Pitching UP In the Zone
Harang changin' the eye level


Yet another bright, basic lightbulb burnin' at BJOL for your 10c a day:


I don't understand why coaches tell pitchers to "keep the ball down". When I watch baseball, it seems like the good hitters crush low pitches in the strike zone, and it seems like many good pitchers succeed by blowing away hitters with high fastballs. So what is the deal with this "keeping the ball down"? Does it mean something else that is not obvious?
Asked by: Don M
Answered: 6/12/2013
I don't know, but I see it the same way you do.    Low pitches get crushed--plus, if you pitch low, low, low, it gives the batter an area to focus on.    Keep the ball UP, work it up and down, in and out.    I don't get the "keep the ball low" theory.


James has been crusading about this for years:  "I don't like groundball pitchers, I don't trust them, and I don't want them on my team."  Also at SSI, we sermonize constantly about changing the eye level.

It's topical today because Aaron Harang has been doing such a good job changing the eye level.  Look, a picture's worth 1,000 words... you just gotta see this.  At this video of Tuesday's start, check the pitches at 0:26 and 0:35.

Pitching coaches seem to reason that homers come off high pitches.  Reaching into a grab bag of reality checks, let's pick out a few:

  • Where is a lefty hitter's hot zone?  Down and in.
  • Where is the last pitch you saw crushed 440 feet by a righty?  Middle-middle or middle-away.
  • What is the key to Hisashi Iwakuma's 8+ K per game, with 6 K stuff?  Fastballs up, and Fastballs "other."
  • What is the key to Aaron Harang's 8+ K per game with meh stuff?

A pitch 2" below the knees feels secure.  The high fastball gets both strikeouts and (an uptick in) fly balls.  Really the Back Leg Specials come on middle-middle fastballs, middle-away fastballs and sloppy breaking pitches.  A crisp fastball at the letters, set up properly, does that really carry too much risk?  


By the way, Aaron Harang has been a two-pitch guy his whole life.  He throws a located fastball 66% of the time, a little 82 MPH slider 21% of the time, and he has "shown" a curve 6% and a change 6%.  He's a classic sinker-slider guy with "meh" stuff, except that his command is plus.

On Tuesday, for example, his thunderous 9 2 0 0 0 10 performance, he threw all fastballs and sliders except for 7 changeups.

His career splits against RHB and LHB are not vast:

LHB 7.4 3.3 1.0 .261 .329 .427
RHB 7.3 2.2 1.3 .268 .322 .455

You could react to the above chart in one of two ways:

  • You could go off searching for some reason to exclude Aaron Harang from the sinker/slider category of pitcher.
  • You could recognize that general principles, while valuable, are seldom absolute.  Do you really believe that there is no such thing as a sinker-slider, 2-pitch guy who isn't effective in the big leagues?

As Grizzly pointed out, it is true that sliders have the toughest platoon split, industry wide, and as he also pointed out, the nuanced way to view this is that this two-pitch combo leaves a pitcher a smaller margin for error.

A 97-MPH fastball increases your margin for error.  So does a collection of five great pitches, like Felix'.  So does throwing left handed, like Joe Saunders does.  Margin for error is great.  It's not the whole discussion.


Regardless of whether you agree about high strikes, you've got one problem.  Explaining 8+ strikeouts from the Mariners' #2 and #3 starters.  There are college pitchers with better sheer stuff.  I think we took about six of 'em.

Where is Aaron Harang headed from here?  Does SSI buy in?

I'll tell you this.  If it were roto, I'd trade for Harang, and quickly.  Joe Saunders, I wouldn't.  But Harang, he'd be on my yellow Post-It note for trade targets.

Dunno if that means I want 'im on my real team.



I am curious if pitching up in the zone successful depends not only on the location, but also the fastball movement. Felix doesn't seem to be able to throw an effective 4-seam fastball that doesn't sink. Capps seems to have the same problem and I wonder if it nullifies some of the value of their sliders as well?


Is pretty well within the norms; per F/X, Iwakuma's two-seamer sinks more than Felix' two-seamer does.  But when pitchers elevate the ball, it seems to lose a lot of its natural "sink".  For some reason he just doesn't like to take hitters up the ladder.  It's a great point, and one that has always puzzled.
He took the twist from Bedard.  Maybe he'll take the ladder fastball from Iwakuma?

