(Bumped from FanPosts. --Eric)
By Josh Smolow
Hisanori Takahashi has been a revelation this year. Terrific as a long reliever at first and now 12 innings of shutout baseball as a starter with 11Ks to 1BB as a Starter. But How's he doing it? I thought I'd take a look with PitchFX* at his pitches and what's been leading to his success thus far.
* Takahashi clearly throws the ball with a weird hitch in his motion. It's been talked about as part of the reason for his success, and that's certainly possible. If it is a big part of his success, you'd figure Major Leaguers should get better against him as he becomes more known. Still, this hitch is not something I could look at with PitchFX, so It's ignored below.
Takahashi has some impressive numbers all the way around. He (like fellow long reliever Raul Valdes) has been basically death to lefties, and has in fact outperformed his .82ERA vs. them. Against Righties, he's solid, though not as spectacular. His walk-rate against righties could use some work, though that hasn't been a problem since he's been a starter. Also note that basically half of his walks came in two appearances (4 against Florida on May 16, 3against the cubs on April 21st). Also as a fly-ball pitcher, Takahashi has been getting a lot of help from Citifield avoiding HRs. How Takahashi performs on the road bears watching, where he won't have the helpful large park to avoid fly balls going out of the park.
Figure 1: Graph of the movement of Takahashi's pitches this year.
Vertical Movement: the amount of inches the ball drops/"rises" as compared to how we would expect gravity to make a pitch drop. So a Fastball with Positive 10 Vertical Movement "RISES" 10 inches more than it should if gravity was the only force acting on it and a curveball with -10 Vertical Movement drops 10 inches more than a pitch thrown that is just acted on by gravity.
Horizontal Movement: The Graph is from the view of a catcher or umpire behind home plate. So a pitch that's on the left side of the graph (and has "negative horizontal movement") moves in on righties and away from lefties. A pitch that's on the right side of the graph moves in on lefites and away from righties.
Legend for this Graph and All Subsequent Graphs:
Fastballs = Red Dots
Change Ups = Blue Dots
Cutters? = Light Blue/Blue-Green Dots
Sliders = Light Green Dots
Curve Balls = Dark Green Dots
Figure 2: Graph of Takahashi's Pitches' horizontal movement vs Pitch Speed (MPH). This Graph shows more clearly the clear pitch types that he has thrown, as discussed below.
As the graphs above show, Takahashi has 4-5 distinct pitches* as seen by PitchFX. The Table below shows the average movement, speed, and run value of each pitch type.
*When I say "pitches," I am referring to clearly recognizable pitches via PitchFX. It's been stated that Takahashi actually has 6 different pitches. This is totally possible (For example what i have listed as his fastball might be two separate pitches. But there's no clear clustering that shows different pitches and the results are all similar so I'm grouping them as the same pitch, given that these "two" pitches do effectively meld together and look near identical.
|Pitch Type||Number Thrown||Average MPH||Average Horizontal Movement||Average Vertical Movement||Run Value** (Negative Values = Good)||Run Value over 100 Pitches|
**I am aware that my Run Values don't line up with those at Fangraphs (Ignoring the Positive/Negative thing...I'm treating Negative as good, Fangraphs reverses it and makes positive good). But I've checked my values several times, and all my results simply seem to be doubled that of Fangraphs, so it's not a big deal (I'm not saying any pitch is good that fangraphs says is bad for instance.)
***I have listed as a cutter 8 pitches. However, it's hard to distinguish this pitch from at least a few sliders thrown by Takahashi. Regardless, this is way too small of a sample size to judge anything from.
You'll note from the above table and graphs that Takahashi really relies heavily on two pitches: His fastball and his change-up. Both of these pitches have been very effective, so this isn't a problem. In fact, only the curve ball hasn't been effective on its own this year (Though it's use may have set up hitters so that the other pitches could be more effective.)
Note that the change-up (which has been listed as a screwball in some places such as wikipedia, but resembles a change-up more than a genuine screwball (for a real screwball, see the pitch of Daniel Rey Herrera of the Reds, who actually throws the pitch) has a nice gap in velocity from the Fastball and also has about 4.5 inches more sink than his fastball. This results in plenty of swings and misses, as we'll see later.
How Takahashi Uses his Pitches
|Pitch Type||# vs LHB||% of Pitches||# vs RHB||% of Pitches|
Against RHBs (the majority of the batters he has faced), Takahashi leans HEAVILY on the change-up. In fact, if you exclude hitters counts such as 2-0, 3-1, and 3-0, Takahashi has thrown more change-ups than fastballs. Otherwise against RHBs he will occasionally go to the Curve-ball, but really he's essentially a 2 pitch pitcher against RHBs.
