Obviously, all A's fans (and many baseball fans) know the story of Brad Ziegler.
He was signed by the A's out of the independent leagues, wasn't very good, was converted from conventional pitching to submarine-style pitching, took off, and ran off the longest scoreless-innings streak to start a career last season--at age 28.
While it looks like Ziegler's 2008 (1.06 ERA) was much better than his 2009 (3.27 ERA), that's actually not the case, as he had a 3.72 FIP last year and sports a 3.07 mark this year.
So to those of you who think "the league is figuring him out," you're wrong.
Ziegler has adapted his strategy a little bit this year.
The submariner throws three pitches, a running, sinking fastball in the mid-80's, a slow, sweeping slider in the low-70's, and a diving changeup in the mid-70's.
When Ziegler broke into the majors last year, he threw his fastball 86.6 percent of the time, his slider 7.1 percent of the time, and his changeup 6.3 percent of the time.
This year, Ziegler has thrown fewer fastballs and more changeups, and a few more sliders: 78 percent fastballs, 8.9 percent sliders, and 13.1 percent changeups.
Ziegler correctly recognized that he was getting better results from his offspeed stuff than his fastball.
However, when looking at the Pitch Type Linear Weights data (Thanks as always, Fangraphs!) for Ziegler, something jumps out.
Runs Above Average Per 100 Pitches-Brad Ziegler
Year FB SL CH
2008 1.63 3.46 1.26
2009 0.34 3.62 2.92
So we see that this year, Ziegler's fastball has gotten worse, his slider has gotten a little better, and his changeup has really improved.
We also can see that the slider is easily Brad Ziegler's most effective pitch.
Think about what this means--Brad Ziegler saves a run with every 28 or so sliders he throws. It takes him nearly 300 fastballs to save a run.
Yet Ziegler goes to the fastball about nine times as often as he goes to the slider.
Ziegler should take a page out of Michael Wuertz's bag of tricks and pitch backwards, using the slider to set up the fastball.
Check Wuertz's pitch usage table this season:
Fastball (mph) Slider (mph) Curveball (mph) Changeup (mph)
33.8% (90.8) 61.5%(85.5) 2.2% (79.2) 2.5% (83.7)
Obviously, Ziegler doesn't have a second breaking ball, but, like Wuertz, his slider is his most effective pitch. Like Wuertz, Ziegler is most effective when throwing that best pitch a good portion of the time.
I'd suggest that Ziegler uses the slider 50 percent of the time, his fastball 35 percent, and his changeup 15 percent.
Such a change would probably get him more long-term success, as he'd be throwing his best pitch most often. That strategy works well for relievers, especially specialists like Ziegler.
If nothing else, it would certainly help Ziegler's near-term performance, as he'd be throwing the slider six times as often as hitters are used to seeing it. Hitters will be sitting on the fastball and rarely see it.
Go back up to the Ziegler table and note the big decrease in fastball effectiveness this year. That's probably largely due to batters knowing that he throws it about 80 percent of the time, and sitting on the pitch.
Ziegler should consider drastically altering his pitch strategy to achieve maximum effectiveness, and even if he doesn't go to Wuertz's extreme, he should certainly use his slider more.