Pitchers Who Need to Develop Another Pitch to Be MLB Stars

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 31, 2013

Pitchers Who Need to Develop Another Pitch to Be MLB Stars

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    Pitching is an art form, but not every pitcher in Major League Baseball paints the same way.

    Some use a wide array of pitches that they can control effectively, thus making it harder for hitters to anticipate what's coming from pitch to pitch and from at-bat to at-bat. Others prefer to keep it much simpler, sticking only to three, two or even just to one pitch.

    Some of those guys get by OK. Mariano Rivera, for example, has made himself the greatest closer of all-time with his cut fastball. R.A. Dickey doesn't need much to succeed other than his good-luck-hitting-me knuckleball.

    They're the exceptions to the rule, though. Variety is better when it comes to pitchers, and there are at least 10 pitchers out there who need to develop some variety in order to either keep their star status or achieve it for the first time.

    Let's take a gander.

    Note: Stats courtesy of FanGraphs.

10. Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    My gripe with Kenley Jansen's repertoire is a very minor one. He only throws one pitch, but it's one of the nastiest pitches in all of baseball.

    Like Mariano Rivera, Jansen gets by with a wicked cut fastball. Per PITCHf/x, he threw it 89 percent of the time in 2012, and hitters managed just a .137 batting average against it.

    It's hard to blame them. The movement on Jansen's cutter is like something out of a Looney Tunes cartoon, and he can throw it upwards of 95 miles per hour.

    Jansen will be able to get by just fine with his cutter, and he'll gain much more notoriety than he has now if the Dodgers eventually make him their closer over Brandon League (which they should, darn it).

    But if Jansen wants to achieve true superstar status, he should look to add another pitch to his repertoire that would make life even more unfair for opposing hitters. My suggestion would be a two-seam fastball.

    Whereas Jansen's cutter runs in against lefties and away from right-handers, a good two-seam fastball would have the opposite effect: running away from lefties and in on the hands of right-handed hitters.

    That sound you hear right now is hitters all over the country pleading for Jansen to leave good enough alone.

9. Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds

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    Yes, Aroldis Chapman is already a star pitcher.

    But only as a closer, and that's not going to be his job in 2013. He's going to be a starting pitcher, and he has work to do in order to find as much success as a starter as he did as a closer.

    As a reliever, Chapman kept things simple by throwing only his fastball and slider, with just a few changeups mixed in here and there. In 2012, for example, PITCHf/x counted 81.6 percent of Chapman's pitches as four-seam fastballs and 11.9 percent as sliders.

    When Chapman did throw his changeup, it got crushed. Hitters hit it at a .364 clip in 2012, and Chapman got only three strikeouts with it.

    Chapman's changeup is going to have to be a lot better for him to be an ace-caliber pitcher, especially if his fastball and slider lose some of their sharpness. That could very well happen, as Chapman will have to preserve arm strength to work six or seven innings per appearance rather than just one.

    If Chapman really wants to push the envelope, he'll break out the split-finger fastball that he showed in spring training last year and turn it into another weapon for his arsenal. He could use it much like Randy Johnson used to use his splitter: as a swing-and-miss pitch to throw against right-handed hitters.

    Chapman could be good enough as a starter with a fastball and slider. If he establishes a changeup and/or a splitter, he'll have the potential to be one of the best in the business.

8. Edwin Jackson, Chicago Cubs

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    Speaking of guys who are good enough, there's really no better way to describe Edwin Jackson. He's not a star-level pitcher, but he's solid.

    Jackson is a classic fastball/slider guy. Per PITCH/x, he threw four-seamers 54.6 percent of the time in 2012, and sliders 29.4 percent of the time. He's able to get away with this very simple approach because of his excellent fastball velocity, sitting in the mid 90s and occasionally reaching the upper 90s.

    However, it's pretty apparent by now that Jackson is only going to go so far with his fastball/slider combination. It's been his bread and butter for years now, and all it's gotten him is a 4.40 career ERA and a 1.44 career WHIP. His best talent is eating innings, which makes him a mere mid-rotation guy.

