No fooling this time. I promise.
I covered the Brandon Morrow is not as highly valued as we thought angle already. Now, I wanted to actually take a look at Brandon League and see what reasons I could find that might tell us why Jack Zduriencik wanted him here.
Brandon League in 2009 was a very different pitcher than ever before. Relief pitchers are extreme volatile commodities and so departures, even radical ones, from the norm have to be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism. The development of a new pitch, some sort of changeup or splitter, was credited with the success but we have all read enough of those stories to know not to simply trust what people say. Instead, I went digging into my pitch database for information.
League had settled in around the 8% swinging strike rate from 2005 through 2008. That jumped to over 14% last season. That's a monumental increase and that he sustained it over 1,105 pitches is encouraging. With that rise in missed bats came the expected increase in strikeouts. League punched out nearly a quarter of all batters faced after being about a 15% strikeout guy previously. Astoundingly, League recorded just six called strikeouts in 2009. The other 70 strikeouts were of the swinging variety.
Those extra strikeouts came as a result of League's new pitch. In 2008 a whopping 79% of League's pitches were over 95 miles per hour. 15% fell in the 85-90 bucket, almost entirely his slider. In 2009, those two figures were 40% and 23% as League was much more spread out in his velocity histogram. The increase in off speed pitches was also shifted away from his slider (which actually showed little horizontal break) and toward his changeup/splitter which acts more like you'd expect a change to, breaking slightly in toward right-handed hitters.
League threw his new pitch roughly 315 times last season, 128 times (41%) for a ball, which is bad but an astounding 35% of the time for a swing and a miss. League used this pitch on approximately 55 of his swinging strikeouts. That gives me a lot of hope that League's step forward is sustainable. For at least as long as League keeps that pitch effective, it's clearly a dynamite strikeout pitch.
How dynamite? And how astounding is that 35% figure? I wanted to know so I grouped every pitcher and pitch type together and then figured out how often each pitcher-pitch grouping was swung at and missed. Essentially, I created a ranking of the most unhittable pitches. Where does Brandon League's splange rank on that list?
Brandon League's off speed pitch was number 1.
Pause and read that again. Let it sink in. I had to put it in bold I was so excited. No pitcher in baseball last year threw any pitch that generated a higher percentage of swings and misses than Brandon League's splitter/change did. Second best was Ryan Madson's changeup, at 30%. League didn't just lead the Majors, his lead was so big, he was jogging the last quarter mile.
I wouldn't expect League to hold onto all of the gains he made in 2009. It's simply too difficult to keep missing that many bats and striking out that many people. But the amount that he embraced his new off speed pitch and the sheer level of it's effectiveness means we could be in for some fun in 2010 and beyond.
Wait, one more thing...
Happy holidays, everyone.