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The Darkest Shadow Zone

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“The Shadow!”...”Where?!”

Alex Avila bats.
Alex Avila bats.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Darkest Part of the Shadow Zone.

When pitches cross the plate in the shadow zone, they are between the heart of the plate (predominantly strikes) and the chase zone. Whether the batter swings, or doesn’t swing, pitches in that zone have uncertain outcomes. If a batter can dominate that zone, likely he will be successful.

Ben Clemens wrote Low and Away Crushes Lefties. Mostly at Least. He combined 2019 and 2020 data. He looked at pitches that crossed the plate in a specific 6” by 8” rectangle, roughly equivalent to Baseball Savant’s shadow zone 17. Let’s call zone 17 the Darkest Shadow Zone.

Catcher’s view.
Catcher’s view.
Baseball Savant

Clemens’ primary results follow:

  • “Pitches in that zone destroyed left-handed batters in 2019 and ’20….Each time a batter saw a pitch in that low/away area, their expected wOBA declined by 40 points. “
  • “When batters swung, they cost themselves 50 points of wOBA per pitch. When they took, they cost themselves 28 points.”
  • “That’s not to say that no hitter is immune to this attack, but it’s not far from that. One hundred and fifty lefties faced at least 25 pitches to this quadrant between 2019 and ’20. Only 19 of them accrued positive value.”

Do his results apply to Diamondback batters?

Combining 2019 and 2020, looking only at games played as a Diamondback, all Diamondbacks with at least 11 pitches in the Darkest Shadow Zone had a 56 point decline in wOBA (.322 to .266), while only lefties had a 56 point decline in wOBA(.302 to .246). Surprisingly, there was no significant difference between lefties and non-lefties! The Darkest Shadow Zone crushed all Diamondback hitters.

Alex Avila (Diamondbacks in 2019, Twins in 2020) had a wOBA in the Darkest Shadow Zone that was higher than all zones. It appears Alex Avila was one of the 19 rare lefties in the Majors with positive value in the Darkest Shadow Zone. His success in the Darkest Shadow Zone is most remarkable because over the same two seasons, his negative 11 runs in the overall shadow zone made it his worst zone.

As a Giant, Stephen Vogt’s wOBA took a hit in the darkest shadow zone. As a Diamondback, with a much smaller number of pitches in 2020, his wOBA was better in the shadow zone. That improvement could be related to his swing rate. His swing rate in the overall shadow zone fell from 60% in 2019 to 48% in 2020.

Did strike zone changes impact the Darkest Shadow Zone?

Jon Roegele tweeted about changes to the strike zone. In October 2019, his tweet suggested that pitches to lefties in the Darkest Shadow Zone are more likely to be called strikes than years ago. A red square was added to each perspective to more clearly show the impact.

Jon Roegele

Additional observations on Diamondback batters.

Before going further, lets look at batting results for Diamondback lefties in the following table.

2019 & 2020 Seasons. Excludes batters with 10 or less pitches in Darkest Shadow Zone. Baseball Savant.

In 2020, David Peralta had a wOBA of .390 in the Darkest Shadow Zone (21 pitches). That suggests he made a significant improvement. Similar to Stephen Vogt, that improvement could be related to his swing rate. Peralta’s swing rate in the overall shadow zone fell from 60% in 2019 to 50% in 2020.

Were there a lot of strike outs by lefties in the Darkest Shadow Zone? It depended on the batter. David Peralta had 8 strikeouts, but it was in 94 pitches. Looking a percentages, Robbie Ray’s 2 strikeouts in 14 pitches was highest.

What if a pitcher missed the Darkest Shadow Zone and instead the pitch crossed the nearby chase zone (zone 27 per Baseball Savant)? Combining 2019 and 2020, looking only at games played as a Diamondback, Kole Calhoun was outstanding in that chase zone. Let’s look at the Diamondback leaders in that chase zone:

  • Kole Calhoun, .690 wOBA, 17 pitches
  • Stephen Vogt, .435 wOBA, 5 pitches
  • Jake Lamb, .345 wOBA, 39 pitches
  • Josh Rojas, .345 wOBA, 11 pitches

What about switch hitter Ketel Marte? Jack Sommers wrote that in 2017-2018 he was, “...above average in creating runs on pitches on edges...”

Combining 2019 and 2020, his wOBA in the Darkest Shadow Zone was .256, much less than his average for all zones (.382). So, Ketel Marte was not an exception. On the other hand, Ketel Marte’s wOBA in the Darkest Shadow Zone was better than other Diamondback switch hitters: Ildemaro Vargas(.218) and Eduardo Escobar (.157).

Including Kole Calhouns’s 2019 results as an Angel, and Stephen Vogt’s 2019 results as a Giant, would greatly increase the amount by which the Darkest Shadow Zone crushed lefties.

Summary.

Combining 2019 and 2020, pitches in the Darkest Shadow Zone crushed Diamondback hitters: lefties, righties, and switch hitters. The outstanding exception was Alex Avila (Diamondbacks in 2019, Twins in 2020) whose wOBA in the Darkest Shadow Zone was higher. Diamondbacks David Peralta and Stephen Vogt improved in 2020, and next season they may be exceptional. When pitches missed and instead crossed in the nearby chase zone, Kole Calhoun was outstanding.