Rich Hill’s Curveball

Today marks the final start of the year for Rich Hill of the Boston Red Sox. It’s also only his fourth start of the year. He was signed as depth as attrition left an empty spot in the rotation. In his three starts, however, he has given up only three runs in 23 innings while striking out 30 and walking only two. How does he do it? Over at Baseball Prospectus they took a look at Hill’s curveball and the deception he generates from his arm slot and the location of his fastball. They show this by a comparison graphic. I’ve added the names of the two players, but otherwise the graphic is unaltered.

Hill is on the left
Hill is on the left

If I am lucky, I can catch this last Hill start at the pub tonight.

Credit for the piece goes to Baseball Savant.

David Ortiz Still Has 500 Home Runs

So what I was saying yesterday about there not being a new Boston Globe piece about David Ortiz’s 500 home runs. I was wrong. I missed it. But, here you go, in its semi-splendour (not digging the illustration of the baseballs /quibble). There are some merits to the piece in terms of the filtering—you can by season, opponent, or the teams for which Ortiz played (only 58 for the Twins)—but let us not lose fact of the fact that this is all about No. 500.

I have seen a few in my years, including that one.
I have seen a few in my years, including that one.

Credit for the piece goes to Patrick Garvin.

David Ortiz Has 500 Home Runs

This past weekend, David Ortiz hit his 500th home run, a significant milestone in Major League Baseball attained only by a handful of players. This piece from the Boston Herald commemorates the feat—with too many photographs and embellishment for my liking—by putting his season totals on a timeline while putting Ortiz at the bottom of the 500+ home run club.

The timeline of the home runs
The timeline of the home runs

The following piece dates from April 2015 and was about the impact of defensive shifting on Ortiz, but it has a nice graphic on his home run output. It’s just outdated by most of this season. But, from a data viusalisation standpoint, I find it a far more useful and telling graphic.

A look at Ortiz's home runs
A look at Ortiz’s home runs

Credit for the Boston Herald piece goes to Jon Couture.

Credit for the Boston Globe piece goes to the Boston Globe graphics department.

Red Sox Hire Dave Dombrowski

The Boston Red Sox made big baseball news last night by announcing the hiring of former Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski to head Boston’s baseball operations. The second big piece of baseball news, Boston’s GM, Ben Cherington, has resigned as he does not want to work under Dombrowski.

As you might figure, I enjoy data’s role in baseball. That Dombrowski is not the biggest analytics-embracing GM worries me a bit. But after re-reading FiveThirtyEight’s piece on the value he brings—naturally through some data and analysis—I think I will at least give him a season or two before calling for his head.

Where Dombrowski fits
Where Dombrowski fits

Credit for the piece to Ron Arthur.

Pedro Martinez Was Amazing

So the Red Sox in 2015 are godawful, terrible, bloody bad baseball. But, go back 11 years and they were amazing, fantastic, great and awesome baseball. 2004 was, of course, the year the curse was broken and that was in no small part due to the pitching efforts of Pedro Martinez, who would head down to Flushing in the off-season to end a seven year run of Pedro pitching for Boston. Well, this weekend, after being elected in his first year of eligibility, Pedro enters the Hall of Fame and then will have his number retired at Fenway.

The Boston Globe looked at Pedro, his arsenal, his career, and his best game ever: the 1999 17-strikeout, one-hit performance against the Yankees in Yankee Stadium. The whole piece is worth a looking. But this screenshot shows just how devastating his changeup was, especially in the context of an upper-90s fastball.

Pedro's circle change
Pedro’s circle change


Who’s your daddy?

Credit for the piece goes to

High Strikeout Games

Baseball has changed in the last twenty years or so. (And I’m old enough to recognise it.) Gone are the days of the high strikeout/high pitch count starts from the likes of Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and Kerry Wood. In are high strikeout/low pitch count games…

What does that mean? You can read this article from FiveThirtyEight to make the most sense of it. But this chart explains part of it:

More strikeouts per game
More strikeouts per game

Basically, baseball is played with a lot more data than it used to be. We now know empirically that pitchers are most effective the first time through the lineup. Less so the second time. Even less so the third. The great pitchers, obviously, lose less effectiveness, but everybody does. So, if you can maximise your strikeouts (which come at a great cost of pitches thrown per arm—separate story that) by limiting a start to, say, twice through a lineup, you do so. Because then you can plug in hard-throwing relievers who, in their first and often only time through the lineup, can rack up a few strikeouts. So the result from that is higher strikeouts, lower pitch counts.

And that means that it is highly unlikely you will see games where a starting pitcher throws 120, 130, 140 pitches in a start and strikes out 16+ batters. Which is a shame, because I’m clearly old as those were my favourite ball games to watch.

Credit for the piece goes to the FiveThirtyEight graphics department.

Chase the Unlucky Utley

We all know that I am a Red Sox fan. But I grew up in Philadelphia, largely before the era where the internet made watching out-of-market games a reality. That means I am quite familiar with my hometown Philadelphia Phillies. And for a good chunk of my life that meant names like Rollins, and Utley were familiar to me. So now as that group of players begins to retire and/or leave Philadelphia, we have Chase Utley underperforming to start 2015. But FiveThirtyEight asks the question: is he really? Or is it just that Utley is unlucky?

Utley is unlucky
Utley is unlucky

Credit for the piece goes to Rob Arthur.

Baseball vs. Basketball vs. Hockey

There was an interesting article in Forbes on Monday that looked at baseball’s popularity. In short, the commonly believed argument is that baseball is becoming less popular vs. sports like football, basketball, &c. Hence, one of the reasons for the pace of play changes. However, last Wednesday, there were three nationally televised playoff games—two in basketball and one in hockey—and one nationally televised baseball game, Mets at the Cubs. The logic of the common argument would have non-playoff baseball falling behind the playoff games. But, in 14 of 24 media markets, the local baseball games drew more television viewers than playoff basketball or hockey, or even national baseball games. Unfortunately, the article in question used some really poor graphics to communicate this story. So, I decided to spend my Monday night making it clearer for you. Compare a snippet of the original to mine. You make the call.

The original chart
The original chart
How the local baseball game did against the national sports games
How the local baseball game did against the national sports games

Credit for the original piece goes to the Forbes graphics department.

Foul Balls at Fenway

Happy Friday, everyone. Foul balls are the souvenirs of fortune at baseball games. (Home runs as well I suppose.) You can’t buy them, you can only hope to be one of the lucky few who catch one. So the Boston Globe ran an article with an integrated interactive piece that told the story of a select few foul balls caught by fans at ten games at Fenway. But from the data visualisation side, they plotted where each foul ball landed. But, the real gem is that they then had a few small multiples showing where various Boston hitters tended to deposit their fouls.

Ten games' worth of foul balls
Ten games’ worth of foul balls

Credit for the piece goes to Stan Grossfeld, Rachel G. Bowers, and Luke Knox.

Who Are the Red Sox?

As Massachusetts and Maine celebrate Patriots’ Day, the Boston Red Sox are set to play their earliest game of the year with an 11.00 start time. (Yes, there is also a marathon today.) So after two weeks or twelve games, the question people want answered is what Red Sox do we get this year? FiveThirtyEight looked at what they called roller-coaster seasons of late, primarily using a box plot graphic to show just how much whiplash Boston fans have endured of late.

Projected vs. actual wins
Projected vs. actual wins

So who are the Red Sox this year? The cellar dwellers of 2012 and 2014? Or world champions like in 2013? Who knows?

Credit for the piece goes to Neil Paine.