Jared Burton’s Splangeup

When the Twins signed 30-year-old right-hander Jared Burton to a minor league contract this winter, it was little more than a blip on the offseason radar. He managed to rack up 1.3 WAR in 161 relief innings for a Reds from 2007-2009 after being taken from the Athletics in the Rule 5 Draft, but hyperthyroidism and shoulder surgery limited him to just eight big league innings in 2010 and 2011. Relievers get hurt and drop off the baseball radar, it’s what they do.

Burton appears to have avoided that fate, at least for the time being. He had a strong Spring Training and made Minnesota’s bullpen with an assist to Scott Baker‘s elbow injury. Through five innings across six appearances, he’s struck out six batters and walked zero. He did surrender two solo homers in his first game, so it’s going to take some time for him to work off that 5.40 ERA and 6.32 FIP. Burton has allowed just one baserunner (a single) since that first game.

During his most recent appearance against the Yankees on Wednesday night, he struck out Nick Swisher with the tying runs on base to end the seventh inning. Here’s the pitch he used to set up the strikeout…

That 2-1 pitch came in at 85 mph and moved just about six inches horizontally according to PitchFX. Burton threw it again in a 2-2 count three pitches later for the strikeout, though that one finished in the dirt. The pitch is so good, it even has its own name…

Splitter-changeup hybrids aren’t exactly new, but they aren’t all that common either. Eric Gagne most famously used one during his heyday, when he racked up 10.9 WAR in 247 relief innings from 2002-2004. Burton has always used what PitchFX called a changeup, though during his three injury free seasons he’s used it approximately 16% of the time and got a whiff on 32% of all swings. This season he’s up to 26% and 50%, respectively. Small sample size warnings obviously apply, though we’re not trying to predict the future here. We’re just enjoying a beautiful pitch.

Changeups and splitters are usually born out of necessity, meaning a pitcher doesn’t start throwing them until the game tells them they need it. Trevor Hoffman‘s story is very well-known; he was a hard-thrower but lost some velocity when he hurt his shoulder early in his career, so he had to focus on the changeup and it eventually developed into one of the best pitches in baseball history. James Shields has a similar story. Burton has used the changeup for years, but the baseball romantic in me wants to be believe that he developed this new and devastating splangeup while coming back from his shoulder problem and will use it to carve out a productive career. That might not happen, but at the very least I’m sure Nick Swisher will be looking for that splange every time he steps in against Burton from here on out.




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Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.

19 Responses to “Jared Burton’s Splangeup”

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  1. Bill but not Ted says:

    Great read Mike

    Looks particularily devastating that pitch

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  2. ChuckO says:

    Isn’t a split-finger change-up just a forkball? My understanding is that the forkball had been around for a while as an off-speed pitch. Then, Bruce Sutter, and possibly others at the same time, learned how to throw it as a species of fastball, giving us the split-finger as we know it today.

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    • deadpool says:

      The fingers are generally held much closer together when throwing the split fingered pitch as opposed to the traditional forkball. This allows the pitcher to throw it much harder. Most splitters are akin to sliders in speed, while forkballs are somewhere in the curveball range. Thus the original name for the pitch, split-fingered fastball.

      Now days its called a splitter or split-fingered change up because of its increasing use as an off-speed pitch. Burton probably just buries it in his hand a little bit to take some speed off. (The closer the ball is to the fingertips the faster it goes and the sharper its break, the same method is employed to transform a fast, sharp slider into a slower, looping version to get a batter off balance)

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        I’m almost positive in one version of the pitch you push your thumb up between the two fingers on your release and on the other you let it roll out off the finger tips. I’m thinking the slower version has the thumb push to give it a more tumbling action.

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  3. suicide squeeze says:

    That pitch reminds me of Rich Harden. Oh, those were the days.

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  4. gweedoh565 says:

    Great to see Burton finally healthy and performing with nastiness- I always had high hopes for him as a potential closer-of-the-future for Reds.

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  5. Adam W says:

    I was also going to mention Harden. I’m pretty sure he threw that exact pitch in his prime. Doesn’t Halladay also throw a split-change?

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  6. Lark11 says:

    I remember once upon a time Reds fans had very high hopes for Burton as a high leverage reliever. In fact, I remember some using PitchFX data to compare the movement of his cutter to that of Mariano. Unfortunately, things didn’t exactly go as planned.

    As for the article, interesting read. I have one comment and one question.

    First, the statement that “[c]hangeups and splitters are usually born of necessity…” struck me as odd. Is that true? I’m not so sure. If pitchers aren’t throwing changeups and/or splitters before the necessity kicks in, then what are they throwing? Seems unlikely that they are getting by on just fastballs and curveballs/sliders.

    As for my question, the article says “That 2-1 pitch came in at 85 mph and moved just about six inches horizontally according to PitchFX.” It looks to me like the pitch drops more than moves horizontally. Is it moving that much horizontally?

    Anyway, keep up the good work!

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    • joser says:

      Lots of pitchers get by with just fastball and slider/curve until they reach a level where that’s not enough. And sometimes they get to the major leagues that way. Michael Pineda for a recent example.

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  7. AustinRHL says:

    That’s a ridiculous pitch. To me, it looks almost literally unhittable. No wonder it has a 50% whiff rate so far.

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    • Cidron says:

      unhittable, also partially due to lack of film on it. give him a few times around the league with his new toy, then we will see if its hittable or not

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        they’ll eventually be able to pick up on it. It’s not like Kimbrel’s slider where it moves a lot and is also fast. Good hitters should be able to adjust and at least foul it off even if they start their swing a little early due to the off speed.

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  8. I Agree Guy says:

    Guys like Burton are why it pisses me off they flushed $5 million down the Matt Crapper.

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  9. JCA says:

    darn you! I was set to pick him up for a $1 in FAAB next Monday after liking his WHIP, k-BB, and groundout / flyout ratio.

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  10. bill says:

    I suspect its one he holds like a fork that comes out like a knuckleball, and just knuckles down. I saw a few of those in high school.

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  11. JMS says:

    Have certain relievers just developed laughably unhittable pitches in the last few years? Five years from now we’ll have a closer with this thing, Kimbrel’s slider, Romo’s change, and Venters’ sinker.

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    • Cidron says:

      Don’t forget the Dice-K Gyroball in that list ! (pls note the sarcasm)

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      as a Braves fan, I love this comment. “Kimbrel’s slider and Venter’s sinker”. Yes.

      Makes me excited for the all star game. Venters/Chapman/Kimbrel the last 3 innings hopefully. 9 Ks on 30 pitches?

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  12. Red says:

    one of the lone bright spots in what otherwise has been a trainwreck

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