The son’s asleep, and I could be taking a nap or running, both things that would be good for my health. But love of one’s work is also good for your health, and I just realized how much I love breaking down a pitcher. Something about having a full set of pitches, each with their own ups and downs and interactions with the hitters, is very compelling. In Griffin’s case, I automatically just put him in the Big Ole Curveball section: big hump curveball, not great fastball, gives up the homers but has good control. It’s the Ted Lilly wing of baseball.
But, considering I hope to talk to him this year about his spike curve grip, it’s worth checking into his game again after a second strong year. Maybe he’s a little more than just a curveball.
The curve is certainly a huge part of his game. He throws it more than any secondary pitch, at least against righties. Against lefties, the change sneaks ahead. No matter the handedness, he gets average or better whiffs from the yakker. Against righties, the curve gets a 14.6% whiff rate according to Brooks Baseball, and that does drop near the 10.9% league average against lefties, but it’s still effective. That might be because it’s a big round-house curve, which has a smaller platoon split than other kinds of curve balls. And though my quick categorization blamed the curve for his homer problems, he didn’t actually give up a home run on a curve against righties all year.
If you’re wondering how a pitcher with a great curveball that gets good whiffs has such a boring overall swinging strike rate, the answer is two-fold. For one, baseball players swing at a curveball less than any other pitch. The average whiff rate is just short of a changeup and slider level, but people see that hump and decide not to swing, it seems. So there isn’t any reason to think that he’ll suddenly start striking more batters out in 2014.
The second reason is that Griffin’s other pitches aren’t great. The changeup got better in 2013 — he’s got the whiff rate up to average on the pitch but it doesn’t get ground balls — but the fastball and cutter don’t average 90 mph and have bad home run rates. The slider doesn’t get enough whiffs or grounders to be his fourth-most-thrown pitch. Between the non-curve pitches, his arsenal gives um comfortably more than a home run on 1.25% of pitches, and he threw 3212 pitches last year. That’s how you lead the league in home runs allowed.
It’s tempting to say that Griffin’s pitches will only get worse — even at 26 he’s only going to lose velocity — so he’ll only show worse overall results. Except that he improved his changeup from below-average to average from his rookie to sophomore seasons. And before he was classified as having a cutter and a slider, his slider was much closer to league average (and had a positive pitch type number, too).
And with a curve and a change, he’s got weapons against both hands without the cutter/slider. Perhaps if he scrapped that pitch (those two pitches?), he could get back to his first homer rate. Or maybe he should focus on his fastball. After all, giving up 1.4% homers on the fastball (doubled from 2012) is a lot more worrisome than giving up the same rate on a pitch you throw 300 times a year.
So A.J. Griffin is more than just a curveball. He still needs a little refinement to be any better in 2014. Maybe we all do. Maybe I should go on that run.
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