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The Curve's the Thing

One reason for Roy Oswalt's success is his command of the curve ball.  Over the last three years, batter found it difficult to square up, as they managed a meager .252 BABIP against Roy on the pitch.  That puts him in the 83 percentile among pitchers in that time.  Why is his curve ball so difficult to hit?

First, Roy offers consistent movement:

Roy Oswalt, curve ball movement, 2008-2010.That nice big red zone indicates Roy can put Uncle Charlie in the intended spot.  Against right-handed batters, that almost always away and low:

Roy Oswalt, curve ball location against RHB, 2008-2010.

The pitch sweeps away from the righties, and they end up striking out in 37% of the plate appearances that end on the pitch.  When a batter has a tough time making contact with a pitch, he's unlikely to hit it hard when he does make contact.  That makes it easier to turn into an out.

With left-handed batters, Roy takes a different approach with the same pitch:

Roy Oswalt, curve ball location against LHB, 2008-2010.Roy uses more of the strikes zone against lefties.  Given the platoon advantage, lefties get a better look at the pitch, so Roy keeps them guessing where it will be in the strike zone.  Lefties only strike out 29.5% of the time on the pitch, but do no better when they put it in play.  Note that Roy does a good job of avoiding the hanging pitch.  When he's inside to lefties, it's almost always low. 


Breaking down Tim Lincecum's Changeup

It goes without saying that Tim Lincecum has one of the best changeups in the game.  Since 2008, batters have only made contact on 55.5 percent of their swings, good for 4th best in the league among pitchers throwing at least 500 changeups.  Lincecum has also induced a high swing rate of 59.0 percent over that period, good for 5th best in the league.  The combination of the two speaks volumes to the quality of his change, as Lincecum has been able to successfully fool batters with the pitch, getting them to both swing and miss frequently.

As can be expected with any changeup, the more downward movement you get on the pitch, the harder it is to hit.  Lincecum's change has averaged 15.8 feet per second of downward velocity when crossing the plate since the beginning of the 2008 season, but when put in play, the ball averaged an entire foot less of vertical movement.

Here's a breakdown of his changeup by vertical movement (PVZ):

Tim Lincecum Changeup 2008-2010
≤13 ft/s22483.482.9%33.0%13.4%2.8%.293
13.1 - 14 ft/s23483.279.9%31.2%10.1%1.1%.274
14.1 - 15 ft/s29083.368.9%36.7%7.0%1.8%.267
15.1 - 16 ft/s32383.462.5%41.7%7.1%0.0%.221
16.1 - 17 ft/s34383.444.6%46.3%7.4%0.0%.207
17.1 - 18 ft/s24983.734.0%48.7%10.0%0.0%.214
18.1 - 19 ft/s17783.414.3%50.8%10.3%0.0%.203
≥19 ft/s17883.611.9%46.4%14.4%0.0%.252

It's quite telling based on contact rate alone how much more effective the change is when it has more downward velocity. It's important to note that a changeup with less vertical movement will more often end up higher in the zone, as those with more movement often end up down in the zone. So you're bound to get less contact with changeups that end up scuffing the plate than those that float over the strike zone. But as his expected K-Rate indicates (as well as his overall swing percentage), Lincecum is getting batters to swing at those changeups down in the zone, resulting in a lot of strikeouts.

The plummeting xwOBA that accompanies the increase in downward velocity on Lincecum's change is impressive. With 15 feet per second of movement or more, batters essentially can do nothing with his change. The expected walk rate jumps a bit with more than 17 ft/s of movement, and that is mainly due to the number of those changeups that fall out of the strike zone for balls. However, the actual walk rate on those changeups is around 7.0%, which is still lower than the 8.2% walk rate Lincecum holds on all pitches since 2008.


Too Fast for Wes

There's a saying that any major league batter can hit a fastball.  Over the last three years, Wes Helms tried to prove that wrong.  He hit just .233 off the fast ball, just 14th percentile in the majors.

Pitchers simply know where to put the ball so Wes can't catch up to it:

Wes Helms, fastball seen frequency, 2008-2010.Both left and right-handed pitchers work Wes away.  That's not where he is a hot hitter:

Wes Helms, ball in play average against the fastball, 2008-2010.So Wes can down and it, up and in, and way outside.  Unfortunately, those are the place pitchers don't visit often with the hard stuff.  What should be a hot zone for most hitters is stone cold for Wes.