Out of pure delight, we got access to two real and professionally made college baseball spray charts.
Think you know baseball strategy? Here is your chance.
Would you shift for the first, second, both or neither? (Leave a comment below).
The answer, by the way, isn’t the same for everyone or every situation.
Clearly, #1 hitter above tends to pull the ball more to his strong side. Only 8% of the time he will put the ball on the ground to the third basemen (add together the 1%, 4% and 3% to the right of short stop). Notice, too, he hits the ball in the gap between 1st and 2nd 11% of the time. Meaning, if we move the 3rd basemen to the 1st/2nd gap we lose 8% of the time on the ground to the right of the SS but win 11% of the time by covering the entire gap on the strong side.
That 3% bump might not win you the game today, but what about a 1 out of 3 games? Or, what about 1 out of 20? And how many more games did you say we needed to make the CWS regionals?
That’s up to you, coach.
#2 hitter (this is Nick Madrigal’s actual scouting report from 6-4-3 charts) is much more balanced. He’s right handed, but still keeps the 2nd baseman busy enough that moving him around doesn’t look too useful.
But, for crying out loud, can you tell the right fielder to wake up for a minute. This righty elevates the ball to the opposite field more than anywhere else. And, to boot, he struck out all of 7 times his entire senior year. No surprise he was picked up #4th in the draft. (And didn’t strike out in the pros until his 72nd at bat).
Imagine dealing with these questions day in and day out over thousands of pitches and plate appearances and dozens of opponents.
Who would have time to put together spray charts on every hitter?
The answer, of course, is 6-4-3 Charts.
“The difference is that it would take me 8-10 hours, whereas it takes our software less than 10 seconds to generate full-season hitting and pitching reports for an entire roster!” ~Derek Weldon
We took some time with the folks at 6-4-3 charts Rick Ahlf (RA), Tim Kuhn (TK), Derek Weldon (DW) to find out what makes their college baseball spray charts click.
6-4-3 Charts is a fun twitter follow. You get pretty consistent updates with charts like this one. They use their huge data base to spit out some #thingsthatmakeyourgohmm charts.
How To Scout
Bat Digest: Let’s say I’m coaching a team that’s trying to win against a guy like Nick Madrigal (Oregon State Beavers NCAA Champs and 4th pick to the White Sox in 2018). What type of insight would a 6–4–3 chart give me to a guy who virtually never strikes out? How can I use this as an advantage?
DW: His basic stat line with his K and BB numbers tell you (and our analytics will confirm) that he’s a disciplined hitter, he’s not going to chase, and he will put good swings on mistakes.
He was one of the best hitters in the nation and the 4th overall pick, so he’s clearly going to be a tough out. Our charts will provide insight into where he hits the baseball with different matchups, situations, counts and more so you can better defend the baseball when he puts it in play.
Additionally, for being such a great contact guy, some would expect him to see a lot of pitches and work the count. But, our charts show he’s a 31% 1st pitch swing guy, which indicates that he’s going to be aggressive when he sees a ball he likes early.
Also, our charts show that he sees an average of 3.16 pitches per plate appearance, which is relatively low. This indicates he’s going to get his ball, put a good swing on it and put it in play.
RA: Madrigal had one of the lowest S/M% in the country (4%) for the 2018 season and the lowest in the CWS for players with at least 150 PA (the only other player under 10% being teammate Stephen Kwan). Looking at his chart, no doubt that’s going to be one of the first of our advanced analytics to jump off the page for a coach.
Elite Team Tendencies
Bat Digest: In the terms of the 2018 CWS teams, do your charts help observe any tendencies the teams that made it to Omaha (Oregon, Washington, North Carolina, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Texas, Florida, Texas Tech) did more often than those who did not? Or, besides “score more runs than their opponents,” what do elite Division 1 college teams do better than others?
DW: We actually just published a few interesting graphics to our Twitter account (@643charts) showing the correlation between some of our analytics and winning percentage for D1 Baseball in 2018.
There are some very strong correlations between BABIP against, WHIP, wOBA (weighted on base average), and QAB (quality at-bat) versus winning percentage.
Small Ball Tendencies
Bat Digest: At what count, runner situation and outs are teams most likely to bunt?
