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Pitching to contact: good idea or bad?


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#1 Smiling Joe Hesketh


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 08:10 AM

This season, Schilling has gone on the record as saying he'd like to pitch to contact more this season in an effort to reduce his pitch count and go deeper into games. Such an effort is likely to reduce the number of strikeouts he gets but in theory might provide quicker innings and faster games. But is it a good idea?

Schilling has pitched 3 full seasons in Boston: 2004-2006. In that time, his K rate has been very steady: 8.06, 8.37, 8.07. The number of pitches per start he's recorded has also been very steady in that time: 106.6, 104.6, 106.8. The K/BB rate has fluctuated a bit more due to his injury troubles in 2005 as he recovered from ankle surgery, but last year it was 6.54, the best mark he's recorded since he's been in Boston. Basically, his approach in his time here seems to have remained the same over the past 3 years.

What's troubling is the slugging he's allowed in the past couple of years. In 2005, he allowed a SLG of .506, which can be attributed in part to the recovery from surgery and his ineffectiveness when he first came back. He got that SLG allowed down to .459 last year, but that's a substantially higher figure than the .387 SLG he allowed in 2004 when he was fully healthy. He's always given up some HRs (23 in 2004, 11 in 93 innings in 2005, 28 last year), so pitching to contact may increase that total as well. He's a fly ball pitcher; getting more contact will likely lead to more doubles and home runs.

So, if he starts pitching to more contact and fewer strikeouts, his trends indicate that he'll undoubtedly give up many more extra base hits with that approach and his Ks will fall. The number of pitches per game last year doesn't seem unduly excessive to me, and he did manage to throw 204 innings as well, indicating that he was getting deep enough into games. Why change that approach now?

I am thinking that the pitch to contact approach for Schilling may not be the most effective way for him to have a successful season in 2007. Any thoughts on this?

All stats from his ESPN page.

#2 DJnVa


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 08:24 AM

So, if he starts pitching to more contact and fewer strikeouts, his trends indicate that he'll undoubtedly give up many more extra base hits with that approach and his Ks will fall. The number of pitches per game last year doesn't seem unduly excessive to me, and he did manage to throw 204 innings as well, indicating that he was getting deep enough into games. Why change that approach now?


If he changes his style and pitches to contact, he obviously will be approaching hitters and innings differently. If that is the case isn't it possible that the SLG average will also fluctuate? I'm just not sure every other rate will stay constant. That's not to say it will drop of course.

Are there other examples of pitchers that have decided to to this? What did their rate stats do?

#3 Paul M


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 08:28 AM

I think against some lefties, by using the change-up effectively, he will get ground-balls to the right side and avoid some of the HR problems he's had.

I don't think we'll see a major change in approach, overall, though. He'll still throw mostly fastballs and finish with the splitter. I just think, correctly, Curt needed to add something vs. lefties.

I wouldn't expect the K-rate to go down too much on purpose.

#4 OttoC


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 08:32 AM

Hasn't he lost a few mph off his average fastball? My recollection is his fastball was around 94 mph in 2004 but yesterday it was barely 90. He can still reach back for something extra but overall there seems to be less separation in velocity among his fastball and other pitches.

#5 smastroyin


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 08:38 AM

Just to answer the general question, I think pitching to contact is in general a bad idea for any pitcher playing in front of anything less than a very good defense. Part of the question here seems to be that people polarize the subject into "pitch to contact" or "try to throw the ball by everyone." both of these approaches are prone to mistakes and with a poor defense, balls in play are generally bad. Pitching to contact would be a better idea if the ball were tied looser or given a softer core (thus making it fly less). But, in this day and age, there are very few players in a given lineup that are such weak hitters that you want to give them the opportunity to make contact.

Specifically to Schilling, I think Paul is right. I also do think his fastball and splitter were both less last year than they were before, which is only natural given age and injury. Remember that even during the trade there was some question as to how healthy Schilling would be.

If Schilling wants to go deeper into games, he probably just needs to pitch better, rather than altering style.

#6 Robinson Checo

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Posted 03 April 2007 - 08:50 AM

I know that this is what Zach Duke of the Pirates does. Last night he had 0 strikeouts, but he kept his team in the game, and they won. Duke's ERA last year was 3.74. The Pirates defense is questionable, and he was bailed out last night- but that is par for the course if you are pitching to contact. Duke also lead the Majors in hits allowed last year. How much of that is his fault, and how much is the defense's is another question, but regardless, he is putting his defense in that situation. Still, he is the ace of the Pirates, and he is no slouch. I think having a good defense is key, and that means an OF where the team is reluctant to take an extra base.

In terms of Schilling, I see it as he would be re-inventing himself, and I wonder:

1) If this was something he wanted to do, why didn't he do it in ST? Maybe he was and I was oblivious to it.

2) In his contract year, this is what he decides? Now, I don't care one way or the other, but you can be damned sure if there is a statement that this is what he is doning there are going to be some Harpo Marx look-a-like reporters who will jump all over this.

I don't think it is necesarily a bad idea for a pitcher to do, but I wonder if this something being done as reactive instead of proactive.

#7 NickEsasky


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 08:53 AM

I think it's a lot easier to do if you are a sinker ball pitcher who gets a lot of ground balls. You may get some innings where you give up a few base hits back to back but if you're keeping the ball down at least they will stay in the park.


Pitching to contact as a fly ball pitcher seems like a potential recipe for disaster. If you are off you're going to get hit very hard for lots of extra bases.

Edited by NickEsasky, 03 April 2007 - 08:54 AM.


#8 The Gray Eagle


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 08:55 AM

It's not like Schilling is some nibbler who's always walking people. He's always pounding the strike zone. So he shouldn't be trying to "pitch to contact" anymore than he already does. How could he? By throwing it over the heart of the plate instead of the corners?

Now if he wants to give lefties the change because it'll make him more effective against them, sure that's great. But he already is throwing strikes, he doesn't need to do any more than hit his spots with late movement.

He could have easily held down his pitch count yesterday if he had been able to put away a couple of those hitters in the first inning. I think it was Gordon who kept fouling off pitch after pitch. But I don't think the answer to that is to just give in and let him hit the ball, it's to punch him out with a splitter when he's looking fastball. The splitter wasn't working well yesterday and Gordon had a good at-bat, it happens.

