I love pitching. Perfection on the hill is an amalgamation of ability, strength, stamina, philosophy, execution, and tactics, where every pitcher is uniquely assembled in a sea of talent. Some have blistering heat, some a variety of breaking pitches, and others are masters of approach and execution. We often find similarities in their numbers, but the means by which they arrive at those numbers can vary wildly. An understanding of how a pitcher attempts to prevent runs is essential to better understanding the what of his results — and that can most easily be grasped by simply watching him hurl a baseball.
Exactly how one observes a pitching performance can determine a lot about the sort of conclusions one can reach. I’m in the camp that believes there’s a significant choice to be made between watching a game on TV or at the stadium. If the purpose of the evening is to share an emotional experience with thousands of others, then obviously the ballpark is the only real way to facilitate that. If I’m trying to grasp a game’s flow, observe generals manipulating their troops on the fly, and truly grasp how each player is performing on a given night, however, I need the live broadcast. There is no substitute.
With the latter, there is the understated advantage of sitting down and respecting the craft of your team’s daily slinger: the presentation of the game itself. If I want to marvel at the horizontal ride of Aaron Nola’s changeup, I’m hoping he’s playing at a stadium that gets right behind the ball at release. Or maybe I’m curious how much depth Miles Mikolas gets on his curveball. If he’s in Oakland, well, it just isn’t my night.
So today, we’re going to talk about camera angles. Carson Cistulli put together a fantastic ranking back in 2015, showcasing which stadiums were best to watch a pitcher do his thing. Which broadcasts allowed us to see the movement on pitches, their true locations, and exhibit the game for the best eye test possible.
I’ve made thousands and thousands of pitching GIFs in my day (it’s what happens when you run PitcherList.com) and I’m honored to present my personal ranking of camera angles to update Carson’s former piece. I’ve grouped broadcasts into five tiers, showcasing which camera angles are best to observe a pitcher’s arsenal and illuminate what is truly happening on the field.
There is one major issue when making this list that I need to address. These ranks — well, they aren’t exactly consistent across all pitchers in the majors. Not only does the throwing arm of the pitcher matter, but also where he stands on the rubber greatly affects the presentation of a pitch. Let me give you an example. Here is the Milwaukee Brewers’ broadcast:
This looks incredible, right? Straight on camera, not too elevated, but not so low that fastballs look like breaking balls. Now let’s look at three different pitchers:
I think you can see the problem. With the first two, the Brewers create one of the best experiences out there. You can see the subtle ride on Anibal’s heater with clarity and the fade on Brent Suter‘s changeup enough to nod your head in approval. However, I’m sorry to say that Corey Knebel’s fastball does not have six feet of cutting action. It’s an illusion.
Keep this in mind as we go through these tiers. Some of these angles are the perfect balance for all arms. Some of these angles are better than others for certain pitchers. And some are flat out horrible and need to burn in a fire.
I wanted to create as best of a control group as possible when jumping between each stadium’s angle, which led me to choose four different relievers to showcase each broadcast. Our heroes are as follows:
I elected to mostly feature the same pitch with each, save for a few exceptions, to help give you an idea of how each broadcast displays the same pitch. Edwin Diaz has a slightly different windup and rubber location than the rest, which I wanted to include for the sake of showcasing how some camera angles can be better for different arms.
That’s enough of an introduction, let’s get to it.
Tier 1: The Models of Excellence
Whenever I want to enjoy a pitcher — really enjoy him — I try to find a game at one of these stadiums. They have the right amount of zoom, are slightly positioned off center to the right, preventing the pitcher from blocking part of the view, while also preventing the cataclysmic “horizontal illusion” that I previously described with regard to Knebel’s fastball. If only all stadiums had the capacity to place their cameras in the same locations.
These also provide the best balance for left-handed versus right-handed pitchers, regardless of where those pitchers are located on the rubber.
