Pitch Combos: Effectiveness AND Usage Rates Matter
We discussed in a prior post the most and least potent pitch combos from the 2018 season. It’s one thing for a pitcher to have a potent 1-2 pitch combination in their repertoire, but it’s of no value if the pitcher doesn’t use that often enough in their pitch sequencing. In other words, pitchers only benefit from these pitch combinations if they are using the ones that fool hitters the most; and they are actively reducing their effectiveness if the continue going back to the pitch combinations that hitters capitalize on.
We put pitch combos into four generalized buckets:
- Pitcher Work Horses: Combos that have a negative wOBA Added (reducing the hitter’s prospects of success) AND get used more than the median usage rate for all qualifying combos, which is about a 6% usage rate. These are the combos that pitchers should and do use the most often.
- Pitcher Secret Weapons: Similar to the Work Horses, these are combos that have a negative wOBA
Added,but are relatively underused relative to other Combos. It’s unclear if their effectiveness comes from this low usage rate, and if they would lose their effectiveness if pitchers have the opportunity to see them more. Currently, they function as surprise combos that hitters shouldn’t be expecting.
- Hitter Feasts: Pitch combos that have a positive wOBA Added (benefiting the hitters) and get used more than the median. These combos are over-used by pitchers, destroy value for the defense, should be anticipated by the hitter, and should be capitalized on by the hitter when seen.
Treats:Combos that are seldom seen but benefit the hitter when they arrive. These are typically easy-to-adjust to combos that hitters probably don’t need to actively look for to be able to handle well.
Simply put, Pitcher Work Horses are the 1-2 Combos that pitchers should-and-are using the most, while Hitter Feasts are the Combos that are ill-advised for defenses.
Effective Combo Usage: Chris Sale
As an example, let’s look at Chris Sale’s repertoire of Pitch Combos in 2018 against these four categories. In the scatter plot below, we map each 1-2 Combo against the
Usage Rateon the Y-axis.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that a premier pitcher like Sale is good at using his most effective Combos the most. Inferior pitchers have many more dots gravitating towards the upper-right.
To look at one specific example, Sale’s
Four-Seam Fastball, Four-Seam Fastballsequence that moves 1 zone more inside to the hitter is a potent combination that had a wOBA Added of
-0.196in 2018. This was a dangerous sequence for hitters and a valuable one for the Red Sox. What’s more, Sale used this combo 10% of the time, which is a relatively high usage rate relative to all other possible combos. This is a perfect example of Pitcher Work Horse.
The Pitch Combo Effectiveness Explorer
Investigate which pitch combos are being used effectively yourself with the tool below. Filter on individual pitchers and hover over each dot to see detail on that specific Pitch Combo.