Q about baseball pitching from a cricket fan

Seeing the baseball threads here while listening to the England India cricket match has got me wondering about how pitchers go looking for outs. (Check me out with the terminology.)

So in cricket, there are four major ways a bowler can get a batter out:

  1. Bowled. The ball gets past the batter’s guard and hits the stumps (the three wooden uprights and two crosspieces). This is functionally equivalent to a strike in many ways. The principal exceptions being a) the bowler only needs to do it once and b) rather than a notional strike area which must be adjudicated by an umpire, there’s a physical, tangible target and so total clarity on whether it’s been hit or not.
  2. Leg before wicket. This does rely on the umpire’s judgement. Basically, if the ball hits the batters legs and the umpire judges that it would otherwise have hit the wicket, the batter is out.
  3. Caught - just as in baseball.
  4. Stumped. A bit trickier to explain in text, and probably least relevant to this question but briefly: there’s a line (the crease) parallel to the wicket and three feet in front of it. If the ball goes past the batter, as is caught by the wicketkeeper (catcher) then if the batter is beyond the crease (i.e. towards teh bowler) then if the wicketkeeper breaks the stumps the batter is out.

The point of this is that bowlers will bowl quite differently depending on how they are trying to get the batter out. I.e. it would seem obvious that they would always be aiming at the stumps, but in fact if they are trying to induce a catch then they will likely bowl to miss by a couple of inches because this is more likely to get a slight deflection of the edge of the bat that will fly for an easy catch. Or they might bounce it up at the batsman well high of the stumps so that the batter fends the ball up into the air.

In a more complex fashion, bowlers might set batters up for an lbw or a stumped over the course of several balls. I.e. gradually bowling shorter to draw the batter forward, or getting a few to shape away from the batter before curving one back in.

All that preamble out of the way, the question is: do pitchers pitch differently depending on the out they are trying to make?* Is there a way of pitching that is more likely to get catches at the cost of reduced chance of a strike? Can you watch a pitcher manoeuvre the batter over three or four pitches in pursuit of a particular out? Or are pitchers primarily looking for strikes and catches are down to the fielders?

*(I know that pitchers can walk a batter, but that’s not an out.)

In baseball, pitch selection and location are the subject of a great deal of research and preparation. An at bat will represent a sequence of pitches, each setting up the next. Depending on which pitches are in a particular pitcher’s toolkit they may end up being fly ball or ground ball pitchers, if their best pitches drop or rise, ie the batter will miss low or high. Some pitchers are strike out specialists, usually with a great fastball and a change up or other off speed pitch that leaves the batter guessing and swinging too slow or fast. They also have research “books” on players so they know what they hit best and try to keep the ball away from that area.

It’s a very complex subject, and if you watch some of the best analysts (like Dennis Eckersley) he’ll sometimes walk you through what a pitcher is doing with his sequence of pitches, setting up the strikeout pitch or a ground out, or even setting up for at bats later in the game.

Pitch selection and sequence, as Telemark points out, is a science unto itself.

Pitchers are not exactly seeking a particular type of out. The basic objective is to prevent the batter from making solid contact. The nature of baseball being what it is, versus cricket - you must hit the ball forward, not behind you or to the side - the batter is attempting to hit the ball squarely and hard; preventing the batter from doing that is what a pitcher seeks. A batter who hits the ball straight up in the air has failed, and a batter who hits a high-bouncing ground ball has also failed.

Obviously, the best possible outcome of a successful pitch is no contact at all, either by eluding the bat entirely or fooling the batter into not swinging at a ball in the strike zone. Consequently, almost all good pitchers rack up many strikeouts. In fact, a pitcher who has been successful, but who has very few strikeouts, has almost certainly just been getting lucky, and will probably not be successful for long.

Yes. Pitchers will mix up their pitches (fast ball, change-up, curve, slider) trying to get the batter to swing and miss. Pitchers can also aim high or low. A higher ball is more likely to be hit in the air, while a lower ball is more likely to be hit into the ground.

Also, a pitcher may deliberately try to get the batter to hit a ball on the ground, usually in hopes of a “double play” (where the fielders retire a baserunner as well as the batter), or to get a less-strong batter to hit a fly ball into the air, but not so far that the fielders would have any trouble fielding it.

