The Dodgers were one of the first organizations to be publicly-associated with the importance of understanding a pitcher’s spin rate on his pitches. I’m not saying they were the first organization to be using that data, but when we (the public-facing baseball analytical world) started hearing about how teams were using spin rate about two and a half years ago, it was the Dodgers who were consistently mentioned.
To that end, then, I was not surprised – but was deeply interested – to see the way that they used spin rate to help Brandon Morrow dominate the Cubs in the postseason last year. I was also deeply interested to see how Morrow, himself, deployed the information the Dodgers provided.
“When we played the Cubs, I said, ‘Give me two or three guys who they faced a lot with fastball characteristics similar to mine. Similar velocity, similar spin rate.’ The ball’s playing the same, they’re seeing it the same,” Morrow explained to Cubs.com. “It wasn’t just, ‘Hey, watch this guy.’ They gave me the numbers and comparisons – he throws this fastball ‘x’ velocity and ‘x’ spin rate, and mine’s this and this, and you can see how similar it is.”
In other words, Morrow studied the way those pitchers used their arsenal (which was similar to Morrow’s) against the Cubs. With that information in hand – not just pitch selection and location, but spin rate and velocity – he would necessarily be better equipped to attack Cubs hitters. (And, with apologies in case you managed to forget, he blew the Cubs away: 4.2 innings, seven strikeouts, just one hit.)
I have little doubt that the Cubs are already also using spin rate information in this way (among many other ways – and other granular bits of data!) to help their pitchers game plan and execute.
Just think about how deeply involved this stuff could get to improve performance. Imagine a three-hitter stretch in the Brewers lineup, all righties who hit lefties well, where the Cubs know that those same hitters also struggle against low spin rate fastballs on the outer half … well then you might want to get Mike Montgomery in there, even though the platoon split is not in the Cubs’ favor.
And when you get the pitchers, themselves, to buy in and take advantage of random hitter idiosyncrasies? Applying that data to their performance perhaps in ways that might not otherwise make sense to them (“Why do you want me to throw high changeups righty on righty? That’s madness!”)? It’s one thing to have the data and know what you want players to do with it. Actualizing that performance, though, is an entirely different thing.
Morrow, the Cubs’ new closer, is clearly into it. Here’s hoping his fellow pitchers are, and, for those who are on the fence – perhaps he can share a little more on how he dominated the Cubs last year.