DW: We provide “short game” data to our clients. This includes bunt data, stolen base data and a few other statistics to understand how a player’s speed might influence a game. From a bunt standpoint, we can look at the two teams that played in the National Championship game as examples. Oregon State bunted 111 times on the year, including 28 bunt hits and 9 safety or suicide squeeze attempts.
On the other side, Arkansas only bunted 42 times with 13 bunt hits and 5 safety or suicide squeeze attempts. Clearly, these two programs from opposite sides of the country play a different brand of baseball from one another, and our reports highlight specific situational tendencies to prepare our clients for the potential situational baseball they will see versus a given opponent.
Who Uses 6-4-3 Charts?
Bat Digest: Who is the ideal client for the 6–4–3 Charts? Who uses it currently? How many College Teams use this? Do any Pro Teams use your service? Why not?
TK: In 2018, our inaugural season, we only targeted D1 Baseball programs and we were able to serve 76 D1 programs, or roughly 25% of D1 teams. These 76 teams represented 28 conferences and the whole gamut – from traditional powerhouses to developing programs. Ten of our clients won conference championships, 16 reached an NCAA Regional, 6 reached the Super Regionals, and 3 made it to Omaha.
We are excited to announce that we will be expanding our service in 2019 to D2 and D3 baseball, as well as D1 softball. There are no MLB organizations using our service at this time, but it’s something we hope to explore in the future.
Bat Digest: Does your reporting give any suggestions on how to defend against certain tendencies? Or is it simply just the data and you leave it up to the coach to decide how to defend?
DW: We provide the data and then let the coaches make decisions. When asked specific questions about how I might use some of our data, I will provide my opinion. But our main goal is to provide 100% objective information to help coaches make the most informed and sound decisions possible.
We could put the same hitters chart in front of 3 different coaches and each coach may elect to align their defense differently based on a variety of factors including the pitcher, the caliber of their defenders, the playing field, etc.
It’s interesting. I have had some fascinating conversations with some of the best coaches and baseball minds in the game where they are explaining to me how they are using our reports.
The way these guys see the game is incredible. The inferences they are able to make from our charts and analytics are truly fascinating. These guys see the game through a different lens than most, which is why they are where they are in their careers.
When Should a Defense Shift?
Bat Digest: As a former Division 1 coach, at what point does it make sense to shift?
DW: Every program is going to have a different opinion and go about positioning defenders differently. Some are more aggressive and not afraid to be a little unorthodox. Others believe this game has been played for over 150 years and defenders have given areas on the field for a reason.
When I was at Tennessee Tech, Coach Bragga didn’t want us to move our guys too much, so we “shaded” instead of “shifting”. It kept guys in position, but tilted the defenders toward the side of the field most likely to see action. It was a very sound philosophy that kept us from getting burned with extreme shifts.
However, sometimes it is inevitable to shift. I used to manually dig through as much information as I could and pull together a lot of the information we are providing at 6–4–3 Charts.
The difference is that it would take me 8-10 hours, whereas it takes our software less than 10 seconds to generate full-season hitting and pitching reports for an entire roster! There were times that we had to shift. For example, if I have 50 games worth of spray charts and a right-hand hitter has only hit one ball on the ground to the right side of 2B off of righties, then we have to shift very aggressively there. The data just supports it too much to ignore.
Another important thing to consider is the pitcher on the mound. A lot of our clients lean heavily on their own players pitching reports to see where opponents are putting the ball in play versus a given pitcher and position their defense according to that.
Has the Shift Ruined Baseball?
Bat Digest: As a former Division 1 coach and lover of baseball, do you hate the shift?
DW: I love it! I really enjoy watching the chess match that occurs within a baseball game between opposing coaching staffs. Defensive shifts, situational baseball, and matchups out of the bullpen or off the bench are the parts of the game I’m personally dialed in on.
It’s fascinating, spectators see the shift and think it’s only about the hitter’s tendency. But these guys make the decisions on defensive alignment at a much deeper level. They are considering L/R split data, count data, situational data, as well as their own pitchers, defenders and a whole suite of different things.
It’s really exciting at 6–4–3 Charts to be a part of that process and to be able to lessen the burden on coaches and programs by providing this mountain of data for them, saving them valuable time to recruit the best players they can and spend more time coaching their own guys.
Other Adjustments Made
Bat Digest: The shift is the most obvious defensive adjustment made based on spray charts, but what other adjustments do your clients make based on your reports with the growing prevalence of sabermetrics?