#9 Lose Remerswaal


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 08:55 AM

I think it's something Schilling is talking about and that's it.

Let's see his K rate after 3-4 games, to see if it's something he's really working on, or if he's just trying to put something in the heads of the opposing players so they expect more hittable pitches.

I don't see him truly telling the other guy what to expect.

#10 NickEsasky


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 09:00 AM

I think if Schilling really wants to get his pitch counts down he should be working on getting his good splitter back versus working on the change-up so much (although its nice to have it against lefties).

It would help him a lot if he could put guys away with a good split and avoid racking up the pitch counts nibbling and having guys foul off multiple offerings when down 0-2. He just doesn't seem to have that go to pitch to put guys away anymore as the velocity is down and the split has been inconsistant sinc elast year.

#11 gibdied

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Posted 03 April 2007 - 09:11 AM

I'm thinking, what exactly does "pitch to contact" mean? It obviously doesn't mean tossing meatballs and letting the hitter make contact. Does it mean trying to reduce walks? Schilling's already very stingy with the BBs so he's clearly not being too careful in trying to avoid bats as it is. Does it mean throwing more fastballs in offspead counts (0-2, 1-2, etc.)? That would probably result in more contact and fewer strikeouts, but at that point, what's the big pitch count difference between a contact out and a strikeout? Plus, balls in play can result in bad things whereas strikeouts virtually never do.

I don't know, the more I think about it the more "pitching to contact" doesn't compute. Does Tom Glavine pitch to contact (low K rate) or does he try to avoid contact (high BB rate)? What about Johan Santana? I'm inclined to think that pitchers are just trying to make good pitches most of the time. If they have great stuff, the strikeouts follow. If their stuff is more average, more contact occurs.

I think in the end Schilling is going to have pretty much the same approach as he's had before.

#12 David Laurila


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 09:15 AM

If Schilling wants to go deeper into games, he probably just needs to pitch better, rather than altering style.


I think Steve is half right on that.

Maybe this is obvious, but I interpret "pitching to contact" as simply throwing more strikes and fewer pitches where you're looking to get a hitter to chase. "Chase pitches" would be primarily fastballs up and out of the zone and breaking balls around the ankles. Schilling, like Papelbon and Clemens, certainly attacks hitters in that fashion. It is common to see hitters foul off high fastballs against these guys, sometimes multiple times in an at-bat. Presumably that's what Schilling feels he needs to cut down on.

Would throwing fewer "chase pitches" result in significantly more well-hit balls and extra base hits? With someone like Schilling, who has very good control, I'm not sure that's the case. Presumably he'll be looking to pitch down in the strike zone more often, as opposed to throwing up and out of the zone. If he's consistently hitting his spots within in the strike zone , he shouldn't be getting hit any harder. He may get a somewhat higher percentage of ground ball outs, and he should definitely be more efficient with his pitch count.

That said, one question I do have is whether throwing more fastballs down and fewer up and out of the zone might impact the effectiveness os his split. Along with the change of speed, there's value in changing a hitter's eye-level during an at-bat. If someone is looking for more pitches down in the zone, will the likelihood of him handling the split better increase? I don't know the answer to that question.

One last thought: If Schilling does start pitching to contact more often, maybe more purpose-pitches to knock hitters off the plate is a good idea?

#13 ShaneTrot

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Posted 03 April 2007 - 09:29 AM

If a pitcher is not a sinker baller like Lowe, Brandon Webb, Zambrano or even Wang, pitching to contact is a euphemism for 'I don't trust my stuff' or worse 'my stuff sucks'. Yesterday was tough. He threw a lot of strikes but couldn't seem to put anybody away. That walk to Shealy really set the tone for the rest of the game.

#14 gcapalbo

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Posted 03 April 2007 - 09:42 AM

Clearly, taking this approach is the result of Schilling's desire to pitch into his 40's (at least to 41) and dealing with natural decline.

He has likely decided that he won't be able to get it done over the long haul of the season just with heat, and sees this almost as learning to pitch again. Working on a changeup, etc., falls into that category as well.

He's been known throughout his career for pinpoint control. If one was going to implement a 'pitching to contact' strategy, being able to put the ball precisely in the zone where contact will be made, but that contact results in a ground ball out would only work for a pitcher who could do that. (You can imagine the reams of notes on every hitter figuring out where those spots are).

Obviously that pinpoint control wasn't there yesterday, so balls that he tried to 'pitch to contact' into a marginally hittable spot were instead fat and over the plate... and he got hammered.

He's a smart guy, and will work it out. (Very) unfortunately this was an 'extended spring training' start.

If he doesn't get it together by his third or (at the outside) 4th start, assume he's going back to what he has done in the past... heat... then we'll see how durable he is at age 40.

It's a good idea, but the trick obviously is execution.

#15 bowiac


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 10:01 AM

Do we have any reason to believe that pitchers are even capable of altering their style to pitch to contact without a serious degradation in their effectiveness?

As near as I can tell, pitching to contact largely involves throwing down the middle of the plate. This is what Wang does, and even though he's doing it at 95mph, hitters pretty consistently can catch up with the ball to put it in play. Schilling works the corners more, but his control is good enough (or has been in the past), that he doesn't give up a bunch of walks. The result is he misses bats by working the extremes of the plate, but avoids walks by being just inside.

If Schilling starts pitching to contact, I have to think that means throwing down the middle of the plate more often. I'm very skeptical of the idea that this is a positive improvement, as it seems it would mainly just lead to missing fewer bats (fewer strikeouts), without an associated decrease in walks (because he's already not walking many guys - throwing down the middle of the plate is a pretty small marginal decrease in BBs).

Baseball is a pretty mature and specialized sport. Guys who can alter their style, and keep playing at a high level of effectiveness, are the exceptions, not the rule.

