This article is part of our Collette Calls series.For the normal person, a new year starts on Jan. 1. Many of us go through the process of setting New Year's Resolutions for ourselves. We decide to quit smoking, exercise more, lose X pounds (how's that going for you?), call our parents more frequently, etc. By year's end, many of those resolutions go unfulfilled. Pitchers are no different.
Their new year begins in February, and they make resolutions for themselves for the upcoming school year. Many will drop plenty of cliches to writers hanging around the fields in Arizona and Florida, but some will talk openly about wanting to throw a new pitch. In fact, many pitchers – both major and minor league pitchers – did so this spring. In fact, I covered the early ones at the end of February.
In March 2014, I wrote the first piece on new pitches that included a much smaller list than we had this year and had information from current professional pitcher Josh Zeid and former major league pitcher Jensen Lewis about the process of adding new pitches. I then wrote a follow-up piece in mid-August to show who stuck with the pitch and what difference it made for the pitcher. I found that 17 of the 23 pitchers who stuck with the new pitch improved their strikeout rate from 2013 to 2014, with all but one of those generating more swinging strikes and all but two allowing less contact.
Now, it's time to look at 2015.
In all, 55 pitchers mentioned working on a new pitch, a new grip for an existing pitch or a new arm angle. Actually, the count is 53 if you exclude Craig Kimbrel trolling everyone with a changeup quip and Will Ferrell's usage of the splurge as his career ended as quickly as it began.
In reviewing the pitch data to this point, I found 34 pitchers who had pitched enough in the majors last season and this season to give us enough of a sample size to play with. The high level talking points for this year's group (data mined from BrooksBaseball.net):
• 11 of 34 have yet to throw the new pitch
• 20 of 34 (57 percent) threw the pitch less than 5 percent of the time
• 12 of 34 have thrown the pitch at least 10 percent of the time
• 7 of the 34 increased the usage of the pitch exponentially
• 1 of the 34 decreased the usage of the pitch exponentially
|PITCHER||NEW PITCH||2014 %USE||2015 %USE|
|Jimmy Nelson||spike curve||0||21|
|James Paxton||2-seam changeup||9||11|
|Robbie Ray||new change grip||26||11|
|Jarred Cosart||new change grip||4||7|
Using the new pitch is one thing, but does the pitch work for them? Let's focus on the pitchers who used the new pitch at least five percent of the time this season:
|PITCHER||NEW PITCH||AVG DIFF||SWST% DIFF||K% DIFF|
|James Paxton||2-seam changeup||-0.016||-1||-2|
|Jarred Cosart||new change grip||0.010||1||0|
|Jimmy Nelson||spike curve||0.042||1||2|
|Robbie Ray||new change grip||0.115||1||7|
(*Positive numbers in the AVG column are used to show gains to match the other two columns.)
The work Brad Boxberger put into his knuckle-curve in spring has not paid off. After a dominating 2014, Boxberger has struggled with the command of his pitches and has thus become more hittable. Carlos Martinez's swinging-strike rate has declined from last season, but that's the only thing that has declined in his game. He is getting more strikeouts this season and generating more groundballs while posting an excellent ERA and no longer has the drastic splits he had before 2015. Chase Whitley showed marginal gains before snapping his UCL in May.
The new changeup grip for Daniel Norris has led to more strikeouts and swings and misses, but he been more hittable overall this season than he was in limited time last season. Jake Odorizzi added strikeouts last season by adding the split-change Alex Cobb showed him, but the work of the cutter/slider hybrid has led to more contact than swings and misses. He has been tougher to hit this season, but five weeks on the disabled list with an oblique strain cut into what has been a rather good season for him. Jake Peavy has continued to throw more changeups, but isn't seeing any gains from it, nor have James Paxton and Jarred Cosart who each tweaked the grips on their changeups.
Jimmy Nelson has made nice strides this season with the addition of his spike curve and has been tougher to hit this season than he was in 2014. Joe Kelly saw promise early with the emphasis of the four-seam fastball in terms of strikeouts, but that waned once the league caught up to it and he ended up in the minors for a stint as he was simply allowing too much hard contact. Jordan Lyles, like Peavy, Paxton and Norris, hasn't seen the gains from the split-change he hoped for. Lastly, I don't even know what to say about Shane Greene any more. I had such high hopes for him coming into this season, but he gave back all of the gains he made last year and then some and now can't command his new changeup or any of his old pitches. I thought so highly of Greene this season that I ended up getting him and not getting to the next guy on my list of wants – Nate Eovaldi.
Eovaldi is an interesting story. While his overall results are unimpressive, he's made progress throughout the season. Check out his numbers month-by-month:
The nine wins he has this season are thanks to some tremendous run support, but his 3.52 FIP is better than his current 4.43 ERA. The strikeout improvement has not been there with the changeup, but the other results are there.
Lastly, we have Robbie Ray. Ray told Nick Piecoro in March that Ray had been working so hard on his slider that he had lost the feel for his changeup. Ray wasn't worried as he said it would come back and he will just have to throw it more. The thing is, Ray has not. In fact, he's thrown it quite a bit less, as he has used the pitch 11 percent of the time in 2015 compared to 26 percent in 2014. Despite the decrease in the change, he has spiked his strikeout rate seven percentage points and has become very tough to hit in Arizona. He has fewer hits than innings pitched, and the strikeout rate that was below average for a starter last season is now above league average for a starting pitcher. In this case, we have a guy who threw fewer of the new pitches and increased the usage of the slider he began using in 2014 and that pitch has been the difference-maker for him.
In the end, the results are mostly mixed for the pitchers who stuck with the new-season resolution they made in spring training. Martinez, Nelson and Ray are the best examples of his new pitches can help a pitcher while Greene and Boxberger are harsh reminders that new pitches are no guarantees for success.