Pitching vs. Hitting
I was looking on Google lately trying to find the pitch velocity stats for individual games so I could see how hard Hamels was throwing during his no-hitter. I had heard he was still hitting 96 mph in the ninth inning after throwing 120 pitches, and I wanted to confirm that. I found the answer at a great site where you can search Pitch f/x data called Baseball Savant. Check it out, it’s great. You can even watch video of each out of a game. The answer was that in the ninth inning, he threw a pitch at 95.6 mph, which was rounded up to 96 mph on TV. Interestingly, for the season, Hamels’ fastball velocity is higher than it’s ever been. More to the point for this post, I also stumbled across this article about why, as a whole, pitchers are throwing harder than ever before.
There are a few theories put forth in the article, but the main one is a certain way of strengthening the shoulder. There’s a National Pitching Association (sadly, I am not a member) that develops training methods for pitchers. It was co-founded by a former pitcher, Tom House. I believe this is the same Tom House that also worked with Tim Tebow to improve his throwing motion. The method involves training the back side of the shoulder as well as the front.
If this does actually work, I wonder if more teams will have their pitchers use the program’s methods. What was also interesting is an apparent connection with hard-throwing pitching staffs and team success. According to the article, “From 2009-13, the top 10 hardest throwing teams accounted for disproportionate share of postseason berths and regular-season wins. They accounted for half of the sport’s playoff appearances in that period — 22 of 44 berths — and averaged 85.7 wins per season.” Five years is not a large sample size, but it is interesting. As we all know, velocity isn’t everything. There have been plenty of pitchers who throw hard, but can’t control their pitches. Consequently, they get hit around and don’t last long (e.g. Phillipe Aumont). However, all things being somewhat equal, there is no doubt that velocity does give a pitcher an edge.
Here’s another article that looks into why scoring is down, among other things. Besides velocity, it also notes that the strike zone has gotten bigger lately, particularly the lower area. This is not just conjecture, as the PITCH f/x system used in all ballparks actually can determine this. That is one reason why this data collection system Major League Baseball uses is so great for fans and students of the game.
Over the past 140 years or so of professional baseball, we’ve seen the rise and fall of offensive production for various reasons. Most recently, we are in a decline, but you can almost guarantee the offensive side will be back at some point.