Did It Work?

Back in early March, we took a look at why pitchers work on new pitches and the ones that were doing so during Spring Training this year. Both Jensen Lewis and Josh Zeid offered their thoughts as pitchers that have gone through the process of adding a new pitch at the major league level. Martin Perez, Sean Doolittle and Jake Odorizzi gave quotes to writers in camp explaining why each was adding a new pitch in 2014.

Adding a new pitch does not guarantee success nor will it instantly improve the prospects of one’s career. The previous article cited examples of how new pitches aided Wade Davis, Kevin Correia and Ross Detwiler while it had a negative effect on Clay Buchholz.

Now that the season is three-quarters complete, we have enough of a sample size to ask the simple question: did the new pitches help?

First, let’s see if each pitcher was true to his word and actually used the new pitch during the regular season. Pitchers that have faced fewer than 100 batters this season due to injury or ineffectiveness that resulted in being moved off the active roster have been removed from the initial list.

Pitcher New Pitch TBF K%_diff SwStr_diff Contact_dff
CC Sabathia cutter 209 3.7% 0.9% -2.2%
Chris Capuano curveball 226 2.6% -2.5% 3.8%
Dale Thayer changeup 198 0.0% 0.0% 0.7%
Danny Farquhar two-seam fastball 207 -8.1% -2.2% 6.5%
Darren O’Day changeup 198 2.9% 1.7% -2.2%
Dellin Betances knuckle-curve 258 1.1% 4.3% -6.7%
Hyun-Jin Ryu curveball 545 1.4% 0.6% -1.0%
Jake McGee curveball 197 6.7% 1.8% -4.2%
Jake Odorizzi split-change 525 8.5% 3.2% -7.3%
Jake Peavy splitter 619 -2.4% 0.7% -1.7%
Jarred Cosart one-seam fastball 529 1.3% 0.4% 0.3%
Kevin Jepsen changeup 192 9.3% 4.3% -8.5%
Koji Uehara cutter 202 -3.5% 1.3% -2.6%
Kyle Kendrick curveball 654 0.0% 0.9% -2.6%
Martin Perez cutter 207 1.0% -2.6% 3.9%
Phil Hughes cutter 621 2.7% 0.2% 2.0%
Randall Delgado slider 244 9.1% 4.2% -10.3%
Ross Detwiler cutter 205 1.8% -0.1% -0.4%
Sean Doolittle slider + changeup 190 15.9% 3.8% -5.9%
Stephen Strasburg slider 651 2.4% 1.4% -1.5%
Tom Wilhelmsen cutter 249 3.8% 1.9% -2.7%
Tony Cingrani slider 280 -6.8% -2.1% 3.8%
Zach McAllister slider 301 0.5% -0.6% 2.5%

No pitcher has enjoyed more improvement in his strikeout rate than Oakland’s Sean Doolittle. He said he was working on a slider as well as a changeup for 2014, but was only true to his word with the slider. He has thrown the pitch 11.6% of the time in 2014 and his strikeout rate has improved nearly 16 percentage points as he has a Dennis Eckersleylike season for the best team in baseball. He is not the only pitcher whose strikeout rate improved by double digits. Kevin Jepsen threw zero changeups the previous two seasons, but PITCHF/x data has him using the pitch 11.4% in 2014. By pitch values, the changeup has been Jepsen’s best pitch and his strikeout rate has improved over 11 percentage points.

The change, of sorts, has also helped Jake Odorizzi. After learning the split-change grip and process from teammate Alex Cobb, Odorizzi has used the pitch nearly 20% of the time. The pitch value on the pitch is not strong, but the changeup has really helped his fastball play up to batters as he is getting above-average results with average velocity. It is those results that have helped him post the tenth-best strikeout rate for all qualified starting pitchers this season at 26.5%. Teammate Jake McGee by no means has an issue with velocity, but was extremely fastball heavy last season and wanted to give batters something else to think about. McGee has used his curveball less than five percent of the time this season, but his strikeout rate has jumped nearly five full percentage points from 28.9% to 34.8%.

Randall Delgado added a slider this season and his strikeout rate has surged from 16.7% to 26.4%. The slider cannot take all of the credit as Delgado is now working as a reliever and throwing with increased velocity in that role. The new pitch and the rediscovered velocity has allowed Delgado to show the most improvement in his Contact% of all pitchers on the list above.

Danny Farquhar has experienced the largest drop in K%, which was to be expected as he incorporated more two-seam fastballs to generate more groundballs. Despite the decline in his strikeout rate and batters making more contact against him, he has still achieved an above-league average 27% strikeout rate. Peavy’s rate declined this season, but he has also thrown the splitter less than one percent of the time. The same issues apply to Uehara who also left the new pitch in Fort Myers, FL. Tony Cingrani brought his new slider north with him from Arizona, but injuries have held him back and has been more hittable this season despite the expanded repertoire.

In all, 17 of the 23 qualifying pitchers on the list improved their strikeout rate in some capacity from 2013 to 2014. 16 of 17 generated more swinging strikes while 15 of them limited batters to less contact.

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Detroit Michael
Detroit Michael

Excellent stuff.

Is there some survivor bias? What happened to the guys working on new pitches who didn’t qualify for whatever minimum IP threshold you used?

Jason Collette
Jason Collette

The only cut on the non-Q list that was close to 100 TBF was Brian Wilson at 97 and the knuckleball has only come into play a small handful of times. Most of the other cuts were guys who have been DFA’d awhile ago (Bell) or riding the MLB-AAA yo-yo.