Is The Danks Theory Catching On?

During the summer of 2010, I coined the phrase “The Danks Theory” for a lineup strategy employed by Tampa Bay Rays’ manager Joe Maddon. After having little success against changeup artists like Dallas Braden, Shaun Marcum, and of course, John Danks, Maddon went against the natural platoon split and began starting more like-handed batters against these types of pitchers. The intention behind this method appeared to be neutralizing his opponent’s best weapon, which was thrown more to batters of the opposite hand. The strategy actually dates back to 2008 when Maddon started six naturally right-handed batters and had two switch-hitters bat from the right side against Mike Mussina.

In a small sample size, the theory has worked for Tampa Bay. Over the course of a full season, it is certainly better to keep the platoon advantage; however, in some cases –Danks and Marcum for example– it does not hurt to go unconventional for a handful of games if it means there is a chance to gain a slight competitive advantage – the extra 2%, if you will. Looking at Danks specifically, it appears as if other managers are catching on to idea of batting more lefties against Danks- or at least keeping their regular left-handed batters in the lineup in a spot where they may have received a day off in the past. Here are the percentages of lefties faced by Danks over the last few seasons (h/t to baseball-reference.com):

For his career, Danks has been remarkably neutral against both types of batters. His FIP versus left-handed batters is 4.26 with a 4.20 xFIP. Against righties, he has an almost identical 4.27 FIP with an xFIP of 4.19. Meanwhile, in 2011, he has struggled with the increased amount of left-handed batters, posting a FIP of 5.46. Even his 4.47 xFIP suggests that the struggles are not just related to an increase in home runs allowed. Keep in mind we are talking about a sample size of 100 batters against lefties; however, those 100 batters have factored in his pitching slash line (ERA/FIP/XFIP) of 5.25/4.85/4.20 thus far.

Although results are the end game, the process behind the Danks Theory is to take away the opposing pitcher’s best weapon – or in this case Danks’ changeup (his cutter is quickly closing in, but the changeup is still slighly ahead). According to the database at texasleaguers.com, the White Sox lefty has thrown his off-speed pitch 20.4% of the time since 2008. Breaking it down by splits, he has thrown it 24% to right-handers with a 16.6% whiff rate. Lefties have a similar swing and miss percentage (16%), but he throws it just 11% of the time against them. To get a better visual, here are some the heat maps located on John Danks’ fangraphs pitch f/x page.

2011

2010

Those pictures tell you everything you need to know about who Danks throws his off-speed pitch against and where he puts it. What they don’t show is the pitches effectiveness. Since joining the league in 2007, Danks’ changeup has earned a 31.2 wCH and a wCH/c of 1.26. Both of those rank within the top 15 of their respective metrics (min. 650 innings). Again, a large portion of those nasty changeups have come at the expense of right-handed batters.

It will be interesting to see how future opponents matchup against Danks. Meanwhile, as the chart from above shows, the usage of left-handed batters against him is trending upwards. In doing so, opposing managers are essentially limiting one of the best pitches of its kind before the first pitch is even thrown.




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Tommy Rancel also writes for Bloomberg Sports and ESPNFlorida.com. Follow on twitter @TRancel


16 Responses to “Is The Danks Theory Catching On?”

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  1. MikeS says:

    Right now opposing managers could throw the bat boy up there and Danks couldn’t get them out. He pitched into some bad luck thanks to the anemic White Sox offens in April but in May he was just brutal. 31.1IP, 40H. 14BB, 10K.

    Guillen was always big on loading the lineup with righties against Johan Santana. It just allowed the Twin to dial in the outside corner and throw the change exactly where he wanted to all day long without having to adjust batter to batter.

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  2. Back in Tom Glavine’s prime, it was an open secret that his best pitch, his changeup, was a lot more effective against righties than lefties. And indeed, though his career platoon split is almost imperceptible, he did actually have marginally more trouble with lefties than righties.

    Versus RHB: .256/.317/.380
    Versus LHB: .262/.328/.368

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  3. kylemcg says:

    So, his platoon splits are not very different for lefties and righties. So even though he is a lefty, he’s not a lefty with overwhelming splits, so don’t worry about the L/L matchup when making your lineup. Is that basically it?

    Regarding his changeup, is the prescription for Danks simply to throw the change more to left-handed batters?

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  4. Damaso's Burnt Shirt says:

    I suspect that the lousy run support (2.7 runs per game) hurts more than stacking lefties into the batting order to nullify his change. Until last Sunday’s game, his numbers weren’t bad.

    Last Sunday it didn’t really matter that the Jays had 8 RHBs as they smacked him all over the park (small sample size, of course.)

    I don’t see it making much of a difference. I remember all three starts Marcum had last year against the Rays. First start against Marcum, he stopped the Rays till the 9th when he simply ran out of gas (the Jays BP was worn out too so Cito tried to get him to go 9) and lost it. Next start he got pummeled (TB is a bad place for most Jays pitchers.) The last start he went 6 innings and gave up only one run.

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  5. philosofool says:

    Why doesn’t he throw the change to LHB? I thought that LHP developed change ups because they’re good to batters of either hand.

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  6. Jim Lahey says:

    Most pitchers won’t throw something besides a fastball that runs in on same-handed hitters… it’s easier to pull/square up the ball rather than throwing something that breaks away from the hitter to induce weak contact

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  7. oscar says:

    danks is a headcase, needs a shrink, just look at his comments towards bautista. humber over danks ROS

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  8. jpg says:

    The problem with most lefties that use the change as their out pitch is that most of them tailor the pitch to break down and away to righties. That same pitch to a lefty is down and in, which is often the wheelhouse for lefty batters.

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  9. striker says:

    If you look at BAA in counts
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/split.cgi?id=danksjo01&year=&t=p

    It appears as though he isn’t throwing first pitch strikes enough and getting ahead in the counts. He also behind in the count as much as he is ahead of the count. I think that has more to do with his struggles than LH vs. RH batters.

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  10. Jeff says:

    If I see The Extra 2% referenced one more time here I’m going to kill myself. We get it. It’s like the book. Ha. Hahaha. Ha.

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  11. es0terik says:

    Did anyone else think this thread was going to be about the Jose Bautista issue when they read the title? lol

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  12. HotPinS says:

    I’m a little disappointed that a strategy like this hasn’t been effectively used untill 2008ish. And then to finally give a name to it in 2010 is just shocking to me. I know it’s just video games, but, I’ve been doing the exact same thing in baseball videogames for quite some time. It just made sense to me to try and avoid a pitchers best pitch. Again, I know it’s just videogames and real life is different, but, the idea and theory are the same and I started it long before 2008.

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