Game 4 ALCS – Pitch f/x Analysis of Wakefield vs. Byrd
Tonight’s fourth game between the Red Sox and the Indians was supposed to be a slugfest brought on by a matchup of a couple of soft-tossers, and instead it ended up being a pitchers duel for the ages through five innings until both pitchers rapidly fell apart. I’m going to look at several things in this post:
- Did the umpire have more trouble calling balls and strikes with Wakefield’s knuckleball?
- How was Byrd so effective (besides his amazingly funky double-old-time-windup)??
- What happened to both Byrd and Wakefield when they went from untouchable to lousy?
First, let’s look at Wakefield’s strike zone and how the home plate umpire, Paul Emmel, handed it. According to my amazing umpire spreadsheet, Emmel has a pretty big “left” side of the strike zone, as well as top and bottom. Here’s how he called it from the batter’s perspective:
So yes, the home plate umpire (Paul Emmel) was having trouble. He gave a few very high strikes (I remember a few of those pitches that were diving as they hit the glove but really, really high over the plate), but actually robbed Wakefield on just as many pitches that were pretty clearly over the plate. That pitch right down the middle might have been a pitch f/x error, but it could equally have been some crazy knuckleball that got lost while it was butterflying.
As for Wakefield’s movement, he didn’t really lose it that much in the inning where everything went south. However, he did show the problem with knuckleballers and why they can be so unhittable at times, yet almost universally have records under .500. After being absolutely untouchable over 3 innings, Wakefield threw one of the flattest, straightest pitches on record. It’s down the middle even close to the (0,0) movement value that is the mythical “pitch without spin” that all other pitches are measured against. It’s marked with a giant X on the following graphs, along with the 5th inning pitches. Here’s Wakefield’s location:
As for his knuckler’s movement, it was predictably random, with a slight bias towards the right side of the plate. A normal fastball is at about (-5, 10) on this graph. (And there are a whole half dozen of them up there!) The rest of his pitches move in any direction, from similar to an amazing changeup (down and to the left), or more straight sideways than the best curves. There are even a few that end up staying up like a left-handed pitcher’s fastball. To see a chart of Wakefield’s pitches over the season (pretty much random movement in every direction), check out the bottom of John Walsh’s article.
As for Byrd, his location was excellent tonight. Everything was outside, and he threw an incredible number of strikes. The plan was certainly to come right at the Boston hitters, but on the outside half of the plate. You just don’t see this kind of side-to-side control from most pitchers. Then he sat down for 35 minutes and came back floating pitches down the middle. Marked with an X on the following graph are the back-to back home runs he gave up before leaving. High, over the middle and plain-ol’ juicy!
The real amazing thing that made this a good start is his movement. I’m not sure if he does this every night, but NONE of his pitches were the same in terms of how they moved. Look at any other pitcher, and you will see some kind of consistent 2-seamer, cutter, etc. Byrd survives throwing in the mid-80’s because none of his pitches are alike. There’s a grouping around what could be called a cutter, but it sort of bleeds into another bunch of pitches that move like a sinking fastball, and then those go into those that are halfway between that and a sinker…basically he can cut and sink the ball at will and every pitch is some random combination of the two. His pitch movement is more inconsistent an ungrouped than any other pitcher I have seen so far.
Take a look at my pathetic attempt to divide Byrd’s pitches into the 4 I know he has. Far left: 2-seamer. Except they vary by about 10 mph with half a foot of difference vertically. Next? Sort of a 4-seam fastball that sinks more than most. Except there are some off-speed pitches in there and it’s all over the place. Next comes the cut fastball which is probably his most consistent pitch. And finally a breaking ball, which is slow, might break half a foot, and usually just a show-me pitch for balls anyway.
This was an engaging clash of styles- Wakefield, who wavered between absolutely unhittable and serving up the straightest pitch of all time, and Byrd, who has made a career of being slippery and consistently mediocre. They both got hit as soon as they ended up over the plate, but Byrd held out longer.
- Update: Oh, I understand how it he did it now. It must have been Jesus out there on the mound with him (a la Tony Fernandez). MLB seriously needs to look into a penalty for too many men on the field if they’re not going to do anything about the double-windup.
“I think if Christ goes into second base to break up a double play, he’ll do it cleanly, but he’ll try to knock the guy into left field”.
But will he get called for interference if he elbows the second-baseman in the face on the way up? And would he turn the other cheek when opposing fans they start throwing water bottles onto the field? These are questions serious Theological fans demand to know!!!