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« Tigers vs. Yankees Game 5: Ted Barrett's Strike Zone | Main | No Room For Posada in Pinstripes »

Halladay's Competitive Chase Pitches

Roy Halladay is known for his exquisite control, and rightfully so. Doc paced the National League with 1.35 walks per nine innings during the regular season, and he has one of the 10 lowest rates of free passes issue among starters since the new millennium began. But Halladay's command -- even with it comes to pitches thrown out of the strike zone -- is just as special.

Halladay has gotten hitters to chase 34 percent of his pitches out of the strike zone this season, which ranks fourth among starting pitchers. A big reason why he gets so many swings on pitches out of the zone is that he places them just close enough to the plate that hitters think they still have a fighting chance.

Overall in 2011, pitchers threw 365,240 pitches that were out of the strike zone. Of that total, 306,003 (84 percent) were categorized as "competitive" pitches, meaning they were within 18 inches of the middle of the plate. Halladay, meanwhile, threw 1,702 pitches out of the zone and 1,489 of them (87.5 percent) were categorized as "competitive" pitches.

Why does this matter? Because competitive out-of-zone pitches have a much lower run value than non-competitive out-of-zone pitches:

Expected run value by pitch location on competitive pitches

Expected run value by pitch location on non-competitive pitches

You still see a lot of blue in the areas surrounding the strike zone, which means good things for pitchers. Pitches located there might not be strikes, per se, but batters still swing at these pitches often and don't fare very well when they do. But once a pitcher starts missing by a wide margin, hitters are going to keep the bat on the shoulder and take those pitches for balls. That leads to a much higher run value.

With Halladay sticking fairly close to the plate even when he does throw something out of the zone, he gets a lot of swings on competitive pitches that would be balls:

Hitters' swing rate vs. Halladay's competitive pitches, 2011League average swing rate on competitive pitches, 2011

Hitters have swung at 45 percent of Halladay's competitive out-of-zone pitches, compared to the 40 percent league average.

We tend to think of command in terms of throwing strikes to certain favorable locations within the zone, but the same principle applies for pitches out of the zone. Halladay's out-of-zone command -- placing pitches close enough to the plate that hitters feel compelled to swing -- is part of what makes him one of the greatest pitchers in recent memory.

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