Know your Rays: Spray charts

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Can you recognize a player by the angle of deep fly balls off his bat?

Below are three graphs from my favorite site of tools, Jeff Zimmerman's Baseball Heat Maps. They show the angle of every home run or fly ball longer than 300 feet for three Rays players* from 2008 to the present. A 45 degree angle is down the right-field line, a 0 degree angle is to straight center field, and a -45 is down the left-field line. Who are the players?

*Warning, this may be a trick.

1) Batting right-handed:

Kraindbui4l3b5htra4584h317446334anglewm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

2) Batting left-handed:

Kraindbui4l3b5htra4584h317450314anglewm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

3) Batting right-handed

Kraindbui4l3b5htra4584h317450314anglewm_medium

via www.baseballheatmaps.com

Answers are below.

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Answers:

1) Evan Longoria. This one should have been easy. The star slugger has always had power to all fields, but he's going the other way more in 2013 than he ever has in the past, particularly on outside pitches, and seemingly to good effect. He boasts the best wRC+ of his career. Note though the high .340 BABIP (.307 career), and the fact that his strikeout rate has not fallen, as is usually predicted when a is more willing to "go with pitches." He does have the highest FB% and the lowest GB% of his career, though, which might be a function of not trying to pull outside pitches, and is a good development for a hitter with his power.

2 and 3) This is the trick. It's Ben Zobrist from both sides of the plate. Zobrist has been very consistent, but the thing that most intrigues me is how much 2010, his worst offensive year, stands out. In that year year, his isolated power dropped precipitously while he pulled the ball less often from both sides of the plate.

So far in 2013, Zobrist's isolated power is down again, to the same level it was in 2010 (.115). The drop is mostly coming from his at bats from the right side, where his ISO is now only .077 (small sample size alert). Sure enough, while his spray chart from the left has remained constant, his spray chart from the right is now nudging back towards the middle of the field.

Should you be worried about Zorilla? Probably not. Zobrist is having a fine season, and there's little reason to believe his skills are declining, but the difference between him and Longoria is interesting. They both have power to all fields, but Longoria has a good bit more. It may be good for him take outside pitches the other way. For Zobrist, who doesn't have the power to spare, he needs to jump on a pitch and pull it to really be considered a slugger.

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