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|
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.