Let’s Look at Jake Arrieta and Collin McHugh and Then Let’s Look at Their Elbows

First you establish that Jake Arrieta and Collin McHugh both soared to new heights due to throwing their breaking balls much more than they ever had before. Then you worry about their elbows.

I mean, the first part is fairly easy. Jake Arrieta had never thrown his slider/cutter/slutter more than 16% in any year before this year, and then he threw it 28% of the time last year. That of course buoyed his swinging strike rate to a career high 10.2% overall — we all know that the slider gets about twice the whiffs as a fastball.

He started throwing the pitch more in fastball counts, too. That helped improve his command because his fastball command is not very good. (This effect is not as obvious, since Arrieta also worked hard with his pitching coach to clean up his mechanics and repeat his delivery better, but let’s run with it.)

Collin McHugh doesn’t quite have the same history, but he hadn’t ever thrown his slider 25% of the time, and then this past season he jumped it to 30.3%. His swinging strike rate also jumped from around league average to a career high at 10.8%. It looks like he had good command anyway.

It’s hard to hate on either of these guys based on the peripherals we are accustomed to using. Both of them had double-digit swinging strike rates, both of them had a great separation between their strikeout and walk rates, and both of them had high strikeout rates. McHugh’s velocity is only average (91.6, or exactly average for a righty), and so is his ground-ball rate (42.1%, average is 44%), but neither is a real asterisk. Arrieta is solid on both counts (93.5 mph, 49.2% GB), so his history of iffy control is at least somewhat mitigated.

I’ve linked Jeff Zimmerman’s post about slider rates and DL chances before. But I thought it might be fun to look at individual seasons that fit the bill. What sort of pitchers have thrown their slider or cutter 28% of the time over 150 innings since 2002? Sometimes the names can make us more nervous than a slight jump in DL%.

In order to leave off the cut fastballs while searching for baby sliders among the cutter group, I sorted the list of cutter throwers by difference between fastball velocity and cutter velocity. I cut all the pitchers whose cutter/fastball velocity differential was more than 2.5 mph. It’s sortable if you want to look at the slider group alone. Days Missed is the number of days missed the season after they threw 28+% sliders.

