Changing speeds could change results for M’s pitchers

Jul 8, 2010, 7:26 AM | Updated: Apr 4, 2011, 7:52 pm

by Dave Cameron

(note from Salk: Dave Cameron of USS Mariner is writing a column for us every Thursday focusing on baseball from a statistical perspective. I’m writing for his site as well).

Over the winter, the Mariners gave up Brandon Morrow to add Brandon League to their bullpen, believing that he could be a high quality setup man for David Aardsma. They also signed Brian Sweeney to a minor league contract, believing that he could fill out the Tacoma Rainiers roster and mentor some of the young pitchers on the staff. Expectations for those two could not have been more different. And yet, here we are in July, and Sweeney is out-pitching League in Seattle. In fact, they were used back to back last night, and the difference between them couldn’t have been more striking.

In the seventh inning, Sweeney did exactly what he’s done since coming to the major leagues – throw strikes, change speeds, and keep hitters off balance. Below is a chart of the 14 pitches that he threw in his one inning of work.


As you can see from the velocity readings on the left-hand side, he didn’t throw anything faster than 89 MPH, but his success came through unpredictability. There are six little boxes in that 87-89 range that represent the fastballs he threw, which, as you’ll note, is only 43 percent of his total pitches for the day. He threw four sliders in the 84-86 range, and then mixed in four change-ups from 75-79. Of the four batters he faced, two saw a first pitch fastball, one saw a change-up, and one saw a slider. Even though he fell behind two hitters by throwing a first pitch ball, he stayed away from a predictable 1-0 fastball, going with off-speed stuff and getting a strike to even the count. At 36 years of age, Brian Sweeney is smart enough to know that hitters are looking fastball in certain situations, and so he gives them something else. It’s why he’s getting hitters out despite having fringe major league stuff.

Then there’s Brandon League. I wrote about League’s pitch selection in this space a few weeks ago, and as we saw last night, nothing has changed.


He threw 16 pitches last night. 14 of them were fastballs between 95 and 97 MPH. All three batters saw a first pitch fastball. He walked two guys and gave up a three home run, and that was the ball game. All three batters he faced saw a steady diet of fastballs, and even though his fastball is high velocity and big movement, they didn’t need to think about anything else in the box. League’s insistence on throwing the fastball, and nothing but the fastball, has burned him time and time again this year, and opponents have caught on.

The Mariners bullpen is #1 in baseball in percentage of fastballs thrown. They’ve also been a disaster for most of the season. These two things are related.

David Aardsma, Brandon League, and Mark Lowe were all gifted with special natural abilities. Brian Sweeney was not. Right now, however, Sweeney is the one getting major league hitters out, because he knows how to pitch. It’s time the Mariners made the rest of their relievers learn from him, because this fastballs, fastballs, and more fastballs mentality is one of the main things wrong with the organization right now.

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Changing speeds could change results for M’s pitchers