a Walkoff Walk introduction to Pitch F/x. While you were guzzling your final summer ales and weeping gently into your white linen pants for the final time in 2009, two of baseball's best pitchers went out and pitched absolute masterpieces. Not only did the former teammates take divergent paths to pitching's near apex, they use quite different approaches in travelling there. Any time two aces throw two one-hitters in the same weekend, we at Walkoff Walk are obliged to take a look.

On the surface, these two games are quite similar. The lines of domination are drawn like so:

Carpenter: 9.0 IP,1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 10 K, 99 pitches, 11 groundballs, .548 WPA

Halladay: 9.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 9 K, 111 pitches, 10 groundballs, .282 WPA

Pretty remarkable on both counts. Carpenter was more efficient (astoundingly so) and gets the WPA bump due to the game's tight score. Halladay received an early two run cushion against the best team in baseball but was just as impressive. Even more so if you acknowledge the team he bested did not send a pitcher to bat nor did it break baseball's number one, most important edict. That said, the Brewers feature an impressive lineup and holding them to one hit is no mean feat. How did they do it? Find out after the jump!

nerdshirt.jpgWelcome to this week's edition of Kicking and Screaming, a Walkoff Walk introduction to Pitch F/x. John Smoltz is the subject today, who made his triumphant return to the National League Sunday. Smoltz struggled through 8 starts in Boston until the former Cy Young winner was jettisoned following a particularly stinky outing against the Yankee juggernaut. That must be it, right? Close the book on his illustrious career, the old guy's lost it. Not so fast, Smoltz is far from done! While his traditional numbers are Julian Tavarez-ugly, his peripheral numbers were strong, in fact many of his secondary stats bare a striking resemblance to the Jered Weaver as pointed out by Dave Cameron of Fangraphs.

Seeing how all the other, smarter writers have already chimed in on Smoltz and his 'comeback', I'll use John Smoltz's last two outings to demonstrate the value of spin measurements in Pitch F/x. The lasers used to track the location, speed, and position of each pitch event can be used for so much more! In addition to tracking your websurfing habits and eyes whenever a group of comely young co-eds pass by, the Pitch f/x science wagon is able to detail the spin direction and angle of each pitch. How? I couldn't even begin to tell you. Why? It really makes differentiating between pitches a breeze! Check out John Smoltz's mean 4 pitch mix after the jump!

nerdshirt.jpgWelcome to this week's edition of Kicking and Screaming, a Walkoff Walk introduction to Pitch F/x. We've looked a hangers and sliders and the like, but today we're looking at the heat. No more messing around with the pesky off-speed stuff, today is the straight goods. Just how straight are those goods anyway?

The four seam fastball is a staple pitch of 99% of all big league pitchers. As it is generally straight, it is best if thrown hard. The harder the better. TV radar guns light up with juiced numbers showing your friendly neighbourhood fireballer hitting triple digits. That doesn't make it a better pitch, but it sure makes for some fun. Not all major league pitchers touch the century mark, but nearly all have to throw the fastball at one time or another.

After the jump you'll see "analysis" of two of baseball fastball darlings: Justin Verlander and Neftali Feliz with something of a control in Adam Wainwright. Wainwright's fastball ranks as one of least effective pitches in baseball though he's one of the best pitchers in the National League. Neftali Feliz has only been in the majors for a few weeks but he is making believers of anyone who watches. His fastball is consistently clocked above 100 to go with a devastating slider. Verlander pounded the Red Sox into submission in his last start, touching 100 on the tough-to-impress Pitch F/X gun in addition to the collected scouts and analysts. He threw his fastball nearly 65% of the time to great success, and you'll see why after the jump!

nerdshirt.jpgWelcome to this week's edition of Kicking and Screaming, a Walkoff Walk introduction to Pitch F/x. Last week we looked at the system and its ability to determine balls and strikes. This week we'll look at every batter's dream: the hanging slider.

We've all heard of the dreaded hanging slider. We've all seen a pitcher unleash a spinner at the exact wrong moment and we've all watched pitchers react the same way to it. Generally they respond by: a) Jerking their head around to follow the intense trajectory or b) hanging their head, knowing the ball's fate long before it lands. When a pitch uncorks a hanger, all of us watching on TV know it, the pitcher knows it, and the batter knows it too.