    What Jackson could use is a cut fastball that he could use to keep lefties honest. Lefties slugged .454 against him in 2012, in part because he only had so much to throw at them. They were either going to get a fastball in the zone, a slider beneath the zone, or a changeup on the outside corner.

    A cutter to use in on the hands of lefty batters would allow Jackson to control both sides of the plate more effectively, which could save him a lot of trouble against lefty hitters and, in turn, help improve his overall numbers.

    The cutter isn't for everyone, but Jackson should give it a try.

7. Phil Hughes, New York Yankees

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    Phil Hughes is a lot like Edwin Jackson. He's an established pitcher and a pretty good one, but he always leaves you wanting more.

    Part of this is because Hughes hasn't really figured out his repertoire just yet. He simplified his arsenal by ditching his cutter in 2012, which allowed him to focus on his fastball, curveball and changeup. 

    This came with a catch. Hughes threw more four-seam fastballs than any other starter last year, going with the No. 1 over 65 percent of the time. When it wasn't his four-seamer, it tended to be his curveball.

    Hughes did just fine against lefty batters in 2012, holding them to an impressively low .610 OPS. Right-handers were another story, as they slugged 24 homers against him and compiled a .928 OPS.

    This was a symptom of Hughes leaving too many fastballs up in the zone to right-handers. He also tended not to throw inside, thus inviting right-handed batters to extend their hands and drive the ball.

    One solution would be for Hughes to introduce a two-seamer into his arsenal that he could run in on the hands of right-handers. He wouldn't have to use it often, but he could at least show it every now and then to give them something to think about. He could also use it to get a ground-ball in a pinch, something that's a struggle for him now.

    With free agency looming next winter, Hughes could benefit greatly from being bold.

6. Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians

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    Justin Masterson throws some pretty good hard stuff, as he's got a good fastball, a good sinker and a good hard slider that he can use to put hitters away.

    The problem is that hard stuff is really all Masterson has. He threw more fastballs of any kind than any other starter in baseball last year, and PITCHf/x says he used his slider 19.5 percent of the time.

    This approach worked fine for Masterson in 2011, as he racked up a 3.21 ERA over 216 innings. But he just wasn't fooling anybody with his hard stuff in 2012. Hitters hit his sinker at a .276 clip, and his fastball at a .306 clip.

    The writing is on the wall that hitters know to look for something hard in the zone when they dig in against Masterson. That means he needs an offspeed pitch other than his slider.

    Masterson does have a changeup, but he rarely throws it. Refining it and reintroducing it could help him take a necessary next step, especially as things pertain to his battles against lefty batters. They had no trouble hitting his hard stuff in 2012, compiling an .825 OPS and hitting 13 home runs against him.

    A good changeup would give Masterson something to show on the outside corner to lefties, and it would also help him keep them off-balance. If he can do that, he'll go back to being an All-Star-caliber pitcher.

5. Ivan Nova, New York Yankees

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    Ivan Nova tumbled back to earth in 2012 in a big way, compiling a 5.02 ERA in 28 starts thanks in large part to a .511 opponents' slugging percentage. 

    There's nothing wrong with Nova's breaking stuff. He throws both a curveball and a slider, and both pitches were generally effective in 2012. He used his curveball to hold hitters to a .166 average, and his slider to hold hitters to a .263 average.

    It was Nova's fastball that got exposed in 2012. Opponents hit it at a .339 clip with 14 home runs.

    A loss of velocity wasn't the issue, as Nova threw just as hard in 2012 as he did in his breakout season in 2011. He just wasn't fooling anybody with it.

    A possible fix would be for Nova to introduce something that would give hitters a different look when he wants to throw something hard. He can accomplish that by making his cutter more of a primary pitch. Since his fastball has natural sink, he should try a grip that actually reduces the sink on his fastball so that he can control it better.

    If Nova's hard stuff becomes as effective as his offspeed stuff, he'll be in for a drastic turnaround after getting a harsh reality check in 2012.

4. Tommy Hanson, Los Angeles Angels

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    Tommy Hanson was a power pitcher when he first came up, as his fastball sat in the low 90s and occasionally touched 96 and 97 miles per hour. With that velocity, he was able to get by with a simple repertoire.

