Why would you ever “pitch to contact?”

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

19 thoughts on “Why would you ever “pitch to contact?”

  1. pmcenroe

    I think this is just a case of gardenhire communicating poorly. I don’t think the Twins want him to only pitch to contact and not strike anyone out, I think they just want to see his command improve and to stop trying to strike everyone out.

    • BrienJackson

      This doesn't make a whole lot of sense, though I've seen a lot of people throw this hypothesis out. The problem being; Liriano doesn't walk that many batters. So when you have a pitcher who strikes people out without a lot of walks, and you're telling him to "pitch to contact," it's really hard to interpret it any way other than "don't strike so many people out."

      • pmcenroe

        i know what you mean but he has been especially erractic so far this year 8 walks in 9 IP (I know small sample size), but he looked to have much better command today and except for that one innings he looked pretty good. Its been discussed before that he is mentally fragile and perhaps thats all this is about. Either way strikeouts will come with better command and it will save the bullpen in the long run and wont get Mauer all beaten up from having to block all the overthrown sliders (like in toronto).

  2. jay_robertson

    Maybe trade our young stud pitcher? Hughes has been doing a great job of "pitching to contact." And he's cheap – and he pitched well against the Twins in the playoffs; isn't that part of how and why we snagged AJ?

  3. Don W

    I suppose the only situation I can see where teaching a pitcher to pitch to contact might be wise is a pitcher with great stuff but poor control. It might lead to more innings and fewer walks. I'm skeptical though even in a case like this. A pitcher with poor control would probably be leaving pitches over the plate to get hammered pitching to contact.
    Good article Brien.

  4. belly flop

    The best time to encourage pitching to contact is if the alternative is walking guys. Let's even say that a pitcher has good control, but is afraid to throw strikes, afraid that he will get hammered. Instead, he throws what he thinks is just off the plate, but in reality is fall enough off the plate for a competent ML hitter to take. Then, he gets into hitters' counts and becomes more afraid, and it snowballs into a walk.

    Telling a guy like that to pitch to contact is beenficial. In essence, you're saying that the chance of getting an out on a ball in play is greater than getting swing and miss on pitches that only Alfonso Soriano would chase.

  5. BrienJackson

    Well, it wouldn't necessarily lower his pitch count if it resulted in more hits allowed, would it?

    • LarryAtIIATMS

      It would if it got him removed from the game early.

      • BrienJackson

        This is true.

  6. Arex

    Could Gardenhire be talking more about hitting your spots and making bitters chase pitches that are better pitcher "pitches" than hitter "pitches"?
    For example a sinker ball pitcher keeping the ball low in the zone therefore inducing more ground ball outs.
    Thats the only other logical point of view I can come up with.

  7. Maybe this approach by the Twins helps explain why the Yankees continue to destroy them every year.

    Pitch to contact to a team of dangerous All-Star hitters? There's a sound strategy.

    • BrienJackson

      That's pretty much what I've always assumed explains the Yankees dominance of the Twins; give the Bombers enough hittable pitches, and they're gonna score a lot of runs.

  8. biscuit pants

    Something to consider: Here are the 20 starters with the lowest contact % since 2005 (min 300 IP):
    Rich Harden
    Francisco Liriano
    Ryan Dempster
    Edinson Volquez
    Cole Hamels
    Tim Lincecum
    Kelvim Escobar
    John Smoltz
    Jonathan Sanchez
    Johan Santana

    I count 7 of the top 10 who have had serious arm injuries. And names 11-20 include Jake Peavy, Pedro Martinez, Jason Schmidt, and Scott Kazmir.

    Obviously, correlation does not imply causation, but I can’t blame Gardy for not wanting Liriano’s name to stay on that list.

    (Although I can blame him for thinking it’s possible for a pitcher like Liriano to get off that list while remaining effective.)

    • biscuit pants

      *top 10

    • CS Yankee

      I see a great rotation and quite a few HoF'ers.

      Maybe he is wasting too many pitches on weak batters…when pitching to a player like Elvis Andrus who has no ISO (power) it makes a little sense versus what he can do to you (a single). Save 4-5 pitches and have him make contact to a low or outside fastball in the zone if you can.

      • biscuit pants

        It’s a fantastic rotation. Obviously, if batters can’t make contact with your pitches, it means you’re really good.

        But unlike Liriano, some of those guys (Smoltz, Pedro) didn’t have arm trouble until their 30s. Others (Hamels, Volquez) are still very young, and we have no idea how injuries will effect their careers. What we do know is that Liriano has already had significant struggles since his Tommy John surgery.

        In other words, yes Jake Peavy is a fantastic pitcher, but if I were Liriano’s manager, I’d want him to become more than Jake Peavy.

  9. Pat

    I'm not sure if anyone saw the game or replays anyway, but all of those runs were scored because of ground balls that got past the terrible infield that the Twins are fielding right now. Mike Cuddyer is at 2B to give an example.

  10. Dave

    Isn't pitching to contact a myth anyway? A pitcher tries to throw a pitch that's hard to hit. If he puts it in the right place and has good stuff, the batter will likely miss it. If he misses his spot and the pitch doesn't have enough movement or speed, the batter will hit it. But I doubt pitchers go ouy there thinking, I'm going to put this in a place and at a speed where the batter is going to hit it, but not hard. He just throws his best pitch and hopes for the best.

  11. Kurt

    I don't understand the premise of something in the original article. I am not a baseball savant or a deep stats guy, but the idea "well, at least he struck out and made the pitcher throw 3+ pitches instead of grounding out” seems to be exactly the strategy that the Yanks took against Beckett last weekend for the first 4 innings. That doesn't seem to be a crazy hitting strategy against a lights-out starter (not that I'm saying Beckett is) with a less-than-trustworthy bullpen behind him. I guess what I'm saying is that conditional on getting an out, I would have thought batters would prefer to use up pitches, so why is the above quote NOT reasonable?

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