The Hammer of God in Pitch f/x form

Fun with Small Sample Sizes: Catchers' ERA
Doctor's Note: Bruney, A-Rod, Wang

When I started posting these Pitch f/x breakdowns three weeks ago, I received lots and lots of requests for a Mariano Rivera post. I wanted to have enough of a data sample from this year to look at, so I held off for a few weeks until Mo threw his 100th pitch of the season, which he did Friday night. Now, finally, we can take a look at The Sandman.

We all know that the cutter is Mo’s bread and butter, and that’s not an understatement at all. Of the 127 pitches he’s thrown this year, 117 were cutters, or 92.1%. Nine other pitches were four-seam fastballs, and there was one two-seamer mixed in for good measure. Mo has no need for an offspeed pitch. Let’s take a look at how the pitches actually move. Remember to click for a larger view.

Bird's Eye View

Eh, I was hoping the bird’s eye view would show the cutter cutting, but it’s not so obvious. The axes are in feet, and you can kinda see the cutter starting to buzz in on lefties ever so slightly around the 15-20 foot mark. Here’s the first base view:

First Base View

Not much to see here. The cutter and four-seamer stay on a similar plane, and the lone two-seamer sank pretty dramatically. Now, the catcher’s view:

Catcher's View

You can get a little better look at the cutting action on the cutter here, but it’s still tough to see. Such is the life of a two-dimensional object. The cool part is the armside run on Mo’s four-seamer, which gives him a fastball that moves in either direction. Here’s the movement on his pitches:

Pitch Movement

Essentially this graph shows how much each pitch deviates from a straight line. Unlike the others, the axes in this graph are in inches, not feet. Read this for a better explanation on how to read the pitch movements. Mo’s cutter typically features between one and four inches of horizontal break, but it could be as much as six inches. It’s not the raw amount of movement that makes the pitch effective, it’s that the movement takes place late in it’s travel to the plate.

Mo’s a robot. He repeats the same delivery he’s had since 1995 like clockwork, so I figured I’d take a look at his release points:

Release Points

I’m kind of surprised. I figured Mo would release all of his pitches from like, a three-inch wide by two-inch tall box, but I guess not. He’s released his pitches this year from a 15-16 inch wide by 12-inch tall box, which is still impressive. I guess Mo’s human after al … sorry, almost got carried away there.

One last thing I wanted to look at was how many calls go Mo’s way. Established veterans and surefire Hall of Famers get calls normal pitchers don’t, so here’s a look at the called strikes and balls that Rivera’s thrown this year:

Balls & Called Strikes

Heh, he gets a 24-inch plate, not a 17-incher like mere mortals. I also highlighted the pitch Jason Bay hit out on Friday night, and you can see it was in a bad spot: belt high right over the plate. One of Mo’s few mistakes.

Next stop on the Pitch f/x express: Phil Hughes’ season debut on Tuesday.

Fun with Small Sample Sizes: Catchers' ERA
Doctor's Note: Bruney, A-Rod, Wang
  • Rebecca-Optimist Prime

    It’s good to be the G-d.

  • Drew

    This pitch f/x is still confusing as hell to me. I’m just gonna go out on a limb here and say Mo is money with or without the pitch f/x stats.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      You’ll get it… just keep at it.

      • Rebecca-Optimist Prime

        It took me ages.

        • Yankeegirl49

          I havent even bothered to try…

  • Andy In Sunny Daytona

    Oh, Mariano! After last night’s circle jerk announcing, I thought you meant Michael Bowden.

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    I like how virtually nothing Mo throws is actually on the plate, it’s all on the black of either side.

    Very Madduxian.

  • Brooklyn Ed

    hey Mike, what’s the scouting report on Claggett and Jackson?

  • Thomas

    I can’t wait to see Hughes’ Pitch f/x on Tuesday, particularly the release points since last year he was throwing from an area like the size of a postcard. Hughes’ release point was so small one website thought that might help the batter since the ball always left from the same place (have no idea if they are actually correct with this guess for Hughes’ ineffectiveness).

