As mentioned in a previous post, I attended Wolforth's Pitching Coaches Bootcamp where Brent Strom and Perry Husbands stole the show.
I bring up Perry Husbands because without an understanding of his concepts, what Strom said would be hard to understand. An overview of Husbands' material is as follows:
1.Tunneling---MLB hitters recognize and react to pitches by the tunnel the pitch is in 40 feet from the plate.Great pitchers such as Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Yu Darvish are able to throw different pitches through the same tunnel and have them diverge after that. Probably the best example is the GIF of Yu Darvish.
2. Effective Velocity--- The concept is that in order to square up a pitch that is inside the batter must start his swing earlier to hit the ball in front of the plate. A pitch outside or down in the zone, the batter must let the ball travel deeper and swing later in order to square it up. Therefore a batter must react to a 90 MPH pitch high and inside like it is a 93 MPH pitch down the middle. Conversely, a batter would have to react to 90 MPH pitch down and outside like it was an 87 MPH pitch down the middle. A diagram of the strike zone of a right handed batter for a 90 MPH is as follows:
90 91 92 93
89 90 91 92
88 89 90 91
87 88 89 90
3.Entrance angle---It has been an axiom is baseball that you want tall pitchers in order to throw on a downward plane. Batters have reacted by having an upward swing to have a longer time to be in the plane with the ball. In addition, batters expect the pitch to have a slight downward break due to gravity. Studies have shown that if you can throw a 4 seam fastball with 2500 RPM, you can defy gravity and increase increase your swing and misses. According to Strom, Jennie Finch would be an ideal reliever. Not only would she look good in an uniform, it would take MLB batters a couple of ABs to adjust to the different entrance angle. One of Husbands' suggestions was that you might want to look at pitchers that were under 6 feet tall that could throw a FB with greater than 2500 RPM. Koji Uehara's success is due to the fact that he can throw a 4 seam FB with 3000 RPM and tunnel it at 40 feet from the plate with a breaking pitch with marked vertical break.
4.At risk pitch--MLB batters use the pitch before to time the following pitch. They rarely square up a pitch that is greater than 6 MPH EV different from the previous pitch.
5 Exit velocity---Pitchers have been taught that the most effective place to spot a fastball is down and away. Unfortunately the data doesn't back this up. First, batters are taught the same thing and therefore work hard on hitting that pitch. In addition, it gives the batter longer to react to the pitch. To square up a 95 MPH fastball down and away, he needs to react to it like a 91-92 MPH FB down the middle. Third, there is no off speed pitch that you can tunnel and throw for a strike with a down and way FB . It would be better to throw your 95 MPH FB up and in as the batter would need to react like it was a 98-99 MPH FB down the middle. An interesting aside, Barry Bonds during his steroid induced hay day hit for .125 on pitches up and in with 2 strikes. In his genius, by crowding the plate, he scared pitchers from trying to throw that pitch. (He also rarely got to 2 strikes during that time)
The moderators may want to get Perry Husbands on to do a podcast as I am only touching the surface. With this background, on to Strom.
Brent Strom started by stating that he will be wearing the number 22 because he was a 22 game winner.* He also told some stories about his coaching prowess that I can't do justice and might get me banned from the Crawfish Boxes.
The Astros have several people in the front office who are looking at sabermeterics and then trying to correlate that to pitching mehanics to try to reverse engineer what a great pitcher does to increase ground ball rate, swing and misses, FIP, etc.
One correlation that Strom discussed was the back knee angle and how it correlates with vertical drop, swinging strikes and FIP. By having a bigger knee bend, a pitcher recruits more glute and hamstring and less quad, resulting in increase vertical movement of their breaking ball and swing strike rate(k%). The optimal back leg angle appears to be less than 105 degrees. Unfortunately, I can figure out how to format my charts but I can give you the some of the info in a pattern of name/back leg angle/vertical movement/K%
name/back leg angle/vertical movement/K%
Now the Astros (the Bad and the Ugly)
Fields/101/11/16/25.0 Only Astro reliever hitting a back leg angle of less than 105 degrees
In addition, the Astros have some formula that Strom didn't go over that charted pitch characteristics vs batted ball characteristics. From the talk, I surmise that pitch characteristics include EV, EV of the previous pitch, entrance angle, vertical break, and horizontal break. The batted ball characteristics appear to be some combination of batting average of ball in play, slugging percentage, K%, and exit velocity. There is an area of the graft that looks like a tongue and they have named it the "Tongue." Strom calls the "Tongue" the place where pitches go to be crushed. He then showed pitch chart from 2012 and 2013 of an unnamed Astro pitcher who was really good in 2012 and sucked in 2013. (Although Strom refused to say who it is, I suspect his initials are LH.) Interestingly in 2012, very few pitches were in the Tongue and in 2013 a majority were in the Tongue. Strom says this could be a result of a change in arm angle or due to ignorance. He said that recognition of the problem often will fix the problem.
Strom also showed a graft showing the vertical movement of different pitches thrown by Darvish and an unnamed Astro rookie pitcher. Darvish pitches moved mainly in a vertical axis while the Astro pitcher's balls moved mainly in a horizonal axis. The problem with horizonal movement is that it rarely fools MLB batters and sometimes when the batter is late on the pitch, the ball breaks away from the batter and runs into the barrel of the bat. In EV terms, the pitch is slowing down and therefore you are giving the batter a chance to catch up with the pitch.
He finished by comparing the mechanics of some of the young Cardinal pitchers including Trevor Rosental, Mitchell Boggs, Shelby Miller, and Joe Kelly. He showed why Rosenthal throws "the easiest 100 MPH pitch" he has ever seen. He also showed why he feels the others are at increased risk of injury and decreased future performance.
*it took him 5 years to get to 22 wins.