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Know Thine Enemy: Baltimore Orioles

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. - Sun Tzu (722–481 BC)

Essentially, what Tzu-san was saying is that knowledge is power.  If we know the strengths and weakness of both our opponent and ourselves, then we can never be beaten as we will know how to attack and defend without over-extending ourselves.  If you are a frequent reader of this here internet stomping ground then you should feel fairly confident that you are armed to the teeth with knowledge about the Tampa Bay Rays.  Hopefully after reading this breakdown, you will feel equally confident that you know just as much about the Baltimore Oriole batters.

The idea here is to use the following images as a sort of cheat sheet about the tendencies of what appears to be an above average Orioles lineup.  Leaving aside adjectives like gritty, scrappy, experienced, or veteran we will look at how these batters have fared against lefties and righties and by each pitch type.  We will look at both the process and the results of over 57,000 pitches for each of these players over the last three years.  Matt Wieters was the only player that didn't meet this threshold, but he did have two years worth of pitches and I feel confident in this sample size.

First off, let's take a look at the results side of the equation.  For this we will be using one of my favorite statistics, wOBAcon.  Don't succumb to the allure of the bacon part, nor be put off if you are unfamiliar with the term.  This statistic uses the linear weights that are used to calculate wOBA, but we are only looking at balls in play.  Therefore, the formula is:

wOBAcon = ((1B*.9)+(2B*1.24)+(3B*1.56)+(HR*1.95))/BIP

This is a good way to look at bases per ball in play, though astute readers will notice some ready-made flaws.  Namely, wOBAcon only looks at what happens when a ball is put in play.  What about the batters plate discipline and ability to actually put a ball in play, or make contact?  Don't worry as I will also be presenting some neat data that looks at likelihoods of what I like to think of as the five outcomes of a pitch.  Every time a hurler follows his job description the outcome can be a Ball (B), Called Strike (CS), Foul (F), In Play (IP), or a Swing Strike (SS).  We can use these numbers to come up with a likelihood that a particular batter is going to swing or take a pitch.  Lastly, we can use the IP numbers in conjunction with the swing numbers to get an idea of how likely a player is to translate his swings into balls in play.  I have labeled this Contact%.

Following the path laid out above, let's first look at the wOBAcon numbers for each of their players based on pitcher handedness and pitch type:

(Legend: CH: Change, CU: Curveball, FA/FC/FF Fastballs that rise or move away from same-handers, FS/FT/SI: Fastballs that dive or move toward same-handers, SL: Slider)

If I haven't clearly stated it yet, know that you want higher numbers here.  In this instance, the darker the green the higher the number, the better the result.  Vice-versa when looking at the red or lower numbers.  Instantly, you can see that Mark Reynolds has ridiculous power when he puts a ball in play.  Of course as mentioned above, this isn't the full story, but for now realize that the guy is as strong as an ox.  On the opposite end of the spectrum is SS J.J. Hardy.  Over the last three years he hasn't shown much power against either type of pitcher, but even he seems to do damage when a lefty throws him a two-seamer, splitter, or sinker.

Remember, this is a cheat sheet that I hope you turn to as a reference as the season goes along.  As such, I'm not going to cover each and every situation.  This analysis would become obscenely long and you wouldn't read it anyway.  The important thing is to know what each cell is showcasing and that you, the reader, understand that Matt Wieters can't handle a slider from lefties or that a righty should not be chucking too many straight fastballs to Luke Scott when there are better options.  Please use the comments to ask questions or to open up a dialogue about a specific player or situation.  I look forward to seeing what you guys takeaway from this so please don't be bashful.

With wOBAcon covered, let's take a look at the outcomes for each batter based on pitcher handedness and pitch type starting with the Change Up:

via i273.photobucket.com <-- Right click these links to enlarge in a new tab

Keep in mind that the color shading is based on larger numbers being darker green.  This doesn't apply quite as well to negative statistics like swing strike, but know that the the shading does provide great indications for players that stand out from their peers in each category.  Again, I'm just going to touch on a couple of things that stand out and then move along as the important thing is to know what's being shown by each number.

For lefties, let's look at Vlad Guerrero.  From the first chart we can tell that Guerrero had a wOBAcon of .498 against lefties throwing him a change.  That's well above average, so let's see if we can gain any context from the outcomes chart.  Vladdy took the pitch for a ball 32% of the time, much lower than his new teammates and he took it for a called strike a miniscule 3% of the time.  We know Vlad is a free-swinger so that's probably not all that surprising.  Over the three-year period he fouled off 20% of these pitches which bests all of his new mates, while putting a whopping 33% of all 242 pitches into play.  He did whiff about 12% of the time, but that's still a little better than average.  What really shows his hacker ways is that he swung at 65% of all of these pitches, while the rest of the Orioles showed an even split of swinging at 50% and taking 50%.  When he did swing, Vlad put the ball in play 50% of the time.  That's above team average and shows that, yes he's a hacker, but he's making a ton of contact and hitting for power when he gets bat on ball.

Against right-handers throwing the change we saw that Wieters really struggled posting only a .270 wOBAcon.  Let's see if we can glean anything from the above chart.  We can see that he swings at a less than team average 46% of this pitch type, but when he does swing he's putting the ball in play 48% of the time.  He looks to have solid outcomes as he's taking more balls, equal called strikes, less fouls, putting more in play, and garnering less swinging strikes relative to his teammates.  We can infer from this data that even though he is showing good process when he does put the ball in play he's making weak contact and not getting many extra-base hits off this pitch.  So even though a pitcher might not get a ton of whiffs against Wieters it would be smart to continue to go to the change as Wieters has shown that he can't do much with it.

