Opening week: Charting the Rays starters

Will David Price resurrect his slider to start the season? Let's argue about it. - USA TODAY Sports

I find charting pitch types to be an engaging and rewarding way to watch baseball. Chart along with me and we'll see who's best.

Baseball's a funny sport. It's easy to watch a game with a few friends, drink a few beers, eat a few pizzas, and have a wonderful time, yet at the game's end know absolutely nothing about what happened. When I'm looking for insight, I have to force myself to pay attention. I do that by charting pitch types.

But if there's one thing I learned from opening day of last year, it's that as a baseball watcher, I am not yet up to game speed. My timing is off. Even a week into the 2012 season, I remember watching James Shields pitch in Detroit via the offset camera of the away feed, and not being able to tell his slider and his much vaunted changeup apart. Shameful.

So this season, I'll be charting carefully from day 1 (and enjoying the Trop's excellent straight-back home feed camera angle), and I've created some forms for the rest of y'all to do so as well. Let's just start with the first nine opposing batters of each game in the opening series. The forms will dump into a spreadsheet, and I'll go back afterward though the PITCHf/x data to check and see who was the most right.

Here are the forms, and what pitches to expect from each pitcher. They allow for each at bat to go up to 10 pitches. If the at bat is shorter than that, leave the rest of the spots blank and move on to the next at bat. I'm not going to worry about separating four-seam and two-seam fastballs right now. That's really hard to do live, and none of these pitchers have extreme sinkers.

Game One -- David Price

Price throws a hard fastball that I expect to be in the mid 90s, with plenty of run in on left handed batters and away from right handed batters. He'll back it up with a mostly straight cutter in the low 90s or high 80s (ignore those green dots; they're cutters, not sliders), a changeup in the mid 80s that hides within his fastball, and a curve right around 80 mph. Of course, there's a decent possibility he throws only fastballs the first time through the order.

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via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com

Game Two -- Jeremy Hellickson

Jeremy Hellickson is actually pretty similar to Price. His fastballs, cutters, and changeups are about 5 mph slower and are shifted a few inches gloveside, and his curve has more depth to it, but he's using the same mix. Pay attention to how Helly uses his curve against left handed batters. If he's able to locate it on the back door for strikes and down and in for strikeouts, he's on the right track.

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via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com

Game 3 -- Matt Moore

Matt Moore will look a little bit different. Like Price, he throws a mid 90s fastball with a ton of rise and armside run. His changeup usually clocks in at the mid 80s, has more average run than his fastball, and drops a bit as well. His curve is where things get really interesting. Those green dots below (all labeled by MLBAM as sliders), are actually two different kinds of curves, one slower, one faster. Contrary to some published opinions, they're distinct pitches that he's thrown since his time in the minors. The fast curve comes only a mph or so below the velocity on the changeup, and will have quick, biting motion much like that of a slider. The slower curve will sit at 80 mph, and will look much more loopy. I don't expect to do a very good job telling them apart this early in the season, but there are some misconceptions as to what Moore throws flying around the internet, so it's definitely worth paying attention to.

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via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com

There you have it. Try the format out, let me know what y'all like and what you don't. If it works well and people are game, we may have charting contests for prizes down the road, but for now baseball is prize enough all on it's own. Happy opening week!

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