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Monday 25th Sep 2017

How many of you drafted Barry Zito knowing that he would have a sub 2.00 ERA right now?  Ok, of those who said yes, how many also drafted both Jason Hammel and Bronson Arroyo?  If you said yes again you are either psychic or crazy.  Maybe both.  What is behind these unexpected performances from veterans who had struggled mightily the previous year?  I want look at some of the veteran hurlers coming off poor seasons and dig beneath the surface peripheral stats that merely tell us that they’re doing a good job and try to find out why they are pitching so well.

Pitcher 2010 Slider Pct. 2011 Slider Pct. 2012 Slider Pct. 2011 ERA 2012 ERA
Jake Peavy 15.9 16 20.4 4.92 1.67
Jason Hammel 19.1 17.2 24.6 4.76 1.73
Barry Zito 14.5 8.5 37.4 5.87 1.67
Bronson Arroyo 13.6 15.6 22.3 5.07 2.7
Ervin Santana 36.9 38.3 30.9 5.58 7.23
Mat Latos 22.9 24.4 14 3.47 5.97

Obviously there are numerous factors at play here, not just how often a pitcher throws a slider.  Being formulaic would be silly.  You can’t just throw the slider more often, leave it at that, and assume improved results.  It has to be a quality pitch and sequenced properly.  Just ask Philip Humber, who caught the Mariners off guard by doubling his slider usage.  It’s an extreme example, but one that illustrates the possible effects of changing pitch arsenal and pitch frequency.  However, the Red Sox apparently got the memo and sent Humber to the showers after pounding him for 9 earned runs in his next outing.  We do know that a slider puts more stress on the elbow.  Could an increase in throwing the slider indicate a return to health?  Notice how Barry Zito stopped throwing his slider as much last year.  This year the former USC Trojan is working it in 37% of the time.   He’s also throwing his fastball 20% less this year.  Perhaps this is in part because he’s experienced a decrease in fastball velocity four straight years.  It will be interesting to see how hitters adjust to the new and improved version of the southpaw and whether or not a high level of success is sustainable once the updated scouting reports make their rounds.

I’m sure that Jason Hammel is thrilled to escape the confines of Coors Field, but that’s not the only factor in play here as he’s throwing his slider 9% more often than last year.  Bronson Arroyo is letting it slide more frequently as well.  The Reds' rocker has also ramped up his cutter percentage to 21.4%, up 14% from last year. Jake Peavy hasn’t thrown his slider this much since 2007.  He’s also throwing it with more velocity (2 mph more on average).  As a Peavy owner I’d like to think of this as another indication that he’s healthier than he has been in years.

Conversely, both Ervin Santana and Mat Latos are throwing their slider much less this year.   That’s a red flag.  A pitcher could simply ditch the pitch due to lack of command or ineffectiveness.  He could also be compensating for discomfort or injury in the elbow or shoulder.  I avoided the former Padre in all leagues this year due to concerns about his shoulder.  I don’t think Latos can be the same pitcher unless he goes back to using his slider more.  He’s tried to compensate by throwing his changeup more often, but the results have not been pretty.  He needs to use his slider frequently to be effective and that elevates the health risk.   My eye will be on Santana during his next start to see if I can discern why he’s using this part of his arsenal less often.  If he’s unable to command his slider, that would explain a lot.   He rarely uses his changeup so hitters can then just sit on his fastball and tee off.  In just 5 starts Ervin has already served up 10 round trippers.


0 #13 Lawr Michaels 2012-05-03 15:14
i scored zito yesterday. pathetic and well, april is open.

it is tought because i really like zito (he is a good and smart guy). 86 pitches through 3.2 innings. no command.

sell high.
0 #12 Lawr Michaels 2012-05-02 21:01
well, there are also the player analysts like fosse and kruk and kuip locally who can indeed tell the type of pitch based upon the combination of the release point of the pitcher, and what the catcher called (signals) and also knowing the repretoire of the hurler. there are guns all over every park now, and pitch FX from mlb.com also can pick up the location and speed.
0 #11 Todd Zola 2012-05-02 18:42
Announcers generally use the velocity to determine the pitch. They have a chart with the mph range and the pitch the guy throws within that range.
0 #10 Michael July 2012-05-02 18:38
Perry, I too have often wondered how in the heck can these announcers know what each pitch is from watching their monitor. Unless they sit and watch huge amounts of tape of every pitcher they cover they can't be 100% accurate on every pitch. The only sure fire way to know is to stop the game after each pitch and ask the pitcher.

Interesting points about Hammel. Trying to figure a way to trade for him.
0 #9 KFFL 2012-05-02 18:35
turned Hammel, that is, by increasing the use of his 2-seamer. This has links to B-more's coverage of the transformation, as well.
0 #8 KFFL 2012-05-02 18:30
Rick Adair has basically turned him into Doug Fister: http://www.kffl.com/a.php/130134/fantasy-baseball/Fantasy-Baseball-Diamond-Market--Hector-Santiago--Fernando-Rodney--Jason-Hammel--more
0 #7 Perry Van Hook 2012-05-02 16:25
BTW I will let you know that often major league scouts and personnel - just like we do and certainly some on air announcers who don't watch much - have a hard time telling what a pitch is...and it varies for pitchers depending on how they throw the ball so cutters are often used to describe a slider and sinkers are another variation of a fast ball so they could if not picked up accurately be called a fastball or a slider - it just not clear - even if you have a perfect seat (really if a pitcher has a lot of movement on his pitches the only way to know for sure would be to ask him - or one of his catchers)
0 #6 Ryan Carey 2012-05-01 18:20
I have heard talk on TV about Hammel using a sinker. Looking at the pitch data - it appears to be a sinking fastball (as Perry notes above) not a pure sinker. Adding some fuel to explaining Hammel's impressive start is Mike Podhorzer over at fangraphs who examines the rise in Hammel's GB% " Hammel ranks fourth in the Majors in GB%. According to the PITCHf/x data, he has increased his two-seam fastball usage from 13.1% to 40.5%, while his four-seamer is now only being thrown 20.9%. That alone is about enough to explain the huge jump. In fact, he has induced a 73% ground ball rate on that two-seamer against righties. Though it is difficult to bank on the magnitude of this increase lasting, he does seem likely to post a 50%-55% ground ball rate the rest of the way.
0 #5 Todd Zola 2012-05-01 17:33
Erv's slider use may have to do with the count and strike percentage. The past 7 seasons, he has been between 61 and 66%, averaging 63%. This season, he is way down to 59%. The slider is a put-away pitch, used ahead in the count and Santana is falling bahind.

Looking at his pitch values, the only plus pitch Santana has is his slider so if he cannot use it in favorable counts, he is in trouble as he has nothing else to rely on as a put-away pitch.
0 #4 Perry Van Hook 2012-05-01 15:36
okay found this on BHQ from Nick Nickrand

.."4/30/2012 - Jason Hammel (RHP, BAL) has resurrected his career this season with BAL (1.73 ERA, 1.00 WHIP). While his ERA is sure to rise, he is no fluke. His skills are elite: 8.7 Dom, 2.8 Ctl, 62% GB%, 121 BPV. His rise started in spring training, when he came to camp with more velocity and a sinking fastball, which caused Chipper Jones (3B, ATL) to say he was the most impressive pitcher he faced this spring. He already is throwing harder (93.5 mph average fastball velocity) than he has at anytime during his career. He's also getting more success out of his slider, perhaps due to getting out of COL. Pitching in the AL East won't make him a safe play, but with improved raw stuff and an elite groundball tilt, there is plenty to like here."

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