I’m really digging the Boston Globe’s recent visualization tracking Manny Ramirez’s hunt for 500 home runs (reached on May 31st).
This cool app answers seemingly every question about when and how Manny hit his home runs…except for the one I’m most interested in: where on the plate is Manny most likely to hit a home run? I’ve seen a few visualizations recently that do this sort of thing, so I thought I’d share this view of current practices in the area of pitch location v. batting performance visualization.
ESPN will often show you a 1D view (showing only the x dimension of the pitch location) during games, dividing the plate into three horizontal segments (in this case showing the number of home runs this year by Vladimir Guerrero):
A more advanced, 2D view of the same is used often on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight:
For a while now, ESPN.com’s baseball Gamecasts have shown real-time pitch locations, including whether the ball was called a strike (red) or a ball (green).
Turning on “Hit Zones” reveals a very cool diverging blue-to-red heatchart-style graphic of batting performance in the 9 segments of the plate’s plane.
The above is apparently a common method of showing this statistic. These heatcharts differ in 1) how many segments the plate is divided into and 2) whether a sequential or diverging color scheme is used. Here’s one — with many more segments and a high swing zone — for Ted Williams, from the Official Ted Williams Website.
And a very cool report in the Baseball Analysts shows batting averages with 20 pitch location squares, aggregated over two seasons, and divided into the four types of batter-pitcher matchups. For example, the image below shows the greyscale heatchart for the matchup, Left-handed pitcher vs. Left-handed batter.
MLB.com’s Gameday does a better job, methinks, of showing pitch locations relative to the batter and the plate. But they don’t give any indication of the particular batter’s performance with different pitch locations:
I also like the above because it at least suggests the 3d nature of the strike zone: pitches with movement will not leave the space above the plate at the same position as they entered it. The heatcharts shown above do a good job of showing pitch locations in the x and z dimensions. A pitch visualization notable for showing these x and z locations at various points in y space is Lokesh Dhakar’s Baseball Pitches Illustrated (shown below is the slider), though this too is concerned only with pitching.
Thanks to the PITCHf/x system, there is a ton of pitch location data available. Currently, though, there have been few attempts to flexibly visualize this data. One app, the PITCHf/x tool by Josh Kalk, is quite flexible, but the charts themselves leave something to be desired (below for Ben Sheets).
I’m thinking more of a tool like Visual i|o’s baseball visualization tool, or the Boston Globe app linked above, that would take advantage of this rich data, but allow it to be manipulated and filtered in real-time. For example, I’d love to just look at called strikes or balls, and be able to filter that down by ballpark, or perhaps even by individual umpire, and visualize it by the ratio of strikes-to-balls, to get a better idea of the true strike zone. And, it’s worth noting that there’s no reason this information need be aggregated to grid squares; it could also be shown with a continuous density representation like this style of heatmap.