DW: We strive to be far more than just a spray chart company. There’s no doubt the 16 zone spray chart that we pioneered and the various advanced spray charts we offer is the core of our product. But we provide a ton of information on matchups and situational tendencies, in addition to providing a massive amount of stats and analytics.
We believe the value is twofold: it obviously is going to help you prepare for opponents from a scouting standpoint, but it’s also going to help you coach your own guys better. The ability to look at hard data on your own guys, bring them in and say, “Look at the numbers, you need to make some adjustments to give you and us a better chance to succeed” is invaluable.
As I mentioned earlier, all of our clients use our data differently from a strategic standpoint.
In a conversation with one Sunbelt client whose name I’ll leave anonymous, was describing how much they feel like they have to lean on the data, because they were a little behind in talent and pure athleticism. He described how they felt like they had to “roll the dice” to have the ability to compete and win.
The coach I was speaking with felt like they were overachieving, in part because of many strategic successes with shifts, matchups and other strategies based on the information we provided in our reports.
College Fastpitch Spray Charts
Bat Digest: Fastpitch reports? Do you make them? The Olympics are adding fastpitch in 2020, how about we work together to make spray charts based on the bat being used? (Ever seen our https://www.justbatreviews.com/blog/cws-2018-bat-performance/)
RA: Yes we do, for the 2019 season we are expanding our service to Division 1 Softball. We have already had conversations with Division 1 softball coaches from across the country and have worked to ensure we are delivering the best product we can. The reception has been extremely positive and we are excited to arm softball teams with a new competitive advantage this year.
TK: In terms of bat-specific spray charts, no doubt we could put together the data and analytics for bat-specific performance. If we know which bat certain programs are using, our software is already architected in a way to produce that data with quick turnaround times.
A 6-4-3 Scouting Report
Bat Digest: You folks measure a lot of things, but do you measure how much more successful a team is when they have great scouting reports? In other words, are these things ultimately useful in the W/L column? And, if so, by how much?
RA: That’s a great question, and one we have thought a lot about here in the off-season. When it comes to the college level, you obviously have a much higher rate of player turnover, so your level of talent is always churning.
You might have a program go 35-20 one season, then turn around and go 20-35. We know we are only a small piece in the puzzle, but regardless of if you have a team with the raw talent and athleticism to get you to a 40-win season or only a 20-win season, we aim for our service to provide you that competitive advantage that’s going to tally a few more in the win column. And we aim to do that by equipping our clients with the relevant data behind player performance.
As a scouting service, I always like to say that our ideal combined winning percentage for our clients is .500, because that means every team is using 6–4–3 across the board.
Data In, Data Out
Bat Digest: Where do you get the data to put in and how do the calculations all work?
RA: This is a question we get all the time from coaches. At a high level, our database is compiled from resources spanning over 1,250 sites, with a back-end optimization software that makes sure we leverage the highest quality data available for every game that’s played. Every statistic you find in a 6–4–3 report is generated within our software. In other words, not a single statistic is pulled from a team stat page.
We are proud to have taken this approach, since it ensures that all of the data in front of you comes from the same comprehensive data set – one that’s not pieced together from a team stat page and simply supplemented with a few extra calculations. In terms of the accuracy of our data, doing a side-by-side comparison between our data and team stat pages, our statistics and associated sabermetrics agree to >99% accuracy.
Exclusively serving Division 1 baseball for the 2018 season, our database included 100% of games played across the country – not a single missing game.
To highlight the capabilities of our software package, we are able to run full-season comprehensive hitting and pitching reports for an entire roster in under 10 seconds as Derek mentioned earlier.
This corresponds to a data set of over 500,000 data points per team and nearly 150 million data points for D1 Baseball in 2018. For the 2019 season, in scaling our business to include D1/D2/D3 baseball and D1 softball, this amounts to running approximately 625 million data points per week.
Bat Digest: Throughout the off-season, have you made any modifications or improvements to your scouting reports?
DW: Reflecting now on our first year, we are incredibly proud of the product we put together. We released an end-of-season survey and received great feedback and suggestions from coaches across the country. We just finished revisions of our new chart design that builds off of last year’s design, and adds a ton more information in terms of advanced spray charts and advanced metrics that coaches are going to love. Rick spent the off-season working on computational improvements to our software, and he’s added so much more functionality. I’m confident now that we can provide virtually anything that a coach would want to see in the way they want to see it.