Season Name FB% FBv SL% CT% CTv SL+CT Days Missed
2008 Jesse Litsch 24.0% 89.9 11.4% 43.5% 85.5 54.9% 162
2011 Dan Haren 34.6% 90.0 0.0% 47.7% 85.3 47.7% 19
2013 Yu Darvish 38.2% 92.9 31.6% 15.7% 89.2 47.3% 64
2004 Randy Johnson 45.3% 93.7 43.6% 0.0%   43.6% 21
2002 Randy Johnson 54.9% 94.5 41.9% 0.0%   41.9% 85
2007 Miguel Batista 41.2% 92.2 2.6% 38.9% 87.6 41.5% 17
2006 Esteban Loaiza 46.1% 89.2 11.4% 29.6% 85.3 41.0% 127
2004 Esteban Loaiza 52.1% 89.0 17.9% 22.3% 86.0 40.2%  
2013 Dan Haren 40.1% 88.9 0.0% 39.4% 85.5 39.4% 4
2002 Matt Clement 57.3% 91.6 39.0% 0.0%   39.0% 16
2012 Madison Bumgarner 43.4% 91.1 39.0% 0.0%   39.0%  
2008 Armando Galarraga 49.2% 90.2 38.6% 0.0%   38.6% 4
2013 Ervin Santana 54.3% 92.4 38.5% 0.0%   38.5% 7
2011 Ervin Santana 58.4% 92.8 38.4% 0.0%   38.4%  
2008 Daisuke Matsuzaka 52.2% 91.8 23.1% 15.0% 88.6 38.1% 108
2005 Randy Johnson 56.0% 92.7 38.0% 0.0%   38.0% 8
2013 Madison Bumgarner 38.5% 91.4 38.0% 0.0%   38.0%  
2007 Ian Snell 52.5% 92.4 37.3% 0.0%   37.3% 12
2006 Jon Lieber 54.7% 87.9 37.1% 0.0%   37.1% 94
2010 Ervin Santana 58.1% 92.5 36.9% 0.0%   36.9%  
2012 Bud Norris 56.7% 91.8 36.6% 0.0%   36.6% 20
2013 Francisco Liriano 41.4% 93.0 36.3% 0.0%   36.3% 30
2011 Bud Norris 50.7% 92.6 36.2% 0.0%   36.2% 29
2006 Ramon Ortiz 51.6% 90.6 35.2% 0.7% 86.5 35.9%  
2012 Dan Haren 40.1% 88.5 0.0% 35.6% 84.6 35.6% 14
2006 Randy Johnson 56.4% 92.2 35.5% 0.0%   35.5% 126
2012 Ervin Santana 57.4% 91.7 35.3% 0.0%   35.3%  
2008 Randy Johnson 51.4% 90.8 35.2% 0.0%   35.2% 63
2007 Jeremy Bonderman 58.3% 92.0 35.2% 0.0%   35.2% 100
2010 Ryan Dempster 54.5% 91.0 35.1% 0.0%   35.1% 9
2008 Jake Peavy 57.4% 92.1 18.1% 17.0% 85.5 35.1% 91
2005 Esteban Loaiza 57.5% 89.6 3.5% 31.6% 86.6 35.1% 36
2006 Doug Davis 42.4% 85.6 1.4% 33.6% 82.8 35.0%  
2006 Miguel Batista 48.8% 92.2 8.7% 26.2% 89.0 34.9% 5
2002 Brian Lawrence 52.8% 85.0 34.6% 0.0%   34.6%  
2009 Ryan Dempster 52.9% 90.6 34.3% 0.0%   34.3%  
2011 Derek Lowe 50.0% 88.0 25.3% 8.9% 85.4 34.2%  
2008 Ervin Santana 61.4% 94.4 33.9% 0.0%   33.9% 51
2010 Francisco Liriano 48.6% 93.7 33.8% 0.0%   33.8% 37
2011 Edwin Jackson 55.0% 94.5 33.7% 0.0%   33.7%  
2007 John Smoltz 44.9% 92.5 33.6% 0.0%   33.6% 140
2006 Jeremy Bonderman 57.8% 93.3 33.6% 0.0%   33.6% 37
2002 Odalis Perez 50.7% 90.7 33.4% 0.0%   33.4%  
2010 Bud Norris 56.2% 93.6 33.1% 0.0%   33.1% 8
2002 Ramon Ortiz 54.0% 92.3 32.7% 0.0%   32.7%  
2008 Ian Snell 62.2% 92.2 32.7% 0.0% 85.0 32.7%  
2007 Jake Peavy 57.6% 92.5 23.2% 9.3% 87.3 32.5% 26
2012 Barry Zito 36.8% 83.9 32.5% 0.0%   32.5%  
2011 Madison Bumgarner 52.6% 91.7 32.4% 0.0%   32.4%  
2006 John Smoltz 46.6% 92.7 32.3% 0.1% 88.0 32.4% 20
2006 Jeff Weaver 49.3% 89.6 18.0% 14.3% 86.5 32.3% 27
2008 Johnny Cueto 61.1% 93.4 32.1% 0.0%   32.1% 18
2009 Brett Anderson 52.7% 92.6 32.1% 0.0%   32.1% 76
2013 Bud Norris 55.1% 92.4 28.4% 3.6% 87.2 32.0% 16
2009 Kevin Correia 51.9% 91.0 30.3% 1.6% 88.2 31.9%  
2012 Yu Darvish 47.3% 92.8 14.4% 17.5% 89.7 31.9% 19
2004 Miguel Batista 53.5% 92.6 17.3% 14.6% 89.3 31.9%  
2010 Hiroki Kuroda 55.4% 92.3 31.8% 0.0%   31.8%  
2008 Derek Lowe 61.3% 89.2 31.8% 0.0%   31.8%  
2007 Daisuke Matsuzaka 52.7% 91.9 17.2% 14.6% 86.9 31.8% 27
2002 Josh Fogg 51.8% 88.1 31.7% 0.0%   31.7% 31
2008 Dan Haren 50.3% 91.1 25.1% 6.6% 87.8 31.7%  
2011 Michael Pineda 62.2% 94.7 31.5% 0.0%   31.5% 162
2004 Jon Lieber 59.1% 90.1 31.4% 0.1%   31.5%  
2011 Josh Tomlin 42.3% 87.9 3.4% 28.0% 84.9 31.4% 38
2006 Dontrelle Willis 63.3% 90.5 18.9% 12.4% 86.3 31.3% 4
2011 Ryan Dempster 57.1% 90.3 31.1% 0.0%   31.1% 33
2006 Kris Benson 55.5% 90.2 25.2% 5.8% 86.9 31.0% 162
2010 C.J. Wilson 49.2% 90.5 12.1% 18.6% 87.8 30.7%  
2008 Andy Pettitte 52.5% 88.5 2.6% 27.9% 83.8 30.5% 8
2012 Paul Maholm 41.4% 87.4 30.4% 0.0%   30.4% 39
2012 Hiroki Kuroda 50.4% 91.8 30.4% 0.0%   30.4% 13
2005 Doug Davis 51.9% 87.3 5.3% 25.0% 84.6 30.3% 9
2005 Josh Towers 57.6% 87.9 28.8% 1.4% 84.0 30.2%  
2013 John Lackey 57.5% 91.7 30.0% 0.0%   30.0% 7
2012 Bruce Chen 42.1% 86.3 29.9% 0.0%   29.9%  
2005 Jeremy Bonderman 59.0% 93.2 29.7% 0.1% 86.5 29.8%  
2012 Gavin Floyd 45.3% 91.5 0.0% 29.8% 85.7 29.8% 139
2002 Ryan Dempster 62.8% 91.0 29.7% 0.0%   29.7% 71
2009 Johnny Cueto 62.2% 92.7 29.7% 0.0%   29.7%  
2006 Jake Peavy 59.4% 92.1 14.6% 15.1% 87.1 29.7%  
2002 Tony Armas Jr. 55.1% 91.8 29.6% 0.0%   29.6% 143
2013 Chris Sale 51.4% 93.1 29.6% 0.0%   29.6% 32
2012 Tommy Hanson 55.1% 89.7 29.5% 0.0%   29.5% 24
2010 Edwin Jackson 59.3% 94.4 29.3% 0.0%   29.3%  
2013 Jeff Samardzija 53.4% 94.5 18.4% 10.8% 91.3 29.2%  
2006 Byung-Hyun Kim 65.5% 88.4 29.2% 0.0%   29.2% 25
2005 Matt Morris 44.1% 89.2 26.7% 2.1% 86.3 28.8%  
2011 Bruce Chen 43.9% 85.8 28.7% 0.0%   28.7%  
2013 Adam Wainwright 40.5% 91.1 0.0% 28.5% 88.0 28.5% 13
2008 Hiroki Kuroda 59.3% 92.0 26.3% 2.0% 88.6 28.3% 71
2005 Andy Pettitte 51.3% 87.9 14.8% 13.5% 84.5 28.3% 7
2013 Matt Cain 48.8% 91.2 28.2% 0.0%   28.2% 81
2010 Tommy Hanson 57.0% 92.7 28.0% 0.0%   28.0% 62
2011 Jon Lester 49.4% 92.8 0.0% 28.0% 89.0 28.0% 5
2005 Daniel Cabrera 65.2% 96.2 28.0% 0.0%   28.0% 19
2013 Dan Straily 59.1% 90.3 28.0%     28.0%  

