MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Colorado Rockies

Dan Brooks, one of the main dudes behind the Brooks Baseball pitch fx database, recently added a very interesting wrinkle to his site. Long a source of pitch type usage, Brooks now features situational pitch splits, too.

It might seem like the arcane minutia and type of bookkeeping that drives non-baseball nerds batty but, in my mind, there is real value in this type of information.

If you don’t believe me, take it from Miguel Cabrera. He knows things about pitchers and he told me the following this year when asked what kind of video work he does on opposing pitchers:

I watch more when he’s got runners in scoring position, I see how he pitches from the stretch. So when I go out there, I have a better idea of what he does.

Now Cabrera is obviously a gifted hitter (one who does this “video work” by watching MLB Network and Sportscenter) but he is quite correct to look for RISP trends among opposing pitchers.

I don’t think it is uncommon for quote unquote run producers like Cabrera to keep their eye on this type of situational usage. Not only is what they get pay for, but these middle-of-the-order type hitters hit in these situations often thanks to traditional batting order construction (aka logic.)

A part of me wondered how this would look for pitchers. In Brooks’ BP piece, he notes how differently Ubaldo Jimenez tends to operate with runners in scoring position and also how Yu Darvish shies away from the fastball when confronted with an RISP situation.

Consider Clayton Kershaw. Against right-handed hitters, he bares down when runners are on base. From Brooks, check out these two usage charts, detailing the big lefty’s pitch selection since 2011.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Compared this to his numbers without anybody on base.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

It’s very interesting to me that Kershaw attacks hitters with more soft stuff when runners are on base. Looking for weak contract? Trying to get ahead? I don’t know that pitchers think explicitly in these terms but there is at least a slight adjustment in mindset. Perhaps a chicken and egg scenario? Pitcher and catcher notice a hitter pressing, looking to drive in a run so they throw more off-speed to catch an overaggressive hitter? The mind, it reels!

For what it’s worth, over this timeframe Kershaw struck out 26.4% of the hitters he faced, compared to a 5.2% walk rate and a .134 well-hit average against with the bases empty. With RISP, the numbers “climb” to 29% K rate, 9.3% walk rate and a .111 WHA. Bearing down indeed. (Via ESPN Stats & Info.)

Lots of fun to dig through the numbers and see how pitchers might switch it up with runners on base. Head over to Brooks, pull up your favorite player card and dig in. Do the numbers confirm what you already thought about this guy? It’s January, what else do you have to live for?

Important Read of the Day

Baseball: Japan at San Francisco Giants

Tanaka fever is coming to a head, as the deadline for big league clubs is set for this Friday. Some officials believe a deal will happen by tomorrow, giving teams a few extra days to conduct their own physical examinations.

There’s a whole lot of stuff out there right now, rating his stuff and mentality and the like. Look no further than this great piece at Baseball America that combines GIFs of a great start with some scouts spouting off their two cents. It’s a fun read.

Then click this link and read Dodgers Digest, the newest spot for all things Dodger, as they attempt to contexualize Tanaka’s Japanese numbers and what it might mean when he lands stateside. As Dodgers fans, they have a horse in this race. Fans of the Giants or just about any other club in baseball can only read it and, well, weep.

If reading isn’t for you, check out this video of all 200 strikeouts the Great TANAK recorded last season. Yikes.