BANGERS AND MASH

April 03, 2011

Stuff: heaters and hammers, splitters and cutters, Uncle Charlies and Lord Charleses. Stuff describes the weaponry one side carries into the game's most elemental battle: pitcher versus batter. Hurlers either have stuff or they don't—and when they do, it's the major league hitter's job to figure out how to handle it.

So who handles what, and how well? Every team employs an army of advance scouts to discern just that, to learn which hitters mash the fastball but buckle at the curve, who waits on the curve but becomes hopelessly coiled in the face of the change. That information is invaluable, but like all intelligence, it can be influenced by opinion and the vagaries of the human eye. That observational data is complemented by a more scientific method of gauging hitter performance. The baseball analytics website FanGraphs features a stat called Pitch Type Linear Weights, which examines how productive hitters are against the most common pitches in the major league arsenal. In simple terms it's a measure of how successful a player has been against a particular pitch. That performance is expressed as the number of runs a hitter creates above (or below) the average level for a major leaguer. For example, Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano was rated as the most productive hitter in the majors against the slider in 2010: Per 100 sliders seen he created 4.47 runs more than the average big league hitter.

PTLW isn't a perfect stat. It doesn't take into account defense, among other factors, and it can be skewed by sample size. But it provides a general measuring stick of a hitter's performance, the way ERA does for a pitcher. The following pages name the five most productive hitters in each league (listed with 2011 team) based on their 2010 PTLW against the fastball, curveball, slider, splitter, cutter and changeup (ranked by runs created per 100 pitches). Statistically, these guys had the right stuff.

SLIDER

AMERICAN LEAGUE

ROBINSON CANOYankees 4.47

"I didn't know I was a good slider hitter. I don't look for any special pitch, just for something in the middle of the plate. That's the only way to drive the ball."

HIDEKI MATSUIA'S 3.72

SHIN-SOO CHOOIndians 3.07

MARK TEIXEIRAYankees 1.97

JOSH HAMILTONRangers 1.95

NATIONAL LEAGUE

DREW STUBBSReds 3.36

PRINCE FIELDERBrewers 2.55

ALBERT PUJOLSCardinals 2.42

JOEY VOTTOReds 2.00

BRIAN MCCANNBraves 1.59

CURVEBALL

AMERICAN LEAGUE

VLADIMIR GUERREROOrioles 5.62

BRENNAN BOESCHTigers 4.17

DERREK LEEOrioles 4.05

ALEX RODRIGUEZYankees 3.71

MIGUEL CABRERATigers 3.23

NATIONAL LEAGUE

SCOTT ROLENReds 4.08

ANDREW MCCUTCHENPirates 3.76

"They always say that the way to hit a curveball is to hit the fastball. If you're ready to hit the fastball, you can hit anything. As long as you're set, your base is good, you can adjust to the off-speed."

ARAMIS RAMIREZCubs 3.36

CHASE UTLEYPhillies 3.14

AUBREY HUFFGiants 2.65

FASTBALL

AMERICAN LEAGUE

PAUL KONERKOWhite Sox 3.45

JOSH HAMILTONRangers 3.31

"I never look for a breaking ball. I can't think about anything else besides the fastball. Just like everything with hitting, if [your] timing is good, it doesn't really matter what they are throwing."

LUKE SCOTTOrioles 2.85

JOSE BAUTISTABlue Jays 2.62

MIGUEL CABRERATigers 2.56

NATIONAL LEAGUE

JOEY VOTTOReds 2.84

TROY TULOWITZKIRockies 2.64

COREY HARTBrewers 2.40

ALBERT PUJOLSCardinals 2.24

PRINCE FIELDERBrewers 2.15

CUT FASTBALL

AMERICAN LEAGUE

LUKE SCOTTOrioles 5.71

EVAN LONGORIARays 4.24

"If I'm facing a guy like Jon Lester or Cliff Lee, or I know Mariano Rivera's coming in, I'll have our BP pitchers throw cutters. You've got to let it get to you. You've got to let it get deep into your swing."

BRANDON INGETigers 3.93

JHONNY PERALTATigers 3.42

DELMON YOUNGTwins 3.33

NATIONAL LEAGUE

JONNY GOMESReds 6.41

CARLOS GONZALEZRockies 5.50

MARTIN PRADOBraves 5.29

RYAN LUDWICKPadres 4.95

DAN UGGLABraves 4.82

CHANGEUP

AMERICAN LEAGUE

VLADIMIR GUERREROOrioles 4.60

"I don't practice hitting any pitch. I don't worry about any pitch, whether it's a fastball, curveball, slider or changeup. I just try to see the ball and swing as hard as I can."

DELMON YOUNGTwins 3.71

B.J. UPTONRays 3.56

J.D. DREWRed Sox 3.25

CURTIS GRANDERSONYankees 3.19

NATIONAL LEAGUE

STARLIN CASTROCubs 4.92

CASEY MCGEHEEBrewers 4.72

CARLOS GONZALEZRockies 3.81

SCOTT ROLENReds 3.50

RYAN ZIMMERMANNationals 3.23

SPLIT-FINGERED FASTBALL

AMERICAN LEAGUE

CARL CRAWFORDRed Sox 26.90

MIKE NAPOLIRangers 22.38

BRETT GARDNERYankees 10.26

PAUL KONERKOWhite Sox 9.83

B.J. UPTONRays 8.58

NATIONAL LEAGUE

STARLIN CASTROCubs 16.34

"I try to never strike out—I try to put the ball in play. I feel good hitting splitters; I have no idea why. I've been good at it all my life. But they don't throw me too many. Last year nobody knew me, and so they threw me a lot of fastballs. Now they're throwing me more off-speed stuff, and I'm ready for that."

YUNIESKY BETANCOURTBrewers 10.41

OMAR INFANTEMarlins 9.56

ANDRE ETHIERDodgers 8.57

RYAN LUDWICKPadres 6.93

PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONPhoto illustration by MIKE POWELL SIX PHOTOSGRIPS BY ERICK W. RASCO PHOTOPhotograph by AL TIELEMANS PHOTOPhotograph by ROBERT BECK PHOTOPhotograph by ROBERT SEALE PHOTOPhotograph by AL TIELEMANS PHOTOPhotograph by PETER READ MILLER

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)