#16 Monster Dick Radatz

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Posted 03 April 2007 - 10:30 AM

I remember the Reds publicly took this approach in '04, arguing that because they couldn't afford high price free agents they would, in the words of GM Dan O'Brien, "We decided we would try to get to contact as early as we could in the (ball-strike) count." His approach relied upon focusingon throwing strikes. Focusing on prompting opposing hitters to put the ball in play, and trusting the Reds' defense to make plays. Focusing on decreasing pitch counts from inning to inning and enabling the starters to work deeper into games. The best pitchers on the staff, then, would throw more innings, while the middle relievers -- usually the soft underbelly of most pitching staffs -- would have a lightened workload. Link

Here were the results per Baseball Reference:

2003 League Pitching

 Tm   R/G	RA	G   ERA	IP	H	H/G	BB  BB/G  HR	SO   CG  SHO  SV ERA+hmR/G rdR/G
+---+-----+-----+----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+----+----+-----+----+---+---+---+-----+-----+
 LAD  3.43   556  162  3.16  1457  1254   7.7   526  3.2  127  1289	3  17  58 128  3.14  3.73
 SFG  3.96   638  161  3.73  1437  1349   8.4   546  3.4  136  1006	7  10  43 115  3.69  4.24
 CHC  4.22   683  162  3.83  1456  1304   8.0   617  3.8  143  1404   13  14  36 111  4.28  4.15
 ARI  4.23   685  162  3.84  1455  1379   8.5   526  3.2  150  1291	7  11  42 122  4.58  3.88
 HOU  4.18   677  162  3.86  1450  1350   8.3   565  3.5  161  1139	1   5  50 114  4.23  4.12
 MON  4.42   716  162  4.01  1437  1467   9.1   463  2.9  181  1028   15  10  42 124  4.84  4.00
 FLA  4.27   692  162  4.04  1445  1415   8.7   530  3.3  128  1132	7  11  36 100  3.62  4.93
 PHI  4.30   697  162  4.04  1443  1386   8.6   536  3.3  142  1060	9  13  33 101  3.84  4.77
 ATL  4.57   740  162  4.10  1456  1425   8.8   555  3.4  147   992	4   7  51 101  4.51  4.63
 NYM  4.68   754  161  4.48  1413  1497   9.3   576  3.6  168   907	3  10  38  94  4.74  4.63
 STL  4.91   796  162  4.60  1463  1544   9.5   508  3.1  210   969	9  10  41  90  4.56  5.27
 PIT  4.94   801  162  4.64  1444  1527   9.4   502  3.1  178   926	7  10  44  91  4.91  4.98
 SDP  5.13   831  162  4.87  1431  1458   9.0   611  3.8  208  1091	2  10  31  81  4.64  5.62
 MIL  5.39   873  162  5.02  1452  1590   9.8   575  3.5  219  1034	5   3  44  87  5.68  5.10
 CIN  5.47   886  162  5.09  1446  1578   9.7   590  3.6  209   932	4   5  38  84  5.46  5.48
 COL  5.51   892  162  5.20  1420  1629  10.1   552  3.4  200   866	3   4  34  91  5.56  5.46
+---+-----+-----+----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+----+----+-----+----+---+---+---+-----+-----+
 TOT  4.61 11917 2590  4.28 23110 23152   9.0  8778  3.4 2707 17066   99 150 661

2004 League Pitching 

 Tm   R/G	RA	G   ERA	IP	H	H/G	BB  BB/G  HR	SO   CG  SHO  SV ERA+hmR/G rdR/G
+---+-----+-----+----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+----+----+-----+----+---+---+---+-----+-----+
 ATL  4.12   668  162  3.74  1450  1475   9.1   523  3.2  154  1025	4  13  48 115  4.14  4.11
 STL  4.07   659  162  3.75  1453  1378   8.5   440  2.7  169  1041	4  12  57 112  3.93  4.21
 CHC  4.10   665  162  3.81  1465  1363   8.4   545  3.4  169  1346	3   6  42 118  4.29  3.91
 LAD  4.22   684  162  4.01  1453  1386   8.6   521  3.2  178  1066	2   6  51 103  4.01  4.43
 SDP  4.35   705  162  4.03  1441  1460   9.0   422  2.6  184  1079	3   8  44 100  4.22  4.48
 HOU  4.31   698  162  4.05  1443  1416   8.7   525  3.2  174  1282	2  13  47 106  4.28  4.33
 NYM  4.51   731  162  4.09  1449  1452   9.0   592  3.7  156   977	2   6  31 104  4.40  4.63
 FLA  4.32   700  162  4.10  1439  1395   8.6   513  3.2  166  1116	6  14  53 100  4.10  4.54
 MIL  4.70   757  161  4.24  1442  Gregory Lynn   8.9   476  3.0  164  1098	6  10  42  97  4.64  4.76
 PIT  4.62   744  161  4.29  1428  1451   9.0   576  3.6  149  1079	3   8  46  96  4.34  4.90
 SFG  4.75   770  162  4.29  1457  1481   9.1   548  3.4  161  1020	8   8  46 102  4.98  4.52
 MON  4.75   769  162  4.33  1447  1477   9.1   582  3.6  191  1032   11  11  31  96  4.58  4.91
 PHI  4.82   781  162  4.45  1462  1488   9.2   502  3.1  214  1070	4   5  43  98  4.89  4.75
 ARI  5.55   899  162  4.98  1436  1480   9.1   668  4.1  197  1153	5   6  33  89  5.49  5.60
 CIN  5.60   907  162  5.19  1443  1595   9.8   572  3.5  236   992	5   8  47  77  5.25  5.95
 COL  5.70   923  162  5.54  1435  1634  10.1   697  4.3  198   947	3   2  36  91  6.57  4.83
+---+-----+-----+----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+----+----+-----+----+---+---+---+-----+-----+
 TOT  4.64 12060 2590  4.30 23146 23371   9.0  8702  3.4 2860 17323   71 136 697

