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Command, tunneling, and the new pitching statistics from Baseball Prospectus

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Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

This is an important week at Baseball Prospectus, where new research based upon PitchF/X will be debuted for the public, and the aspect I’m most excited to dive into will be Pitcher Tunneling.

Pitcher Tunneling

Tunneling is a very straightforward concept, as it describes the flight path of the pitch. For utilization of this concept, the idea is that if you are a pitcher with just ok stuff, you try to make all your pitches travel down the same tunnel to gain an advantage.

Pitchers with separate elite pitches do not need to rely on tunneling. Yu Darvish and Clayton Kershaw, for instance, need not dwell on tunneling to enhance their game because their pitches are filthy on their own. Batters cannot touch them.

On the other hand, guys like Kyle Hendricks (who placed second in Cy Young voting this off-season) and Marcus Stroman, or Greg Maddux before them, succeed on the mound by making all their pitches look the same for as long as possible.

That's tunneling.

It should be mentioned that tunnelling is not the secret to success for every pitcher, or even for the entirety of a pitcher’s repertoire. If a Rays pitcher works a knuckle-curve into their arsenal, you would not expect that pitch to look the same as their fastball.

Tunneling is instead all about taking advantage of “late break” on a pitch, keeping hitters off balance as much as possible, and delaying their decision making.

BPro will publish their stuff on this later this week, and we’re excited to see the results for Rays pitchers.

Pitcher Command

To introduce Pitching Week, Baseball Prospectus has an entirely different article up today all about commanding the pitch, and how observable that might be. Think of it as being the pitched component of Catcher Framing.

In the wake of the database analysis of catcher framing numbers last season, which isolated the Catcher influence in called strikes with Caught Strike Above Average (CSAA).

Isolating the catcher influence also allows the researcher to isolate the pitcher’s influence, and a year or so after looking at the data, Baseball Prospectus has been able to interpret what they believe to be CSAA for pitchers, using numbers dating back through 2008 (literally millions of pitches!).

An important note on the statistical observations: CSAA is the observed result, but it seems that there is a predictive side as well in Called Strike Probability (CS Prob) within the article as well. I’m learning along side you, so let’s all discuss in the comments below.

To dive into how pitch command differs from strike zone control, and the counterintuitive observations of how command-pitchers control the zone, be sure to read the article here.

Thank you to Rays consultant Jonathan Judge and his co-researchers Jeff Long and Harry Pavlidis for publishing their research. We are pumped to look at the information further throughout this week and off-season.