Evaluating the MLB All-Star Starters With STATS Advanced Heat Maps

By: Henry Ettinger | July 8, 2019

On the eve of the Midsummer Classic, STATS thought it was about time to take another look at our proprietary heat maps to find the most interesting trends among each league’s starters. 

As a reminder, STATS Advanced Heat Maps are a little different than others for a few reasons. First, we assign a value for every pitch, not just the ones the batter puts in play. Second, our heat maps are all relative to league-average, factoring in pitch-type and location. Finally, hitters are given credit for laying off certain pitches near the strike zone that the league-average hitter would usually not be able to let go. 

Note: Every heat map is shown from the pitcher’s perspective, not the catcher’s.

Interested in viewing your favorite player’s heat map? We’ll take requests via Twitter and post the corresponding heat maps on @StatsBySTATS starting at 5:30 p.m. (EST) Tuesday ahead of the All-Star Game.

Here, we chose to highlight three players with some of the most fascinating anomalies that we saw in our analysis, but every All-Star starter’s heat map is listed below for your viewing pleasure. 

Let’s start with the Astros’ George Springer, who is absolutely pounding pitches right down the middle. You might be thinking, ‘Duh. Those are the easiest pitches to hit.’ But remember, our heat maps are relative to league-average, so Springer is capitalizing on those pitches way more than the rest of the league. 

Springer is actually about league-average in terms of his contact rate, but he’s succeeding so much on those pitches for two specific reasons. First, he’s been great at identifying mistakes with an extremely high 85.7 percent swing rate heading into last weekend on pitches that fall in the highlighted zone. On top of that, when he makes contact, he is crushing the ball. According to STATS’ BIP+ metric, which rates the quality of balls put in play, Springer is hitting those pitches 171 percent better than league average. 

The Cubs’ Willson Contreras is a good example of how the heat maps illustrate a hitter’s particular ability in one zone compared to the rest of the league. Sure, the low-inside corner might not be where Contreras hits the best compared to other areas in the zone, but it is one of the places where he excels most in comparison to the rest of the league.

Contreras’ BIP+ is 220 for that zone or 120 percent above the MLB norm. According to STATS’ run value above average statistic (RVAA), Contreras has produced runs 187 percent better than the average hitter on pitches in that zone. Usually, that would not be a bad area for pitchers to attack, but they certainly should be avoiding that zone when facing Contreras. 

Heat maps can also be used to show where it might be best for pitchers to attack hitters. We all know the Angels’ Mike Trout has been the best player in baseball over the past handful of years, but giving up is not an option for pitchers. Most of Trout’s heat map is excellent, but it also shows that he has one clear weak spot so far this season. 

Entering last weekend, Trout had an incredibly low whiff rate on pitches up and in – just 2.3 percent. However, he’s not making solid contact in that area. His BIP+ sat at just 36, meaning that the quality of his balls in play from that zone is 64 percent below league average. If pitchers are searching for an answer to Trout, that is where they should start. 

The rest of STATS’ heat maps for the all-star starters are below.