On Brandon League And The Disappearing Splitter

Drayer talks to John Wetteland a little bit on the subject over here. The gist is that Brandon League is working on a slightly altered delivery that takes some getting used to, and there'll be some growing pains along the way. One of those growing pains is that, right now, League isn't throwing his splitter the way he'd like.

Says Wetteland about the adjustment:

It is about health first and foremost, then better command, better angle and a better break on his slider.

If you want to know what the adjustment is, here's League in 2009, and here's League in 2010. You can see that he's clearly setting up lower now than he used to, with his glove down at his belt instead of up at his eyes. The new delivery also seems a little faster, with a lower knee lift. Nothing major, but clearly some tweaks.

Now, Wetteland says the primary reason behind the change is to keep League healthy, and I can't argue with that. Wetteland and his staff know more about pitcher health than I do, and this is one of those situations where I can't really do much but appeal to authority. Who am I to say what does and doesn't cause a pitcher to get hurt?

On the other hand, it's worth noting that (A) nobody really understands the relationship between mechanics and health very well, and (B) League hasn't been hurt in more than two years. It's unclear how much good Wettleland could do, and even whether League is an injury risk in the first place.

So we can't say a whole lot about the health aspect. Which causes us to turn to the performance aspect. And here's where I have trouble wrapping my head around this, because the Brandon League we traded for was phenomenal.

The Brandon League we traded for - the Brandon League that pitched in 2009 - relied almost exclusively on a sinker and a splitter, and the results were terrific. Groundballs. Strikeouts. No real platoon split. League's command wasn't great, but he missed so many bats that it didn't matter. Sure, the wildness was an issue, but throwing the most unhittable pitch in baseball can make up for a lot of deficiencies.

Why try to change that? Why mess around? Why try to get Brandon throwing more sliders? Brandon dominated righties last year. He's always succeeded against them, and he's succeeded by flinging this unfair 96mph sinker that drops in on the ankles. He wasn't exactly screaming out for help. I get that a better or more featured slider could give hitters a new look, but at some point you're just rendering the Mona Lisa in 3D. The original version was already great.

All of this may make me sound more skeptical or upset than I really am. The truth is, someone in my position pretty much always has to defer to the pitching coach, because I don't know that much about pitching, while a pitching coach does. If John Wetteland and Rick Adair think these adjustments can help Brandon League stay well, throw more strikes, and succeed, then that's terrific. That's a job well done. It's just...okay, we have to give League time. Learning these things doesn't happen overnight. But League was already really good, and I'm inherently distrustful of any attempt to change a guy who's already really good. Sometimes it can work, but other times you can spoil a good thing.

So the Mariners better be damn sure what they're doing makes sense. I'm not saying it doesn't. I can't say that. And I trust this organization to do what's best for its own interests. This is just a curious decision. It may not make any difference, as the adjustments are small, but it could also make all the difference in the world, and we'll just have to wait and find out.

I sure do like his splitter.

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