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Marlins' Josh Johnson: No Need for Sinkers

Back in spring training, there was talk coming out of Marlins camp that pitcher Josh Johnson(FLA) was tinkering with a sinker.  PitchFX has yet to track any sinkers from Josh so far this season.  However, he's off to a tremendous start with a 3-0 record in 4 starts, and a 1.00 ERA and 0.593 WHIP.  Part of his great start could be due to his ability to keep his pitches down consistently.

Josh Johnson Pitch Location
(Click to enlarge)

Josh has successfully managed to locate his pitches away to both lefties and righties so far this season.  Against RHB especially, he's sniped that down and away zone very efficiently.  In 36 plate appearances, opposing right-handed batters have hit only .086 versus Johnson with a 36.1% strike out rate and a 2.8% walk rate.  Against 61 sliders so far, opposing righties have not managed a single hit.

For now, adding a sinker doesn't seem necessary for Josh Johnson.


Why is Offense Down?

Three weeks into the major league season, scoring dropped half a run per game through the same point in the previous season.  What caused this drop?  It could be the umpires, but looking at heat maps of called balls and strikes, there is no discernable difference in the frequency of strikes called outside the strike zone and balls called inside the strike zone.  The same errors exist in the same locations.

Batter selectivity then came into question.  Again, looking at heat maps, the only bit that looked different was that maybe batters were taking more strikes down the middle of the plate, and maybe they were taking more high strikes.  These were minor differences at best, probably accountable due to the sample size early in the season.

Combing through the data, the one thing that stood out was a change in the frequency of certain pitches:


Through the first 22 days of the season.
Pitch Type20102011
Fastball 51.4% 46.4%
Change 12.5% 12.3%
Curve 9.5% 9.5%
Slider 14.6% 14.9%
Cutter 4.7% 5.5%
Sinker 6.3% 9.7%


Fastballs are down, and pitchers are replacing them with cutters and sinkers.  Batters are chasing those pitches out of the strike zone.

Batter swings at cutters and sinkers outside the strike zone, 2010 on the left, 2011 on the right.This season, when batters swing at pitches outside the zone they produce a .191 wOBA. When they swing at pitches inside the strike zone, their wOBA jumps to .323.  Pitchers as a whole changed the way they approached batters, and that caused them to swing more at pitches with a low probability of success.

The changes hold up across the two leagues as well, although the AL is substituting more sinkers and the NL more cutters. 

Batters are seeing a different mix of pitches than usual, and they'll need to adjust if offense is to recover.


Weaver Stikes Out Cruz

Watching Jered Weaver (LAA) battle Nelson Cruz (TEX) in the second inning Wednesday night, it stuck me that the plate appearance was a classic battle between a good hitter and a great pitcher.  Here is a graphic representation of the pitch sequence:

Jered Weaver strikes out Nelson Cruz, 4/20/2011.The diagram on the left shows the location of the pitches in the strike zone.  On the right the break of the pitch, how much it deviates from a straight line.  Weaver threw five straight fastballs to Curz.  The first three tried to get Nelson to go fishing outside the strike zone.  Jered started him with a pitch in the dirt, then tempted him outside.  Cruz did not buy the pitches, and put himself in an excellent position for the rest of the at bat, up 3-0 in the count.

Cruz knew he would get a strike on 3-0, and Weaver put the pitch up and in, and Cruz swung through it.  Weaver then took five miles off his fastball, dropping it from 90 to 85, and got another swinging strike.

Jered had now shown Cruz five straight fastballs. He had changed location and speed, but each exhibited the same break.  Weaver, if you will, had trained Cruz to follow the ball a certain way.  As I watched the final pitch, Weaver gave him the fastball motion, but snapped his wrist as he released the ball.  It was clear from the centerfield camera that the pitch was going to do something different.  You can see the difference in the break above, but it also was different in another dimension:

Jered Weaver strikes out Nelson Cruz, break and velocity.The last pitch came in at 79 MPH, taking a totally different patch to the same spot as the fifth pitch.  Cruz swung and missed, and Jered made a comeback from a poor start to another strikeout.

The pitch was classified as a slider, and Jered's slider has been his best K pitch this season.  He gets a 32.4% strikeout rate with his slider, the highest of any of his pitches.  He's struck out more batters with his fastball (15 to 13), but he used the fastball to end more PA 63 to 38 for slider.  He doesn't throw it as often, but when it comes after a number of fastballs, it's a very effective pitch.