A New Split? Examining Pull Pitchers Against Pull Hitters

In my view, Fangraphs is the best sports research website on the internet. Nearly any statistic you could possibly want captured for MLB is easy to access and research there. There are almost too many stats to look at. I often spend a couple hours each day just looking over statistics and articles seeing if I can find something useful I can apply to my daily fantasy baseball projections. Today, I think I may have found one in their pull percentage stat.

If you look over at the batted ball data leaderboard, you’ll notice a statistic called Pull% and Oppo%, which is simply how often a ball in play is pulled or hit to opposite field. There are some guys with huge Pull% and some with high Oppo%. If you switch over to pitcher you’ll see the same thing, guys who give up a lot of pulled hits or hits to opposite field. Diving into individual players, these statistics appear to stabilize quite quickly. Hitters and pitchers with pull tendencies become evident in small samples and players tend to stay with their tendency in their career.

Why do some hitters and pitchers have large pull tendencies? The answer is more clear when looking at Heatmaps. Let’s take a look at Carlos Santana’s Heatmap, specifically his runs above average in his career against right handed pitching. Since Santana is a switch hitter, these at bats will be as a lefty. One thing that pops out here is Santana’s dark red on inside pitches. He loves them, he has a huge runs above average on inside pitches. Now let’s compare to Joe Mauer, who has the highest Oppo% since 2014. Much different looking. Mauer is much better against low and away balls than Santana, and not as good on inside pitches.

You see the same sort of thing when looking at pitchers with large pull tendencies allowed. Again, we will look at just righties since we will have more data. This time we’re looking at pitch location. Bartolo Colon has one of the biggest Oppo% in the league. Look at his pitch% since 2007. We see that the majority of his pitches fall low and away. Compare this to John Danks, who has the largest amount of batted balls pulled against him since 2014. Danks doesn’t attack low and away nearly as well as Colon.

So in general, pull hitters are guys who hit inside pitches well, and pull pitchers are guys who don’t throw low and away very often. Wouldn’t it make sense then that a pull hitter, who hits inside pitches well, would have a favorable matchup against a pull pitcher, who throws inside more than average? And wouldn’t opposite field hitters do well against pitchers who pound the strike zone low and away?

It makes perfect sense to me, so I created a pull matchup signal on the MLB Signals tool. As with the rest of the signals in this spreadsheet, high positive values indicate a favorable matchup (pull pitcher vs pull hitter, or opposite field hitter against opposite field pitcher), while high negative values indicate an unfavorable matchup. One of the highest values today is Albert Pujols. Pujols has a 19% higher than average pull tendency, while the opposing pitcher James Paxton is in the top 20 in Pull% for starting pitchers since 2014.

Have I researched this signal extensively? No, I haven’t done any statistical analysis on it’s validity. But given how sensible it is I wanted to get it out there, because it could be something that proves very useful for daily projections. These statistics will be updated most days, so check them out and see how the pull signal performs.

View all posts by Daniel Steinberg
Daniel Steinberg

About the Author

Daniel Steinberg Daniel Steinberg is a former bond trader at a multi-billion dollar proprietary trading firm in Chicago. He uses his knowledge of statistics and his creativity from his career as a poker professional to create the most advanced Daily Fantasy statistical analysis that you will find anywhere. Follow him on twitter @DanielSingerS

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