While you take in some football and recuperate from your Black Friday fighting and leftover eating, I think you should very much read this FanGraphs article on “tunneling”.
In essence, the article is about Chicago Cubs lefty Jon Lester, and, among other things, how he improved his overall effectiveness by using a pitch that got a lot of whiffs less often. If that seems counterintuitive, it is important to remember that pitches do not work in isolation (at least not for every pitcher (especially starters)).
In other words, I’m talking about pitch sequencing – the way a pitcher (and catcher) work to set up batters for reduced success by using various pitches in tandem. The article gets into (and links to an even deeper look at) how some pitches by some pitchers look similar to the batter for longer – that’s the concept of tunneling – and how Jon Lester is among the very best in baseball at this.
Matt Harvey comes in for some discussion in the piece, too (he actually tunnels his pitches less than average, which is you can do when you have nasty stuff and huge velocity), but that made me remember some incredible GIF overlays of his pitches from a few years ago that really demonstrate this concept. For example, check out this GIF of Harvey’s fastball and slider, and notice how long they move together completely in tandem … and then imagine how brutal it is for a batter to have to try and hit the one that’s actually coming:
The slider doesn’t move off of the same path as the fastball until well after the batter would have had to trigger his swing. So, I guess you pick one, swing, and hope you’re right. Or, as that batter did on both pitches, you just don’t swing at them at all.
I tend to think that pitch sequencing is something most baseball fans understand implicitly at a 10,000 foot level, but is something we understand very poorly on a pitch-to-pitch and game-to-game basis. I’m going to do my part this offseason to become more and more acquainted with the finer points so that, hopefully, we can discuss it in a more granular way during and after games next season.