Carlos Silva Learns

Among early season performances, there is one that is the most shocking.

Carlos Silva, vs left-handed batters:

2008: .348/.381/.555, 2.19 BB/9, 4.37 K/9, 44.5% GB%, 14.6% HR/FB%, .355 BABIP
2009: .380/.436/.718, 3.94 BB/9, 2.25 K/9, 48.5% GB%, 21.1% HR/FB%, .359 BABIP

2010: .083/.081/.083, 0.00 BB/9, 3.97 K/9, 36.7% GB%, 0.0% HR/FB%, .100 BABIP

Silva, who throughout his entire career has struggled mightily with left-handed hitters, has held them to just three singles in 37 plate appearances in his first four starts. And all three of those singles came in his last start. In his first three appearances, he was perfect against LHBs, as they went 0 for 22 against him.

His line against right-handers isn’t all that much different than it has been in the past, even in his last two seasons. Nearly the entirety of the success he’s had to date can be credited to how well he’s gotten lefties out, which is just something he’s never been able to do before.

So, naturally, the first thing I did was take a look at his pitch selection. Silva’s lived primarily off of his two-seam fastball for most of his career, which is why he’s posted such large platoon splits. The pitch works against righties, but not against lefties.

Sure enough, Silva has finally decided to abandon his fastball-only approach to pitching. He’s thrown his sinker just 56.5% of the time (compared to 83.1% last year), and has replaced with his change-up, which he’s now thrown 30.7% of the time.

The change-up has the smallest platoon split of any pitch in baseball, so it would make sense that Silva relying more heavily on it would fare better against southpaws (and, at the same time, see a decrease in his GB%, which he has). To dig further, I asked resident pitch f/x guru Dave Allen to look at Silva’s pitch usage by handedness, and he found that Silva is throwing his change-up 40 percent of the time to LHBs this year, and produced this neat little graph to demonstrate how effective it has been.

He is pounding the down and away corner with change-ups and getting easy outs off of it. His change-up has been +7.7 runs through four starts, according to our pitch type linear weights, making it the most effective change-up in baseball to date.

Now, obviously, lefties won’t post a .100 BABIP against Silva all season, so there’s inevitable regression coming. But it does look like he’s finally learned that he can’t just attack them with two-seam fastballs and hope for the best. If he keeps pounding lefties with his change-up, he might actually stick in the Cubs rotation this year.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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