Pitching to contact

DMZ · February 28, 2007 at 10:41 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Baker’s got a long bit on what pitching to contact means and how he sees that working out.

Pitching to contact means trying to get ahead in the count by throwing strikes and letting the ball get hit if it has to be hit. It means avoiding the “nibbling” syndrome that sees too many pitchers trying to paint the corners with perfect pitches. Nibbling is no way to be economical in your pitch count. Pitching to contact is.

It’s an interesting read.

As with most of these things, there’s really no good answer for me to throw out to this. You can certainly see that it could be more pitch-efficient and get starters deeper into a game. But you can also see that it depends on the pitcher, what they’re throwing, and how their command is.

For instance:
Great pitches, great command: you shouldn’t care about pitching advice
Great pitches, horrible command: chuck it down the middle, let them swing and miss
Hittable pitches, great command: you want to live on speed changes and hitting the corners. Do not pitch to contact.
Horrible pitches, horrible command: you’re not going to be around long anyway.

A walk’s no worse than a hit, but it is worse than an average ball in play. So if the choice is hard-hit line drive or ball four, the game situation may determine which way you want to go.

Number of pitches thrown per batter isn’t, by itself, a good measure of effectiveness. If you can get every batter out on five, or give up a home run in one, you’re clearly better with the first.

Top 10 pitchers, most pitches thrown/PA
1. Chris Young (4.13)
2. Gil Meche
3. Matt Cain
4. Ted Lilly
5. Brad Penny
6. Jake Peavy
7. Carlos Zambrano
8. Erik Bedard
9. Curt Schilling
10. Bronson Arroyo

All of those guys had above-average strikeout rates, and even though they didn’t all get over the golden 2:1 K:BB ratio, they were close, and all of them had good seasons.

The bottom 10, least pitches thrown/PA
1. Greg Maddux (3.26)
2. Carlos Silva
3. Chien Wang
4. Aaron Cook
5. Roy Halladay
6. Dave Bush
7. Zach Duke
8. Brandon Webb
9. Nate Robertson
10. Jason Marquis

A lot of super-heavy groundballers there. As a group, the ten most-efficient got about three times the G/F ratio as the top ones. That’s huge. And that’s also the key: ground ball pitchers like Webb can pitch to contact in exactly the way that Baker’s talking about, because they don’t give up many line drives or home runs. A ball in play might be a single or a double, but it’s unlikely to be a home run. But pitching to contact for a fly-ball pitcher is a dangerous proposition, which is why they’re throwing more pitches even when they’re effective.

This intersects with the Mariners in two ways: they’ve got a fine infield defense, Ho and Batista both sport career G:F ratios of 1.67, Weaver’s not as heavy but his career’s at 1.16 … but Jarrod Wasburn’s career rate is .77. He’s been better in recent years, but he’s not the groundballer the other guys are. This could be dangerous advice for him.

Moreover, while the “pitch down in the zone” advice sounds great, the real issue is going to be whether they continue to preach fastball, fastball, fastball to their staff. These guys get their grounders on their good breaking pitches. If the team wants them to pitch to contact and pitch to contact with their fastballs, that’s trouble too.

As a side note, yesterday Baker posted a nickname entry which included this

Off to go run some miles and pump some weights so that my sweet girlfriend, Amy, who spent all night getting home to Seattle on a delayed Alaska Airlines flight, will want to come back here to see me this spring. If you’d ever laid eyes on her, you’d be out running too, trust me.

And it didn’t devolve into “pix plz tia”. I wonder if the PI blog hordes just haven’t noticed him yet. It did, in fairness, devolve in a different direction pretty fast.


13 Responses to “Pitching to contact”

  1. Evan on February 28th, 2007 10:49 am

    Hittable pitches, great command: you want to live on speed changes and hitting the corners. Do not pitch to contact.

    Did this description remind anyone else of Ryan Franklin?

  2. IP on February 28th, 2007 11:08 am

    A delayed Alaska flight. Imagine that…

  3. Steve Nelson on February 28th, 2007 11:39 am


    Not really. Though “Ryan Franklin” does make me think “hittable pitches”, “great command” doesn’t immediately follow.

  4. DMZ on February 28th, 2007 11:53 am

    Franklin’s a classic pitch to contact guy. Extremely low walk numbers.

  5. Mat on February 28th, 2007 11:54 am

    I generally agree, and I think it’s weird that the Mariners insist on terming this “pitching to contact.” This is essentially the same advice that the Twins give many of their pitchers, but you won’t really ever hear them say they want their pitchers “pitching to contact.” They use words like “be aggressive,” “get ahead in the count,” and “trust your stuff.”

    While I see Baker’s point about what the general philosophy behind “pitching to contact” is, I just find it to be a horrible term for the concept. Contact isn’t really the desired outcome–the desired outcome is to throw strikes and get ahead in the count. Increased contact is generally a side effect of this, but it’s not really what you want to happen.

  6. msb on February 28th, 2007 11:58 am

    They use words like “be aggressive,” “get ahead in the count,” and “trust your stuff.”

    FWIW, these were the phrases that JJ & Feierabend were using when talking about what Chaves wants them to do …

  7. msb on February 28th, 2007 12:08 pm

    [thread error]

  8. terrybenish on February 28th, 2007 12:11 pm

    So where is Washburn? In the last group? No stuff, no command? Somewhere in the third inning of his outs, he seems to lose the ability to locate at all, fastballs up, slurve in the dirt. Like a normal starter might experience three or four innings later.

    Do his numbers bear that out?

  9. S-Mac on February 28th, 2007 12:29 pm

    7: between him and Rizzs, I think this is shaping up to be the Year of Bizarro M’s Personalities. Of course the good news is that means we might actually win some games.

  10. leetinsleyfanclub on February 28th, 2007 2:59 pm

    I think Baker got it wrong. Hargrove actually assembled Washburn, Weaver and Batista and told them to “pitch To CONTRACT”.

  11. msb on February 28th, 2007 3:16 pm

    Baker blogs more about pitching to contact in the interteam game today

  12. kcw2 on February 28th, 2007 9:27 pm

    This sounds almost like the opposite of Leo Mazzone. The quote is taken from the February 6 comment at Sabernomics.
    Sabernomics February 6

    Don’t give into the strike zone. This is about making pitches and trying to execute a good pitch. So forget about walks. And don’t throw one down the middle just because you walked a guy. I’d rather you be off the plate a little than give up a three-run bomb.

  13. vj on March 1st, 2007 8:20 am

    Mike Marshall agrees with Mazzone.

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