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By the Numbers: Should these pitchers keep the change?

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The offseason is full of storylines that are long forgotten seemingly moments after the first pitch is delivered on opening day, but we're going to revisit a common offseason theme right here, right now, in the middle of June.

As in most offseasons, the months leading up to the start of the 2014 campaign were rife with reports of pitchers changing their arsenals. Several were reportedly adding pitches, while others tinkered with existing ones, and more still decided to ditch a pitch. As with many offseason storylines, some of those in this genre wound up making little lasting impact. Stephen Strasburg adding a new slider? Ever since abandoning it in April, the only ones he has seen have been from White Castle. Jake Peavy has used his new splitter in only one start this year. Sadly, Brian Wilson has thrown exactly one knuckleball, according to BrooksBaseball.net.

Some pitchers have followed through on their offseason plans and have unveiled new or improved pitches. Change isn't always good, though, and for the six pitchers reviewed here, the results have been mixed. Few Fantasy owners likely pinned their hopes on a pitcher on draft day just because he was tweaking his arsenal, but for at least a handful of hurlers, the changes have made an impact. The fallout from the enhanced arsenals -- including the good and the bad -- is detailed below, and there are some useful lessons for Fantasy owners to note.

Note: All pitch data is from BrooksBaseball.net, except where otherwise noted. Current season stats are for games played through Tuesday, June 17.

Phil Hughes, Twins: Wisely, Hughes has done away with his slider, which according to the pitch value data on FanGraphs.com, was one of the least effective in the majors last season. He dusted off his cutter, which went all but unused since 2011, and to good effect. He has used it 24 percent of the time, and it has been a reliable ground ball pitch. Hughes' overall ground ball rate has barely risen, increasing from just 33 percent last season to 35 percent, but opponents have put together a meager .078 Isolated Power on his cutter. Also key to Hughes' success has been an improved curveball, which he is throwing harder and with greater movement and has generated an .088 Isolated Power (as compared to last season's .231 mark). That goes a long way toward explaining how Hughes has improved so drastically, and showing consistency even in recent starts at Rogers Centre and Fenway Park. With extra-base hits no longer as much of a threat, owners can be confident in starting Hughes every week.

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Michael Wacha, Cardinals: Wacha didn't use his curve much until last postseason, and after working on it during the offseason he has relied on it more frequently in 2014. Though he has used it for only 11 percent of his pitches, FanGraphs.com has Wacha ranked 13th among all qualifying pitchers for curveball pitch value. He uses it mostly as a first pitch and has been getting called strikes on it frequently. That may have something to do with Wacha plowing through his plate appearances more efficiently (3.73 pitches per plate appearance, down from 3.98 last year) and lasting six innings or more in all but three of his 15 starts. It's just one more element that makes Wacha one of the top 25 starting pitchers in Fantasy.

Shelby Miller, Cardinals: While Wacha looks like a staple for years to come in the Cardinals' rotation, Miller has done little but raise doubts about his chances to be a future star. He started using a cutter late last season, and after refining it during the off months he has used it and his curveball as his main secondary pitches. The cutter has been his best pitch for inducing whiffs on a per-pitch basis, but it has also contributed to his control problems, as he has thrown 45 percent of them for balls. Miller has had just as many problems commanding his curve, and worse yet, he has coaxed swings on only 33 percent of those offerings. His cutter and fastball command have actually improved over the past month, so Miller is experiencing something of a rebound, but with few swings and misses overall, he is not yet a reliable weekly option.

Sonny Gray, Athletics: Gray didn't use his changeup much in his rookie season, and when he did it often got whacked for extra bases. After some offseason tinkering, Gray has come back relying on his changeup more often, using it on 18 percent of his pitches. After allowing hitters to post a .177 Isolated Power on changeups last season, Gray has dropped that mark to .120 so far in 2014. It's probably no coincidence that Gray's grounder rate on his changeup has increased from 44 percent to 68 percent. That has helped Gray to succeed, even though his swinging strike rate on his four-seam fastball has fallen from 8 percent to 6 percent. He may not return to being the strikeout-per-inning pitcher he was last year, but with an improved changeup, he can prevent runs by way of the ground ball. With a strong infield defense behind him, he just may be able to maintain a sub-1.20 WHIP as well.

Tyson Ross, Padres: Though he has never used it much, Ross spent some time in the offseason working on his changeup. As in the past, this season he has used it primarily against lefties, and most often as a first pitch. As his Fantasy owners are well aware, Ross has had some major control issues at times and they have come mostly when facing left-handed batters. According to FanGraphs.com, Ross has a respectable 2.6 BB/9 ratio against righties but an atrocious 5.0 mark versus lefties. It certainly hasn't helped that he has thrown 53 percent of his changeups against lefties for balls. Though Ross doesn't throw the pitch often, it isn't helping him to get ahead in counts and could be impacting his ability to throw his sinker for strikes. To make matters worse, Ross' changeup has gotten hammered when batters have connected with it. The good news for Fantasy owners is that Ross has been more effective overall against lefties this season, but that seems to have much more to do with him using his sinker more often than on any alterations he has made to his changeup. Keep an eye on Ross' changeup usage, as the less he employs it, the better.