Against LHBs, the change-up mostly disappears and the slider becomes Takahashi's secondary weapon. Takahashi also throws the fastball even more to these batters than against righties. Of Note: While the change-up mostly disappears, Takahashi DOES throw the change-up to Lefties to devastating effect on 0-2 and 1-2 counts, to the point where the pitch has a good Run Value against Lefties (-1.8066 in 16 pitches, mainly due to striking out multiple batters on this pitch).
Figures 3 and 4: The Pitch locations of Takahashi's fastball to RHBs (the first graph, Figure 3) and to LHBs (Lower Graph, Figure 4). The Blue Square represents a rough estimation of the strike zone.
Remember above how I noted that Takahashi had a slightly high walk rate against RHBs, but was near perfect with his command against LHBs? Here's the first cause of that...his fastball control (as you can see in the graphs above) seems much more precise to LHBs than to RHBs. 32% of his fastballs to RHBs have been taken for balls, compared to only 24% for LHBs.
Also notice-able against LHBs is that Takahashi seems to be aiming for the outside and low corner of the plate. Against Right Handed Batters, there's no discernible area of the strike zone that he seems to be targeting with the pitch.
Aside from this, there's nothing extremely noticeable about the fastball of Takahashi. Not Great Speed, Not Great Movement and only gets 5% swinging strikes against lefties and 6.8% swinging strikes against righties.
Against Right-Handed Batters:
Figure 5: Pitch Locations of Takahashi's change-ups against RHBs. The Blue Square represents a rough estimation of the strike zone.
Here's the other cause for the additional walks to right hand batters, Takahashi's change-up. 33.5% of these pitches resulted in balls as you can see from this graph. And yet...this is still a very good pitch.
Why, you ask?
Because he manages to obtain a TERRIFIC 17.5% Swinging Strike Rate with the change-up against RHBs. Against LHBs (in the very small sample size), he's obtained a swinging strike on 7 out of 16 (43.75%) of the change-ups he has thrown.
Basically, against RHBs, he aims this pitch at the outside and low corner. Meanwhile the pitch's movement as seen above, makes the pitch dip and move even further outside resulting in the pitch really going away from the RHB. If the RHB swings...the end result is really often a swing and a miss. Thus the change-up has been extremely effective. And he knows this is the case, as it's his pitch of choice to use to put-away batters.
On 0-2 counts against RHBs, he throws a change-up 41% of the time. 1-2 counts: 46% of the time. 2-2 Counts: 43% of the time. 3-2 counts: 51% of the time. And he's not afraid to use the pitch early in the count as well. This is clearly his most effective pitch (despite it's accuracy issue) and he knows it.
*I apologize but that's all the graphs i'll be displaying here. I have other ones, and i'll describe what they show, but it's a pain to add them to this article, so you'll have to deal with text.
Takahashi's Slider is his secondary pitch of choice against LHBs and he uses it just like he uses his change-up against RHBs: He aims clearly away and low so that the movement of the pitch takes it away from the batter. Like the change-up against RHBs, it's been very effective against lefties, getting a Swinging Strike 12.7% of the time. Still he doesn't throw the pitch as often against LHBs as he throws the change-ups against RHBs, and in 0-2, 1-2, 2-2, and 3-2 counts against LHBs he'll much more often choose to go with the Fastball or even the Change-up than throw the slider.
Takahashi's Curve ball is his last pitch and his worst one. He mostly throws it against RHBs and has an 11% Swinging Strike rate for it. However, it gets called for a ball 46% of the time, making it not very reliable. Still, Takahashi will throw the pitch a decent amount of the time against RHBs on 0-0 (14%), 0-1 (22%), and 0-2 counts (20%). On one ball counts and beyond, the curve ball seems to disappear.
The Future of Takahashi:
So what can we expect out of Takahashi in the future? Well, for one we can expect obviously for the effect of the hitch in his pitching motion to stop fooling hitters as much. But aside from that, the above analysis does make me worried that his success against RHBs is likely to decline due to them learning more about his change-up. Perhaps I'm wrong and Righties will continue to swing away at the pitch and strike out on it, but if they wise up and simply let the pitch go, it will result in an increase in his already not great walk rate against RHBs.
What can he do to improve? Well, I'd like to see his fastball hit the strike zone more consistently against RHBs from now on. We know that against LHBs he can hit the zone pretty frequently, and if he can just improve there, he'll have more leeway on his change-up. Perhaps he can improve his curveball to RHBs as well so that they can't simply ignore the change-up whenever they spot a non-fastball heading their way (but i suspect that's a lost cause).
Overall though, Takahashi has a very interesting repertoire and I look forward to taking a look at his performance in another month after another couple of starts is under his belt.