What is PITCHf/x and Why Should I Care?

PITCHf/x strike zone trackerPITCHf/x is the most awesome new technology in baseball. It is transforming how the game is watched, how it is understood and even how it is played. We have all seen the strike zone graphic that shows us where the pitch crossed the plate. Each network has their own version of it, but they are all based on the PITCHf/x data feed. But this is just one of many, many amazing things PITCHf/x can do.

PITCHf/x gives us extremely accurate data about every pitch thrown in every MLB game. It tells us the precise speed of the pitch, whether it was a strike or a ball, what type of pitch it was (fastball, changeup, slider, knuckleball etc.), how much it curved and in what direction it broke.

The PITCHf/x velocities are much more accurate than the radar gun readings we have gotten for years. The system is so accurate than it can tell you exactly how many times a curveball rotated on its way to the plate. It can tell us how much a slider slid down to a tiny fraction of an inch.

Every single MLB pitch is recorded and all the results of the play are recorded too. So for example we can do a search to see exactly how many pitches of 100+mph have been thrown by Aroldis Chapman in home games against the Brewers since 2011.  Or it can tell us if Felix Hernandez’s release point has changed by an inch over time. Or we can look up how many split-fingered fastballs Homer Bailey threw in his two no-hitters.

This type of information was unavailable to us until 2008 when PITCHf/x was installed in all 30 MLB ballparks. Prior to 2008 there is no data for the velocity, pitch type, location and result of most pitches thrown. This type of information is not recorded in box scores and nobody was keeping such detailed records in a form accessible to the public. Want to know how many 100+mph pitches Nolan Ryan threw? So do I. But we will never know because he pitched before PITCHf/x came to town.

The PITCHF/x system uses 2 cameras mounted high above the field down the baselines, one on each side. The cameras take about 30 snapshots of the ball on its way to the plate. The cameras are routinely calibrated to ensure their precision and accuracy (unlike radar guns). There is also a third camera in the outfield that is used to adjust the system for each batter’s individual strike zone based on their height and batting stance.

One important way that major league baseball uses the PITCHf/x system is to evaluate the performance of umpires. I am sure that one day not too far in the future all ball/strike calls will be made by the PITCHf/x system. It has helped to standardize strike zones from umpire to umpire across the league and help eliminate criminally bad umpiring like this:

Eric Gregg screwing up the 1997 National League Championship Series.

Want to know what pitches your favorite pitcher throws and how much they break? Here is one of many types of charts you can use to learn about a pitcher from PITCHf/x:

PITCHf/x graph

Teams use this type of information to scout, grade and develop pitchers. You can learn what a pitcher throws, how good his stuff is, what pitch he likes to throw in certain counts, if his stuff his getting better or worse over time, the effects of a change in mechanics or a new grip, or how hot/cold weather or high/low altitude affect the movement of pitches.

Hitter Heat Map PITCHf/xOne aspect of PITCHf/x that has made a big difference on the field itself is the heat map. Each hitter has a different swing and approach that enables him to hit certain pitch types in some zones with much more authority than in other zones. Opposing pitchers can study these heat maps to identify holes in a hitter’s swing that can be exploited by a savvy pitcher. Many coaches feel this is a major reason why scoring has been gradually declining over the last few years. Pitchers know exactly how to pitch to every batter to get him out!

I have only scratched the surface of what PITCHf/x can do. It is really mind-boggling what this system is capable of. If you are interested in playing with it yourself go to www.brooksbaseball.net and have some fun!

Trivia Answer: In my last post I asked a trivia question. “How many pitchers have been confirmed by PITCHf/x to throw 100mph at least 100 times?”.

Now that we know PITCHf/x has only been in existence since 2008 we can eliminate pitchers who only pitched prior to 2008. That leaves us with Aroldis Chapman (471 times), Joel Zumaya (310 times), Henry Rodriguez (228 times) and Kelvin Herrera (100 times) as the only pitchers to throw 100mph 100 times or more. Bruce Rondon, Bobby Parnell and Justin Verlander are getting closer by the day.

Baseball is also developing HITf/x and FIELDf/x systems that will revolutionize the study of hitting and fielding by generating tons of useful and interesting information just like PITCHf/x has done for pitching. We will get velocities and trajectories of balls in flight that will enable us to develop new ways of evaluating hitters and fielders and it will help us come up with some awesome trivia questions too!

 

About Nick Doran

Sabermetrics aficionado, baseball purist and Cincinnati Reds supporter.
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3 Responses to What is PITCHf/x and Why Should I Care?

  1. Steve says:

    Missed your articles. Keep ‘em coming.

    • Nick Doran says:

      Thanks Steve. You should see articles here on a regular basis from here on out if all goes well. Let me know if there are any topics you would like to see highlighted here. — Nick

  2. Pingback: Aroldis Chapman: 2013 Flamethrower of the Year | Blazing Fastball

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