Touching BasesSeptember 23, 2010
Pitching vs. Pitchers
By Jeremy Greenhouse

Somehow I got it in my mind that Vicente Padilla was the villain of baseball. Opponents hate him and teammates hate him even more. I'm not really sure how the idea got implanted in there (inception?), but it did, and I began to envision games in which Padilla simply exchanged beanballs with the opposing pitcher. This would go on until Joe Torre brought in Scott Proctor to relieve.

In fact, Padilla has been hit by a pitch once since 2004 and hasn't hit any opposing pitcher, although he does have one of the highest overall HBP rates of all-time. I started thinking whether any pitchers are prone to hitting other pitchers or getting hit themselves and the answer is no. Sure, big fat Joe Blanton has been hit twice this year, but that's only because he's big and fat. Kind of like Padilla. And Chris Volstad has hit three pitchers while having faced 131, which is rather impressive when you think about it. But he's never been hit himself. Unfortunately, I didn't find any evidence of pitcher's retaliating against each other. Still, I had the data, so I looked into how some approach pitching vs. pitchers

Again, I had envisioned Padilla breaking out his eephus pitch against other pitchers and embarrassing them, which would result in nobody throwing him any fastballs. Not the case. To think that there's some "I throw you fastballs, you throw me fastballs" code is rather silly. There's no correlation between throwing fastballs against pitchers and receiving them in return. It's more a matter of good hitting pitchers like CC Sabathia, Dontrelle Willis, Yovani Gallardo, Micah Owings, Mike Leake, Adam Wainwright, and Carlos Zambrano who receive a fair amount of breaking stuff. And for some reason pitchers like throwing Brad Penny junk, even though he can't hit. Jhoulys Chacin is one guy who has proven inept enough with the bat to be fed nothing but fastballs.

Cliff Lee is an interesting case. He's thrown over 100 offerings to pitchers, and all but 2% were fastballs. Furthermore, his fastballs against pitchers have been clocked one mile per hour faster than against regular batters. That means that he's probably not even throwing his cutter against pitchers, but instead only throwing his straight fastballs for easy strikes. The thing is, he's only been average against pitchers, and he's been Cliff Lee against everyone else.

Lee is an exception as a guy who throws his fastball harder against pitchers than others, which might only be the case because I'm including his cut fastballs, which skew the data. Only 10% of pitchers recorded higher fastball velocities against pitchers than otherwise. Roy Halladay has treated pitchers and non-pitchers most evenly. Andrew Miller, Javier Vazquez, Homer Bailey, Felipe Paulino, and Edinson Volquez all ease up a lot on their fastballs when facing pitchers.

Even fewer—under 5%—throw a higher rate of fastballs against pitchers than against non-pitchers, and Andrew Miller is the biggest oddity in that regard. I suppose a bigger enigma surrounding Miller is why he's still pitching in the Majors.

Although Lee throws the highest rate of fastballs against pitchers, that isn't especially exceptional, considering his already high usage of fastballs against everyone (75-80%). Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey throwing nearly half fastballs against pitchers might be the biggest change in approach of any pitcher. I was surprised to learn that Jorge De La Rosa, trusts his fastball 93-plus mile per hour enough to throw to pitchers, dealing it 85% of the time, but in normal situations, he throws it only 59% of the time. Other notable pitchers who throw more fastballs while facing their counterparts: Rich Harden, Edwin Jackson, Edinson Volquez, Pedro Martinez, Ian Kennedy, Ted Lilly, Chris Carpenter, Tim Lincecum.

James McDonald has allowed a .375 OBP against pitchers in his career.