In the second outcomes chart we will look at how the Orioles batters did against curveballs.  Several of the O's batters really struggled with the left-handed curveball as we saw in the wOBAcon chart.  Let's look at Luke Scott who had a .280 wOBAcon against the deuce.  He's swinging at only 37% of these pitches and putting only 33% of those pitches into play, both of which are well below-average.  The benefit is that he is taking 43% of these pitches for balls, but he's also taking 20% as called strikes.  He's only putting 12% of all 193 pitches into play which was equal to his swing strike%.

Against righties throwing the curveball, let's look at someone that mashed.  Adam Jones had a higher wOBAcon against this pitch at .446 than any other pitch that righties threw to him.  He swung at 51% of these pitches while only putting 34% into play.  He takes the pitch for a ball 1/3 of the time and a strike another 16%, both below team average.  He swung and missed at a whopping 17% of these pitches while putting 18% in play.  We can infer from these numbers that if he sees a righty throw him a curveball he's going to be up there hacking and missing, but when he does lay into a pitch he's getting more production out of his balls in play than his teammates.  There's much more risk/reward for say James Shields to throw Pacman a curveball than say J.J. Hardy who might not whiff as much, but also isn't known to rip the pitch.

Recall that these are the fastballs that either "rise" or move away from same-handed batters.  It's a bit surprising to me that Vlad had the lowest wOBAcon (.312) against left-handed fastballs.  He's still a hacker swinging at over half (55%) of these pitches and putting a sub-par 35% of those into play.  He's fouling off a ton of these pitches while collecting more swing strikes than called strikes as a product of his see ball, hit ball approach.  What this tells me is that Vlad's bat speed is slowing and that good fastballs from lefties (David Price, Jake McGee take note) can eat Vlad up without worrying too much about him punishing mistakes.

Against righties, it comes as a bit of a surprise that Derrek Lee had an above-average .470 wOBAcon on the straight fastball.  He has swung at a roughly team average 45% of these pitches while putting a slightly above average 41% of his swings into play.  Of these more than 3,000 pitches he's right around the team average in each of his outcome percentages, so we can assume that he's showing a solid process, but achieving far above team-average results.  I know you generally want your righties to pound righties with fastballs, but it would be smart for Rays righties to mix it up a bit more.

These are the fastballs that ride in on same-handed players or show noticeable drop.  Against the slightly slower, more movement fastballs from lefties, Brian Roberts excels.  He's swinging at a little less than the team average, but he's showing good discipline as his takes show much more balls than team average and much lower called strikes.  He does foul off plenty of these pitches and put less in play, but he almost never whiffs.  From all this we can tell that you probably don't want to throw B-Rob one of these as he's much more likely to take it for a ball or to put a hurting on the pitch.  To me this makes a lot of sense as Roberts has a bit of inside-out to his swing so you're playing into his hands when a lefty throws one of these pitches.

Against righties, J.J. Hardy really struggled posting a .246 wOBAcon over this period.  By far his lowest number against righties.  You can see that he's taking roughly 65% of these pitches, but when he does swing he's putting the ball in play 52% of the time.  Though he's taking a similar percentage of balls, he's taking a whopping 22% of all of these pitches as called strikes.  He's not whiffing a ton, but he generally looks over-matched on these pitches.  It might be smart to start off an at bat with one of these pitches in order to get ahead early as he's likely to take or not do much when he does swing.

Our last chart is going to focus on the slider.  Typically, opposite-handed batters tend to crush the slider while same-handers struggle.  For this reason you generally don't see a pitcher go to this weapon when it doesn't make sense.  Obviously there are outliers like Scott Kazmir's 2007 slider which was a true wipe-out pitch.  An example would be Mark Reynolds having a wOBAcon of .465 on sliders from lefties.  Surprisingly, he's swinging at less than 40% (team average of 48%) of these pitches, and even when he does swing he's only putting about 1/5 of those pitches in play.  Note, I find it really interesting to look at how Reynolds has fared across the board here.  He makes very little contact, but when he does, you better hide your kids and/or spouse because he's rapin' pitches.  He does actually show pretty good discipline as he's taking nearly 45% of all of these pitches for balls and a roughly team average 16% for called strikes.  Again, we see that he's only putting 8% of the entire subset into play and whiffing nearly a 1/5 of the time.  If a lefty is throwing him a slider it better be out of the zone with two strikes as he looks like he's not willing to expand the zone early unless it's a mistake.

Brian Roberts is kind of a nasty player that doesn't have many weaknesses, but it looks like the slider from righties can negate him a bit.  Over these last 468 pitches he's had a .288 wOBAcon swinging at less than the team average (46% v. 51% and putting far less balls in play when he does swing (32% v. 38%).  The issue appears to lie in him fouling off relatively more pitches while putting less in play.  He isn't plagued by whiffs as badly as his teammates, but it is his personal high amongst pitches from righties, and as the wOBAcon shows, when he does put it in play he's not having much success.

Keep these charts handy as this is just the first three of 18 games against Baltimore this year and look forward to similar breakdowns for each of our AL East rivals and hopefully all of the AL if I can find the time.  Also, I'm really interested in your thoughts.  Leave comments or reach out on twitter @SandyKazmir.

Lastly, here's all the pitch charts together.  You may want to save as to your computer so you can always pull it up when you need to: