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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
White Sox OF Avisail Garcia dropped weight during offseason
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:02 am ET) White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia dropped roughly 15 pounds during the offseason, according to MLB.com.

"I've been eating healthy, working real hard at the gym, Garcia said. "I have to be ready for spring training. I can't go there and be fat." With the weight loss, Garcia is hoping to keep his power potential. "I don't want to lose speed, I don't want to lose power," Garcia said. "I want to be in the middle. I know I can do a little bit of everything, so that's why I've been working really hard on speed, power, hitting and defense, so I can help my team win."

Garcia hit .244/.305/.413 over 172 at-bats last year.


Athletics' Billy Butler would welcome return to Royals
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:35 am ET) Athletics designated hitter Billy Butler said he would love to return to the Royals later in his career, according to the Kansas City Star.

After spending the first eight seasons of his career in Kansas City, Butler signed a three-year deal with Oakland during the offseason. Though he left the Royals, Butler said there is no hard feelings. "It’s disappointing, but you understand that the game’s a business and I didn’t leave on bad terms," Butler said. "I’d be more than happy to come back. That’s home for me. I’ll always be forever tied to the Royals organization and the community there."

The 28-year-old hit .271/.323/.379 over 549 at-bats last year.


Indians to consider multiyear extension for Corey Kluber
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) The Indians will consider a multiyear extension for pitcher Corey Kluber, according to MLB.com.

General manager Mark Shapiro didn't indicate that the two sides were close to a deal, but said Kluber has all the aspects the team looks for when considering a long-term deal. "Corey represents all of the things we look for in players: dependable, reliable person, committed to his work ethic, talented." Shapiro added, "it's something we'll probably look at over the next couple of months. He has all the precursors that we would look for to enter into a multiyear agreement."

The 28-year-old Kluber is set to make the league-minimum next season, and won't be available for arbitration until 2016. He's under team control through 2018, so there's no hurry for either side to agree to a new deal. 

Kluber posted a 2.44 ERA over 235 2/3 innings last year.


Twins' Glen Perkins says he's 100 percent
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Twins reliever Glen Perkins said he's 100 percent heading into the season, according to MLB.com.

Perkins missed the last two weeks of the regular season due to a forearm injury, but said that's no longer a problem. He took two weeks off once the season concluded, and went for a precautionary MRI just to make sure the injury wasn't serious. "I took two weeks off and started doing shoulder stuff as part of the rehab to strengthen it and everything went well," Perkins said. "I started throwing again in mid-December. The way I've been able to ramp up throwing, everything has been good."

The 31-year-old Perkins posted a 3.65 ERA over 61 2/3 innings last season.


Tigers' Miguel Cabrera not expected to miss much time with injury
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera is not expected to miss much time with his ankle injury, according to the Detroit Free Press

Cabrera had ankle surgery to remove bone spurs shortly after the season, and has been recovering during the offseason. He was recently cleared to ditch his walking boot, and will be re-evaluated by team doctors on Feb. 15. General manager Dave Dombrowski told reporters Cabrera shouldn't miss much time due to the injury. "We're hopeful at that point he gets turned loose," Dombrowski said. "If he's not ready for Opening Day, it's going to be very, very close."

The 31-year-old Cabrera hit .313/.371/.524 over 611 at-bats last year. 


Twins' Joe Mauer says his legs feel strong heading into 2015
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Twins first baseman Joe Mauer said his legs feel strong heading into 2015, according to the Star Tribune.

Mauer was able to fully participate in an offseason training program after injuries prevented him from doing so last year. Mauer said his left knee, which has given him trouble in the past, feels strong now. :It’s tough to hit when the knee I’ve had problems with isn’t right," Mauer said. "That’s where you get your power from and the ball jumps. I feel good. I’m excited to get out there."

The 31-year-old Mauer is coming off a season in which he hit .277/.361/.371 over 455 at-bats.


Report: Yankees looking to void milestone bonuses for A-Rod
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) The Yankees are looking to void milestone bonuses in Alex Rodriguez 's contract, according to the New York Daily News.

When Rodriguez signed his deal with the club in 2007, it contained bonuses as Rodriguez tied or passed the top home run hitters. Rodriguez, who has 654 career home runs, is just six away from tying Willie Mays, which would trigger a $6 million bonus. He is also set to receive an additional $6 million once he ties Babe Ruth, and another $6 milliion if he ties Hank Aaron.

The team, however, now views those bonuses as worthless due to his 2014 suspension. The team will argue that these bonuses were signed under false pretenses. The club is apparently willing to fight the player's union over the decision should Rodriguez file a grievance. 

Rodriguez, who hasn't played since 2013, has already found it difficult to mend the fences with his team. Rodriguez proposed a meeting with the club where he would publicly apologize for his actions last season, but the team declined the offer. "This is a relationship that is never going to be repaired," one source told the Daily News.


Orioles, Ryan Flaherty avoid arbitration
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) The Orioles have avoided arbitration with infielder Ryan Flaherty, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. 

Flaherty will make $1.075 million next season. He can make an additional $25,000 if he receives 400 plate appearances. The 28-year-old Flaherty hit .221/.288/.356 over 281 at-bats last year.


Angels' Josh Hamilton setting lofty goals for 2015
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton is ready to set some lofty goals for 2015, according to MLB.com.

Hamilton said he's aiming to hit .300, with 30 home runs and 100 RBI this year. After struggling through injuries in 2014, Hamilton said his offseason has been mostly normal. The 33-year-old hit .263/.331/.414 over 338 at-bats last year. 


Angels' Jered Weaver bulked up during offseason
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Angels pitcher Jered Weaver decided to bulk up during the offseason, according to MLB.com.

Weaver went from 199 pounds to 224 pounds during the offseason. He said the goal was to get bigger and stronger so that he can pitch deeper into games next year. The 32-year-old Weaver posted a 3.59 ERA over 213 1/3 innings. 


 
 
 
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