September 23, 2020

Statistically Speaking: Finding the Nats’ pipe shots

Much like last week’s Statistically Speaking article, this week’s will have a bit of an All-Star flavor to it. While this season’s game has left a sour taste in the mouths of many Nationals fans due to the lack of some very deserving players, the team ultimately selected, Nats player or otherwise, appeared to be a reasonable representation of the respective leagues. Adding insult to injury for the National League, however, was this peachy comment from the NL’s starting pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals righthander Adam Wainwright:

“I was gonna give him a couple pipe shots. He deserved it,” Wainwright said. “I didn’t know he was gonna hit a double or I might have changed my mind.”

The player deserving of said pipe shots—a pitch grooved right down the middle of the plate—was of course soon-to-be-retired New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. Not surprisingly, Jeter did exactly what Wainwright (and everyone else) expected him to do with the gimmie, knocking the 90 mile-per-hour offering into the outfield for a double. Upon realizing the gravity of his ‘pipe shot’ comment, Wainwright about-faced on giving Jeter the mulligan:

“Sometimes my humor gets taken the wrong way,” Wainwright said in a dugout interview in the eighth inning. “I feel terrible about this if anyone is taking any credit away from what Derek Jeter’s done today or off me. It was mis-said. I made a mistake.

Regardless of the ultimate result or intention of the pipe shot, the pitch was exactly as published:

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The PITCHf/x data also shows us (courtesy of Brooks Baseball), the pitch’s ‘px’ value was 0.1545 feet and its ‘pz’ value was 2.320 feet, which are the left/right distance of the pitch from the middle of the plate as it crosses the plate and the height of the pitch as it crosses the plate, respectively, while having 0.3206 inches of horizontal movement and 9.667 inches of vertical movement. Add it all up, and it was about as close as a pitcher could get to putting the ball on a tee for a hitter.

For Wainwright, this location and ‘grooving’ was intentional; sometimes, it isn’t quite the case, and pitches end up rolling down that pipe and right into a hitter’s sweet spot; has this been an issue for Nats pitcher this year, as talented as they are? First, let’s look at what Nats pitcher’s have done in terms of pitch location for all fastball types (the pitch of choice when you’re looking to groove a pitch), with Wainwright’s pitch in red for reference:

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 11.10.26 PMThere appears to be quite a few pitches that could fit the bill as a pipe shot, so let’s slim the field down with some additional criteria, with some help from an old Greek. By taking the px and pz information from Wainwright’s pitch and considering that the bulls eye for all pips shots, we can use the following calculation to figure out how close each of the above 8935 fastballs were to being pipe shots:

(x-center_x)^2 + (y - center_y)^2 < radius^2 

where x is a given pitch’s px value, center_x is the Wainwright pitch px, y is a given pitch’s pz value, and center_y is the pz for Wainwright’s pitch. From here, we apply a numeric value to the radius to shrink our sphere of influence for what we will consider pipe shots. To cut to the chase and to keep numbers to a dull roar, I selected a radius of 0.001 for our pipe shot ‘winners’, which are displayed below, with the Wainwright’s pitch again in red and the average strike zone outlined in black for reference:

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 11.09.46 PMHere, we find seven winning pitches, from, surprisingly, seven different pitchers; for those curious the table below provides additional information as to count, velocity, and pitch movement (HMov and VMov):

name pitch_type pitch_result start_speed HMov VMov balls strikes
Clippard, Tyler FF Flyout 90.7 -1.22 11.59 1 1
Fister, Doug FF Groundout 89.2 -7.278 6.27 1 2
Gonzalez, Gio FF Called Strike 92.5 6.475 9.676 0 0
Jordan, Taylor FT Called Strike 88.2 -9.67 6.25 3 0
Roark, Tanner FF Called Strike 92.6 -7.61 8.37 1 0
Stammen, Craig FT Called Strike 91.4 -10.97 4.82 2 1
Strasburg, Stephen FT Called Strike 94.5 -9.03 10.17 0 0

Overall, the pipe shots from the Nats haven’t been terribly egregious, with a pair being first pitch strikes and only one grooved in a hitters count, courtesy of Taylor Jordan. Thankfully for the Nats, all of these grooved pitches ended up without any damage being done in the form of hits balls or runs scored, unlike Wainwright’s cookie to Jeter; despite this sliver of luck with the approach, the infamous pipe shot probably isn’t the best method of garnering strikes and outs, and should be best left to the Home Run Derby.

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Data courtesy of Baseball Savant, unless otherwise noted.
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Stuart Wallace is a Contributor to District Sports Page. A neuroscientist by day, the Nevada native also moonlights as an Associate Managing Editor for Beyond the Box Score and a contributor at Camden Depot and Gammons Daily. A former pitcher, his brief career is sadly highlighted by giving up a lot of home runs to former National Johnny Estrada. You can follow him on Twitter @TClippardsSpecs.

 

 

 

About Stuart Wallace

Stuart Wallace is a Contributor to District Sports Page. A neuroscientist by day, the Nevada native also moonlights as an Associate Managing Editor for Beyond the Box Score, stats intern at Baseball Prospectus, and a contributor at Camden Depot. A former pitcher, his brief career is sadly highlighted by giving up a lot of home runs to former National Johnny Estrada. You can follow Stu on Twitter @TClippardsSpecs.

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