Lay Off the High Ones

It’s like Dottie said, “Lay off the high ones.” But, it ain’t so easy. Just ask Kit. I feel like I’ve been seeing more swings and misses on pitches up and out of the zone. Here’s an example, courtesy of Pitching Ninja:

While there appears to have been an uptick in swings and misses on fastballs high and out of the zone from 2017 through 2019, 2020 killed the trend. I paced out what the totals would have been in 2020 for the sake of the visualization. But counts in both that estimated total and 2021/2022’s true totals are lower than in 2019.


Starting in 2019 and up through yesterday’s games, the following pitchers have collected the most swing and misses on balls thrown in attack zones 22 and 32.

Savant Attack Zones

Pitchers With The Most Swing and Misses on High Ones (2019-2022)
Pitcher # of Pitches Other Offerings
Lucas Giolito 58 Fastball, Changeup, Slider, Curve
José Quintana 46 Fastball, Changeup, Curve
Kenley Jansen 42 Fastball, Cutter, Slider
Julio Urías 36 Fastball, Changeup, Curve
J.A. Happ 33 Fastball, Changeup, Slider, Curve

Here’s a look at a random example of each pitcher’s high cheese:






Beyond Jansen, each one of these pitchers has a changeup and a curve, two pitches that are typically successful low in the zone. Is that what makes high ones successful, the set-up pitch? Let’s focus on Lucas Giolito and José Quintana, the two starters with the most swing and misses high and out of the zone in 2022.

Pitch Usage Right Before the High Ones vs. Setup Pitch
Name % of CH thrown before too high % of CH thrown all season % of CU thrown before too high % of CU thrown all season
Giolito 17.0% 24.8% 3.4% 3.1%
Quintana 26.8% 20.0% 21.4% 27.4%

Looking at the difference between them, it seems that these two pitchers have used the high, out-of-zone fastball a little differently in 2022. While Quintana ups his changeup usage right before throwing the high-cheese, Giolito actually uses his changeup less often and his curve at normal usage. Instead, he actually throws his fastball more often, 48% of the time as opposed to his season usage of 47%. The difference is negligible, but if he’s throwing his fastball that much before his way too high fastball, I think it may be an indicator of strategy. Quintana likes to go changeup, high-fastball. Giolito likes to go fastball, high-fastball.

Quintana setup pitch: LINK
Quintana too high fastball: LINK

Giolito setup pitch: LINK
Giolito too high fastball: LINK

Giolito baits hitters with his strategy. He gets them looking high, but rather than dropping the eye level down, he tends to just offer an out-of-zone fastball again. Then again, Quintana has a more traditional approach.

It would be difficult to determine if this were a repeatable skill. First, you would need a few seasons’ worths of batted ball data and right now, savant isn’t playing nice in the download department. But, you would also have to negate the fact that pitch selection and approach are fluid things. One thing for sure is that pitches up in the zone are a trend and starters such as Giolito, Lance Lynn, Walker Buehler, and Carlos Rodón have been topping the list of swinging strike getters the past few years when the ball is thrown above the zone. The question of whether or not this is an actual strategy or whether pitchers are just missing while hitters are anticipating high fastballs is still very much unanswered. Regardless, as evidenced by Dylan Cease and Pitching Ninja above, there may be yet another tool pitchers can utilize to keep hitters on edge, throwing the ball way too high.



Comments are closed.