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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
A's unable to cash in on seven scoreless innings from Scott Kazmir
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:15 am ET) Athletics starting pitcher Scott Kazmir tossed seven scoreless innings Friday against the Astros. However, he did not factor into the decision, as the game went to extra innings.

Kazmir was involved in quite the pitcher's duel with Astros starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel. While Kazmir went seven scoreless innings, Keuchel threw nine scoreless innings. Kazmir allowed five hits and three walks, while striking out seven.

The veteran left-hander lowered his ERA from 1.33 to 0.99. His next scheduled start is for Thursday against the Angels.


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by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
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Gregerson blew his first save of the season in the 10th inning, allowing Oakland to tie the game at 2. Neshek then came on to open the bottom of the 11th inning, but he was gone after allowing two runs on three hits in two-thirds inning. 

Astros manager A.J. Hinch brought on Tony Sipp to face Sam Fuld for the final out, but Sipp walked Fuld to put two runners on base. Hinch then called on Qualls, who retired Brett Lawrie on a fly out to deep center to end the rally.


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by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:57 am ET) Astros closer Luke Gregerson earned his first relief win of the season Friday against the A's.

The right-hander entered the game in the bottom of the 10th inning, with Houston ahead 2-0. Unfortunately, he could not hold the lead, as he allowed Oakland to tie the game on a two-out, two-RBI double by Josh Reddick.

He was charged with two runs on three hits and no walks, while striking out one in one inning of work. He suffered his first blown save Friday.

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Astros' Dallas Keuchel throws nine scoreless innings in no-decision
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:51 am ET) Astros starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel tossed nine scoreless innings Friday against the A's. Unfortunately, he did not get the win, as Friday's game was scoreless after nine innings and wasn't decided until the 11th inning.

Keuchel allowed just two hits -- both singles in the third inning. He also walked two and struck out four.

The left-hander, who is 2-0, has now allowed zero runs in three of four starts. He has a 0.62 ERA.

Keuchel will be back on the mound Wednesday at San Diego.


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by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
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by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
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Cashner gave up a home run to Carl Crawford, the left fielder's first of the season.

Cashner struck out six and walked one in the defeat.

Cashner's next start is scheduled for Wednesday against the Astros.

Dodgers SP Zack Greinke moves to 3-0 with seven shutout innings
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
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Greinke lowered his ERA to 1.35 following Friday's performance.

Greinke will look to stay perfect in his next start set for Wednesday against the Giants.

Indians' Nick Swisher totals three hits in first rehab game
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Nationals' Rendon doubles as he begins rehab assignment Friday
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(1:24 am ET) Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon (knee) began a rehab assignment with Double-A Harrisburg on Friday. He went 1 for 2 with one double before being lifted from the game.

Rendon is expected to play at least five days on a rehab assignment.


Angels closer Huston Street improves to 6 for 6 in save chances
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:13 am ET) Angels closer Huston Street ran into some trouble in the ninth inning Friday against the Rangers. However, he still successfully closed out the 3-2 win for his sixth save.

Street opened the inning with two quick outs. However, he then walked the next two batters. Luckily, both runners were stranded as Elvis Andrus grounded out to end the game.

Street had one strikeout. He has not allowed a run in six innings this season.


 
 
 
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