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What Hacking Looks Like

Adrian Beltre, Kenji Johjima, Jose Lopez, Yuniesky Betancourt. Four free swinging right handers in our infield. They have varying degrees of contact ability and power, but for the most part, they have similar approaches at the plate, namely, a complete lack of one.

Pitchers, or more aptly scouts and coaches, are not dumb. They can and do pick up on these trends and adopt game plans specifically suited to exploit these readily exploitable weaknesses. It is logical that they would, but I thought some visual evidence would be more compelling. So I went into my Pitch F/X database and pulled together two data sets. One is every pitch thrown to the above four players since 2008 (trying to get a big enough sample and reasoning that none of the four had made any major strides in their plate approach in the time), separated by the count. The other is pitches thrown to all other right handers in baseball.

I will blow the punchline up front and show you these two plots. On the left is the pitch locations thrown to our four hackers on 2-0 counts since 2008. On the right, is 2-0 pitch locations to all other right handed hitters.

Among each of the breakdowns, I found this the single most striking comparison. Look at the right hand picture. Facing a 2-0 count to a random RH hitter, pitchers responded by and large by piping a pitch down the center. Look at all the hot spots! It is meatball city.

Now turn your head slightly to the left. There is some of the same grouping in the middle of the zone, but that is not the majority. The majority is down and actually off the plate! In a 2-0 count, pitchers felt so little need to throw this group of four hitters a hittable pitch that the biggest grouping of locations is actually a ball.

There are a couple other counts that I think hammer this point home further. With an 0-1 count, here's the random hitter chart

The pitcher is clearly moving toward the lower outside corner, but is still focusing mostly inside the strike zone. By contrast, to our gruesome foursome

It is a bit more subtle than the 2-0 counts, but it is still clear that the pitchers here are expanding far outside and down from the strike zone as compared to against a random hitter.

Finally, on full counts, you can compare again and see how pitchers to random hitters will basically just take aim at the center of the zone and the probability rings will radiate outward in roughly concentric circles.

Turning back to our hitters, you will notice that there is no clear pattern.

We see another typical grouping low and outside and just a smattering of clumps around the middle vertical portions of the zone. It is worth noting that part of the reason that we get no good pattern is because the sample size is so low. Remember this is every 3-2 pitch thrown to any of these four regular starters over the course of 1.3 seasons! The 3-0 chart actually has so few data points that you can actually make out the sample total just by looking at the picture.