The Pitcher’s Objective: Confusion-as-an-Outcome

One of the core tenets of our hypothesis is that good pitchers can systematically create poor contact, and thus, control their BABIP – as evidenced by the wide range in BABIP achieved by Major League pitchers. This runs contrary to Three True Outcome thinking, but isn’t an earth-shattering concept by itself. The DH is probably more controversial than this idea.

However, the “why” to how pitchers can control BABIP is something we intend to prove-out in the Pitch Optimization Project with history and analytics. Yes, a pitcher like Greg Maddux was able to achieve HOF-level results without huge strikeout totals (see here and here). We believe he did this by consistently keeping his opponents off-balance and confused about the pitch they were about to see, and keeping them in this state of confusion for as long as possible as the pitch advanced from hand-to-plate.

This level-and-duration-of-confusion is the outcome pitchers should value. A confused hitter will do one of many possible things, and all of them are good for the pitcher. Examples:

  • Watch a hittable pitch cruise through the strike zone because they expected it to break down into the dirt
  • Swing and miss at a pitch well outside of the strike zone because they didn’t expect it to break away
  • Swing far too early because they expected a fastball and couldn’t adjust to the change-up
  • Swing 1″ too low under a pitch because they misjudged the pitch break, popping-up the ball weakly to an infielder

All of these outcomes are the result of a divergence between what the hitter expects of the pitch, and what the pitch actually is. This is the confusion that pitchers should seek to create, and the outcome that will have the most significant impact on their success or failure. The unconfused hitter can’t be overcome with pure power, can anticipate the break no matter how sharp it is, and is only getting more dangerous as the science of hitting builds more about launch angle and exit velocity.

There are many tactics a pitcher can take to achieve confusion. Our concern is that most of the study of pitching has focused on pitch execution, and pitch strategy & sequencing has been understudied as a science.

Pitching coaches have espoused mechanics and techniques such as consistent release points, hand concealment during delivery, and even the new concept of ‘pitch tunneling‘ to keep the hitter guessing about which pitch is coming. We believe proper prepration and coaching must also factor in pitch sequence strategy to keep hitters guessing and confused; not unlike a 1-2 punch combination from a boxer. Good mechanics can make any individual pitch more difficult to hit.

Good mechanics can make any individual pitch more difficult to hit. Good pitch sequencing can compound the difficulty on the hitter and make his job even closer to impossible.

 

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