Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Baseball data mining

Always a rewarding read, Sports Illustrated's  Tom Verducci tells us  how a Danish tech company is revolutionizing pitching data. He lists which American League pitchers release the ball farthest from the rubber and why this could be an advantage. Also cool is Verducci's reportage on slider and curveball spin rates. I know something about this stuff, so here's my spin from  the West Coast.

* The Padres were the first major league club to use data from the Danish company, Trackman. The data has improved quite a bit since the Padres got the jump on everyone.

* Data on the ball's exit speed and spin rate off the bat is used to analyze hitters. For example, Adrian Gonzalez doesn't hit balls the hardest, but he gets tremendous backspin on the ball and therefore has great carry, confirming what field personnel and scouts said for years. My guess is that Buster Posey benefits likewise. (What a hoot it would be to see the exit speeds of balls hit by Red Sox opponents in this young season. Safe to assume The Matrix has all of those numbers, so I'm hoping that Bill James will post them on his Web site. NASA will be interested.)

* Roy Oswalt, a long-strider who has one of the most extended release points in the majors, told me last year that it was kind of funny to pitch in the same game as Mat Latos because their strides lengths are so different. Latos is nearly six inches taller but Oswalt's stride foot lands in front of the Tattooed One's. Oswalt's 93-mph fastball gets to home plate "faster" than the Latos 93-mph fastball. But, that doesn't necessarily mean the hitter's reaction time is shorter, because that also depends on how well the hitter sees the ball. In his first full season, Latos created unusual "downhill" plane on his pitches, which likely made it harder for hitters to read the ball.

Generally speaking, though, the pitchers who have more deception have release points closer to home plate.

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