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The Excellence of Rivera

Mariano Rivera (NYA) reached a milestone Wednesday afternoon as he pitched in his 1000th game, 990 of them in relief.  At seasonal age 41, the Yankees closer continues to impress.  With a 1.71 ERA he's going for his fourth straight season with an ERA under 2.00.  If he succeeds, it would he his eleventh such season in his career.

The current streak of sub-two ERAs coincides with the PITCHf/x era.  The following graph sums up Rivera's dominance in that time quite well:

Mariano Rivera, 2008-2011.The first thing to notice is that Mariano uses one pitch, a cut fastball thrown between 90 and 94 miles per hour.  There's nothing soft, no off speed pitch to fool the batters.  The cutter does it well all by itself.

Rivera induces swings.  Batters swung at 49.4 percent of his pitches, which puts him in the 94th percentile among all pitchers in the majors in that time.  Look at what they are swinging at, however.  Batters swing at 38% of the pitches that should be called balls.  That is the 100th percentile, the best in the majors.  Rivera gets batters to see balls as strikes, and swing at them.  In general, batters tend to get worse results when they swing at balls.

That's not the only effect of the cutter, however.  Of the pitches batters take, 36.1% of them are strikes.  That may not seem like much, but the major league average is 31.8%, and Rivera's number ranks in the 95th percentile.  Not only is Mariano great at getting batters to swing at balls, he's almost as good at getting them to take strikes.

And he does it all with one pitch.


The beauty of Bautista

Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista is a great story. Here's a guy who waited his turn, playing for a variety of organizations (Pirates, Orioles, Royals, and Rays), until he was given the opportunity to hone his skills and show his talent in Toronto. From 2004-2009, he came to the plate 2038 times and hit 59 homers. Over the last two seasons, he's hit 73 including 19 dingers this year.

He's a humble, hard-working player who, like many players in past eras, found his stroke as he was approaching age 30. And yes, Jose unashamedly admits he has been negatively tested numerous times for PEDs and is not annoyed with those questions that are most frequently asked.

Take a look at Bautista's contact rate when producing an out:

Jose Bautista's outs in 2011First, look at the areas above that are the hottest (bright red) that produced outs, now take look at this graphic below that shows his contact rate for his homers:

Jose Bautista's homers in 2011You can see here what makes Bautista such a dangerous hitter as just about the same hot spots that produced outs, also produced his 19 homers this year.

If you expand that to include all of Jose's hits, you can see that even when pitchers throw to spots that have gotten Bautista out one time, there is no certainty it will work again.

Jose Bautista's 2011 hits up to 5/25



Slow and Steady Josh Collmenter

One of the aspects of the game of baseball that I love is that there are myriad ways of succeeding in the sport.  Josh Collmenter (ARI) reminds us that throwing hard is not a prerequisite to pitching success.  He is in fact fooling batters with the slow, straight stuff.

Collmenter attacks batters with two main pitches, a fastball and a change up.  The following charts examine the movement of the pitches across the plate, the color showing the velocity:

Josh Collmenter, movement across the plate by velocity, fastball and change up.The light green at the top of of the blob is his fastball, which tends to come in at around 86-87 MPH.  Here's a look at the pure fastball:

Josh Collmenter, movement across the plate by velocity, fastball.That is not a fast fastball, and if you take the center of blob as the most likely movement for the pitch, there is very little movement at all.  The same is true of the change up:

Josh Collmenter, movement across the plate by velocity, change up.The change dips more than the fastball, but it basically comes in straight.  So he doesn't throw hard, he doesn't throw with movement, how does he get batters out?

The straight movement of his pitches implies a ball thrown with a lot of backspin, and if you watch video of Collmenter, you can see where that comes from.  He is an extreme over the top pitcher, one who needs to get his head out of the way of his arm to deliver a pitch.  Hitters seldom see this arm angle.  His two pitches, the fastball and change may actually be three pitches, as he likely throws a four and two seam fastball.  In first heat map, I believe the two-seam fastball is overlapping with the change up.  He's forcing a batter to look for two speeds and three levels, all looking like the same pitch out of his hand.

Finally, Josh does a great job of locating his pitches:

Josh Collmenter, pitch frequency, fastball and change up.If you break this up by batter hand, you will also see that he works both types of hitters outside.  By changing speeds, changing levels and locating pitches away from batters, Josh is off to a great start. It will be worth revisiting him in a couple of months to see how batters adjusted.