What To Watch For This Season: Pitch type selection by Yankee hitters

With the 2016 season just around the corner and roster spots becoming more clear we can begin to do some preliminary analysis on the players likely to get a majority of the playing time. For the most part the Yankees are rolling out the same cast of main characters with a few new supporting roles. The following is not an attempt to evaluate these players, but to give you some simple things to keep an eye out for as the season moves along.

What To Watch For: Pitch type selection by Yankee hitters

This is an easy one for viewers to watch out for at home or at the local watering hole. Each hitter has certain pitch types they handle more successfully than others. Each hitter should be – and presumably is – aware of that one pitch they are looking for at the beginning of each plate appearance. With that being said, opposing pitchers should also be savvy to the types of pitches that will have the best chance of producing an unsuccessful at-bat. Pitch selection, in my opinion, is at worst overrated and at best overlooked when it comes to understanding the success rate of plate appearances. It is imperative that Yankee hitters take a “pitch-type-selection” mentality every single time they come to the plate. By this I mean they need to make sure they are swinging at the types pitches of which they perform the best. To better prove my point, let’s take a look at  last season.

Run Contribution By Pitch Type 1

The chart reveals the best pitch for each Yankee batter in 2015. By this, I mean the pitch type on which they were able to contribute the greatest amount of run production. The best pitches were determined by using pitch type linear weights – calculated from PITCHf/x data – to determine how well each batter performed against each pitch type they faced. I also used the standardization of runs produced per 100 pitches so that pitch frequency wouldn’t skew the numbers. In other words, the values represented in the chart are the mean runs above average each hitter contributed against that particular pitch last season per 100 pitches. Needless to say – and this goes for most hitters – the fastball is the pitch Yankees hitters should look to swing at the most. Note, PITCHf/x often confuses the sinker and two seam so one could classify these two pitches as the same for the purpose of this analysis.

So when you’re watching a game this season and you see one of these guys take a fastball in the zone or if he swings and fouls it off know that he might have missed his best pitch in that plate appearance. Interestingly enough Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks both seem to perform the best against the changeup. I would speculate that bat speed might be the reason, but this is research for a later date.

We know a good number of hitters look for fastballs and for the most part pitchers send that pitch to the plate more than any other pitch. Knowing these facts, the chart above should seem logical. Things get a little more interesting when looking at the second best pitch for each hitter.

Run Contribution By Pitch Type 2

For some of the batters, the second best pitch is just a shift from one type of fastball to another. Hitters like A-Rod, Headley, Beltran and McCann need to perform well against the fastball or risk being forced to swing at pitches they can’t handle as well. Other hitters like Gardner and Ackley can handle the curveball so it may not be as imperative that they hit the fastball though it is still recommended.

My suggestion would be, while watching a game pay attention to what the player swings at if he misses an early opportunity to hit a fastball. For example, if Brett Gardner were to find himself in this exact scenario where he misses his best pitch – the two seam fastball – then he should consider looking to swing at the curveball. The run production above replacement level is much lower for him on this pitch, but it is the pitch in which he sees the second most success. Obviously not every pitcher throws the same pitch. In our hypothetical the pitcher Gardner is facing may not throw a curveball and in that case he would have to do his best to find a way on base. Also, two strike counts warrant a different approach. In this case, the hitter must battle any pitch – no matter the type – as long as it is in the zone.

Like I said before, this exercise is really nothing more than giving you something else to look for when your watching games. Hopefully, it helps you understand what might be going through the mind of Yankee batters when they swing at certain pitches and lay off others. While this might not seem very important to the overall success of a player, keep in mind that over the course of the season these little pitch type battles add up and can even become magnified during high leverage situations and in the post-season.


Lead photo: Gregory Fisher / USA Today Sports

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