For years we've talking about pitching down in the zone. The phrase "able to locate fastball down in the zone" is the on the reg in scouting reports. We know what it means and why it's emphasized. If you want to avoid the long ball as a pitcher, keep it low.
However, it's something I've thought about a couple of times over the last few years. If a hitter has more loft in his swing, he can lift a ball out of the park. A pitch down in the zone will actually play into that loft. It's also become common place to hear tv announcers praise a pitchers location down in the zone despite the result of a home run.
Don't lie. You've sat there and said "Dang, that was a good pitch down in the zone."
Eno Sarris of Fangraphs recently was able to talk to soft-tossing right-hander Chris Young about this very thing. After all, Young pitches up in the zone quite often.
There's a lot of good stuff. They brush up on some of the philosophies I discussed in one of my more recent articles, Pitching Primer Part II. Deep release points. Effective Velocity (Young says you have four different fastballs based on location).
But, the data is the best part. The data shows that fastballs up actually have higher whiff rates and a slightly lower batting average. However, the old phrase holds true, they do go for more bases when they do fall for hits.
But, the old phrase is an over generalization. After all, this the era of saber metrics. Generalizations mean nothing anymore. Every thing is analyzed to the max. The importance is to the hitter. Some hitters are good high ball hitters, while others are better low ball hitters. And, it's the use of these locations of how to best attack individual hitters. With so many pitchers pitching low now, hitters have begun to adapt and now hit the lower half much better than years past.
The other thing I want to do is apply this to the Astros recent pitching history. The Astros have seemingly devoted a lot of effort into acquiring sinker ballers. There seems to be an emphasis on high ground ball rates. But, yet we've discussed Brent Stroms emphasis on pitch tunneling this season and pitchers dropping 2-seamers for 4-seamers like Collin McHugh.
This is where old school theory meets the data and we can step away from traditional philosophy and approach baseball more aggressively.
Many pitchers avoided the 4-seam unless they had great velocity or were strikeout pitchers. The data Eno Sarris presented shows that well located fastballs in the zone can be as effective, if not more-so. When a well located fastball up in the zone can be paired with a great curve, a pitcher shouldn't have to worry about losing out on ground balls.