Matsuzaka’s Journey Back

Two things we all know (or is that “know”?) about pitching:

– There’s no such thing as a pitcher with the skill of pitching out of jams. If a pitcher has much better numbers with runners on (or RISP) than with the bases empty, that’s luck and it will normalize, sooner than later.

– There’s no such thing as a pitcher with the skill of getting lots of easy outs on balls in play. While there are real differences in BABIP skill (with knuckleballers leading the pack), if a pitcher has a low enough BABIP, that’s luck and it will normalize, sooner than later.

What, then, do we make of a pitcher who consistently pitches out of jams by improving his rate of easy outs on balls in play?

I think we all knew that Dice-K has both a crazy bases empty / runners on split (and hence strand rate) and a crazy BABIP. What I didn’t know until I ran the numbers is that the crazy BABIP happens only with runners on:

Matsuzaka Tricks

Split PA BA OBP SA OPS CR/27 K% BB% HRC BABIP XBH/BIP 1B/(1B+OIP) XBH/HIP
Bases Empty 1002 .271 .357 .429 .787 6.02 .211 .111 .039 .330 .088 .265 .268
Men On 835 .215 .310 .355 .665 3.31 .229 .104 .039 .259 .073 .200 .281
% Improvement 9% 6% 0% 22% 17% 24% -5%

The improvement in strike zone command seems modest, but it’s crucial: even without the change in BABIP it would be enough to reduce his component ERA with runners on from 6.02 to 4.58. But that guy would still be lousy; he needs the low BABIP with runners on to succeed. And the improvement in strike zone command with runners on shows that the notion that he nibbles more to avoid harder contact is just wrong; when runners get on he comes after hitters more — and with more success.

It’s not merely that he’s doing it with smoke and mirrors, it’s like the smoke is in front of the mirrors and nowhere else.

One might begin to think that he simply pitches better out of the stretch. But then what do we make of this already legendary split, even with its eenie-weenie-teenie-tiny sample size?

Matsuzka Tricks Reloaded

Split PA BA OBP SA OPS CR/27 K% BB% HRC BABIP XBH/BIP 1B/(1B+OIP) XBH/HIP
Other Men On 778 .218 .315 .361 .676 3.40 .226 .105 .039 .263 .074 .204 .281
Bases Full 57 .163 .246 .265 .511 2.20 .263 .088 .028 .200 .057 .152 .286
16% 17% 30% 24% 23% 26% -2%

Or this more obscure and even more puzzling one?

Matsuzaka Tricks Revolutions

Split PA BA OBP SA OPS CR/27 K% BB% HRC BABIP XBH/BIP 1B/(1B+OIP) XBH/HIP
Leadoff Batter 441 .290 .379 .464 .842 7.10 .200 .111 .044 .347 .088 .285 .253
Other Empty 561 .256 .340 .402 .743 5.27 .219 .111 .035 .316 .089 .249 .281
% Improvement 10% 1% 20% 9% -1% 12% -11%

Let’s just combine the last two for easy scanning:

Matsuzala Tricks, The Box Set

Split PA BA OBP SA OPS CR/27 K% BB% HRC BABIP XBH/BIP 1B/(1B+OIP) XBH/HIP
Leadoff Batter 441 .290 .379 .464 .842 7.10 .200 .111 .044 .347 .088 .285 .253
Other Empty 561 .256 .340 .402 .743 5.27 .219 .111 .035 .316 .089 .249 .281
Other Men On 778 .218 .315 .361 .676 3.40 .226 .105 .039 .263 .074 .204 .281
Bases Full 57 .163 .246 .265 .511 2.20 .263 .088 .028 .200 .057 .152 .286

Pure science fiction.

I definitely intend to attack this question with pitch/fx data over the winter. Right now, I’m open to any possibility.

Taken from: Sons of Sam Horn
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One Response to Matsuzaka’s Journey Back

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