To hang a pitch isn't a death sentence in and of itself. A poorly executed pitch in a good location is escapable. A well-executed pitch in a poor location can go either way, the pitcher gets away with it or the batter makes a good swing at the right time. Sometimes a bad pitch in a bad spot is missed, often resulting in a series of desultory curse words and assorted bat punching.

The focus of this week's Kicking and Screaming is the man that threw one of the most famous hanging sliders of all time, Brad Lidge. The slider that Lidge served to Albert Pujols in the 2005 NLCS is currently the subject of a popular HBO drama. Pujols hit it a mile in and Lidge needed two years to recover (so they say or I assume.) Last year Brad Lidge bounced back with a perfect year, saving every game presented to him and earning himself a World Series ring. 2009 hasn't been quite as smooth with Lidge spending time on the DL and struggling through much of the early season. Since returning from the injured list Lidge as pitched better, a few bad outings overshadowing some solid relief pitching. After the jump we'll look at his slider and why location matters just as much as tight spin and big break.

nerdshirt.jpgWelcome to this week's edition of Kicking and Screaming, a Walkoff Walk introduction to Pitch F/x. Last week we looked at the system and its ability to determine balls and strikes. This week, we'll look at movement and Zack Greinke's superlative slider.

As anyone that who's favorite team features a right handed slugger not named "Albert Pujols" knows, the slider is a most bedeviling pitch. Countless times we watch our big right handed bats waving at pitches bouncing in the other batters box. "Just lay off!" we scream at the TV in unison. The combination of speed and movement make the slider a most effective pitch, and as we'll learn, most effective when thrown outside the strike zone.

Zack Greinke's slider rates as the best in baseball this season, according to Fangraphs pitch type linear weights. Friday night, he put that slider to good use in beating the Rangers. The Royals ace scattered 3 hits over 7 innings while striking out 10. Zack's slider was in fine form, registering but a single hit against his mean slide piece.

The next step in our Pitch F/x journey is movement; charting how much Zack's slider moved down and away. Comparing Friday's start to Zack's worst of the year (7 runs and two tots allowed in June against the not-yet-worsening Blue Jays) we see that more movement isn't always better. Hit the jump to get into the graphy goodness!

nerdshirt.jpgThere comes a time in every baseball nerds life where he says to himself:

Am I quite nerdy enough? Perhaps there is a new level of geekdom to which I can ascend to ensure my endless reserves of vitriol and self-loathing are properly directed.

Enter Pitch f/x, the laser guided pitch tracking system installed in every big league park. We here at Walkoff Walk are dipping our collective lily-white hand in the pitch f/x bag and seeing if we can't pull out something interesting or at least informative.

If you recall the first entry in the Walkoff Walk Book Club was As They See 'Em, a popular and informative umpiring tome. The takeaway from this study was a great deal of umpire sympathy for the scrutiny they face. Luckily for us (and the umps) Pitch F/x tracks each and every pitch, providing its speed, location, break, spin, and all manner of quasi-interesting tidbit.

With keeping everyone awake in mind, we'll forgo most of the dizzying glut of information provided and just hone in on the stuff everyone thinks they know: balls and strikes. After the jump is a graph of some select pitches from a Saturday afternoon game between the Blue Jays and Red Sox. The Sox came to bat in the top of the eighth inning trailing 6-2. Jays set up guy/emergency closer Jason Frasor entered to face Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, and Jason Bay. Youkilis watched ball one high, took two strikes at the knees (that he absolutely HATED) and struck out swinging on pitch inside. Ortzi quickly flew out, bringing Bay up with two out.

In the middle of Bay's at bat, home plate umpire Laz Diaz called time and proceeded to dress Youkilis down from behind the plate. Youkilis took obvious exception to the strikes called down in the zone and let Diaz know it from the dugout. Diaz warned Youkilis "that's the last time" or something to that effect, essentially telling him to shut his trap and move the hell on. Bay took a few balls and fouled a few off before Diaz wrung him up on a fastball down in the zone. Bay stood at home plate and stared off dejectedly as only a vanilla white BC boy can. The question is this: did the Sox have a case? Find out after the jump!