Way Out of the Zone Percentage

Last week, I examined rookie pitchers Daniel Norris and Rafael Montero for my weekly Quick Looks piece. With both pitchers, they had several pitches which just got away from them. There was no way a hitter was going even think about swinging at them. These pitches put the pitcher constantly behind in the count. While I could use Zone% to determine the amount pitches in or out of the strike zone, I wanted to look a little further out of the zone to find pitches not even close to the strike zone and I ended up with, Way Out of the Zone Percentage (WOOZ%).

I have wanted to look into this subject for while after hearing Brian Bannister mention something in a Baseball Prospectus podcast. He said some pitchers can have problems with their grips as they transition from the higher seamed minor league baseball to the lower seamed MLB baseball. Specifically, he noted it hurt pitchers who throw four-seam fastballs and curve balls. Since starting Quick Looks, which concentrates on young, new pitchers, I have seen a ton of pitches not near the zone which may be caused by not having a good grip. I needed to find and solution and for now it is WOOZ%.

To get the WOOZ% for a pitcher, I took the number of pitches way out of the strike zone. Here are the standard Pitchf/x dimensions according to the rule book and my expanded values.

Bottom: 1.5 ft -> 0 ft (In the dirt before getting to home plate)
Top: 3.5 ft -> 4.5 ft
Right side: 1.0 ft to 1.5 ft
Left side: -1.0 ft to -1.5ft

Additionally, I removed any pitches a batter swung at, contact or none. If a pitcher can get hitters to chase pitches in the dirt, more power to them.

In 2014, 9.1% of all pitches fell into this range with the median value being 5.4%. I will use the median value for reference from now on because it gives us an idea of the average pitcher. For reference, here is a link to the complete list of pitchers from 2009 to 2014 and their WOOZ%.

For a reference, here are the top and bottom 5 pitchers (min 2000 pitches or ~20 starts) from 2014:
Justin Masterson: 8.3%
Jorge de la Rosa: 7.2%
Jake Peavy: 6.9%
Tyson Ross: 6.9%
Jordan Lyles: 6.7%

Jacob deGrom: 3.1%
Hector Noesi: 3.1%
David Price: 3.1%
Josh Collmenter: 2.9%
Phil Hughes: 2.7%

Not a surprise at all to see Phil Hughes at the bottom of the list after he set the MLB record for the highest K/BB ratio in a season for a qualified starter.

Getting back to my original two pitchers in question, Daniel Norris has a 11.6% WOOZ% which is over twice the league average and the 4th highest value for a pitcher with 100 or more pitches. He is going to struggle with walks since one out of every eight pitches in an automatic ball.

Rafael Montero’s value is a respectable 5.3% WOOZ%. Even though in the game I watched, he seemed to have issues getting near the strike zone. I ran the individual game numbers and got a 3.3% WOOZ% for the game. I should look closer at him next time to see if his control has improved or was bad to begin with.

Whenever I watch a pitcher, I like to go back and see if the numbers back up what I saw in the game. I didn’t have a way to measure if a pitcher was throwing away pitches because of no command. With WOOZ%, I have at least a reference value to see if pitchers are struggling getting pitches over the plate.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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I never realized that minor league and MLB baseballs weren’t identical and all I can say is WTF?

Using metal bats in college and earlier is bad enough (though I can understand it before HS). What is the rationale for having different seams?

Brad Johnson

I’m going to guess that the mlb ball is more expensive and that the low seam profile contributes. There’s seemingly no other reason to use a different baseball. I love mlb baseballs fwiw.