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Brandon League's New Old Pitch

That's a splitter!
That's a splitter!

I think my favorite story every spring is that of pitchers trying out new pitches. It isn't my favorite story because of the humor potential; rather, it's my favorite story because it's actually interesting, because developing a new pitch can sometimes help a pitcher achieve a whole new level of performance.

Well, I haven't seen any of those stories yet out of Mariners camp, but I have now seen this from Brandon League. League isn't working on a new pitch; rather, he's working to bring back into the fold the slider that he used to throw more often.

"It’s more like a cutter but I call it a slider. That sounds better," League said. "It looks like my fastball and it doesn’t move a lot. But it’s another look and something I can throw against left-handers."

John Wetteland talked about improving League's slider a year ago, but by and large League didn't throw the pitch very often. From the sounds of things, he'd like to throw it about as often as he did back in the day, when he would use it roughly 10% of the time. And he wants it to be a weapon against lefties, rather than against righties, as most right-handed sliders usually are.

I think most of you know how I feel about Brandon League's repertoire and particularly his splitter, which wasn't mentioned in the article. I'm going to show you some numbers now. These are Brandon League's strikeout and walk numbers against left-handed hitters:

Year K% uBB%
2004-2008 12% 5%
2009 24% 6%
2010 14% 7%

Between 2004-2008, League was predominantly a fastball/slider pitcher. In 2009, he went fastball/split. In 2010, he cut back on his splitter usage significantly, boosting his number of fastballs. And what do we see? League was by far the most successful against left-handed batters in 2009, when lefties saw 61% fastballs and 34% splitters (that switched to 78%/18% last season).

Now, throughout the 2010 season, we heard that League didn't really have his good, consistent splitter, and that was offered as one of the reasons for his cutback. The pitch that was the most unhittable pitch in baseball in 2009 may never be that good again, and it isn't a bad thing to hear that League's working on his slider. A slider that looks like a cutter can be an effective pitch against lefties when thrown well, and League could use the help.

But make no mistake: no matter how confident League may get in his slider, it'll never be a good substitute for the death split he threw all the time in his last year with the Blue Jays. League can still be a good reliever. Overall, he was pretty good last season. With that said, though, until or unless he re-discovers his awesome split and throws it a bunch, he'll never be the excellent strikeout guy we thought we were getting in the Brandon Morrow trade. He'll just be a power groundballer that occasionally misses some bats.