Spartacust vs. Godzilla – an ultimate showdown if there ever was one. Of course, I neither think that my analysis can be ultimate anything, nor that Cust or Matsui are the ultimate DHs. The former is simply what we used to have, and the latter what we will probably end up with. If you don’t get the title reference, though, stop whatever it is that you are doing right now and click here. Trust me, it is much better than this write-up, or any that I could ever make. Seriously, do it now.
Contrary to the popular opinion, I am not that much of a stats guy. And anyway, all the classic and advanced stats for these two guys have been floated around in excess. Instead, I took a little bit of under the hood kind of look at the both, and found some differences in how these two left-handed sluggers go about their business. There will be no good guys, bad guys and explosions – there has already been too much of emotional divide on the topic, but I do believe some of the analysis is interesting. If possible, try to restrain yourselves from turning this into a repetition of comments already seen in last days. In fact, I want to challenge you – try not writing any statement that you have already written before. Instead, I offer you to point out to all the linguistic weaknesses in this piece – there is plenty for everyone.
There are many varying opinions on Jack Cust as a hitter, but nobody seems to question his patience at the plate. Before we look at how he compares with Matsui, let me just briefly explain how I compared.
What you see above is the strike zone (1-9 being strikes, 11-14 being balls), as seen from the perspective of a catcher or an umpire*. Depending on where a pitch crosses the plate, it is assigned in one of the 13 zones. I sometimes used the individual zones to represent the data, sometimes the groups – for example zones 1-3 as the “high strike”, or 3-6-9 as an “inside strike” in case of Cust and Matsui.
This is a rulebook zone, meaning that it is exactly the width of the plate. The height is adjusted for the batter, as Pitch F/X database has the low end and the high end stored for every batter.
* Umpires actually have a different perspective as they call the wider zone with almost no exception, especially against the lefthanders. I explained a bit why that is the case here. I even wrote a FanPost called Three Blind Mice on strike zones and umpires, but when I finished it, I just didn’t feel it was really good enough to share. I honestly think that I have put more effort in a FanPost I didn’t even publish than 90% of the people put in the ones they do.
Spartacust vs. Godzilla Round 1 – What happens when a pitch is thrown to them?
I’ve divided the zone in 5 areas – high ball, high strike, mid strike, low strike and low ball. Each area has a bar where the percentage of the pitches swung at is represented in green. So, the longer the green portion of the bar, more pitches in that area were swung at. Fastballs are four-seam, two-seam, cutter and sinker, while off-speed are slider, change up and curve.
That’s the first thing that somewhat surprised me – Matsui is just as selective as Cust is, even more so on the fastball. Apart from that, they do look very similar – they both swing at more high fastballs than low ones, they have a better eye on the high part of the plate and they both swing at more off-speed pitches in the lower part of the zone than at the high one.
Spartacust vs. Godzilla Round 2 – What happens when they swing?
The donuts have up to three colors; red means swing and miss, gray is fouled off and green put in play. I have placed a breakdown in every zone, although some have few samples. I couldn’t help it, I just fell in love with the neat donuts, although they lose all their charm when scaled down like this. Do me a favor and click on the big picture once, that’s what they should look like.
Some very interesting observations here, too. As far as fastballs go, Matsui makes better contact on the inner side of the plate, whereas Cust is somewhat better on the outer part. That goes well in line with their swings – Cust’s swing is more fluid and longer and he prefers good extension; Matsui, on the other hand, has a more direct and shorter, almost shorthanded, swing. Also interesting is that Hideki seems to be aware of his strength – he is more likely to swing at the inside heat, while Cust swings at the same rate at both inside and outside fastballs.
Moving down to the off speed pitches, the differences become more visible and stronger – Matsui makes much better contact with them than Cust does. Small sample size and all, but Matsui has not missed a single off-speed pitch on the inner side of the strike zone, in more than 50 tries in 2010.
Overall Matsui missed 14% of fastballs he swung at and 15% of the off-speed pitches. Cust did so on 21% and 44%, respectively. Such a low miss rate (Godzilla’s) is actually pretty good for someone who has some power. Cust is somewhat below average, as MLB as a whole had a 30% whiff mark on the off speed stuff.
Spartacust vs. Godzilla Round 3 – What happens when they hit the ball?
Keith Hernandez may claim that you should pull the outside pitch all he wants, but that is not a recipe for a long-term success, as a batter normally rolls over such a pitch when pulling it, at least when producing a ground ball.
The second? Stay on that first chart and count how many dark dots are home runs. None*. That’s right, Cust has not turned on an inside fastball and drove it for a home run all year long. I wouldn’t be surprised if teams try to bust him inside more in 2011.
To be honest with you, I was expecting that problem to be the case with Matsui as I had my doubts that his bat has slowed down due to age and that he was not able to turn on inside heat anymore, but he seems to handle that just fine. It looks like his short swing helps him climb the age curve somewhat better than people who have longer, more pronounced ways to meet the ball.
* Well maybe one, as the hit locations were mapped to Coliseum and not all the stadiums are the the same.