Tony Cingrani, Reds: Last season, Cingrani was almost totally reliant on his fastball, so he approached this season intending to use his slider more often. Cingrani followed through on his intent, using his slider 13 percent of the time, but the results have been far from impressive. Though batters have hit grounders at a 59 percent rate on Cingrani's slider, they have generally laid off the pitch (33 percent swing rate), as he has thrown it for a ball more often than for a strike. Cingrani's control issues have resulted in a 4.7 BB/9 ratio, 1.49 WHIP and a demotion to the Reds' bullpen. The lefty has actually shown good command of his fastball, so he might be better off going without a secondary pitch. He was successful last season with a more limited arsenal, so there is hope that Cingrani can be a factor in Fantasy again this season. He is worth stashing despite his horrid performance to date this year.

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Player News
Manager: Chris Bassitt to receive another starting opportunity
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:39 pm ET) Robin Ventura has right-hander Chris Bassitt pegged for another start this season despite an outing Tuesday in wich he allowed three earned runs on six hits and four walks in just 3 2/3 innings.

"He's going to get another shot at it," Ventura told MLB.com. "I see Bass still throwing in the Detroit series."

Bassitt is currently scheduled to pitch Monday against the Tigers.


Josh Reddick nursing left ankle injury
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:19 pm ET) Athletics outfielder Josh Reddick is dealing with a sore left ankle sustained on a fall heading to first base Wednesday night against Texas. He is being checked by trainers and is not in the lineup for the Thursday afternoon game.

Eury Perez sent packing by Nationals
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:15 pm ET) The Nationals have designated for assignment outfielder Eury Perez, whom they demoted to Triple-A Syracuse in late July.

Perez will likely finish this season without a major league at-bat.


Paul Konerko could be ready to return to plate this weekend
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:59 pm ET) White Sox retiring designated hitter Paul Konerko is slated to return this weekend in Tampa Bay from a fractured hand that has kept him out since Sept. 2. But Robin Ventura doesn't want to rush him.

"I think during the weekend we'll be able to give him hopefully a couple of at-bats," Ventura told MLB.com. "If he's up for it, he can probably DH one of those games."

Konerko could play significantly when the team returns home as he concludes his farewell season.


Stephen Vogt still a no-go Thursday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:50 pm ET) Athletics first baseman Stephen Vogt remains out of the lineup for the Thursday game against visiting Texas. He has been dealing with an ankle issue that has prevented him from playing for two weeks aside from one at-bat Wednesday.

When Vogt returns full-time, he will do so in a 3-for-22 slump.


Howie Kendrick finally slows down after torrid stretch
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:43 pm ET) It took two weeks, but Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick has finally cooled off at the plate.

Kendrick is 2 for 12 in his last four games, which might not qualify as struggling until one considers he was 22 for 44 for a .500 average with 11 runs scored and 13 RBI in his previous 10 games. Despite his recent mini-slide, he still owns a stat line of .291/.345/.394.

The veteran has scored 84 runs on the season, two off his career-high, giving him an outside shot at 100.


Matt Shoemaker: I could be out 'for a week or two'
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:32 pm ET) The rib cage injury to Angels impressive right-hander Matt Shoemaker has become a concern for the team, according to MLB.com, despite his proclamation Wednesday that it was feeling better. He added that it was 'a little sore' after undergoing an MRI that revealed a mild oblique strain. Shoeamaker is uncertain when he will return - he is set to miss his Saturday start.

"There is no time frame," he said. "Literally they said in two or three days you can feel good or it could be a week or two. We'll just go by feel. Once it stops feeling sore, they want to get into some activity just to test it and rehab it. I want to get into everything quick, but they're just being smart."

Shoemaker has won his last seven decisions. He has allowed just seven earned runs in his last 48 2/3 innings pitched.


Adam LaRoche in midst of deep slump for Nationals
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:17 pm ET) Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche has fallen into a slump from which he hopes he can emerge in time for the NLDS.

LaRoche is hitless in his last 17 at-bats covering four games. That dry spell followed a tear in which he slugged 12 hits, including five home runs, in nine games. His .257 average is at its lowest point since April 4.


Norichika Aoki on tear in leading Royals roll offensively
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:00 pm ET) The Royals have picked it up lately offensively and right fielder Norichika Aoki is greatly responsible.

Aoki has been white-hot with 11 hits in his last 13 at-bats to raise his average 16 points to .281 - no easy feat at this time of year. That mark is at its highest point since May 25, but his overall hot streak has extended back to Aug. 27. Aoki has hit safely in all but four games since then and is 28 for 72 during that stretch.


Jimmy Paredes making impact with strong run
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:47 am ET) Third baseman Jimmy Paredes has received significant work and has taken advantage of it since arriving with the Orioles in late August.

Paredes has received an increasing number of plate appearances, particularly since the loss of Chris Davis to a drug suspension. He has hit safely in nine of his last 10 games with 13 hits, including two home runs, in 33 at-bats. He has eight RBI and seven runs scored during that stretch.

He boasts a tremendous stat line of .358/.383/.578.


 
 
 
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