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Pitch Tunneling BP Stats: Rays’ SP

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

If y’all haven’t heard the latest sabermetric scoop, Baseball Prospectus authors Jeff Long, Jonathan Judge and Harry Palvidis released their research to the public on a new way to evaluate pitchers through what they trademarked as “Pitch Tunnels.” Before we take a gander at the some of the Rays’ starting pitchers’ pitch tunneling statistics from this past season, let’s do a brief synopsis of what exactly pitch tunnels are. S

Pitch Tunnels: An Overview

In essence, pitch tunnels are the trajectories of flight paths of pitched baseballs from the release point of the pitcher to home plate. Pitch tunneling is useful in describing the differences between various pitch sequence flight paths. The total distance covered from the beginning and endpoints is roughly 55 feet, give or take a foot or two depending on the pitcher’s stride. The 23.8 foot mark from home plate is where the “tunnel point” is located, which is the point where the batter must decide whether his will swing or not at the pitch. This is also where we can identify the “tunnel distance” between two pitches of a sequence and the amount of separation between the trajectories of both pitches.

Here’s a helpful illustration of what was just written above via Baseball Prospectus:

Baseball Prospectus

The main statistics constructed from the data gathered in the research are Tunnel Differential, Plate Differential, Break Differential, Speed Changes, Release Differential, Break:Tunnel Ratio and Release:Tunnel Ratio.

This article will be solely focusing on the second-to-last statistic in Break:Tunnel Ratio.

Break:Tunnel Ratio

This metric presents a ratio of post-tunnel break (the distance between the Tunnel Point and home plate) to the differential of pitches at the Tunnel Point. According to the research, the larger the ratio between pitches the better, because that signifies the pitches are either tightly clustered at the Tunnel Point, or they separate a lot past the Tunnel Point. It is a good measure of which pitch sequences offer the most swing and miss potential for a pitcher. Let’s see how the Rays’ starting staff fared last season in this department. The average is 27.6%.

Rays’ Starting Pitchers’ Break:Tunnel Ratios

Starting Pitcher Break:Tunnel Ratio Pitch Pairs
Starting Pitcher Break:Tunnel Ratio Pitch Pairs
Chris Archer 24.97% 2538
Jake Odorizzi 25.58% 2520
Blake Snell 38.40% 1312
Alex Cobb 28.90% 281
Matt Andriese 33.94% 1451
Data From Baseball Prospectus

So it seems as if three of the five starters had above average deception/late break on their pitches in 2016 and the two that did not were the top two starters. Cobb (in a very small sample) was just about two ticks above average, and Andriese was seven percentage points higher. But look at Snell! Nearly a full 11 percentage points above the average! I wonder what pitch sequences Snell threw in 2016 that resulted in such a gaudy ratio (which was also the eighteenth-best ratio in the league, I might add)? Let’s find out.

Snell’s two sequences that produced the highest B:T ratio were his CU–FA (78 pitch pairs) and FA–CU (106 pitch pairs) with ratios of 90.64% and 88.68%, respectively. Those are fantastic ratios. The fact that he threw his CU–FA sequence at such an average amount compared to the rest of his sequences suggests Snell should consider throwing this one more with how effective it is.

Andriese used four different sequences with at least 100 pitch pairs – FA–CH, FA–FC, CH–FA and FC–FA – that averaged above T:B ratios in 2016. He might be best advised to stop throwing the back-to-back change-ups since that pair generates a ratio of just 5.69%. Instead, he should consider mixing his four-seamer and his curveball more because those produced much better ratios.

Cobb’s overall ratio was solid and slightly above average. But because he was injured for much of the season, he recorded far fewer pitch pairs than the rest of the staff, so his ratios might be skewed just a bit. Regardless, the numbers show that Cobb preferred to mix his sinker and splitter last season the most as well as throw back-to-back sinkers against his opposition.

However, these combos produced well below average T:B ratios. In fact, none of those sequences cracked the 15% mark. His curveball had great depth last year, and the ratios show that he should be mixing that pitch with his sinker and split more. Cobb churned out T:B ratios over 50% on sequences such as CU–FS, SI–CU and CU–SI.

And now for those who fell short of the average. It should be noted that Odorizzi and Archer were only a couple of percentage points below the average, so the two righties were not terrible by any measure.

Let’s start with Odorizzi. The sequences Odo used most frequently in 2016 were FA–FS and FS–FA as well as FA–SL and SL–FA. All four combos generated ratios in the 30–50% range, which is superb. So how did Odo finish with a below-average T:B ratio?

For starters, Odorizzi threw nearly 900 back-to-back heaters, which was the fifth-most in the bigs. That would not necessarily be a bad thing if a pitcher has an elite fastball, but that probably can’t be said of Odorizzi, who has at time been inconsistent. He might want to think about cutting back on the consecutive four-seamers and mixing his curve with his fastball more,as that duo produces ratios over 110%.

It also appears that Odo throws his split back-to-back too much as well (155 pitch pairs), and like the back-to-back fastballs, this sequence results in a low T:B ratio of 8.08%. He might consider throwing more of the FA/FS combo to get more swing and misses.

Now for Archer. His FA–SL and SL–FA posted the best ratios of 45.65% and 47.41%, respectively. These were also pitch sequences that Archer used quite often in 2016. What caused his overall T:B ratio to dip below the average was the fact that Archer was too slider-happy. Archer led the league last season in back-to-back slide-pieces.

If he reallocates some of those consecutive sliders to other sequences that performed above the average, such as his FA–CH and CH–FA mixes, then Archer should have better fortunes in 2017. Especially since he regained a couple of inches of vertical movement on the change-up during the final month of this past year after a season where the pitch was a bit more flat.

In summary, the Rays have a young stud tunneler in Snell. Andriese is no scrub either with his overall T:B ratio, which validates scouting reports that have always praised his arsenal, while the rest of the staff certainly has the building blocks for refining their tunneling skills.

In the proceeding article, we will sift through the data of Release:Tunnel ratios of the starting pitching.