Brent's picture

I'm an older fellow, and I remember seeing Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale. At that time, a pitcher could throw a fastball at the armpits and get a called strike. Then that went away. You couldn't get a called strike above the belt for a long, long time. Pitchers learned to go down in the zone because unless the hitter had no discipline he laid off a high fast ball, knowing it would be called a ball. You got strikes called by umpires ala Eric Gregg, 5-6 inches outside, so hitters learned to lean out over the plate to try and hit it. If you threw a high fastball then you had a guy sticking his head right into it when he leaned over the plate. At that point pitchers started going lower, lower, lower; farther and farther outside. It didn't happen overnight, but it became learned behavior over time.
Now with the advent of Pitch/fx and more scrutiny of the strike zone, the high fastball is being called for a strike again. Not like it was in the sixties, but certainly more than it was in the eighties/nineties. It'll take a little time to get pitchers to adjust their game to go back up the ladder.
Or am I completely off my rocker?


Drysdale's forte was the FB at chin level that faded into the top of the strike zone. Then every once in a while he would throw it slightly lower and farther inside without the fade. Somewhere there's got to be pictures of Cepeda, who leaned out over the plate a lot, turning away from the field and having a Drysdale FB hit him exactly between the shoulder blades. Then the next time up, Drysdale would get strike one on a slider in the zone, strike two on a fastball up, and then Cepeda would flail at a slider low and away. Classic. After Marichal and Roseboro's "interaction", though, I think there was a concerted reaction against high strikes which spread until the strike zone was redefined to fit what was being called; i.e., nothing above the lowest letter on the uniform.


If a pitcher's OVERALL GAME developed when the zone was "the size of a license plate" (Clemens), he's going to stick with his game after the zone changes.  Once a pitcher has his ML ERA in the 3's, he's not going to mess with success, given what's at stake for him...  then that set of pitchers who developed a "knee-high" game are going to influence the industry...
It HAS been a recent development, the onset of the high strike.  Good pernt Brent.


Back when pitchers went up-and-down the elevator shaft.
Takes so much more precision for Iwakuma to work up-and-down, with this zone, than it did Drysdale... back then anybody could throw the high strike.  You could almost divide ML pitchers into two sides of a ledger on a yellow tablet, which ones can throw a high fastball for a swinging strike and which can't.
Two who can, Iwakuma and Harang, are getting K's farrrrrr in excess of their stuff.

Brent's picture

That's about the most interesting word I've seen to describe that event. When I was older I used that as a cautionary tale about hero worship. I was a young boy, the Giants were my heroes, and I thought they could do no wrong. I convinced myself that Roseboro MUST have done something to "deserve it".
Somewhere there must be a picture of a lot more players than just Cepeda having an at bat like you described. That's Drysdale 101 to righties.
Anyone that complains about Raul's defense in left never saw Cepeda or McCovey in left when they tried to get both their bats in the lineup at the same time. But you can get away with a lot if your centerfielder is Willie Mays.


Cepeda in left in Candlestick in the early evening when the wind was blowing was like something out of Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd. I remember watching Mays chase down a deep high fly ball during the first season there, when they had a chain-link fence in center and it was open beyond. He changed directions three or four times and kept looking over the wrong shoulder as the ball moved in the wind. He eventually caught it, but on that one, even the great Mays looked like Michael Morse. When Felipe and Matty Alou came up and started playing in the late innings, there would be audible sighs of relief when Dark sent them out to replace Cha-Cha. I was also there the night Stu Miller got blown off the mound while pitching. What a place! For all its marine-layer foibles, Safeco is a dream venue compared to the 'Stick

Brent's picture

Dad was always mentioning the Stu Miller game. That was a little before my time - I was three when it happened. The coldest I've ever been at a baseball game was in early May of 1966 at Candlestick. The night Mays broke Mel Ott's team HR record. We were in the upper deck on the third base side - walkup tickets. The wind was biting. No idea how Willie got it out opposite field into the wind. Everyone that I heard complain about baseball in the Kingdome being the worst place ever to watch baseball I just told them they'd obviously never been to Candlestick on a windy day.

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