Why do some batters “own” certain pitchers?
A Right-handed pitcher can throw from three basic slots: over-hand [12 o’clock], three-quarter [10:30], or side-arm [9 o’clock].
Regardless of which side they throw from, most pitchers use one of the three slots for all their pitches, but they could use a different slot for each pitch on their menu.
A pitcher with 7 pitches on his menu: fastball [2-seam], fastball [4-seam], curve, change-up, slider, cutter, and splitter could match them all with any of the 3 arm slots.
In theory, a pitcher who could throw all 7 pitches from all 3 arm slots would have 21 “different” looks to confuse the batter. Imagine batting against this pitcher and trying to anticipate—“sit on”—a certain pitch with the odd against you 21-1.
Now, add in another factor; the position on the rubber; if a pitcher moved an inch, he would have about 17 difference locations to start his delivery. But, let’s limit him to just three: left side, middle, and right side.
Before a June start against the Rays this season, Clay Buchholz moved on the pitching rubber.
“I wasn’t really doing well and I felt like something needed to change, so I moved from the third-base side to the first-base side,” Buchholz said.
“Buchholz said shifting his spot on the mound has helped with two pitches in particular: the control of his curveball and the two-seam fastball in to left-handed hitters. Buchholz doubled his swing-and-miss rate on the pitch after moving on the mound last season.” http://www.providencejournal.com/sports/red-sox/content/20130920-buchholz-makes-adjustment-and-reaps-benefits.ece
Moving along the rubber—even a slight adjustment–creates new angles for a pitcher.
“[The mound] goes 17 inches and you can be on the outer edge of those. It’s a fairly significant difference in the angle you’re creating with the plate,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “For a certain body type, a certain delivery, a certain form of athleticism, there is a spot on the rubber that works best for them. It’s not the same for every guy.” http://www.providencejournal.com/sports/red-sox/content/20130920-buchholz-makes-adjustment-and-reaps-benefits.ece
If our hypothetical Right-handed pitcher, who could throw all 7 pitches from all 3 arm slots, were to also be able to throw all those pitches from 3 different locations on the rubber, it would give him 63 “different” pitches.
Buchholz and other pitchers on the Red Sox staff — make slight adjustments in their delivery during the games:
“He changed, and now he’s able to move throughout the at-bat. Lackey, same thing,” Saltalamacchia said. “If you’re pulling the ball as a hitter, if you’re too pull-happy, I like to move off the plate to make sure I don’t try to pull it and vice versa. I’ll get close to the plate if I’m a little late…
As a pitcher, you’ve got to be able to do the same thing. You’ve got to be able to adjust.”
In a typical High School game, most hitters need to guess if the pitcher will throw—from the center of the rubber—one of 3 pitches, an over-hand curve [from 12 o-clock], an over-hand 2 or 4-seam fastball, or an over-hand change-up.
All three types of pitches [we are treating the 2 and 4-seam fastball as the same type, although they should move differently] are thrown from the same slot [over-hand] and the same location on the rubber [center].
In this example, the typical High School batter has a 1 in 3 chance of guessing what the pitch will be, so he can adjust his swing accordingly; jump on the fastball and stay back for the curve and change-up. [Smart Right-handed batters, facing a Right-handed pitcher, who are expecting a curve, might step slightly toward Right field with their lead leg, so their bat will cover more of the plate, as the ball passes through the horizontal plane.]
Essentially the High School batter has just 2 kinds of pitches to guess about: fast and slow; the fastball or the slower curve and change-up. A more advanced batter may also be guessing the location of the pitch: inside/outside or high/low.
A rare High School pitcher, who can “spot” [control the location] his pitches can add to the batter’s confusion by hitting one of 9 areas in the strike zone; imagine a tic-tac-toe game with a frame—nine boxes. This kid has 9 areas to use with 3 pitches [FB, CU, CH] and boggles the batter with 27-1 odds of guessing the kind and location of the pitch.
A Major league pitcher, who can throw 7 pitches to any of 9 areas in the strike zone, makes the batter’s odds a baffling 63-1. In theory, this same pitcher could deliver these 63 pitches from 3 different locations on the rubber, running the odds to 189-1 in his favor. And, if he could throw these pitches from 3 different arm slots, his odds would be an astounding 267 to 1.
The point here is that most MLB pitchers tend to throw all their pitches from the same location on the rubber and from the same arm slot.
Thus, most MLB pitchers throw all their pitches from these same two angles—rubber spot and arm slot.
Most MLB batters consistently repeat their swing in the same arc; typically, the arc, from the side, looks like a dinner plate, or a flattened, elongated U shape: \_______/
The longer the bat stays in a horizontal position, the more likely it will strike the ball.
NOTE: Recall how Pete Rose had a minimum of “loop” in his swing; he seemed to hold the bat parallel to the ground and bring it straight through the hitting zone. If he was swinging downward with the bat, he would have likely hit a ground ball for an out. If he was swinging upward with the bat, he would have likely hit a fly ball for an out.
Imagine, the bat is looping through the air; coming down, remaining straight, and coming up, while the pitch is usually coming at a downward angle, or on a horizontal plane [9-3 o’clock line]. To the batter the ball appears to be dropping or sliding sideways.
Depending on whether the arc of the individual batter and the angle of the individual pitcher “match” [or intersect in the hitting zone] the ball will be hit or missed.
If a batter’s arc “matches” with a pitchers “angle,” contact will be made frequently.
Or, we say, the batter “owns” that pitcher.
If a batter’s arc is not a “match” with a pitchers “angle,” contact will be made infrequently.
Or, we say, the pitcher “owns” that batter.
The angle that a pitcher releases the ball and the arc of the hitter’s bat–and their intersection–are the 3 factors that may explain why certain batters do well against certain pitchers and how certain pitchers do well against certain batters.