Crunching the NumbersOctober 05, 2009
Rivera's Location
By Chris Moore

A couple days ago, Dave Allen deconstructed Mariano Rivera. He commented that he had never seen any other pitcher who could locate his pitches with the same kind of bimodal distribution of pitches along the lateral dimension. I noticed the same thing when I ranked Rivera as having one of the best fastballs in baseball. But I was curious: how unusual is Mariano's X location distribution? Is he among the best in hitting the corners?

No. He is the best.

A quick SQL query produced the lateral distance from the edge of the strike zone (10 inches from 0 in the pitch F/X data) for all pitches measured by GameDay since 2007. Amongst all pitchers with 100+ pitches recorded, Mariano Rivera has the lowest average distance from an edge. On average, he places his pitches 4.4 inches away from the very edge of the plate.

Here are the top 10:

  1. Mariano Rivera, 4.43
  2. Tom Shearn, 4.57
  3. Jorge Campillo, 4.67
  4. Woody Williams, 4.69
  5. Chad Cordero, 4.72
  6. Scott Elarton, 4.74
  7. Scott Atchison, 4.75
  8. Keith Foulke, 4.76
  9. Chris Lambert, 4.77
  10. Leo Rosales, 4.80

Many of these guys have 85 mph fastballs. It's tempting to think that the only reason they can survive in the majors is because they paint the corners. Rivera is really the only one of the bunch that has fantastic stuff to go along with such pinpoint control. Hence his dominance.

Here is a graph of Mariano Rivera's locations with #3 Jorge Campillo's locations for comparison (click on the graph to enlarge).

Update: Shawn pointed out that this isn't an impressive group of pitchers. I think one could argue that most of the guys with exceptional command lack the velocity to survive in the majors without that command. But lets remove the chumps by only looking at pitchers that have thrown more than 200 pitches that exceed 90 mph. Here's the new list:

#1 Mariano Rivera, 4.41
#3 Kyle Lohse, 4.65
#4 Grant Balfour, 4.75
#5 Jared Weaver, 4.77
#6 Kyle Kendrick, 4.78
#9 Clay Buchholz, 4.84
#10 Ross Ohlendorf, 4.85
#12 Joakim Soria, 4.87
#13 Brandon Lyon, 4.89
#19 Zack Greinke, 4.89

If you only look at pitches that are in the zone (within a foot of the center of the plate), Mariano takes an even bigger lead, but is joined by Jon Garland, Carlos Silva, Roy Halladay, Francisco Cordero, John Smoltz, Matt Garza and Jeremy Bonderman in the top 25.


This is really interesting Chris, but obviously you could count on one hand the number of good years the rest of those guys have had since '07. It would be interesting to see it filtered down further, either by velocity, movement, or something else (or all of the above).

Grant Balfour? That's not a name I was expecting. If he has pretty good command, I wonder what he does to earn his above-average BB%.

I wonder if you looked at a smaller distance, like within 2 inches from the edge... or even something like only the pitches that were over the plate and within 4 inches of an edge...