If you watch a baseball telecast, they will often use a “pitch tracker” graphic to show the location of each pitch to a batter. Normally, the pattern shows a mix of high and low, left and right (inside/outside) pitches thrown at varying speeds.

They can try, but research done in the last two decades has demonstrated that pitchers have little control over what happens to the ball when it’s hit. Before that it was thought that some pitchers could “induce a double play” by changing how they pitched to a certain batter, but statistics show that’s very unlikely.

It’s definitely true that some pitchers get more strikeouts, some more fly ball outs, and some more ground outs. However, fly ball pitchers don’t seem to be able to change to ground ball pitchers with a runner on first.

Completely agree. To make it very simple, you either have sinking action or you don’t. Sinking action induces more ground balls. But generally, as others have stated, pitching is complex. There’s a lot of science and strategy, but there is some art to it, as well. A good pitcher can absolutely set up a hitter. Watch some Greg Maddux on youtube.

Yeah, agreed. The idea that a hardball pitcher like Max Scherzer or Clayton Kershaw is going to try to toss a breaking ball over the plate just so he can induce a double play, when they have any one of four pitches that can keep runners right where they are with a strikeout, is nonsense. But as you say, there are definitely pitchers who, as part of their natural approach to pitching, can induce ground balls.

I’ll repeat what RickJay said. A ‘contact’ pitcher who lacks power but gets wins and outs can get away with that for a while, but a good, patient hitting team will force a pitcher to throw hittable pitches and they’ll eventually start making a pitcher pay for contact. I remember what the Giants did to Kyle Lohse in Game 7 of the 2012 NLCS. They took his 16-3 record and shoved it up his ass.

One of the most important things a pitcher can do is where he places the pitch. Very few batters can hit well the pitch that is low outside, just barely in the strike zone. Most also have trouble with the high inside pitch. The pitcher with enough control to hit those spots has a big advantage over the thrower who has to work to hit the strike zone. In general, low pitches are likely to be hit on the ground and high pitches in the air, but these are only tendencies. But low ballers have an advantage. Ground balls are never home runs and seldom doubles (depending where the outfielders are playing). And of course, pitchers are always trying for strikeouts.

The baseball equivalent would be the batter hitting safely with both feet placed outside the batter’s box.

It sounds like you already know enough baseball to know this, but just in case: The main mechanic that pitchers need to work around is what’s called a “ball” (yes, I know this is confusing terminology). If the pitcher throws a pitch and the batter swings and misses it, that’s a strike. If the pitcher throws a pitch within an imaginary rectangle called the “strike zone”, where it’s expected that a batter ought to be able to hit it, but the batter doesn’t swing at it, that’s also a strike (it’s the umpire’s job to decide whether the pitch was inside that rectangle or not). But if the pitch is outside of that rectangle, and the batter correctly sees that it’s outside and correctly refrains from swinging at it, that’s a ball. If the same batter gets four balls before being put out somehow or another, that’s a “walk”, and the batter gets to go to first base for free, even without hitting the ball (and other batters already on base might be forced to advance to other bases, possibly even scoring if the bases are loaded).

The upshot is that the pitcher will try to keep the batter guessing where the pitches are going to be. If it’s just barely inside the strike zone, but the batter thinks it’s outside, he might not swing, and so get a strike. If it’s just a little outside, he might think it’s inside, and swing at it, which might work, but it’s difficult to hit a pitch outside of the strike zone. You have to throw a few real balls so the pitcher can be fooled by the ones just inside, but not too many, and of course how many is too many depends on the batter and on the situation: In the extreme case, against a really strong hitter, the pitcher will sometimes throw an intentional walk, four balls so far outside of the zone that there’s no chance of fooling the batter, just so he can’t get a home run. In less extreme cases, sometimes a walk is less of a problem than others, so the pitchers will play closer to the edge and take more of a risk that they’ll accidentally walk.

also important to note that the catcher in baseball is important since they know which type of pitch is coming. They suggest a pitch type but the pitcher makes the final call. Knowing what type of pitch is coming makes it easier on them to get ready for the pitch.

