Baez, Lester, Rizzo...OH MY!!!
Since today is the 2nd annual Anion Sport fan appreciation day, I wanted to write an article for one of the most dedicated and committed fans I know, Don Collins. His favorite baseball team has got to be the Chicago Cubs, and his reaction to the 2016 World Series was something I will never forget. The commitment he has to sports in general is unheard of, but add a love for a city, and that love is deepened to another level. I hope the Cubs keep having a good season, but I would prefer for the Cubs and Indians to not meet again in the World Series again, but if they do, I hope there is no rain delay in game 7.
Anyway… the Chicago Cubs is having another good season, leading the NL Central by 2.5 games. With Javier Baez leading the NL in runs batted in and Jon Lester tied for 4th in NL wins, I would say they have some solid players on offense and in the bullpen. I wanted to look at these two players, as well as Anthony Rizzo (since he is Don’s favorite player), to see where some of their success lies. This could give an edge to other teams to try to find possible weak spots, or for the Cubs to see which areas they may need to improve on to keep that top spot.
I am going to start with Javier Baez, who leads the NL in runs batted in with 89. Since he is so good with runners in scoring position, I wanted to look at the balls location when the go ahead run (run that puts that team in the lead) is on base, and he gets a hit. He is a right-handed batter, so he seems to excel on the outside of the plate. Outside pitches make sense, since as a pitcher, you would try to get a batter to chase or make poor contact, but Baez has found success in the pitchers thinking. He does have some success on inside pitches, so it is good that he is well rounding. Since he seems to be well-rounded, therefore he is so successful. He puts most pitches in play, which is dangerous for an opposing team.
The next graph I wanted to look at for Baez is an exit velocity by count chart. This shows the different count possibilities and his average exit velocity of hits he acquires. I find it interesting that many of his highest exit velocities are later in the count. A lot of players like to jump on the pitcher and drive early pitches. Baez seems to wait on the pitcher to make a mistake and he takes advantage of that with hard hits. Remember, high exit velocity doesn’t for sure mean a hit, but it increases the possibility.
The next player I wanted to look at was Jon Lester, who is tied for 4th in NL wins with 12. I wanted to see where his success is coming from, in terms of strikeout location. He has a lot of success in the low-outside corner (to a right-handed batter). It is interesting, since it isn’t even on the furthest corner, it is slighting more on the plate, which would make us think that he has some insane movement that is making batters swing. He does not have success high inside, which is a rare location for a baseball pitcher to find success.
I also wanted to see which types of pitches he likes to throw in each count. Just like Baez’s graph, we have a map of all the possible counts. We can see that his go to 3-2 count pitches are the cutter, 4-seam fastball and a slider occasionally. He does rely heavily on his 4-seam fastball, which is common since it tends to have natural movement. He doesn’t seem to like his sinker in the later counts, and never starts an at bat with a 2-seam fastball. Looking at this graph could help batters get an idea of what kind of pitch may be coming in each count.
The last player I wanted to look at is Anthony Rizzo, Don’s favorite player. As I like to do with most players, I like to look at a location graph to see where their success is. He is a left-handed batter, so he has success on the outside of the plate. This seems to be a trend for the Cubs players, so opposing pitchers should try to pitch a little more inside. Rizzo has a lot of trouble on the inside of the plate, with a couple zeros in those squares. He also has success in the middle of the plate, but most players have success there since it is a pitcher's mistake most of the time.
I also wanted to see where he hits in the field, and the type of hit it is. This is a very cool graph because it tells the location of a hit and what type of hit it was (fly ball, popup, etc…) Most of his hits are characterized as line drives, which is what most batters strive for. Most of his ground balls, stay in shallow outfield, and his flyballs are usually home runs. He hits to all sides of the field, which makes for a well-rounded batter, which scares defenders. They shouldn’t be putting a shift on Rizzo.
From looking at these three players, I would say the Cubs have a strong foundation with players that find success all over the field. They have batters that excel on the outside of the plate, have great exit velocities in the later counts and use the entire field. As an opposing team, I would look at these graphs to anticipate what may be coming, so I could prepare mentally. I hope to see the Cubs make a playoff run, but hopefully they don’t take the top spot away from the Tribe, again.
ESPN. MLB Statistics - 2018. n.d. http://www.espn.com/mlb/statistics.
MLB Advanced Media, LP. Statcast Search. n.d. https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/statcast_search.