Hot Hot Heat Maps

Note the Grip

During the End of Sleighs Snowpocalypse, it is important to think warm thoughts to stay alive. I submit nothing could be warmer than heat maps. Heat is right there in the name! Fangraphs introduced customizable heat maps this week to the delight of lovelorn nerds the world over.

Heat maps are a great tool for tracking pitches over an entire season in a simple, visual way. The brighter the colour on the map, the more frequently that pitch was thrown in that area. No heat map is as warm as this half-baked and tortured analogy, that much I know.

These visualizations are an excellent means of tracking changes in philosophy when a player moves organizations in addition to exposing patterns smart teams should (or will attempt to) exploit. Yesterday at my regular home blog Ghostrunner on First (read it every day y’all) I used these customizable heat maps to show how Jays ace Ricky Romero only throws his change up to right handed hitters and Brandon Morrow’s newfound love of his change up since coming to the Blue Jays.

As pitchers go, Roy Halladay is the alpha and the omega. He sets the standard. We all know about his work habits and dedication and so on and so forth. One look at his heat maps show a player not content to stick with what worked in the past. Roy Halladay seeks constant improvement, he always looks for new ways to get batters out.

Roy Halladay long tinkered with his changeup as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. It never really made it into heavy rotation, for whatever reason. Moving to the National League was enough of a catalyst for Halladay to diversify his holdings by improving his changeup. This is what Jays pitching coach Bruce Walton told the Globe & Mail’s Jeff Blair about Halladay’s changeup during the 2010 playoffs:

“Before it was okay,” Walton said Thursday about Halladay’s changeup, “but now it’s got bigger depth, and that just goes to show you that the great ones never stop learning.

One expert believes Halladay improved his changeup, but does that mean he actually used it? Too often we hear of pitchers who devoted the off-season to improving one aspect of their game but when push comes to shove, they lack the confidence and commitment to use it. Does that sound like Roy Halladay? Results below!

Once again, this image measures the frequency and location Roy Halladay threw his changeup. 2010 is on the left, 2009 on the right. The more brightly coloured the area, the more frequently he hit that location. The image is from behind the plate (pretend you’re the catcher!) so right handed batters stand on the left side of the image.

That is an incredible increase in changeup usage, especially to arm-sided batters (hitters who bat from the same side as the pitcher throws aka righty-on-righty violence). Halladay seems determined to throw this pitch down and away, possibly starting it just off the outside corner. A good place to live, no doubt.

Head over to Fangraphs and check out some of the other changes Halladay made in 2010. One of the most interesting his use of the cutter against left handed hitters. A great tool for what will surely be your last day in the office.

Comments (12)

  1. I love heat maps. I used them yesterday when trying to figure out why Kyle Farnsworth got so much better after 2008; I didn’t put them in the post, but perhaps I should.

    I love how Halladay constantly adapts; just when hitter’s start to figure out what he’s doing, he changes it up (only a small pun intended). Of course, it helps when you have upwards of five or six effective pitches to throw at a hitter.

  2. Being able to throw strikes with LITERALLY ANYTHING is an edge Halladay has on the field.

  3. I tried to comment with just “swoon”, an accurate summation of all my thoughts on Roy Halladay, but apparently it was too short. Damn you, Score, for not encouraging my once in a lifetime succinctness.

  4. I’ve had the same problem before. You try to be funny and to the point and it’s all like “eat me, your comment is too short”. I blame John Levy.

  5. Changeups, down and away to RH batters. Forever.

    The Chooch Effect?

  6. Dogs………………………………………………

    F’n Rocky!

  7. Walton’s comment is fitting. While it’s remarkable for anyone to be blessed with as much natural ability as Roy Halladay that doesn’t tell the whole story of why he is successful. What has truly separated him from his competition are the two qualities that I honestly believe are the most important in determining an individual’s success, be they a baseball player or anything else.

    1) Perseverance in the face of adversity or even failure.
    2) A willingness to ask questions about how you can improve and keep working to answer them regardless of how much success you have already achieved.

    I think that anybody who has these two qualities, a certain necessary baseline amount of natural ability at whatever it is they do, and just a bit of luck will be successful given enough time. People often go too far in characterizing athletes as heroic or villainous or in attaching some moral quality to them based on their play in the field. However, with that said, I think it’s safe to say that while Halladay’s great success on the mound is admirable in and of itself, it’s the presence of those two qualities in him that are most deserving of our respect.

  8. He’s got the hunger!

  9. I am going to start a fantasy league where hitting hunger and pitching hunger are the only categories. If you draft Roy Halladay then you win pitching hunger and if you draft David Eckstein then you win hitting hunger. Also considering adding a grittiness category as a tie-breaker.

  10. Second overall pick: Brendan Ryan

    That’s right, I’m starting a run on white shortstops.

    • Ooooh. I think that’s the first mistake of the draft. Didn’t LaRussa want him out of St. Louis because he lacked heart. Time to capitalize. I’ll take Ryan Theriot.

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