Stop Throwing This Pitch to Nolan Arenado

Pitchers know hitters. They’ve got to. Sure, for the most part, pitchers want to trust their stuff and hit their spots and any deviation too far from one’s comfort zone is a concession to the hitter, but pitchers have got to know hitters, lest they be made to look silly. Example: pitcher faces high-ball hitter, throws high ball, gives up dinger. Well, duh. We told you he was a high-ball hitter, dumb-dumb. Why’d you put it there?

This is why pitchers read scouting reports, and watch videos, and look at heatmaps, and converse with their peers, and use their human brain to rethink past matchups against whichever opponent looms next on the docket. So they don’t look like a dumb-dumb. That’s all anyone’s trying to do, really. Competitive edge, work ethic, drive, determination — those are all just codewords for “Please don’t let my peers judge me.”

That’s why Mike Trout stopped getting the low fastball last year. It wasn’t for baseball reasons. It was so that anytime a nearby group of people shared a laugh over This Week’s Meme, the group’s laughter would no longer be misconstrued by the dumb-dumb pitcher who threw Mike Trout a low fastball as a public and personal lampooning.

But it turns out nobody is perfect, and that’s why we’re all insecure. Mistakes are made, constantly, by every kind of person at every kind of job. Making mistakes is one of the things humans are best at. All we can do is try to be better at learning from mistakes than we are at making them, and oftentimes it feels like an uphill climb.

Say, speaking of which, plenty of pitchers made mistakes to Nolan Arenado last year. Did you know he hit 42 homers? Don’t believe me? Look, here they are!

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Now we have something different to talk about. Now we have something different we have to talk about. You’ll notice I’ve drawn a red line that splits the field in two, and you’ll notice that 40 of the black dots representing home runs are to the left of that dividing red line. You could say Nolan Arenado has a type.

Nobody did more damage to the pull field than Arenado last year, and before you activate Debbie Downer mode and point out that Arenado plays half his games in the hitter haven that is Coors Field, let me stop you right there and point out that Arenado hit more than half his home runs on the road, and had the same isolated power no matter where he played. The power is not a product of Coors.

Let’s take a look-see at a few pitches Arenado hit out for homers this year:

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Right, so, Arenado has a type. Those are three of the 30 most-inside pitches hit for homers by a righty this year, and they’re all off the same guy’s bat, and two of them were hit in San Diego, and one of them was against Craig Kimbrel. Between the hips, and the front leg, and the hand speed, Arenado has an unnatural ability to turn on the most inside of pitches.

And so, if not for the gross magnitude of the lead, this shouldn’t be shocking:

Isolated Power vs. Inside Pitches, RHB, 2015
Player ISO
Nolan Arenado .436
Mookie Betts .344
Paul Goldschmidt .331
Jose Bautista .328
Edwin Encarnacion .300
Khris Davis .300
Evan Longoria .297
Russell Martin .268
Mike Napoli .263
Justin Upton .250
SOURCE: baseballsavant.com
Inside pitches defined as: inner-third of zone, or beyond

Obviously, there’s a direct correlation between “power to the pull field” and “power against inside pitches” and Arenado ran circles around the league in either category.

Here’s where everything circles back around to the beginning, about pitchers studying hitters tendencies’ so as not to look like a big, fat dumb-dumb. You’d think, given the 42 dingers and the Coors Field and the unbelievable power on the inner-third and the whathaveyou, that pitchers would be hesitant to give Arenado his favorite pitch. You’d be wrong:

Highest Rate of Inside Pitches, RHB, 2015
Player Pitch% ISO
David Freese 26.9% .085
Ryan Braun 25.9% .100
Adrian Beltre 25.0% .188
Jose Abreu 22.3% .122
Alex Rodriguez 21.3% .218
J.D. Martinez 21.3% .171
Cameron Maybin 20.6% .132
Mike Trout 20.3% .188
Nolan Arenado 20.1% .436
Elvis Andrus 19.9% .175
SOURCE: baseballsavant.com
Inside pitches defined as: inner-third of zone, or beyond

Despite everything we know about Arenado and the inside pitch, pitchers just kept challenging Arenado inside, and time and time again, he dumb-dumbed them up. For context, Mookie Betts, the guy right behind Arenado in that first table with the second-most power on inside pitches, saw the second-fewest rate of inside pitches. Pitchers knew about Betts’ inner-third power, and so they stayed away. Mike Napoli, also present in the first table, saw the fifth-fewest. Khris Davis, the eighth-fewest. Jose Bautista, thirteenth.

Interestingly, when Eno Sarris talked to Arenado about hitting a couple years back, Arenado mentioned he was focusing on the back foot in an effort to stay back on the ball, that he was doing drills to work on shooting the ball more up the middle. Since then, he’s seemingly done the opposite, doubling down on his strength and pulling more balls in the air than ever.

Seems like what Arenado’s done is the hitter equivalent of a pitcher wanting to trust his stuff and hit his spots and not change what he does based on the batter’s strengths. If a pitcher’s best pitch is a high fastball, he’ll stick with it until someone proves he shouldn’t. Arenado’s swing is naturally geared toward the pull field, and so despite some apparent initial hesitation to go all-in with this approach, it makes sense to stick with it until someone proves he shouldn’t. And as long as pitchers keep attacking him the same way they did last year, it might be a while.





August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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reynolds352member
6 years ago

Seems like this has been baked into projections. I’m leaning more towards the ZiPS regression. Splits and stats like this do not go unnoticed, and it’s hard to see him getting gift-wrapped homers next year on an ongoing basis.

Seamaholic
6 years ago
Reply to  reynolds352

He’ll just adjust, like Trout did. In the minors, he was known as an all-fields gap hitter and is quite capable of hitting pitches pretty much anywhere. He’s just one of the best hitters in the game.