No to be out, all you need is one foot completely out of the batter’s box. But batters love to rub out the lines (accidentally of course) and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it called.

This is a good description, though I think you might have meant to say ‘batter’ in the bold (unless I’m misreading, which I might be).

But yeah, this description is probably pretty good in helping someone not familiar with baseball understand the pitcher/catcher vs batter confrontation. An earlier post mentioned the sequencing of pitches, which is also important.

Generally, the most important thing for a pitcher to be successful is to get ahead in the count by establishing that he can hit the strike zone with a variety of pitches. If a pitcher can get ahead in the count 0-1, 0-2, 1-2 and do this consistently, then that gives the pitcher the advantage of taking some risks and throwing pitches out of the strike zone, which is ideally what pitchers want. They want to have the luxury of having 2 or 3 pitches out of the strike zone or in the zone but just barely and not easily hit. The best pitchers are able to do this.

Sometimes pitchers can possess awesome power and the ability to make the ball spin and dance in the air, and yet they may still struggle because they can’t consistently throw strikes early in the count. Falling behind in the count makes pitchers more predictable. And when runners are on base, they become really predictable. A pitcher’s repertoire of pitches - the pitch selection, the speed, the arm angle, and the location, are to a limited degree like a hand of cards. When a pitcher’s ahead in the count, he has some options and different cards he can use. When he falls behind, the pitcher knows what cards he’s holding.

Yeah, that bold should have said “batter”. Brain fart.

And to clarify the expansion, “the count” is the number of balls and the number of strikes. A lot of balls makes the situation harder for the pitcher, and a lot of strikes makes it harder for the batter. So a count of 0-2 (0 balls and 2 strikes) means that the batter must get it right, or he’ll strike out, and a count of 3-0 (3 balls and 2 strikes) means that the pitcher must get it right. And of course, a “full count”, 3-2, is exciting for everyone.

I thought some pitchers relied heavily on sinkers with the intention of either 1) a double play or 2) at least, prevent the batter from hitting home runs.

That’s a cool aspect of the sinker. However, again, the primary purpose is to deny contact at all.

As the OP noted, cricket is arranged as “one strike and you’re out” - and an out is a more serious event than in baseball (which allows 27 outs to a full game of a few hours, vs. 11 for one-day cricket). So the cricket batsman must be highly defensive of the “strike zone” (aka wicket), whereas in baseball the pitcher is seeking to maneuver the batter into this defensive mindset, by getting the count to two strikes.

The cricket batsman is helped by one of the important differences between the two sports: in baseball, when you hit the ball (into fair territory) you must run; in cricket, it’s always optional.

Or even future games. I read about Greg Maddux wanting to throw a certain pitch while on a shut out. Eddie Perez, his personal catcher, thought it not a good idea as the batter could hit that pitch. Maddux said “Yeah, but we will play this team in the playoffs and he will be looking for this pitch and he’s not going to get it”.

The fact that running is optional in cricket is the most significant difference in the game play. It leads to a much more defensive batting method (a batsman can wait for literally hours before he sees a ball he wants to hit hard - and if he hits it straight to a fielder, he doesn’t run. If he doesn’t like the look of a delivery at all, he can just pat it back to the bowler, or even leave it alone to go through to the wicketkeeper and wait for the next one), and a much more attacking fielding mindset - fielders can be put in a position where they might get a catch, waiting for the batsman to mis-hit in a particular way. It is not uncommon for some fielders to spend the entire day (5-600 deliveries) and never field a ball.

Back to ‘setting up a batsman’ - there are stories in cricket where a bowler has set up a batsman literally over years. The bowler has bowled in a particular way until the batsman has become comfortable - and the bowler then pulls out a trick. This can sometimes happen in games that can be several years apart.
Are there similar stories in baseball - I’m particularly thinking back to pre-interleague play, when teams like the Yankees and Dodgers would only meet IF they made the World Series.

It’s hard to imagine a baseball player deliberately setting up for something years in advance, since everything (including potentially who plays for which team) resets every season. You might have a pitcher realizing that he’s done something for years and changing it up just to surprise the batter, but in that case, he was doing it that way for years because that’s what he was good at, not as a deliberate set-up.