A Look at Advanced Scouting Reports

Pitchers keep throwing Chase Utley fastballs inside despite his success. - Total Sports Live

The immediate thought for all advanced scouting reports is fastballs inside and off speed away. Why is this tactic so effective?

Special thanks to Baseball Prospectus' hitting guru Ryan Parker in his assistance with this piece.

As the league has slowly begun to work on adjusting to White Sox slugger Jose Abreu, the common sentiment has been to throw off-speed away and fastballs in on his hands. In the nascent stages of Yasiel Puig's development, advanced scouting reports read the very same: "hard in, soft away." Such is quite likely the most common advanced scouting report.

This scouting report is sensible. Of course, it's effective for a pitcher to throw a breaking ball inside to a same-side hitter for the simple fact that the pitch will likely begin on a collision course with the batter. However, there are very few who can actually get a breaking ball on the inner third without either hitting the batter or casting a breaking ball in the middle of the plate. Throwing off-speed away gives the pitch more time to break as well as increasing the margin of error. The pitch also breaks away from the hitter's hands.

Throwing fastballs in makes sense for a multitude of reasons. Pitchers often bust power hitters in so they lack the opportunity to extend their hands, limiting them from driving the baseball. It also has a tendency to cause ground balls since hitters can rarely pull their hands in enough to make solid contact with the baseball.  Possibly the most important aspect of throwing fastballs inside stems from Perry Husband's theory of effective velocity. Through years of studying Major League hitters, Husband found that a hitter has far less time to react to a pitch on the inner portion of the plate than a pitch outside. He found the difference so noticeable that a fastball up and in appeared eight miles per hour faster than one that was low and away despite the two pitches having identical radar gun readings.

Even before Husband's findings, it was an acceptable thought that hitters had far less time to react to an inside pitch. On top of getting to the hitter quicker or slower, there is a mechanical difference on how hitters do their damage based on the location of the pitch. Hitters don't hit an inside, middle, or outside pitch at the same depth. An inside pitch will be hit furthest out in front and an outside pitch will be hit furthest back. There is just over sixty feet from the pitching rubber to home plate. An outside pitch might actually go the whole sixty feet, while an inside pitch would have to be hit before it reaches the plate for it to be struck well.

As always, Baseball Savant was paramount for running PITCHf/x queries on results on how batters have faired against each type of pitch in every quadrant of the zone. Classifying four-seam, two-seam, sinkers, and cutters above 92 mph as the "hard stuff," I looked at hitters with the highest percentage of pitches on the five inner quadrants of the zone. Similarly, I looked at all other pitches below 85 mph on the outer five quadrants.

Hard In to RHB

Num Name Hard In/Total Pitches Percentage of Hard In
1 Jose Bautista 754/4640 16.2500%
2 B.J Upton 718/5484 15.6632%
3 Gordon Beckham 635/4065 15.6215%
4 Josh Willingham 713/4628 15.4062%
5 Torii Hunter 743/4865 15.2724%

Looking at Bautista's hit map against good velocity, it doesn't actually seem that Bautista has much trouble with inside pitches. In fact, Bautista has hit 52 of his 192 homeruns in that time period on pitches on the inner half. The only zone he has hit more is right down the middle of the plate.

There's not exactly a trend amongst these five hitters. Both Bautista and Upton have an open set-up at the plate, while both Beckham and Hunter start their respective swings with their hands close to the body. These mechanical cues could be significant in how to pitch a hitter, or they could be insignificant and only anecdotally relevant data points.

Soft Away to RHB

Num Name Soft Away/Total Pitches Percentage of Soft Away
1 Wilin Roasrio 405/3414 11.8629%
2 Chris Denorfia 430/3854 11.1572%
3 Jesus Guzman 329/2919 11.0654%
4 Giancarlo Stanton 517/4699 11.0023%
5 Alfonso Soriano 560/5195 10.7796%

Every single one of these hitters have a wRC+ of over a 100. Other than Denorfia, all of these hitters have above average raw power. It makes sense for pitchers to shy away from throwing any velocity to the inner half to Stanton and Soriano, two hitters with incredible wrist strength.

Hard In to LHB

Num Name Hard In/Total Pitches Percentage of Hard In
1 Adam Lind 733/3781 19.3864%
2 Matt Carpenter 890/5100 17.4510%
3 Chase Utley 703/4074 17.4510%
4 Raul Ibanez 726/4194 17.3709%
5 Dustin Ackley 839/4904 17.0911%

Utley sticks out like a sore thumb when looking closer. His hands are incredibly quick to the ball, making it easy for him to handle velocity in. Sure enough, his heat map against pitches upwards of 92 mph reflects that his hits come on the inner half for the most part.

Both Utley and Ackley are extremely open when they begin to shift their weight in the batters box. Lind and Ibanez thrive when they are able to extend their hands, so it makes sense to bust them in.

Soft Away to LHB

Num Name Soft Away/Total Pitches Percentage of Soft Away
1 Juan Francisco 341/2663 12.8501%
2 Ike Davis 555/4352 12.7528%
3 Carlos Pena 471/3759 12.5299%
4 Luke Scott 302/2438 12.3872%
5 Matt Joyce 548/4770 12.2595%

Here's the most interesting chart. All five hitters are power bats who struggle to maintain regular playing time due to below-average hit tools. The next five in terms of gross number of pitches soft away are Adam Dunn, Jay Bruce, Eric Hosmer, Freddie Freeman, and Chris Davis.

The takeaways make sense. Power bats from the left side are easily compromised by soft stuff because they are usually looking for velocity over the middle of the plate to drive. A handful of the hitters exposed by velocity inside have an open batting stance, requiring them to drift towards the plate to begin their swing, which can allow them to get tied up.

Overall, there aren't many hitters who show up on both lists. While "hard in, soft away" is sensible, it may not be the most practical. There are advantages for either pitching tactic, however only a select few hitters are compromised by both hard inside and soft away.

All statistics courtesy of the goldmine that is Baseball Savant.

Daniel Schoenfeld is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and can be followed at @DanielSchoe

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