2005 League Pitching 

 Tm   R/G	RA	G   ERA	IP	H	H/G	BB  BB/G  HR	SO   CG  SHO  SV ERA+hmR/G rdR/G
+---+-----+-----+----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+----+----+-----+----+---+---+---+-----+-----+
 STL  3.91   634  162  3.49  1445  1399   8.6   443  2.7  153   974   15  14  48 123  3.99  3.84
 HOU  3.74   609  163  3.51  1443  1336   8.2   440  2.7  155  1164	6  11  45 118  3.35  4.12
 NYM  4.00   648  162  3.76  1435  1390   8.6   491  3.0  135  1012	8  11  38 111  3.85  4.15
 WSN  4.15   673  162  3.87  1458  1456   9.0   539  3.3  140   997	4   9  51 103  3.95  4.36
 MIL  4.30   697  162  3.97  1438  1382   8.5   569  3.5  169  1173	7   6  46 106  4.14  4.47
 ATL  4.16   674  162  3.98  1443  1487   9.2   520  3.2  145   929	8  12  38 110  4.07  4.25
 SDP  4.48   726  162  4.13  1455  1452   9.0   503  3.1  146  1133	4   8  45  93  3.93  5.04
 FLA  4.52   732  162  4.16  1442  1459   9.0   563  3.5  116  1125   14  15  42  96  4.17  4.86
 CHC  4.41   714  162  4.19  Gregory Lynn  1357   8.4   576  3.6  186  1256	8  10  39 102  4.43  4.38
 PHI  4.48   726  162  4.21  1435  1379   8.5   487  3.0  189  1159	4   6  40 107  4.88  4.09
 SFG  4.60   745  162  4.33  1444  1456   9.0   592  3.7  151   972	4   8  46  95  4.58  4.62
 LAD  4.66   755  162  4.38  1427  1434   8.9   471  2.9  182  1004	6   9  40  93  4.22  5.10
 PIT  4.75   769  162  4.42  1436  1456   9.0   612  3.8  162   958	4  14  35  96  4.81  4.68
 ARI  5.28   856  162  4.84  1456  1580   9.8   537  3.3  193  1038	6  10  45  90  5.84  4.73
 COL  5.32   862  162  5.13  1418  1600   9.9   604  3.7  175   981	4   4  37  92  5.52  5.12
 CIN  5.45   889  163  5.15  1433  1657  10.2   492  3.0  219   955	2   1  31  86  5.61  5.30
+---+-----+-----+----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+----+----+-----+----+---+---+---+-----+-----+
 TOT  4.45 11709 2594  4.22 23052 23280   9.0  8439  3.3 2616 16830  104 148 666

2006 League Pitching  

 Tm   R/G	RA	G   ERA	IP	H	H/G	BB  BB/G  HR	SO   CG  SHO  SV ERA+hmR/G rdR/G
+---+-----+-----+----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+----+----+-----+----+---+---+---+-----+-----+
 SDP  4.19   679  162  3.87  1463  1385   8.5   468  2.9  176  1097	4  11  50 109  4.16  4.22
 HOU  4.44   719  162  4.08  1468  1425   8.8   480  3.0  182  1160	5  12  42 111  4.53  4.35
 NYM  4.51   731  162  4.14  1461  1402   8.7   527  3.3  180  1161	5  12  43 104  4.28  4.74
 LAD  4.64   751  162  4.23  1460  1524   9.4   492  3.0  152  1068	1  10  40 108  4.51  4.77
 FLA  4.77   772  162  4.37  1433  1465   9.0   622  3.8  166  1088	6   6  41  99  4.58  4.95
 ARI  4.86   788  162  4.48  1459  1503   9.3   536  3.3  168  1115	8   9  34 106  5.30  4.43
 CIN  4.94   801  162  4.51  1445  1576   9.7   464  2.9  213  1053	9  10  36 106  5.30  4.59
 PIT  4.92   797  162  4.52  1435  1545   9.5   620  3.8  156  1060	2  10  39  99  4.53  5.31
 STL  4.73   762  161  4.54  1429  1475   9.2   504  3.1  193   970	6   9  38  97  4.35  5.11
 ATL  4.97   805  162  4.60  1441  1529   9.4   572  3.5  183  1049	6   6  38  96  4.81  5.12
 PHI  5.01   812  162  4.60  1460  1561   9.6   512  3.2  211  1138	4   6  42 100  5.19  4.84
 SFG  4.91   790  161  4.63  1429  1422   8.8   584  3.6  153   992	7   9  37  97  4.79  5.02
 COL  5.01   812  162  4.66  1447  1549   9.6   553  3.4  155   952	5   8  34 103  5.10  4.93
 CHC  5.15   834  162  4.74  1439  1396   8.6   687  4.2  210  1250	2   7  29  98  5.30  5.00
 MIL  5.14   833  162  4.82  1425  1454   9.0   514  3.2  177  1145	7   8  43  93  4.91  5.37
 WSN  5.38   872  162  5.03  1436  1535   9.5   584  3.6  193   960	1   3  32  88  5.09  5.68
+---+-----+-----+----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+----+----+-----+----+---+---+---+-----+-----+
 TOT  4.76 12558 2590  4.49 23137 23746   9.1  8719  3.3 2868 17258   78 136 618

I am not a believer.

#17 DLew On Roids


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 10:36 AM

If a pitcher is not a sinker baller like Lowe, Brandon Webb, Zambrano or even Wang, pitching to contact is a euphemism for 'I don't trust my stuff' or worse 'my stuff sucks'. Yesterday was tough. He threw a lot of strikes but couldn't seem to put anybody away. That walk to Shealy really set the tone for the rest of the game.

While I agree with your overall point, I don't think it has to be restricted to sinkerballers. A pitcher who can effectively mix speeds and hit locations can probably expect higher rates of poor contact than a power pitcher like Schilling (no, I don't have any evidence). That can cut down on BABIP, but almost as importantly, it cuts down on the extra-base hit. One of the strengths of a guy like Lowe or Wang is that base hits tend to be on the ground, not in the gap or the corner.

#18 possumbait


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 10:44 AM

While I agree with your overall point, I don't think it has to be restricted to sinkerballers. A pitcher who can effectively mix speeds and hit locations can probably expect higher rates of poor contact than a power pitcher like Schilling (no, I don't have any evidence). That can cut down on BABIP, but almost as importantly, it cuts down on the extra-base hit. One of the strengths of a guy like Lowe or Wang is that base hits tend to be on the ground, not in the gap or the corner.

