Using Abstract Art To Scout Michael Wacha

by Chris Moran | Posted on Sunday, October 20th, 2013
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Michael Wacha

St. Louis Cardinals rookie right hander Michael Wacha has been quite good this postseason. By ‘quite good’ I mean ‘dominant.’ In 21 postseason innings, he has surrendered just one run. Meanwhile, he has struck out nearly thirty percent of hitters, while walking just five percent.

Wacha features a fastball that has averaged 95.5 miles per hour this postseason and a devastating changeup. In 2013, Wacha has thrown his changeup 353 times, yielding 80 swings and misses, and just one extra-base hit. Oh, and he’s featuring his curveball more often during the postseason, and nobody has produced a hit off the pitch.

So, how do you go about preparing for the rookie phenom that is Michael Wacha?

Tired of poring over endless charts of PITCH F/X data in order to get an edge on the pitcher’s location, release point, or movement?

Think the little dots and colors are too much to handle? I know, it’s almost as if you need a physics degree to understand this data. Unless Yale graduate and Boston Red Sox pitcher Craig Breslow is at your beck and call, good luck. Courtesy of Texas Leaguers and Fangraphs, here are just a few of the charts generated by PITCH F/X data.




Need a way to merge this data? Think outside the box. Hitting coaches, take your team to the nearest art museum, preferably one that features several Jackson Pollock pieces. Below is an untitled work by Pollock. It resides in the Chicago Art Institute.


In case you were unaware, Jackson Pollock was on the forefront of data visualization. He would go to baseball games and track pitches, usually with an alcoholic beverage in tow. By tracking pitches he would find inspiration for his paintings. When Pollock conglomerated his charts, the squiggly lines, different colors and odd shapes that resulted would produce the basis for some of his finest art, like the piece before us. Understand Pollock, and you can understand a myriad of charts, all blended together.

Notice how the run of the lines simulates the break of a pitch, while the different colors symbolize the variety of pitches within a repertoire. The little red dots represent called strikes, while the green ones are balls. Some of the lines appear to describe the run on a good changeup.

Overwhelmed by the prospect of facing Michael Wacha, a rookie phenom with two great pitches and a budding curveball? Not enough time for your hitters to cram in all the data they want before facing a pitcher they’ve never seen? Turn to abstract art and gain an advantage on your competition. It just might be the next step in data visualization.

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Chris Moran
About the Author

Chris Moran is a second-year law student and assistant baseball coach at Washington University in St. Louis. He played baseball at Wheaton College where he donned the tools of ignorance. You can follow Chris on Twitter @hangingslurves.

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