Below is an Inside Edge graph showing the results of fastballs only in the ‘Ahead Counts’, which includes 3-0, 3-1, 2-0 & 2,1 counts for this year to date. These counts are when the hitter is the most aggressive and has the highest likelihood of getting a fastball to hit. When you look closely, there are a lot of very interesting things about this graphic.
For instance, why is it that the highest batting average is not the middle/middle box that we are told to steer away from? Why is the down/away box 11 points higher than the pitch right down the middle? And why is the middle/away box 12 points higher than middle/middle? Then looking middle/down, we notice that the average is the very highest at .384, 24 points higher. Why are the areas that the ‘Experts’ say are the best locations producing the highest batting averages? “Keep the ball down”, they say………. “Keep the ball away”, they say………and yet, hitters are producing at higher rates in those locations than they are “Right Down Central”, the most feared location of all.
There are many, many reasons for the fact that the away and down parts of the strike zone (and Pressure Zone, outside the strike zone) have higher batting averages than the middle but…………the easiest and most obvious is Effective Velocity. The fastball thrown at 95 MPH in the middle/away or middle/down location is ‘Effectively’ slower by about 2.5 MPH than the middle/middle location. When hitters have more time to react, they hit the ball harder and they get more hits. The down/away area of the zone produced more home runs than the up/in portion of the zone as well. There is a tremendous swing when you think of the opportunity cost of locating 95 MPH fastballs away and/or down. 95 turns into 92.5 EV when you locate in the highest batting average locations, middle/away and middle/down and 90 EV when located down/away. If you locate middle/up to middle/in, that same 95 turns into 97.5 EV and in the zone up/in, it jumps to 100 EV. In a velocity crazy era, how in the world can the experts choose to lessen the speed potential by up to 10 EVMPH? In an age of efficient thinking, how is it a difficult question, whether to use your 95 MPH fastball at 100 EV or 90 EV?
Another major thing to point out is that even in the most predictable counts, when hitters know they are the most likely to get a fastball to hit, why are the averages all under .400? The answer is that there is a built in ‘Fail Rate’ when you are talking about hitting. No matter the circumstances, hitters will fail a certain percentage of the time. Round ball, round bat, crazy movement, fielders etc…….. There are a lot of reasons for failure in hitting. I say this to point out the fact that no matter what your pitching philosophy, you will have some level of success, but is it really your pitching philosophy having success or is it more like hitter failure? And can you count on the results to be consistent? Hitters will always fail a certain percentage of the time. Experts will always be right, to a certain degree but it is not as a result of their great approach as much as it is hitter failure. Perhaps the most important note is that the results are not consistent. With looking at hard hit balls in play, EV never misses. 50/20/20/10 is the average breakdown of all hard hit ball studies done to date.
Traditional thinking is that down/away is the safest area in the zone to pitch because of the percentage of groundballs and the lower chance of damage that happen as a result of that location. As you can see very clearly in the graphic, hitters are killing down/away, for both power and average. Higher batting average, higher home run totals and less chases outside the zone down away. In fact, the middle up Pressure Zone chase rate is exactly twice as high as the down/away Pressure Zone and hitters hit .283 down/away out of the zone versus only .222 outside the zone and up. The hitters have also hit .344 outside the zone away, almost as high as the dreaded middle of the zone and 100 points higher than the middle/in Pressure Zone box off the plate.
The experts have created multiple ways to look at the zone results and some of it is very interesting. However, when you look at it from the simplest perspective, it isn’t that hard to see they are wrong about the best location for fastball. They can cloud the issue with all of these technical stats that are the equivalent of ‘lawyer speak’, but at the end of it all, there is only one analytical tool that is always on the mark when it comes to hard hit balls, EV. The hard truth is that there are many factors that we have to take into account to know what causes hard hit balls but EV is always on the mark identifying the causes.