Alex Rodriguez changed the narrative of his career last fall. After a few years of playoff futility, he came back with two especially huge hits: a game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth in Game 2 of the ALDS, and a game-tying home run in the bottom of the 11th in Game 2 of the ALCS. The first was an outside pitch about waist high, and the second was an outside pitch up in the zone.
We know A-Rod has tremendous power to the opposite field, and it’s one of the reasons he’s succeeded at Yankee Stadium, which isn’t quite as friendly to righties as lefties. But did you know that on 132 swings on pitches in the middle-outside and middle-up zones, A-Rod created negative runs in 2009? Jeremy Greenhouse of The Baseball Analysts examines how each hitter in the league fares against pitches in certain parts of the zone, and that’s what his data suggests.
There are other factors to account for, of course. This analysis does not break down the zone by pitch, so for all we know A-Rod could have fallen victim to off-speed and breaking stuff while demolishing outside fastballs. It also doesn’t give us an idea of sequence, which is helpful because a hitter is probably more likely to swing and miss, or make poor contact, on a pitch low and away if he’s been set up inside. Thankfully, pitch sequencing appears to be the next frontier. The strategy nerd in me is excited.
You can check out the article, linked above, or you can just head to the Google Doc spreadsheet. Each location resides on a different sheet, and is in order of runs created. Just one quick observation: Generally, the hitters who fared well on down and away pitches took fewer swings at them. The ones who fared poorly took a lot of swings — in Ryan Howard’s case, over three times the number of the leader in that zone, Carlos Gonzalez. Yet Ichiro took 121 swings in that zone, far more than anyone around him. The dude is just that good.