Earlier this week I wondered why Jon Niese had seemingly abandoned (well, greatly decreased his usage of) his cutter, which was his best pitch last year. This strange trend continued today.
Well Andy McCullough* (@Ledger_NYMets) of The Star Ledger actually asked this question of Jon Niese and Dan Warthen today.
*McCullough is one of the Mets best beat writers out there. I thought some of you would like to know that given the comments in my Joel Sherman post. If you're not following him, you're missing out.
The response from the Mets:
Why no cutters from Niese? He and Warthen believe hitters are too ready for it. So they want him to throw more sinkers to open up the plate.
Niese on the cutter: "II can’t fall in love with that pitch. Because it’s a pitch that hitters have adjusted well to."
Now this is a curious response and thankfully, it's one we can actually test. Let's look at how the cutter did as the year went on in 2010:
The Bad Luck
Nearly all (80%) of the batters Niese faces are right-handed batters, against whom the pitch last year was a great pitch at getting swings and misses. That trend continued in August and September of last year. The GB rate on this pitch did go down in those two months, but well, the swinging strike rate was actually up. Expected Run Values, a measure that tries to take into account all of the results of a given pitch while removing the effect of luck, had the pitch as an effective pitch in these two months, though the pitch's effectiveness had dropped from June-July (when the pitch was really really good).
But REGULAR Run Values state that the pitch COST the Mets runs in August and September of last year. What does this mean? Well, when there's a clear difference between expected and regular run values, it's basically the effect of luck, either on BABIP or just HR/FB.
Here, we can quickly see that the bad luck came on fly balls thrown by Niese in the last month of the season. From August 31 until the end of the season (Niese didn't pitch in October) Niese's cutter resulted in a fly ball EIGHT times. Here are the results of those 8 fly balls:
- Derrek Lee Doubled
- David Ross Tripled
- David Ross Homered (Grand Slam)
- Jeff Baker Singled
- Geovany Soto Homered.
- Wilson Valdez Doubled
- Dan Uggla Doubled (Ground-Ruled)
- Casey McGehee Doubled
Yikes! Not a single one of these fly balls was caught, and seven of the eight resulted in extra bases! That would clearly make a pitcher think a pitch isn't working. Yet really, this is basically just a huge amount of bad luck - much more often than not, fly balls turn into outs, but here 0 of 8 fly balls did so. In addition, 6 of these 8 fly balls (including both HRs) were hit on the road, away from the friendly OF of CitiField.
The Good Luck:
But you know what really must have made this bad luck look like "batters are expecting the pitch?" The sheer amount of GOOD luck Niese had on the cutter against right-hand batters from the start of the season until August 30th.
From the start of the season until August 30, Niese's cutter got 21 fly balls from right-handed hitters. TWENTY of 21 fly balls were caught. The 21st resulted in a home run. So he had a HR/FB of under 5% (quite lucky) and a BABIP of ZERO. That's some super duper luck, which must have made Niese's cutter look near invincible to Niese.
So after a BABIP on fly balls to RHBs of ZERO through 21 fly balls, Niese then gave up hits on the next 8 fly balls the pitch gave up (BABIP of 1.000), with 2 HRs (25% HR/FB). One can just imagine how Niese must have gone from feeling great about the pitch to feeling like crap. It's understandable.
But it's mainly just a change from really good luck to bad luck. And the Mets, namely Warthen, Thole, and Niese, HAVE TO REALIZE THIS. They cannot afford to overreact! Niese is a young pitcher, and is probably very influenced by the results on his pitches, unlike veterans who know better. And in truth, it would be good for Niese to learn to try and command his sinker a bit. But he can't abandon the cutter, the pitch that MADE him last year.
Don't be fooled by some bad luck, please.