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Reviewing Brad Arnsberg: Part Two

As promised, I'm back with another look at how Brad Arnsberg affected the Astros as the new pitching coach last season. For those of you who missed my first piece, here's the link. Let me summarize what I'm trying to do for those who don't actually want to go read that piece:

I know that Brad Arnsberg made an impact in his first season as pitching coach under Brad MIlls. My question is how did he impact the team and what can we expect moving forward. ... From now until I run out of ways to look at the pitching staff, I'll write one article a week looking for Arnsberg's fingerprints. We may not find anything useful; his impact could be more on the psychological side. I'm fine with that, but I also want to know.

This week, I'm looking at pitch locations. There is a ton of data out there on all these pitchers. Seriously. Some of these guys threw close to 2,500 pitches. When I looked at a map of the pitch locations for Brett Myers, all I saw was a big blob. That wouldn't be useful information for anyone.

So, let's talk about my methodology for this section. I wanted to look at pitch locations, because one of the things Myers discussed when he mentioned how much he loves Arnie is that his game plans work. Being the curious type, this made me think Arnsberg had to have some sort of philosophy for dealing with a lineup. Of course, he could just prepare unique plans for each team based on how they were doing. I had to know which way he leaned.

We already know from that first piece that it seems like Arnie preached an increase in use of the two-seam and cut fastballs along with a possible new slider grip. The data seemed to support some of that, but there are other ways to see how the players did. For instance, where did they throw these pitches. Was there a difference between where the pitchers were located from 2009 to 2010?

Why is that important? It seems like telling a guy to throw more sliders isn't necessarily a good thing. There's usually a reason why a player isn't using a pitch more. So, to be effective, the coach would have to look not only at what pitches he needs to throw, but where he needs to locate those pitches.

That's why I delved back into Texas Leaguer's Pitch F/X database to see where pitches were thrown. Since I mentioned how huge the data file was, i broke it down into the most likely pitches that Arnsberg would have affected for a pitcher. I also decided to look at just three guys right now, until I could tell if there were a trend.

The three I chose were Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez and Bud Norris. All three are different types of pitchers and they have different arsenals. If I could find similarities there, we might be onto something.

As I said, each pitcher was extremely different. Myers used a ton of different types of pitches, while Wandy only used a curve and two fastballs in 2010. Norris is a bit famous for using his fastball/slider combo almost exclusively. Myers and Wandy are sort of known as control guys, while Norris struggles mightily with his control.

To balance this out a bit, I looked at each guy's pitch splits by batter faced. After all, it tells me nothing to see a glob in the lower right corner of the screen (like this), if I don't know who he was throwing those pitches to. That's why I looked at each guy's splits with a particular pitch, both in 2009 and 2010.

There was definitely a trend towards working the lower outside corner in 2010. That's one of the toughest spots for a batter to hit and those 90's-era Braves pitchers made it famous by pounding that part of the strike zone as much as possible. Basically, it's everyone's goal to do that.

However, I did see evidence of a trend towards more of that in 2010. Not so much with the slider or curves, because the changes there were more subtle, but there was a definite shift in how each pitcher used his four-seam fastball.

For instance, Bud Norris had pitch locations scattered all over the chart for his four-seam fastball in both 2010 and 2009. He did, though, seem to focus his energy on that lower right corner to right-handers and the outer half of the plate for lefties. Looking at 2009, he did the same for lefties, but was all over the strike zone to righties. Whether this was Arnsberg's influence or just him maturing as a player and getting used to pitching in the bigs, I don't know.

Myers definitely showed a move to working the outer half of the plate with his fastball. In 2009, he was pretty equal in using both sides of the plate, but moved quite a bit over to the right side to righties.

Wandy's pattern change was a little more subtle. He threw a lot of fastballs in this time and had some of them characterized as two-seamers in 2010. That changed his totals a bit, lowering the number of four-seamers he was credited with. This may or may not be significant, but there was a slight change in his work towards righties. In 2009, he threw a lot of pitches in the middle of the strike zone working out to blanket the outer half. He trended some all up and down the zone, but tended to keep to the lower two-thirds of the zone. In 2010, he was more explicit about pitching on the edge of the zone with the four-seamer, but also had more locations up and down the zone. In particular, he threw quite a few fastballs high above the zone. You might remember JA Happ doing the same thing later in the season.

Wandy also had the biggest shift in his off-speed pitches. In 2009, he very clearly had a plan on how to use his curve. He worked the bottom inner corner of the strike zone to right-handers and the same corner away to lefties. However, he hardly used his curve at all against lefties, almost using it exclusively against right-handers. Instead of working that inner corner, Wandy moved his curve out to the outer half corner. The move wasn't all across the zone, and Wandy hit the bottom middle of the strike zone plenty with the pitch. I'd venture that this could have been a reason why his curve was less effective in 2010, but I'm not sure this is conclusive evidence. It does show a clear plan, though it may not have worked.

Myers had a huge upswing in the number of slider he threw in 2010. He also saw a huge jump in how effective the pitch was. Unsurprisingly, the part of the strike zone he pounded with that slider was the bottom right corner of the zone. He threw it in the zone and up in the zone too, but his target was clearly that corner and the majority of his pitches fell around there. There seems to be a trend towards that from 2009, but he threw so few sliders then, it's hard to tell for sure. This may have just been a pitch Arnsberg emphasized without tweaking how he used it.

Likewise, Norris used his slider to right-handers quite a bit in 2010 and 2009. It did seem like he got a few more pitches on that bottom outer half of the plate in 2010, but the number of pitches was too small to be sure. The same goes for his change to both batter types. Still, both Norris and Myers showed a tendency to hit that lower outside corner with Bud's change and Brett's curve. I can't be sure this was a trend or something new, but it was prevalent enough in the data to suggest a point of emphasis.

Conclusions? Arnsberg's effect was bigger on how his pitchers seemed to use the fastball than on the breaking pitches and it was more about finding that outer half of the plate with the four-seamer. All three guys seemed to target the lower outside corner of the plate with their offspeed stuff, but that's just a good spot to throw it. If Arnsberg's plan gets guys to throw there consistently, he's doing something right, but it may not be necessarily different than what his predecessor taught.

I am intrigued enough in this to keep looking into the data for trends. Next week, I plan on seeing if these trends continue with other pitchers and to see if Arnsberg had game plans for specific hitters.