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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
Twins pitcher Brian Duensing struggles in outing Monday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:41 am ET) Twins pitcher Brian Duensing struggled through his start Monday against the Red Sox, allowing six runs on eight hits in just one inning of work.

It was Duensing's first true rough start of spring training, after allowing just one run in his last seven appearances.

'"He couldn't make pitches, he got behind. But he's had a good spring overall. Things kind of snowballed on him," manager Paul Molitor said to the Star Tribune. "We just couldn't get him through that inning. I'm willing to let that go by. Obviously, you don't want to see that for anybody, but he’ll be back out there."


Red Sox C/1B Mike Napoli homers in win over Twins
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:30 am ET) Mike Napoli of the Red Sox homered Monday in the team's 14-2 win over the Twins, reports MLB.com.

Napoli's homer was a broken-bat homerun and he talked about it after the game.

"I watched the video on it," said Napoli. "It looked like I got the barrel to it. My at-bat before, when I shot the ball to right field, he kind of got in a little bit on me. That's probably where it broke there."

"It was just a weird feeling," said Napoli. "The bat exploded and it was just kind of sitting there. It's a weird feeling any time you do that. I don't know. I can't really explain it. I was just kind of running around the bases like, 'What just happened?'"

Napoli, 33, hit .248 last season with 17 home runs and 55 RBI. 

 


Rockies P Rex Brothers struggles again in loss to Athletics
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Rockies pitcher Rex Brothers struggled again in his latest outing against the Athletics, per MLB.com. The Rockies fell to the Athletics an 11-2 loss on Monday.

After only giving up one run and two hits in his first five appearances, Brothers has yielded six runs on five hits with five walks in his last three outings (2 2/3 innings pitched).

The 27-year-old lefty finished the 2014 season with a record of 4-6 posting a 6.07 ERA with 55 strikeouts and 39 RBI.


Report: Dodgers sign P Freddy Garcia to minor-league deal
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) The Dodgers have signed pitcher Freddy Garcia to a minor-league contract, according to a report from MLB.com

Garcia spent 2014 pitching in Taiwan, and was with the Braves and Orioles in 2013 before that. He has a career 4.15 ERA since entering the majors in 1999. 


Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts rips eighth double of spring training
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts continues to rip through pitchers in spring training. Bettes went 2 for 3 with a double, one RBI and three runs scored for Boston against Minnesota Monday. 

Betts now has eight doubles this spring with a blistering .467 average in 45 plate appearances.


Red Sox pitcher Justin Masterson gives up one run in outing Monday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Red Sox pitcher Justin Masterson went 5 2/3 innings Monday, allowing just one run on five hits with four strikeouts against the Twins.

Masterson is now 2-1 this spring with a 3.50 ERA in five appearances.


Royals P Jason Vargas gives up five runs in win over Rangers
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Royals pitcher Jason Vargas gave up five earned runs in five innings in Monday's 11-7 win over the Rangers. 

Vargas surrendered seven hits, one walk while striking out five batters. His ERA this spring is now 9.68. Vargas struck out five batters but gave up four home runs. 


Blue Jays pitcher Daniel Norris posts eight strikeouts Monday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Blue Jays pitcher Daniel Norris recorded eight strikeouts over six innings of work Monday against the Astros. Norris allowed four runs on five hits in the outing.

"I'm actually glad that happened tonight, just being able to bounce back and make the adjustment in-game," Norris said to MLB.com. "It was a good finish. It was one of those nights where 90 percent of the mistakes I made got hit. That's baseball, I guess."

Norris has posted a 3.28 ERA in 24 2/3 innings of work with a team-leading 29 strikeouts in spring training.


White Sox pitcher Zach Putnam tosses straight scoreless appearance
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) White Sox pitcher Zach Putnam continues to make a push for a role in the bullpen. That journey continued Monday, throwing his fourth consecutive scoreless appearances after giving up eight runs over 3 2/3 innings in his first four games of spring training.

"I feel as if it's been there since the start of camp, but what changed was the frequency with which I was throwing it," Putnam said to MLB.com. "I was going into at-bats early on trying to kind of work on my fastball and polish my cutter just a little bit.

"When you are not fine with those pitches and guys are coming in taking massive hacks trying to hit homers, as they are sometime in Spring Training, I got hurt a lot. As soon as I figured it out and started throwing it more and setting up hitters the same way I set them up during the season, things fell into place for me."


Orioles comfortable with Everth Cabrera at short
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Orioles GM Dan Duquette gave Everth Cabrera a vote of confidence on Monday. 

With expected starting shortstop J.J. Hardy missing the start of the season with a strained muscle in his shoulder, Duquette was asked if the team was in the market to acquire a shortstop. 

"We signed one just before camp opened," Duquette said, per MASN Sports. Cabrera signed with the team as a free agent in late February. 

Cabrera has hit .238 this spring. 


 
 
 
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