I have been trying to think this through, and I think DLew comes close here. Pitching to contact is something that groundball pitchers can get away with, but not fly ball pitchers.

Schilling is a fly ball pitcher.

If "pitching to ground balls" is the operative statement, I could almost see where there is something useful in a paradigm shift. "Pitching to contact," I am afraid, is a euphemism for "can't miss bats."

#19 Vermonter At Large


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 10:52 AM

Pitching to contact is the oldest form of pitching in the modern game. Power pitching - the essential alternative, is a relatively new form of pitching and practiced by relatively few even today. About 90% of HoF pitchers pitched to contact, or more precisely weak contact.

Some of our most recent examples include Wakefield (of course), David Wells and Bronson Arroyo, but going back to the old master Cy Young, it comes down to command of the strike zone, keeping the hitter off-balance by mixing pitches and hitting different spots, and having wicked breaking stuff. I don't think this is a complete revamping of Schilling's style at all - I think he has been slowly headed there for the past few years anyway. For him, I think it means challenging hitters with hard stuff less often, since it's only natural that his velocity is down, and he has increasingly been burned by doing that over the past season or so.

So no big deal ... as someone said earlier - Schill is a smart guy and will figure it out.

#20 jtn46


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 10:52 AM

I think if Schilling really wants to get his pitch counts down he should be working on getting his good splitter back versus working on the change-up so much (although its nice to have it against lefties).

It would help him a lot if he could put guys away with a good split and avoid racking up the pitch counts nibbling and having guys foul off multiple offerings when down 0-2. He just doesn't seem to have that go to pitch to put guys away anymore as the velocity is down and the split has been inconsistant sinc elast year.

Aside from the split he hung to Pena, I thought he actually had pretty decent command of it.

He's just not the same pitcher he was before the ankle injury (which I'm using more as a reference point than an explanation...I think age is the biggest explanation). It takes him more effort to throw 90 mph fastballs now than it took him to throw 95 mph fastballs 3 years ago, and that shows up in location mistakes on his fastball. An 85 mph split just isn't that scary a pitch when his fastball is 90 mph and he has to throw to all 4 corners with it because he can no longer get guys to swing and miss at his normal fastball unless he fools them with location. He's smart, and he's made a lot of adjustments (he does throw inside more often...though sometimes it results in location mistakes...) and his change does look better than it used to (used to be very straight, now it drops) so I don't think he's a bad pitcher at all, I just don't think we can expect Cy Young-caliber years out of him anymore. He's kind of a right-handed David Wells at this point, a guy who allows his share of hits, but makes up for it by keeping the walks down.

#21 plnii

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Posted 03 April 2007 - 11:20 AM

I would take Schilling's statement as either 1) acknowledgement of his reduced stuff (splitter, FB) leading to a change in approach and/or 2) that he wants to use the changeup more because he can get it over but that it isn't a swing-and-miss pitch (hopefully it's more of the sinker variety that induces ground balls).

Edited by plnii, 03 April 2007 - 11:21 AM.


#22 bowiac


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 11:31 AM

Pitching to contact is the oldest form of pitching in the modern game. Power pitching - the essential alternative, is a relatively new form of pitching and practiced by relatively few even today. About 90% of HoF pitchers pitched to contact, or more precisely weak contact.


Is this really true? I'm pretty skeptical - largely by virtue of Bill James' observation that strikeout rates are pretty much the only stat which predicts how long a career a pitcher will have. Power pitchers (pitching to miss bats) I suspect make up far more than 10% of HoF pitchers.

It's also not relatively new - power pitching has been around as long as the game of baseball has in its modern form.

Edited by bowiac, 03 April 2007 - 11:32 AM.


#23 Paul M


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 11:49 AM

If you look at his 2006 season, it actually wasn't that far off from his 2004 campaign. Equivalent K-rate and BB-rate are about the same. More hits allowed, but 4% worse luck on BABIP. He was still a top 10% starter, and I'd be wary of him trying to change too much. HR-rate did spike a little, but some of that may have been some bad luck. Sure, he's declining as expected, but I really hope this isn't a conscious effort to alter his approach.

#24 yecul


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 12:11 PM

Personally, I attribute much of his talk to a bunch of hot air. Not that this is a negative against Schilling or even something that he does in isolation. Every spring you hear about pitchers who are developing a new pitch. A new approach. A new arm angle or position on the rubber. Reason X was giving them trouble and Solution Y is how they will address it.

Same deal with hitters. Why did they perform better? Well they changed this about their swing. Or that about their pre-game jack off ritual. Taking shots of whiskey perhaps.

Schilling says he has a new approach and it's supposed to mean something? I think there needs to be a lot of evidence that 1. there is a change and 2. it has had an affect before we start to look into it.

Long story short, if yesterday's game was any indication it showed that he has changed basically nothing about his approach to pitching. His stuff and control were not sharp, but that is another matter.

Edit -- Now if we're talking in a theoretical sense, I'll go with no. Schilling is 40 years old and doesn't have the makeup for this type of pitcher. As was mentioned, you want groundballs if you're getting contact. He's a flyball pitcher. Not the best mix. His bread and butter is getting swings and misses.

Edited by yecul, 03 April 2007 - 12:56 PM.


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 06:03 PM

Is this really true? I'm pretty skeptical - largely by virtue of Bill James' observation that strikeout rates are pretty much the only stat which predicts how long a career a pitcher will have. Power pitchers (pitching to miss bats) I suspect make up far more than 10% of HoF pitchers.

It's also not relatively new - power pitching has been around as long as the game of baseball has in its modern form.

