Major League pitching isn’t black and white, but it can be red and blue.
“It’s very basic and simple – simple-minded like myself,” joked White Sox closer Liam Hendriks. “It makes it a lot easier to go and look at it and go:
“‘Okay, it’s a color-scheme. Blue is good. Red is bad. Ok, throw to the blue.'”
The color-coded heat maps are courtesy of Codify, the company developing individualized game plans for big leaguers.
“I was in the financial industry for a long time,” explained Codify founder Michael Fisher. “I have a fascination with numbers.”
Fisher sees baseball through that analytical mind.
In the past six years, his methods have taken off with a roster of clients now from all 30 teams. Liam Hendriks, Lucas Giolito, Marcus Stroman and even catcher Yasmani Grandal count themselves as Codify cohorts.
“I like the simplicity of it,” noted Giolito. “I grew up playing baseball video games, where you’d see the hot zone and cold zone of a hitter throughout the strike zone. It’s essentially that – very simple. You throw your pitch here. That’s where the misses are. That’s where the weak contact is – success. You throw your pitches here. That’s where the damage is.”
“[Giolito] will put the Codify maps up next to the PlayStation. He takes his PlayStation on the road,” Fisher remarked. “That’s how he cements it into his head of where to attack each guy. It works for him. When you’re on the mound and you’re struggling or trying to execute a Major League pitch, it’s hard to remember stuff. That works for him.”
Hendriks likes to look at his maps while warming up in the bullpen.
He started using them in 2019, when he jumped from journeyman to All-Star. After the season, he gifted Fisher an autographed jersey which says ‘thanks for the blue, mate.’
“Reaching out to Fisher every time I’m a little bit wonky or a little bit off – that’s something that I always do as well because he’s got all the data that’s readily available,” said Hendriks, who according to Fisher made sure he’d still be able to use Codify when negotiating his deal with the Sox. “He’ll be like ‘okay, well you were a little bit higher now, so your arm angle’s up higher. Now, the ball’s running a little bit more because you’re proning it a little bit more because of your arm angle.’ It’s a quick, easy fix a lot of the time just because of the way that he explains it. He’s one of the rare types that is able to take the analytical side of things and put it into a practical version for us laymen.”
The key to Codify’s success? It’s personalization.
“There was a Cubs game two years ago and I was talking to a guy I worked with at the time. Yu Darvish was pitching. I thought, ‘hey, do you have any idea what kind of information you guys give Darvish? He’s like ‘I’m pretty sure every right-handed pitcher just gets the same information against each hitter.'” added Fisher. “It still seems like the team stuff is not individualized and my stuff is.
“Being able to quantify the chances that’s luck versus bad execution is huge. Let’s take Giolito throwing all those changeups. For a while, they’re like ‘oh, you’re just getting lucky.’ Or ‘maybe you shouldn’t throw that changeup as high or all that.’ We can lay that all out and quantify how high can you go safely against each guy. That’s amazing for a guy to be able to know he can throw a pitch into a three-foot square instead of a one-foot square.”
Fisher’s philosophy isn’t fool-proof, but his pitching zones have helped dozens of pitchers get in the zone, by getting in the blue.