Monday, August 17, 2009

You Knew This Was Coming

Ahhhhhhhh Zaun. It had to be Zaun? This might be the problem with one trick ponies like Brandon League. A wily vet who happened to catch him over four seasons isn't going to be fooled. If you bisect the plate with a fastball he knows is coming, you're in trouble.

The blue dots are League fastballs, the red his splitter. The Xs are Zobrist's single and Pena's double. Fuck breakfast.

So what happened? How could he be so bad so soon after being so good? Location and getting ahead is one. Recall his Yankee outing, how everything was down in the zone? Sunday, not so much. Throwing strikes? That always helps. Against the Yankees, League started batters off like this:
  1. Fastball called strike.
  2. Fastball grounded to center for hit.
  3. Fastball flown to centerfield.
  4. Splitter high and wide, ball. ( runner is subsequently picked off by Raul Chavez's "works once in a liftime" snap throw)
  5. Splitter flown to right field.
  6. Fastball called strike.
  7. Fastball called strike.
  8. Splitter low and inside, ball.
  9. Fastball grounded to second for out.
  10. Fastball inside, ball.

So he threw the fastball for strikes or for converted outs while throwing the splitter outside the zone. Seemed to work. Against the Rays League went fastball fouled off, splitter swung and missed, fastball off the plate away, intentional walk (playing with fire!), splitter low and away, fastball low, and finally a fuck you fastball to BJ Upton's back. In the only two at bats that really hurt him (Pena and Zaun) he got behind 2-1 and couldn't recover. He did have Zaun 3-2, but served him up an old man gopher ball. So is that it? Perhaps not.

This image shows the speed of League's pitches graphed against their vertical movement. The blue dots are Sunday's Rays outing, red is the dominant outing against the Yankees. First thing you'll notice: the gas. League fired with reckless abandon against the Yanks, averaging 96.4 mph on his fastball. During Sunday's catastrofuck League checked in around 94.4 mph. According to Fangraphs, 95.3 is his average fastball this season, a number I'll trust as I believe Fangraphs uses the same data I steal. Also, League's fastball averaged 95.25 on Saturday night in Tampa and 95.45 in New York in July, so it isn't necessarily a difference between two parks/guns. So for Brandon League; speed is something but not everything.

One problem that League may experience from time to time is the flattening of his fastball. Again from Fangraphs, we see League's average amount of "rise" this season is 3.4 inches. Sunday he checked in at a much flatter and bangable 4.5 inches. Against the Yankees? Closer to 1.75 inches of "rise" or much more sink. More sink on his fastball is a good thing, as it already sinks more than the law allows. Less sink is just a high speed batting practice delivery, especially when you're his old catcher and you're looking fastball in.

I can't even pretend to explain why his splitter seems straighter, flatter, yet faster and more effective in that now quasi-famous outing against the Yankees, it was just one of those days when everything works. My hopes were sky high for Brandon League to emerge as a revelation during this dreary second half, and despite my excuse-making he seems to ALWAYS end up giving up the biggest of big hits. Relief pitchers who dominate meaningless appearances but struggle when it counts have a very limited shelf-life, and I wonder how long the love affair with Potential will last. He's obviously a gifted athlete and a pitcher with unique skills, but in that situation you simply can't make a poor pitch, one Gregg Zaun (!) can bang out of the park, and expect to keep your job forever.

I feel dirty insinuating such awful things about Brandon League, but I don't know how many more chances the team will give him. If Arnsberg's voodoo doesn't work on him and the Zen of Citocity doesn't work on him, what's left to try?


  1. Fuck breakfast, indeed.

    You know we're fucked when you're beginning to question the future of Brandon League in a Blue Jays uniform.

    Oh, to go back to the glory days of April and early May.

  2. Serious question - why is it that it's universally accepted (well, almost) that there is no such thing as "clutch" hitting, but it is also universally accepted that certain relievers should not be used in high leverage situations, ie: they fail "in the clutch".

    Just something I've been pondering...

  3. This guy should be a lights out closer. His stuff is unreal. It's just not right that even his 'flat' pitches, that still sink 2 feet, get hit.

  4. Drew, you bring up a good point in your intro paragraph. Are there any pitch F/X or even sabermetric split stats for primarily one pitch pitchers vs batters of a certain age/experience level?

  5. "...what's left to try?"

    Jeremy Accardo

  6. You and I both know Bubbles, Accardo isn't an option.


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