Well, I guess it depends on how you classify power pitching. Here are the strikeout rates (K/PA) for the HoF pitchers plus Clemens, Johnson, Maddux, Martinez, Glavine and Schilling:

Johnson		 .294
Martinez		.283
Ryan			.253
Koufax		  .252
Schilling	   .238
Clemens		 .232
Gibson		  .194
Waddell		 .191
Carlton		.191
Seaver		  .190
Bunning		.183
Drysdale		.176
Wilhelm		 .176
Jenkins		 .173
Bender		  .169
Maddux		  .167
Vance		   .165
Clarkson		.165
Sutton		.165
Marichal		.162
G.Perry		 .161
Feller		  .160
Ford			.150
Johnson		 .148
Walsh		   .148
Niekro		.147
Hunter		  .143
Dean			.142
Glavine		 .142
Newhouser	.142
Palmer		  .137
Gomez		   .137
Grove		   .136
Willis		.132
Mathewson	   .131
Plank		   .123
Roberts		 .123
Keefe		   .122
Spahn		   .120
Marquard		.117
Hubbell		 .113
M.Brown		 .109
Ruffing		 .107
Lemon		   .106
Alexander	   .105
Chesbro		 .105
Joss			.100
Radbourne	   .097
Young		   .093
Wynn			.091
Nichols		 .088
Faber		.085
Grimes		  .084
Pennock		 .081
Coveleski	   .077
Hoyt			.075
McGinnity	   .074
Rixey		   .072
Galvin		  .072
Haines		  .072
Lyons		   .060

There are a couple of observations. First, batters were harder to strike out before WW2. Free-swinging is a relatively recent phenomenon - probably coming about in the late 1950's. We don't, for instance, really think of Maddux as a power pitcher in modern parlance, yet his K-rate is 20 points higher than Walter Johnson. So it's a little hard to draw a line. Anyway, that's the basis for my saying that power pitching is a relatively recent phenomenon. For all of his reputation, even Walter Johnson didn't throw all-out all of the time in a way we would be familiar with, nor did hitters give pitchers as many opportunities to strike them out, with short-swinging being common - even in the high-scoring 1930's. One wonders how seriously dominating Rube Waddell actually was given the era that he threw in.

Nonetheless, even the most dominating pitchers only get about 40% of their outs via strikeouts. There are certainly more dominant pitchers from many of the eras not in the HoF, either owing to injury or control problems. Another interesting observation is how few groundball pitchers there are on this list. I'm sure there are others, but Newhouser and Lemon are the only ones who spring immediately to my mind as having been hard sinker throwers. Most of the guys on this list are the low-contact flyball type pitchers.

So yeah, Schilling can certainly achieve what he seeks. He actually did it most of last season - getting hit fairly hard, but managing to contain the situation. I think what he's referring to by pitching to contact is challenging hitters a bit less often than he has in the past, but still throwing strikes, still using the splitter (but perhaps setting it up a bit less often), and working his change in their too. Again, I am certain that he can make the adjustments.

#26 bowiac


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 06:46 PM

7
There are a couple of observations. First, batters were harder to strike out before WW2. Free-swinging is a relatively recent phenomenon - probably coming about in the late 1950's. We don't, for instance, really think of Maddux as a power pitcher in modern parlance, yet his K-rate is 20 points higher than Walter Johnson. So it's a little hard to draw a line. Anyway, that's the basis for my saying that power pitching is a relatively recent phenomenon.


You're defining power pitching simply through K rates? I don't really see how that's a useful standard. Baseball Prospectus' DT cards can take care of the era issue to an extent, adjusting K rates relative to league average. With that adjustment, one of the clearer examples of a power pitcher on the list (Walter Johnson), shows up as having an adjusted K rate of 8 per 9IP, comparable to Curt Schilling's rate, and well ahead of Maddux.

Glancing at that list, it seems quite likely to me that power pitchers make up the majority of HOF pitchers, which isn't surprising, given how much of a finer line "pitch to contact" pitchers must walk to remain effective.

Edited by bowiac, 03 April 2007 - 06:49 PM.


#27 OttoC


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 06:58 PM

Well, I guess it depends on how you classify power pitching. Here are the strikeout rates (K/PA) for the HoF pitchers plus Clemens, Johnson, Maddux, Martinez, Glavine and Schilling: [table removed]

You left Amos Rusie, The Hooiser Thunderbolt, off your list. The only reason I bring him up is that, to quote Ralph Berger's article from SABR's Bio Project, Rusie's blinding fastball so terrified batters standing just fifty feet from the mound that League-Association officials moved the pitcher's box back to sixty feet six inches, where it has stayed ever since. This was 1893.

In Rusie's best year at the distance of 50 feet he only struck out .156 batters per plate appearance and after the distance was moved back, he only struck out .119 batters per PA.

#28 MainerInExile

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Posted 03 April 2007 - 07:36 PM

I remember the Reds publicly took this approach in '04, arguing that because they couldn't afford high price free agents they would, in the words of GM Dan O'Brien, "We decided we would try to get to contact as early as we could in the (ball-strike) count." His approach relied upon focusingon throwing strikes.

The Reds probably just had lousy pitchers, so I'm not sure the results really show anything. But the description doesn't seem to have anything to do with contact, it has to do with strike throwing, especially early in counts. It's hard to see how throwing strikes early in a count would be bad. I'm with those who think the pitching to contact thing is a bunch of hooey. A good pitch is a good pitch, so what do you throw to get someone to make weak contact instead of swinging and missing? Wouldn't this be more of a function of the batter than anything?

I'd love to hear an example of what you would throw on a, say, 1-1 count if you were "pitching to contact" vs going for the strikeout.

#29 Vermonter At Large


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 08:00 PM

You left Amos Rusie, The Hooiser Thunderbolt, off your list. The only reason I bring him up is that, to quote Ralph Berger's article from SABR's Bio Project, Rusie's blinding fastball so terrified batters standing just fifty feet from the mound that League-Association officials moved the pitcher's box back to sixty feet six inches, where it has stayed ever since. This was 1893.

In Rusie's best year at the distance of 50 feet he only struck out .156 batters per plate appearance and after the distance was moved back, he only struck out .119 batters per PA.


For some reason, Rusie's stats in BBR were incomplete, which is why I left him out.

Seriously though, has there ever been a more dominant pitcher than Waddell? Was he really 25% better than Johnson?

#30 bowiac


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 08:08 PM

Seriously though, has there ever been a more dominant pitcher than Waddell? Was he really 25% better than Johnson?


An adjusted K rate of 10.5 - comperable only to Randy Johnson among guys I've found.