    Hanson's velocity is gone now. PITCHf/x clocked his average fastball at 89.6 miles per hour in 2012, a far cry from the nearly 93 miles per hour he was averaging in 2010.

    Not surprisingly, decreasing velocity has killed the effectiveness of Hanson's heater. Opponents have hit over .300 against it each of the last two seasons after hitting just .254 against it in 2010.

    Hanson has two options. He can either find his lost velocity again, which is a hard thing to do, or he can enter the Greg Maddux phase of his career and take more to pitching than throwing.

    To do that, Hanson needs to have more than just a four-seam fastball. He needs a two-seamer that he can use to control the corners of the plate, and he should also consider adding a cutter that he could use to fix the problems he had against lefty hitters in 2012. They compiled an .889 OPS against him.

    Hanson's career has certainly suffered a setback. But since he's still only 26, he'll have plenty of good baseball still ahead of him if he remakes himself.

3. Jordan Walden, Atlanta Braves

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    And now to the guy who Tommy Hanson was traded for.

    Jordan Walden definitely has big velocity. His fastball sits in the mid 90s and occasionally brushes up against 100. It's been a generally effective pitch for him too, as batters hit just .231 against it in 2011 and .223 against it in 2012.

    Walden's problem is that he doesn't have a reliable offspeed pitch. He throws a slider that's plenty sharp, but it's not of much use because he's can't throw it in the zone with any consistency.

    Working against Walden is the fact that his fastball command is spotty too. He was up in the zone with his heater this past season, making it too easy for hitters to dig in and look for something up.

    Since Walden isn't having any luck keeping his fastball low and using it to get hitters to bite on his slider, he could use an offspeed pitch that could work off high fastballs.

    The best candidate for something like that would be a split-finger fastball. A splitter would serve Walden well because he could make it look like just another high fastball that would then drop off the table. It could help him get more swings and misses, and would deter hitters from sitting on his fastball.

    If Walden can throw more than just gas at hitters, he'll be back on his way to being a dominant reliever in no time.

2. Sean Doolittle, Oakland A's

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    Sean Doolittle came out of nowhere to become one of Oakland's very best relievers in 2012. In 44 appearances, he compiled a 3.04 ERA and struck out over 11 batters per nine innings.

    Doolittle was at his best against right-handed batters, holding them to a .509 OPS and striking out 42 of the 124 he faced. They managed only 22 hits and eight walks against him.

    Lefties had much greater success against Doolittle, compiling a .794 OPS against him. He struck out only 18 of the 67 lefty hitters he faced.

    This may be because Doolittle had little to show lefties besides his hard stuff. He threw fastballs roughly 87 percent of the time, relying on overpowering velocity to get hitters out.

    Doolittle can certainly be forgiven for being a little raw, as he's still very, very new to pitching after spending much of his baseball career as a power-hitting first baseman. But in order to maximize his potential as a lefty reliever, what he really needs is a slider that he can bury away from lefty hitters and in on righty hitters.

    If Doolittle develops one of those, he'll be the next Billy Wagner.

1. Ervin Santana, Kansas City Royals

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    There's still hope for Ervin Santana, but he desperately needs to be torn down and made anew.

    The 2012 season was Santana's worst as a pro. He finished with a 5.16 ERA, and he allowed a staggering 39 home runs in 178 innings pitched. He struck out only 6.7 batters per nine innings.

    Santana's problem is that he's still a fastball/slider guy even though he doesn't have the velocity to be a fastball/slider guy anymore. Whereas his heater used to average over 94 miles per hour, now PITCHf/x has him down to 91.7 miles per hour.

    While Santana's slider is still a good pitch, the lost velocity has killed the effectiveness of his fastball. Hitters swung at it and missed only 2.6 percent of the time in 2012, a new career low.

    Santana needs to adapt to his lost velocity by refining his changeup and by giving hitters more than just a straight fastball to consider. He needs to introduce a two-seamer, and he would do well to introduce a cut fastball as well. These things would help him live on the corners and pitch to contact more effectively.

    The only way to go for Santana is up, but he won't start heading in that direction until he changes.

     

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