    • Drew

      I would think it would make it more difficult because the batter wouldn’t have any idea what was coming. Generally guys change their release point depending on what pitch they throw. Unless you’re ElDuque, and throw whatever you want from whatever release point. I once saw him throw a 99mph heater from behind the back, And1 style, yo.

      • Matt ACTY

        I’m inclined to agree with this. If you’re able to throw your pitches all from one release point, you’re probably going to be more effective. I mean, think about it, if I’m throwing gas and releasing it at point X then release my Edwarian changeup from the same spot, you’re probably gonna look like an ass (granted my arm action is alright).

        I could, however, see a similar release point for a fastball and a curveball as problematic because one might have trouble getting on top of the curve if it had the same release point as the fastball.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          Agreed. Fooling the hitter by making all your pitches seem as similar as possible coming out of your hand trumps making it tricky for the hitter to pick up the pitch quickly by slightly varying your release point/arm location.

          The positive of the increased deception outweighs the negative of the slightly quicker visual pitch identification. Pitchers who deceive by hiding the ball and making it take longer to visually locate tend to flame out quickly because hitters will adjust and start to anticipate your various release points (I’m thinking of Hideo Nomo).

          Pitch identity deception >>>>>> release point deception

    • Accent Shallow

      Here’s the article you mentioned:

      There’s also plenty more where that came from, just search the Hardball Times for him. Unfortunately, most of the content is from the “random person from the Internet commenting on mechanics based on some video” camp, so take that for what it’s worth.

  • Accent Shallow
  • Chris

    I wonder if the movement on his cutter could account for some of the wide strike zone. I’m not sure exactly where in the flight path you’re looking at, but all a pitch needs to do is clip the strike zone to be a strike. For example, a cutter could clip the front inside corner (to a lefty) of the zone, but end up a few inches inside by the time the catcher catches the ball. The pitch would correctly be called a strike by the ump, but the pitch f/x data may not agree depending on where the snapshot in time was taken.

    • Whozat

      It’s taken at the front of the plate

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        So, given the bird’s eye view and the catcher’s view synthesized in your mind’s eye, Mo’s cutter enters the 3D box of the strike zone just below and to the right of the center of the plate and continues boring down and away from a righty, probably leaving the strike zone right about where the imaginary line extends upwards from the back right corner of the plate.

        Making it virtually impossible to square.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          Actually, looking again at the angles, it’s probably moving away faster and leaves before the back corner of the plate, more like two-thirds of the way back on the outside part of the plate (to a righty).

          • Drew

            Dude I know we’ve seen the cutter 1 million times, but the other day I saw an overhead slow mo view. The thing was 4 inches outside, off the plate to a lefty. A foot before the plate it took a B-line towards the plate and came over for a strike. The thing is just ridiculous, even if he lost a couple mph.

            • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

              “slow mo”


      • Chris

        Maybe I have this backwards, but if the location plot is from the hitters view, it appears that almost all of the calls he gets are on backdoor cutters. He appears to get almost 3 inches of movement away from right handed hitters while the ball is in the zone, which would mean those pitches are actually much closer to strikes than they initially appear.

  • RobC

    what are the units along the X and Y axis?

  • Joe M.

    I always forget that Mo had Tommy John surgery. Wikipedia always tells you silly things.

  • Sky

    Good stuff. A couple things:

    1. “it’s that the movement takes place late in it’s travel to the plate”

    Does this happen? Spin is going to cause pitches to travel in a parabola. There’s no way to make pitches break later. Now, the faster they travel, the less time you have to react to the break, so it might seem “later”, but it’s not like a pitcher can make a pitch go more straighter initially than someone else, and then have it break at a later point the same amount.

    2. Regarding Mo’s release point, there are significant difference in the pitch f/x setups at different parks, making the same release point look different both horizontally and vertically. How about just looking at Mo’s home games? And then maybe color code his pitches by away stadium so you can see consistency within in appearance.

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