This group hit the disabled list 45% of the time the year after they hit this benchmark (compared to 40% for the league). Three of them missed the whole season and ten of them missed more than 100 days. The group as a whole averaged 31 days missed the year after they threw 28+% baby sliders and regular sliders (the average starter sees 19 days on the DL, I don’t have league average days missed.)

But a lot of these guys had been throwing tons of breakers their whole career. Look at only the guys that showed on this list once, and it gets worse — those 28 pitchers averaged 42 games missed the year after they made this list.

So it doesn’t look good for Arrieta in particular, given his past. McHugh is more of a wild card, given his mostly clean slate.

Here’s one weird thing, though. The market doesn’t seenm to care. As in, baseball is allowing more pitchers to do this. Look at the number of pitchers that fit our criteria since 2002 — even if we’re missing some data early on because of classification issues, the recent trend seems real. Either baseball doesn’t think this is a problem, or it thinks this is a problem (for some?), and doesn’t care.

Season Total
2002 8
2004 4
2005 8
2006 13
2007 6
2008 12
2009 4
2010 9
2011 11
2012 11
2013 13
2014 20





With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Neil

This group hit the disabled list 45% of the time the year after they hit this benchmark. Three of them missed the whole season and ten of them missed more than 100 days. The group as a whole averaged 31 days missed the year after they threw 28+% baby sliders and regular sliders.

What is the comparison though? Are these numbers wildly out of proportion with all pitchers, regardless of breaking ball percentage?