John Axford of the Milwaukee Brewers may or may not lose his closer role to Francisco Rodriguez. Axford has been striking out batters at a high rate this season, thanks to his ability to change the level of his pitches. Axford throws his fastball high in the strike zone, and batters chase it:
While they swing high, they don't make contact high:
The high fastball presents the batter with less time to swing, and a poor angle for making contact with a slight upper cut. Twenty six percent of plate appearances against John that end in fastballs end in strikeouts.
The high fastball also sets up the curve. John's curve breaks sharply down. Batters are good at recognizing a curve in the strike zone:
The problem, however, is that they are recognizing those as high pitches, so they swing and miss:
Forty-eight percent of plate appearances that end on a curve go down as strikeouts. By buzzing batters high, and then breaking the ball low, Axford gets opposing batters to generate a lot of wind, and earns saves for the Brewers.