A Brilliant Analysis of Mariano Rivera’s Pitches

This excellent video was produced by The New York Times back in 2010, but I was reminded of it this week when Rivera broke the all-time baseball record for most saves.

You do not have to like or understand baseball to appreciate the analysis performed. They mapped and animated each and every pitch he threw in 2009 (about 1,300 pitches) to analyse the trajectory and end-spot of each pitch to demonstrate why his pitches are so hard for batters to touch, keep in fair territory, or connect well enough to have a chance at a hit.

If you would like to watch the video, click here: http://video.nytimes.com/video/2010/06/30/sports/1247468158551/how-mariano-rivera-dominates-hitters.html?scp=1&sq=mariano%20rivera&st=cse

They also analyze the aerodynamics of his pitches, comparing his fastball, to his cutter and to a typical slider thrown by other pitchers but which betrays its identity through its distinctive red dot that provides a valuable clue to hitters.

Rivera's fastball and cutter compared to the slider thrown by other pitchers

The next graphic is the scatter plot of all 1,300 pitches thrown by Rivera in 2009.  A neat bit of work that would do a Black Belt (or Edward Tufte) proud.

Scatter plot of 1,300 pitches in 2009

By making the balls translucent red, they then show the density of data to illustrate how Rivera keeps the pitches on the left or right sides of the strike zone (the square) making it both harder to hit and yet also close enough to the zone to count as a strike if the batter chooses not to swing.

Pitch location

The other interesting analysis is how his fast ball and cutter start out looking similar to a hitter and yet end up taking very different trajectories.

Fastball vs cutter

Ending locations and paths are very different