pedro alvarez is El Toro

Pedro Cerrano: Bats, they are sick. I cannot hit curveball. Straightball I hit it very much. Curveball, bats are afraid. I ask Jobu to come, take fear from bats. I offer him cigar, rum. He will come.

You can actually hide a weakness in the real life major leagues.

Consider the case of one Mike Zunino. The book on Zunino in Triple-A was that he couldn’t hit the curveball, and yet his major league strikeout rate (23.4%) works at his position (catchers strike out 20.2% of the time) and comes in a 100+ plate appearance, which is almost reliable. The problem with exploiting this weakness is that not every pitcher has a curveball. The league sees 9.6% curveballs, Zunino saw 10.6% before injury felled him. He didn’t do much with those curveballs — it was his worst pitch  by FanGraphs’ pitch-type values — but 90% of the pitches he saw weren’t curveballs.

So it’s possible. And that’s how you get major league hitters that have weaknesses, holes in their approach. Stephen Loftus at Beyond the Box Score set out to find those holes. By using the batting average on each pitch and then weighting things appropriately, he found the pitches that are kryptonite for different hitters around the league.

Here is the overall top 20 worst by Loftus’ Cerrano Factor (great name), with their problem pitches listed:

Name Overall CF Problem Pitch
Denard Span 1.324 Sinker
Nate McLouth 0.811 Sinker
Mark Reynolds 0.613 FourSeam/Slider/Cutter
Alberto Callaspo 0.554 Changeup/Splitter
Chris Carter 0.513 Slider
Brian Dozier 0.489 Fourseam/Sinker/Slider
Dan Uggla 0.458 Slider/Curve
Victor Martinez 0.438 Fourseam/Changeup
Kendrys Morales 0.430 Changeup
Matt Dominguez 0.407 Slider/Cutter
John Buck 0.393 Fourseam/Curve
Ichiro Suzuki 0.369 Fourseam/Splitter
Michael Brantley 0.328 Fourseam/Sinker
Gerardo Parra 0.327 Changeup/Slider/Splitter
Pedro Alvarez 0.316 Changeup/Curve
Todd Frazier 0.310 Slider/Cutter
Matt Wieters 0.305 Changeup
Mark Trumbo 0.303 Curve
Jimmy Rollins 0.287 Sinker
Ben Revere 0.285 Fourseam

The easiest actionable item here is for daily fantasy. You can see which pitches these guys have trouble with, and avoid them in daily matchup play fairly easily. Oh it’s Shelby Miller against the Pirates today, maybe I’ll leave Pedro Alvarez on the bench. Boom, roasted. (He hit a homer off Shelby Miller last night.)

Don’t know what to tell you about the guys that have trouble against the four-seamer, that’s just a problem. Hard to lay off a pitch that’s thrown more than any other pitch in baseball.

Back to the pitch type values at FanGraphs, which attempt to do something similar to this by assigning value to the results that come after a single pitch. We’ve got six changeup guys on here, and changeups are fairly easy for PITCHf/x to spot. Let’s see where our changeup problem children rank on the changeup pitch type laggardboard:

  • Alberto Callaspo (11th, -4.3)
  • Victor Martinez (10th, -4.2)
  • Kendrys Morales (14th, -3.8)
  • Gerardo Parra (2nd, -6.2)
  • Pedro Alvarez (134th, -0.5)
  • Matt Wieters (1st, -6.8)

Well, huh. That’s weird, I thought Pedro was bad against changeups. Well, he was when we used batting average as a measure, and I guess that isn’t actually surprising. He’s not good at batting average. He is good at dingers, and power, and sometimes walks. This year, of the 224 changeups he’s seen, he’s only put 12 into play without creating an out. That’s not going to look good in batting average. But he’s also gotten 68 walks. And he drove in runs on nine of the 12 balls in put in play. Actually, he’s homered on six of the 12 changeups he’s put in play. Not good for your batting average, but pretty good for your real life team and for your daily matchup squad, if you get lucky and he goes yard.

Any results-based pitch type analysis has a flaw in that it relies on sequencing. You might whiff on a changeup just because you’ve been watching 95 mph fastballs go by and you were trying to gear up for the heat.

But that’s one time through the order, and really, if you consistently gear up for fastballs and flail at changeups, maybe you are actually bad at hitting changeups. The idea behind the pitch type values is that, over the course of a season, you can actually see who can hit the curve and who can’t. Before you spend big bucks on a stud in matchup play, it might be a good idea to check those leaderboards. Just to avoid the wrath of Jobu at least.