This is something we've talked about a little in the comment threads, but I thought I'd give it front page exposure. Also, I've just come to realize that Seattle Sports Insider has written on the same topic, so go over there for more.
Lately, given Brandon League's recent struggles, there's been some chatter over whether or not he's been tipping his pitches. There's often this kind of chatter whenever a guy starts getting hit uncharacteristically hard, and it usually sends a lot of people to video of the pitcher's mechanics. Is there a signal? Is he doing something different with his arm slot?
But while pitch-tipping most certainly does happen, it doesn't always have to involve something about the pitcher's delivery itself. Pitch-tipping is basically anything that allows the hitter to have a pretty good idea of what pitch he's about to see before he sees it. And Brandon League hasn't exactly been the most unpredictable guy on the staff since joining the M's.
I'm going to show you two numbers. Two simple numbers that might blow your mind. Here are two of Brandon League's splits as a Mariner:
First Pitch: 94% fastballs
Behind In Count: 99% fastballs
League has thrown a lot of splitters, but by and large he's waited to throw them until he's already ahead of a hitter. Of his 386 first pitches that've been captured by PITCHfx since Opening Day last season, 362 have been fastballs. Of his 397 pitches that've been thrown when he's been behind in the count, 393 have been fastballs.
Almost every pitcher in baseball will throw a lot of fastballs to start a guy off. Almost every pitcher in baseball will throw a lot of fastballs when he's behind in the count. But there's a difference between "a lot of fastballs" and "almost exclusively fasballs." The latter seems to make things awfully predictable.
I don't know if League's evident predictability is related to his recent problems. I suspect that it is at least in part, but I'm not trying to say that League has been predictable this week. League has been predictable since coming to Seattle. This has been going on for a long time.
Because it's been going on for a long time, it's clear that League can still have some success with this approach. It's not like he's been a nightmare the whole time. But you have to figure that other teams are aware of his patterns, or at least will be soon. So it stands to reason that League could benefit by mixing things up a little more. Some more first-pitch splitters couldn't hurt. Some splitters when he's behind in the count couldn't hurt. He could try working in some of those sliders that he used to throw. He doesn't need to change things completely, but he could and should change them a little. The biggest advantage you have as a pitcher is that you know what you're going to throw when the hitter doesn't, and on first pitches and especially on pitches when he's been behind in the count, League has been giving that advantage away.
Brandon League can succeed the way that he is. Brandon League has succeeded the way that he is. He throws a pretty good sinker that isn't easy to square up even when you know it's coming. But Brandon League could be better, and taking steps to mix up his pitches in certain situations might be one of the ways he could do it.