#31 OttoC


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Posted 03 April 2007 - 08:14 PM

For some reason, Rusie's stats in BBR were incomplete, which is why I left him out.

Seriously though, has there ever been a more dominant pitcher than Waddell? Was he really 25% better than Johnson?

I took Rusie's stats from mlb.com.

In addition to Waddell, I would not have guessed that Schilling ranks as high as he does, nor Jim Bunning.

#32 DSG

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Posted 03 April 2007 - 08:32 PM

Well, I guess it depends on how you classify power pitching. Here are the strikeout rates (K/PA) for the HoF pitchers plus Clemens, Johnson, Maddux, Martinez, Glavine and Schilling:


You can't look at this without adjusting for league. Here's what happens if we look at every Hall of Fame pitcher, with his strikeout rate compared to the league averaged (sort of like ERA+, but with strikeouts).
name	IPouts	SO	xSO	Ratio
Vance_Dazzy	8900	2045	959.34	2.13
Waddell_Rube	8884	2316	1200.42	1.93
Ryan_Nolan	16158	5714	3177.67	1.80
Koufax_Sandy	6973	2396	1437.43	1.67
Rusie_Amos	11309	1934	1183.60	1.63
Dean_Dizzy	5902	1163	725.48	1.60
Feller_Bob	11481	2581	1617.28	1.60
Grove_Lefty	11822	2266	1422.08	1.59
Gomez_Lefty	7509	1468	954.57	1.54
Johnson_Walter	17744	3509	2317.70	1.51
Newhouser_Hal	8979	1796	1228.16	1.46
Paige_Satchel	1428	288	205.12	1.40
Fingers_Rollie	5104	1299	977.61	1.33
Keefe_Tim	15143	2562	1939.18	1.32
Carlton_Steve	15652	4136	3155.37	1.31
Mathewson_Christy	14342	2502	1933.06	1.29
Bender_Chief	9051	1711	1333.28	1.28
Hubbell_Carl	10771	1677	1307.49	1.28
Marquard_Rube	9920	1593	1242.92	1.28
Walsh_Ed	9886	1843	1439.12	1.28
Eckersley_Dennis	9857	2401	1893.76	1.27
Seaver_Tom	14348	3640	2876.45	1.27
Gibson_Bob	12462	3283	2603.45	1.26
Bunning_Jim	11281	2855	2276.34	1.25
Wilhelm_Hoyt	6763	1610	1297.60	1.24
Ruffing_Red	13032	1987	1604.98	1.24
Jenkins_Fergie	13502	3192	2653.34	1.20
Plank_Eddie	13487	2246	1889.80	1.19
Nichols_Kid	15169	1868	1577.23	1.18
Drysdale_Don	10296	2486	2127.99	1.17
Alexander_Pete	15570	2198	1891.46	1.16
Wallace_Bobby	1206	120	103.91	1.15
Clarkson_John	13609	1978	1750.98	1.13
Willis_Vic	11988	1651	1466.60	1.13
Sutton_Don	15847	3574	3176.39	1.13
Young_Cy	22064	2803	2492.61	1.12
Grimes_Burleigh	12540	1512	1352.47	1.12
Perry_Gaylord	16051	3534	3177.78	1.11
Ford_Whitey	9511	1956	1775.21	1.10
Ward_John	7385	920	836.86	1.10
Wynn_Early	13692	2334	2140.53	1.09
Brown_Mordecai	9517	1375	1291.50	1.06
Chesbro_Jack	8690	1265	1188.55	1.06
Marichal_Juan	10522	2303	2231.25	1.03
Ruth_Babe	3664	488	472.85	1.03
Niekro_Phil	16213	3342	3250.18	1.03
Faber_Red	12260	1471	1434.56	1.03
Lemon_Bob	8550	1277	1273.16	1.00
Pennock_Herb	10715	1227	1224.16	1.00
Palmer_Jim	11844	2212	2237.23	0.99
Hunter_Catfish	10348	2012	2046.13	0.98
Radbourn_Charley	13606	1830	1861.26	0.98
Roberts_Robin	14066	2357	2477.22	0.95
Welch_Mickey	14406	1850	1945.89	0.95
Spahn_Warren	15731	2583	2723.87	0.95
Coveleski_Stan	9246	981	1035.17	0.95
Hoyt_Waite	11287	1206	1275.12	0.95
Griffith_Clark	10157	955	1010.99	0.94
Joss_Addie	6981	920	976.29	0.94
Haines_Jesse	9626	981	1042.34	0.94
McGinnity_Joe	10324	1068	1195.92	0.89
Rixey_Eppa	13484	1350	1539.47	0.88
Galvin_Pud	18010	1806	2312.49	0.78
Cummings_Candy	6449	130	173.65	0.75
Lyons_Ted	12483	1073	1490.35	0.72
Spalding_Al	8672	142	216.84	0.65

For the record, Schilling's ratio is 1.34, Pedro's 1.57, Randy Johnson's 1.75, Clemens's 1.44, and Glavine's .83.

Looks like the best strikeout artists (Vance and Waddell) played in the first half of the 20th century!

(Stats through 2005.)

Edited by DSG, 03 April 2007 - 08:43 PM.


#33 Monster Dick Radatz

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Posted 04 April 2007 - 09:19 AM

The Reds probably just had lousy pitchers, so I'm not sure the results really show anything. But the description doesn't seem to have anything to do with contact, it has to do with strike throwing, especially early in counts. It's hard to see how throwing strikes early in a count would be bad. I'm with those who think the pitching to contact thing is a bunch of hooey. A good pitch is a good pitch, so what do you throw to get someone to make weak contact instead of swinging and missing? Wouldn't this be more of a function of the batter than anything?

From what I can tell, one invokes the "pitching to contact" after getting ahead in the count. Ie. you still have to throw strikes, but instead of nibbling at the corners or pitching outside the zone when you're ahead, you are supposed to throw something that will encourage weak contact that can be fielded. Since I think good pitchers try to do just that already, I don't see the radical change this is supposed to entail...

