Living on the edge, painting it black
Baseball has lead the charge in statistical analysis in sports, but in one area Football and Basketball are ahead of Baseball. In Football, teams measure how many times their offense gets into the Red Zone to show how well the team moves the ball, and how well their team finishes drives with a Touchdown, once they move the ball down the field. In Basketball, teams are looking at Paint Touches, to show how often teams are able to break a defense down creating better offensive opportunities for the entire team. Both sports’ stats could measure how much the team’s defense is giving up just as it is measuring the offensive opportunities. This translates to Baseball by tracking the pitch location. There is an old adage that each at bat in the MLB, the hitter will only get one good pitch to hit, so they better not miss it. One of the most unhittable pitch locations are those that are on the outer edge of the Strike Zone. Keeping the pitches on the edge doesn’t make a pitcher too predictable, even when a hitter knows he won’t be getting a pitch down the middle, the effectiveness of the location. Whether the pitches thrown to the edge are a strike or a ball, the last 2 inches in the Strike Zone, and the first two inches outside of the zone extend a hitters’ eye for the plate, as well as extend the umpires’ zone as the game goes on. Paint touches in basketball, Redzone trips in football, so baseball needs to track all pitches located on the last 2 inches on the edge of the plate and those that are a ball length or less off the plate. The toughest pitches to hit no matter how fast or however much it moves. It is difficult to hit those pitches, yet it makes the next pitch difficult, because of the differential in location. A pitch on the outer half sets up the next pitch so that an inside pitch would be exaggerated to a hitter, creating the possibility of locking up the hitter causing him to be late or not even be able to pull the trigger. Many pitchers change the eye level or positioning of the hitter, this would be a way to keep track of it. Inner half/outer half edge paints would give scouting reports for hitters, by helping them figure out which side of the plate the pitcher has more success at throwing to a dime.
The edge paints would explain the amount of “luck” a pitcher has. The vertical location of a pitch has a great effect on HR/FB, that is where the horizontal location comes in, hitters can not put full hacks on pitches on either side of the black.
The better the location a pitch has, the tougher time a hitter has at hitting it. Most pitches on the edge of the zone are difficult to put in play, so the highest two outcomes are foul ball or whiff. Living on the edge would signify the location of pitches whether ball or strike too close for hitters to take and making them think hard about how close the pitches are to being a strike. When painting, the most common technique is consistent strokes instead of dumping out a bucket on one area. Each pitch should have the care and control as a paint stroke, if you were to dump a bucket of paint on the strike zone, there would be too many pitches in the middle of the plate. The luck factor could be the percentage of borderline pitches that are called strikes.
Many conspiracy theorists have complained about Verlander’s zone against the A’s in the play-offs the past two seasons, because of how far off the corner he was getting strike calls. The strike zone is very difficult to keep at a strict interpretation because of the multiple planes the pitch travels through after leaving the hand, all the way to the mitt. That being said the heat maps on Fangraphs have an accurate hold on where the ball crosses. Visually these are helpful, but putting a number on working the edges and the black, paints a straightforward picture of how well the pitcher is commanding the outskirts of the Strike Zone. The customizable version of Fangraphs with the multi color intensities are a good start to the edge paint maps. In sports, people need numbers to compare quickly to other players, taking a look at edge paints , shows how difficult the pitcher is making it for the hitter regardless of “stuff.” It is time pitchers get evaluated by something other than their BB/9 for control. There are many guys with great command that only the scouts really give credit to. This way an agent can go to a team and show how much command this guy showed, similar to a few years ago, when relievers started picking up Holds to show their value to a team. Commanding the Strike Zone is most important when getting to the play-offs, because many of the play-off teams have great discipline as well as the ability to draw BB.
This is one more tool to measure a pitcher’s ability and further projection of results for the season.