Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ryan Howard's Whiffs by Pitch Type

I submitted my Mark Reynolds post yesterday to Fangraphs' community blog... and they accepted! Needless to say, I'm getting some site traffic from Fangraphs now, and I thought I'd share some plots of the other prodigious power hitter who strikes out a ton. Let's take a look at Ryan Howard, Mark Reynolds' left-handed counterpart, only 40 pounds heavier.

Ryan Howard has been either second or third in the entire MLB in swinging strike percentage and other strikeout categories since Mark Reynolds' debut in 2007. Fangraphs' stats tell us that Howard has swung and missed on 14.6% of pitches so far in 2010 while posting a swinging strike percentage consistently above 15% in the previous three seasons. Like Reynolds, Howard doesn't actually swing at everything compared to other swing-happy batters, swinging at less than 50% of pitches every season for his career.

Again, I'm going to leave out cutters and just look at four-seam fastballs, sliders, curveballs, and changeups due to sample size. Let's look at four-seam fastballs (987 pitches from RHP, 649 pitches from LHP):

It seems like Howard lets off the high fastball more than Reynolds does (or makes more contact), keeping his whiff rate below 30% against fastballs while Reynolds reached the 40% range. But just as Reynolds falls victim to low and inside fastballs from right-handed pitchers occasionally, Howard whiffs at low and inside fastballs from left-handed pitchers. Take another look at Reynolds' four-seam fastball whiff plots and notice the symmetry based on handedness compared to Howard's.

Here's a look at Howard against sliders (892 from RHP, 817 from LHP):

Looking at Reynolds' whiff rates against sliders, there's that symmetry again, but for both batters, it seems as if the opposite handed pitcher is more successful at getting either batter to whiff on sliders, which suggests that one way a pitcher can counter an opposite-handed batter's platoon advantage is to throw low and inside sliders. Of course, that's based on a sample size of the two most whiff-prone hitters in the MLB, so take that suggestion with a grain of salt.

Let's look at Howard against curveballs (675 from RHP, 518 from LHP):

These look similar to that of Reynolds, except that Howard swings and misses on curveballs more from LHP while Reynolds whiffs on curveballs from RHP, again, because of the opposite handedness.

Finally, and this is good, let's see if Ryan Howard falls victim to changeups the same way that Mark Reynolds does (982 from RHP, 274 from LHP):

Now this is telling (I'll eventually find and use another adjective to describe my amazement at a discovery). Howard swings and misses at over 30% of changeups in nearly all parts within the strikezone while he is particularly weak against low changeups from left-handed hitters at over 40% whiff rate, just like Reynolds' weakness against RHP changeups.

Maybe it's just coincidence that two power hitters with the highest whiff rates, one right-handed and the other left-handed, are weakest against same-handed changeups all over the strikezone but particularly low around the knees. Either way, it's definitely interesting to realize the main weaknesses of Reynolds and Howard. I'd imagine that knowing where to throw a certain pitch and being able to combine them effectively will get Reynolds and/or Howard to continue whiffing at a high rate. I'd also imagine that the difference between a deceptively low and inside slider and a hanging one is minuscule, even for a major league pitcher, just as a high fastball out of the zone could just as easily go down the middle of the plate. Of course, those are the types of pitches that both Reynolds and Howard can and routinely do crush out of the ballpark. To confirm that, we'll have to look at slugging percentage by pitch type another time.


  1. Tremendous visuals of a statistic. Love the work.

  2. Two comments:

    1. Change ups do get the most swinging strikes of any pitch.

    2. What is the sample size of changeups from same-handed pitchers? When I looked at Hisanori Takahashi for Amazin Avenue (this is garik16 btw), his changeup when thrown to same-handed batters (very very small sample size) had a higher swinging strike rate than against opposite-handed batters(where it was still really good).

    I would suspect its a much MUCH smaller sample size (Change-ups are traditionally thrown at opposite handed batters) and is thus affecting things. Mind you, i seem to recall seeing changeups were worse in my database against same-handed batters, so i could be wrong.

    Also, the MLBAM classification system may be misclassifying sliders as changeups from same-handed pitchers.

  3. @garik16, thanks for stopping by. One thing I did want to do was to compare Howard and Reynolds to the MLB average, but I haven't been able to do that yet. I listed the sample sizes before each graph, so for Reynolds, he saw 430 changeups from RHP and 338 changeups from LHP. Howard saw 982 changeups from RHP and 274 changeups from LHP.

    A quick query tells me that according to my database, RHP vs. RHH saw 57026 changeups and LHP vs. LHH saw 10313 changeups while RHP vs. LHH saw 119455 changeups and LHP vs. RHH saw 73803 changeups. So it seems like you're right about changeups from same-handed pitchers, and I'll definitely note this next time.

    Dave Allen made me aware that when the pitches get down to the lower hundreds level that I should be extremely careful about making these regression models, so I don't disagree that the sample sizes could affect the results. So in the future, the parameters I set for each model would have to account for the sample size.

    Concerning MLBAM's pitch type classification, I have not worked with my PITCHf/x database enough to be able to make my own or use another pitch type classification, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt for now.