Right Down the Middle

Last week I took a look at the relationship between pitches and home runs, checking to see if there were any noticeable discrepancies between those that sail out of the stadiums and those that do not. The results showed that fastballs turned into souvenirs when they came in with lesser velocities and movements as well as with poor location; breaking balls were hit out when they hung in the zone.

While conducting these analyses I became very interested in pursuing the idea of mistake pitches and balls thrown not just in the zone but right down the middle. Of all the balls that were hit for home runs from the top home run surrendering pitchers this year, at least 80% were smackdab in the middle of the plate. Since this piqued my interest I decided to check out which pitchers threw down the middle most often.
The strike zone, in Pitch F/X terms, is generally -0.85 to 0.85 on the horizontal axis and 1.6 to 3.5 on the vertical axis. I went smaller, looking at pitches in the middle of that zone, as evidenced by this picture:


Probing my database for pitches in the smaller box–what I would consider to be down the middle–I found a ton of pitches. Keep in mind, though, that the results below are from pitches tracked by the Pitch F/X system; there are some pitchers that might have a higher total or percentage but did not have the luxury of having their relevant data recorded.
I found 165 pitchers with a significant number of pitches down the middle. Luckily, in terms of using neat/even numbers in a list, the top 30 percentages happened to consist of everyone with at least 14% of their pitches thrown down the middle. Here are the top ten:
1) Ted Lilly, 18.6%
2) Paul Byrd, 16.7%
3) Josh Beckett, 16.3%
4) Micah Owings, 16.1%
5) Tim Lincecum, 15.9%
6) John Danks, 15.8%
7) Felix Hernandez, 15.7%
8) Greg Maddux, 15.5%
9) Joe Blanton, 15.5%
10) Justin Verlander, 15.4%
Lilly threw just about two percent more pitches down the middle than his closest competitor whereas #2-#10 were separated by a total 1.3 percent. Numbers 11-20:
11) Andy Sonnanstine, 15.3%
12) Kevin Millwood, 15.2%
13) Cole Hamels, 15.1%
14) Aaron Harang, 15.0%
15) Brian Bannister, 14.8%
16) Daisuke Matsuzaka, 14.7%
17) Vicente Padilla, 14.7%
18) Matt Cain, 14.7%
19) Javier Vazquez, 14.7%
20) Randy Wolf, 14.6%
And the last group with at least 14% of their pitches down the middle:
21) Brad Penny, 14.5%
22) Roy Oswalt, 14.5%
23) Johan Santana, 14.4%
24) Nate Robertson, 14.3%
25) Ervin Santana, 14.2%
26) Miguel Batista, 14.2%
27) Jon Garland, 14.1%
28) John Lackey, 14.1%
29) CC Sabathia, 14.1%
30) Jarrod Washburn, 14.0%
Unfortunately, just as David Appelman found a couple of years ago, there is not much correlation between pitches thrown down the middle and, well, anything else at all. I thought there might be something significant between down the middle pitches and line drives–it’s been theorized before that line drives might correlate quite well with mistake pitches–but, alas, there was not; at least not yet.
Additionally, I would like to explore this at the end of this season, or perhaps further into the year, when all pitchers would have the same (or close to it) amount of data recorded. For now, though, at the very least, it’s somewhat interesting to see which pitchers throw the most down the middle.
On Saturday we will look at the opposite, pitchers who throw the most OUT of the zone and then compare the results (Balls, Called K, Swing K, etc) between pitches down the middle and those out of the zone.


2 Responses to Right Down the Middle

  1. Pizza Cutter says:

    Eric, who has the lowest percentage of pitches right down the pipe? (Or who’s the bottom 10 or whatever.)

  2. To avoid including pitchers who maybe didn’t have many pitches tracked, I took everyone with a certain minimum and, I’ll doublecheck the big file when I get back home, but I remember the bottom 6 of those who really qualified included McGowan, Halladay, and AJ Burnett.

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