Albert Einstein famously said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. One could certainly define the first nine games Houston's Brad Peacock made last season for the Astros in such a way.
In those nine games, Peacock started five times while working four out of the bullpen. He pitched just 29 innings, allowing 53 baserunners, 26 runs, and 8 home runs. Opponents had a .286/.384/.613 slash line against him, despite a rather normal .296 BABIP. His 8.07 ERA was a harsh reminder of what can happen when a pitcher struggles with command and pitches from behind in the count. A big part of those struggles was his inability to handle left-handed batters. The 75 left-handed batters he faced in those first nine outings hit .344/.467/.770 against him while the 63 right-handed batters had a rather reasonable .224/.286/.448 slash line
He went down to the minor leagues in need of both confidence and a change in approach because his approach was simply not getting the desired results. One thing he did to adjust his process was to add a new pitch. As Peacock later said ,"I knew I needed another pitch, and I was struggling when I came up here," he said. "I wanted to try something different. I got a slider, so I just rolled with it."
Roll with it, he did.
Peacock made 10 appearances in Triple-A Oklahoma City while working on his slider, and limited batters to a .228/.276/.354 stat line over 57.2 innings. He permitted 12 earned runs and allowed just 5 home runs during that time while throwing strikes 63|PERCENT| of the time, compared to the 56|PERCENT| rate he had at the major league level. It was quite the improvement from a guy who allowed batters to hit .275/.357/.470 in the same league one year prior. His improvements did not go unnoticed.
Brad Peacock has put together five straight strong starts for?OKC... looking good! JeffLuhnow(@jluhnow)July 5, 2013
He was recalled to Houston in early August and it did not take Bo Porter long to notice the changes the pitcher had made.
He's much improved from the other stints in which he was up here,...Again, when you come up and go down and you're given certain information of things you need to do to pitch at this level. These guys are taking heed to the information. They're going down and working on the things in which they need to work on. Our Triple-A staff is doing a tremendous job and they're coming down here ready to play.
His catcher, Jason Castro, also took quick notice of the differences in Peacock's approach to his craft.
He looks good...He's been real aggressive with his fastball, and I think that's kind of what he needed to work on. His (velocity) is definitely back to where it was. He's attacking, getting ahead with his fastball and that is setting up his other stuff. He also developed a slider, which has been a big pitch for him. He threw a lot of those tonight. It's his swing-and-miss pitch. I was really impressed when he came back that he was able to kind of get a feel for it that quickly. He's done a good job.
His final nine outings of the 2013 season were all starts. Over 54.1 innings of work, he struck out 54 batters and limited batters to a .216/.288/.363 slash line, a .261 BABIP, and his 3.64 ERA was a far cry from the first half of the season. The gap between his results against lefties and righties still existed, but it was much less drastic. With the slider in his repertoire, Peacock limited righties to a .157/.220/.277 slash line and lefties to a .256/.333/.421 line. He threw 144 sliders in that time allowing just 7 hits - all singles. With both a curveball and a slider in play, Peacock was able to generate more swings and misses and his rate upon his return from the minors was in the top 15th percentile in the league. Previously, his rate was in the bottom 15th percentile in the league.
By season's end, Peacock was looking like the pitcher the Astros wanted when they dealt Jed Lowrie to Oakland last season. Nearly two years ago, Kevin Goldstein(now the Astros Pro Scouting Director) projected him as a good third starter. In the 2012 Minor League Analyst, the BaseballHQ prospect team gave Peacock a grade of 8D. Peacock certainly made strides in the second half of 2013 to get closer to those projections after looking rather disastrous up to that point.
Any time a pitcher shows gains within a season, it gets our attention. The problem is, many of these improvements fly under the radar when they involve players on bad teams and the improvements come in the second half of the season. The fact that Peacock's K/9 rating jumped from 7.1 before the break to 8.9 after it is important to note. What is more important to know is WHY that change happened.
Sometimes it is a very soft strength of schedule, which was the case when David Price returned off the disabled list last season. Sometimes, it is a matter of a pitcher gaining velocity due to mechanical tweaks, such as Dane De La Rosa did?with the Angels in the second half of last season. Sometimes, a pitcher goes through a complete mechanical overhaul, as Ervin Santana did beginning in late 2012. Other times, as in the case of Peacock, they take to coaching and instruction and are able to add a new weapon to their arsenal and give batters something else to think about.
These are the types of things that do not show up in number crunching and stat-tracking; they show up by doing the leg work. Read tirelessly, make MLB.tv your best friend, and be inquisitive with those in the know or fans who have more time to follow those teams than you do. That's how you can blend the statistics and the scouting to make your own evaluation.