While watching the Marlins and Red Sox  in some Grapefruit League action yesterday, I stumbled across something interesting.  At least I found it interesting.  I was trolling around on Brooks Baseball, which has tons of cool things for baseball nerds like myself.

I’ll try to keep this very short, so please observe the below heat-map.  It shows how many pitches Joey Votto saw in each zone last year, as well as how often Votto swung at those pitches:

heatmap1

In regards to the stark difference between red and blue above, if you were able to look up the phrase “strike zone mastery” in a dictionary, this is likely what you’d see.

Check out the “high and tight” zone.  Last year Votto saw 36 pitches in that zone, according to PITCHf/x.  He swung at none of them.  From past reading I’ve done, swinging at pitches up-and-in causes you to be much more likely to pop the ball up.  Popping up is bad.  It’s like striking out on one pitch since pop-ups have virtually no chance to turn into hits.  Since Votto is good at avoiding swinging at these pitches, it would make sense that Votto is good at avoiding pop-ups, right?  Well.  This is a quantifiable, verifiable skill.

Perhaps even more interesting is that in Votto’s entire career, he’s only swung at 9 such pitches.  Behold:

heatmap2

Being able to completely neutralize a low-reward ball-in-play type is a special skill. This is the kind of thing (among others) that allows certain players to somewhat defy the random nature of balls-in-play.  Votto’s career BABIP is a testament to this thought.

Maybe I’m just a special kind of baseball dork, but the level of Votto’s precision when deciding when to swing and when not to swing is quite amazing to me.  Perhaps this will spawn a full article later in the year.  Regardless, I just wanted to share.   Hope everyone had/is having a great weekend.

Join the conversation! 17 Comments

  1. Maybe I’m dumb, but isn’t that zone up and away for Votto, a LHB?

    • No, because it says “from the catcher’s point of view.

      I need some context, because I don’t see a lot of guys swinging at balls toward the head. I’d like to see Frazier’s chart, on outside pitches away.

      • I recall–correctly?–that Wade Boggs once went a whole season without popping up once.

        • Probably so. Votto’s done that a few times. Christian Yelich did it last year. This why those guys all have much higher than average BABIPs. Or, one of the reasons. 🙂

      • Frazier swung at 34.67% of low and away pitches, compared to Votto’s doing it 15.02%, plus Frazier say about 10% more pitches thrown there.

        It’s funny how all these things go back to Ted Williams’s first, simple instruction: “Get a good pitch to hit.”

      • Not necessarily “towards the head.” Could be on the inside/upside corner of the strike zone, which presumably some umps would call a strike.

        I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure PITCHfx doesn’t interpolate pitches way outside the zone and put them in the closest box. So a truly “at the head” pitch wouldn’t even be on the chart.

        • I am wondering how many of those pitches outside or inside were strikeout swings. Joey has a great eye and only swings at stuff like that to protect from called third strike. I don’t get into the numbers like you all do but find it fascinating to read when you post it.

      • The first player I looked at, because he was just on MLB Network, Nolan Arenado swung at 21.38% of pitches in the same “up and in” zone. I think you’ll find Votto’s 0/36 to be somewhat unique.

  2. I feel my collection of votto cards should be worth a whole lot more…..tho the Beckett would disagree with me.

  3. Maybe Im just dense, but this chart would seem a whole lot easier to read if it wasnt from a catchers perspective. Everything else on used to seeing this from the pitchers perspective looking at the plate.

    Great info though. It would be great to see that for other players as well. I may have to do some digging myself later today

  4. The up and in is the main culprit as you state for the pop up but check the lifetime numbers of pitches up out of the zone. The pitch up looks like the stereotypical beach ball, hard to lay off of harder to drive, The numbers last year shows just how disciplined JV is.

    • That pitch was one of the banes of my baseball existence, much more so than the breaking ball. I couldn’t hit the dang thing and I couldn’t lay off it either.

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Joey Votto is Perfect