Recently, I pointed out to Chris Young that he may have been right about how the league was going. Jeff Sullivan found that contact rates on pitches high in the zone are down. David Appelman helped us show that the league has a low-and-in happy zone for home runs per fly ball. The league as a whole has a hole up and in. Evidence seems to be mounting that the league is full of low-ball hitters, perhaps in response to the strike zone expanding at the bottom of the zone or the increasing use of the two-seamer.
So, with the riseballers like Young — Jered Weaver, Sean Doolittle, and company — finding success, who are the guys they need to watch out for?
The first name came to Young easily. “Brian Dozier, he will yank that high pitch all day long,” said the Mariners’ righty. He’d probably seen something like this chart, which shows Dozier’s run production in each quadrant of the strike zone:
Young praised the Twin’s second baseman and his “level swing plane” as part of the reason Dozier does well against the high pitch. Take a look:
Young talked about a couple other guys, too. He said that Coco Crisp, in a normal year, is somebody he has to worry about, but that this year things have changed a little. The heat maps from last year and this year reflect that he might be on to something — Crisp isn’t quite the high-ball threat he was before. He mentioned that Brandon Moss “fouls that high pitch off, he can’t put it in play, but he won’t miss it either.” Moss does reasonably well against high and tight with respect to the league, actually.
Bradley Woodrum once took a look at swing planes and their effect on pitcher-batter matchups. Looks like there’s something to it. After all, Josh Reddick has one of the biggest uppercut swings in baseball (and he’s not changing it) and he’s about 50% better against ground-ball pitchers than fly-ball pitchers, accordingly. It makes sense that his swing would have trouble against the high pitch, and it does.
Really nailing this all the way might take more time than we bloggers can afford, but it wouldn’t be surprising if a team employee had put in hours of video work sorting players by their swing planes. High and tight might work for most of the league, but throw one there to Brian Dozier, and you’re in trouble.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.
I hope Chris Young stays with baseball after his pitching career is over. He’d easily be one of the smartest guys on any coaching staff.