#34 wade boggs chicken dinner


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Posted 15 April 2007 - 07:55 AM

Curious to see if people have any further thoughts on a pitcher's ability to "pitch to contact" or control the quality of contact. G38:

"There are counts and situations where I used to be a four-seam fastball guy and maybe that's not the best pitch anymore," Schilling said. "If it's not going to be a fastball, it's still got to be a strike when you're behind in the count. That's where the changeup, the curveball, and the slider come in.

"Today, they made a lot of early outs. We knew they'd be aggressive. It's a very aggressive lineup top to bottom, but you've got to locate to make that work."

Which he did, demonstrating the pitcher he wants (or needs) to become. He kept his pitch count down. Schilling got out of innings with ground balls or fly outs, not with strikeouts, of which he claimed just four. He walked one.


Last night: 8 IP, 4 H, 4 Ks, 1 BB, 103-68.
Season: 19 IP, 16 H, 15 Ks, 4 BBs, 1 HR, Batting average against: .222; .OPS against = .583. He's through 295 pitches, 191 for strikes.

Interesting: versus lefties he's apparently .108/.321; versus righties, he's .343/.880.

#35 StupendousMan

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Posted 15 April 2007 - 11:37 AM

Curious to see if people have any further thoughts on a pitcher's ability to "pitch to contact" or control the quality of contact. G38:
Last night: 8 IP, 4 H, 4 Ks, 1 BB, 103-68.
Season: 19 IP, 16 H, 15 Ks, 4 BBs, 1 HR, Batting average against: .222; .OPS against = .583. He's through 295 pitches, 191 for strikes.


So far this year, Schilling is averaging 15.5 pitches per inning.

During the 2006 season, he averaged 15.9 pitches per inning.

During the period 1999 - 2006, Schilling's number of pitches per inning has fluctuated between a low of 13.7 (in 2000) and a high of 16.6 (2005).

It seems to me that if one is pitching to contact EFFECTIVELY, then the number of pitches per inning should be low, right?

#36 paulftodd


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Posted 16 April 2007 - 03:24 AM

So far this year, Schilling is averaging 15.5 pitches per inning.

During the 2006 season, he averaged 15.9 pitches per inning.

During the period 1999 - 2006, Schilling's number of pitches per inning has fluctuated between a low of 13.7 (in 2000) and a high of 16.6 (2005).

It seems to me that if one is pitching to contact EFFECTIVELY, then the number of pitches per inning should be low, right?


His first game he was at 22 P/IP, his last game 13 P/PA which is fairly effective, although we have seen some pitchers get down as low as 10 (Roy Halladay just did it over 10 IP). Sample size is way too small to conclude anything.

In a park like Fenway, you do not normally pitch to contact unless you are a GB pitcher, which Curt is not (45% FB rate this year). But in April, with the temp at 40 deg F and the wind blowing in at 20 MPH, pitching to contact will not hurt as much as it will in the warm weather.

Edited by paulftodd, 16 April 2007 - 03:26 AM.


#37 gyroballerkyle

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 03:36 AM

As a pitcher myself, I (and many of my HS/College teammates) viewed pitching strategy as most pitchers do, or so I think. On some days you will be absolutely dealing, feeling really good about your stuff, locating your fastball well, and your secondary stuff is just on fire. On these days you simply trust your stuff and use your strikeout pitch judiciously, and usually have a great game as a result.

However, the vast majority of the days will be games where you don't feel like you have A+ stuff. This is common! When you have mediocre or slightly above average stuff as compared to most of your recent starts, the strategy will vary depending on the hitter, but in general, to "pitch to contact" simply means to get more aggressive in the strike zone and still make good pitches to generate groundball outs. You can do this by working your standard pitch that you throw for a strike consistantly low and outside, and maybe taking off a bit of velocity to just locate better. The batters, in turn, realize that you are throwing a fairly predicable set of pitches, so they begin to time your pitches and swing more freely. What typically happens when you switch gears like this will be that the hitters either figure out they should swing more often or the coach tells them to do so - either way, you need to make good pitches that the hitters will go for, but usually cannot make solid contact on. Staying low in the strike zone and just locating your fastball will ensure they will consistantly make contact (you should mix in a secondary pitch for game theory reasons, of course), but it will usually be low and non-quality strikes. This should save your arm as the pitcher and allow your defense to get some work in.

The best pitchers do both: They trust their great stuff for a few batters and pitch to the weak hitters with the knowledge that they are likely to create outs for the pitcher, thus saving his workload for the tough batters in the lineup. This is basically how pitchers operated many decades ago - but with the advent of weight training and the ability of almost all major league-level players able to hit a meatball down the middle into the 7th row of the upper deck, this really isn't possible anymore. You can't "pitch to contact" to professional hitters and expect them to get themselves out in today's baseball world - the hitters are simply too good. As a result, the pitchers that make the big show are usually not Tom Glavine / Jamie Moyer-esque pitchers, despite their abilities to succeed and possibly even excel at lower levels of baseball. If you think about it, almost every single reasonable starter in the game has one strikeout pitch that makes the hitter look like an idiot, if even only once per game.

#38 Mike in CT



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Posted 16 April 2007 - 03:40 AM

Rob Bradford has a little blurb about Schilling's new approach...

- He threw 103 pitches (his most this season), but averaged just 3.55 pitches per at-bat. Through his first three starts last season he averaged 4.23. There, my friends, is the first sign of pitch efficiency. Actually, he didn't throw under 100 pitches last season until June 10.

- He is actually getting more swings and misses, averaging 8.16 per game this season compared to the first three starts of '06 (6.9) and '04 (5.58). Part of the reason for this is that he is able to set up hitters more effectively and getting the swing and miss when it counts the most. For example, all four of his strikeouts Saturday came on swings and misses, and 12 of his 15 K's this year have been of the same variety.

http://bradfordonbas...-schilling.html

Edited by Mike in CT, 16 April 2007 - 03:42 AM.


#39 paulftodd


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Posted 16 April 2007 - 04:38 AM

I like Bradford but the Angels are a bunch of hackers, their P/PA last year was 3.66, so Curt did 0.1 P/PA than the average pitcher. They struck out less than the average AL team, 914 vs 1016, and only 3 teams struck out fewer times, hence the lower K rate for Curt.