1. Baltimore Orioles
2. Atlanta Braves
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Miami Marlins
5. Minnesota Twins
Tier 2: Yeah, Alright
The top five are in a class of their own, and we’re already starting to enter the land of compromise in Tier 2. Some of these — Pittsburgh, Houston, Milwaukee — earn a place in the top tier given the right kind of pitcher on the mound, though some are just slightly too elevated for maximum enjoyment. It’s better to err on the side of elevation over being too close to the ground, but a few of these cameras — Boston, St. Louis, Houston — stray a bit too far to a birds-eye view for my tastes. Is it a rising fastball? How much depth did that curveball actually get? I don’t like asking these questions.
6. Boston Red Sox
7. Milwaukee Brewers
8. Pittsburgh Pirates
9. Houston Astros
10. St. Louis Cardinals
Tier 3: I’ll Allow It
We’re entering the group where I’m not thrilled with the current situation, but it’ll do. There are some more distortive angles out there, and we need to count our blessings that we can at the very least get a grasp of a pitch’s movement. In some cases with extreme right-side of the rubber arms, these broadcasts can actually be very useful, allowing us to start right behind the ball upon release — something dead-center angles like Milwaukee and Pittsburgh do not handle well.
I would be remiss not to mention the circumstance of Colorado, which is very well centered but so high up and zoomed out that I feel taken out of the experience at hand. While it shouldn’t be zoomed in like 1980s broadcasts, it would be nice not to squint on each pitch to see the hitter’s number, ya know?
11. Toronto Blue Jays
12. Chicago White Sox
13. Kansas City Royals
14. San Francisco Giants
15. Chicago Cubs
16. New York Yankees
17. Colorado Rockies
18. Washington Nationals
19. Los Angeles Dodgers
Tier 4: What Am I Looking At?
Now we’re starting to hit troubling territory. Each broadcast is too far off center to help make proper assessments of each pitch and it’s maddening. At the very least, most have a good sense of height, allowing for a good experience understanding depth to each pitch, but if you’re looking for horizontal action, you won’t get it accurately here. Did that slider have bend? Was that a good fading changeup? We will never know.
20. San Diego Padres
21. New York Mets
22. Arizona Diamondbacks
23. Seattle Mariners
24. Detroit Tigers
25. Los Angeles Angels
Tier 5: How Could You Do This to Me?
This is painful. An atrocity, torturous, unjust! There’s the ultra-low angle of Oakland that makes every fastball look like a curveball and every breaking ball like the filthiest junk since an Eddie Harris snotball. Or the punishing off-center camera that makes it impossible to watch a lefty at Philadelphia or Texas, or judge a two-seamer properly in Cleveland and Cincy. These broadcasts are deceptive, documenting the action decently well but providing little useful information about pitch movement.
26. Oakland Athletics
27. Cleveland Indians
28. Cincinnati Reds
29. Texas Rangers
30. Philadelphia Phillies
Bonus: Best Slow-Motion Camera
New York Mets
As noted above, the standard camera is of questionable utility, but the club does a good job of making everything better with their slow-motion camera:
The slow-motion itself is exquisite. The dead-on view, the inclusion of the period just before release to better see the pitcher’s arm action, and the ultra-high FPS that allows one to identify the point at which Noah Syndergaard’s 93 mph slider begins to break from inside the zone to just outside of it: it’s all great. Even better, the production crew doesn’t save it for just for strikeouts. They show it off every time Keith Hernandez emits a soothing “Mmmmm,” which is often one or two times per at-bat, even if it’s thrown by the away team. It’s glorious, it’s a pitching fan’s dream, and it deserved its own award.
Remember, some ballparks are better than others depending on the handedness and arm slot of the pitcher on the mound. If he’s a lefty, parks like Houston, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh may work better than some in the top tier. On the other side, a pitcher with an extreme release point on the right side of the rubber may benefit from camera angles in tier Nos. 3 or 4. This isn’t’ a one-size-fits-all situation.
Keep these rankings in mind when deciding to sit down and experiencing your favorite slinger. Maybe you can now understand my excitement when Corey Kluber gets a road game in Baltimore or Aaron Nola finally pitches outside Philly. It makes all the difference.