If It Ain’t Broke, Fix It Till It Is

Spring Training is upon us, as signaled by the onslaught of upbeat stories about how the players spent their winter hibernation. Maikel Franco has slimmed down. Finally, a stolen base threat! Cesar Hernandez packed on fifteen pounds of muscle. He won’t have to run the bases if he’s hitting the ball over the fence! Mark Appel is finally getting full extension in his delivery. I had no idea full extension was still in play for Appel. This is a game changer!

Most of these anecdotes are forgotten by the time real baseball gets underway. A few, however, will remain relevant. One story with that potential: Hector Neris decided he needs a third pitch.

Neris is planning on reintroducing his slider, a pitch he shelved last year in deference to his split-finger fastball. The issue with this plan: Neris was good in 2016 because he did not throw his slider.

Neris thrived with a simple approach. Throw a good fastball. Throw a dominant splitter. It worked. So why is he pulling his slider back off the shelf?

“The hitters know me now and they know I throw fastballs and splitters. I need to have that third pitch for them to respect.”CSNPhilly

The error in this thought is twofold. One, opposing batters have yet to show they can hit that combination of fastballs and splitters. And two, his slider is not very good. Consider the relevant career numbers on each of his pitches.

Pitch Whiff% wOBA
4-Seamer 12.2% .316
2-Seamer 6.3% .369
Splitter 23.8% .208
Slider 9.6% .477

 

The slider is a fly ball heavy pitch, and Neris does not induce enough swing-and-misses with the pitch to justify its use. Even an improved version would likely be a steep downgrade from his much better offspeed pitch, the split-finger fastball. Neris leaned on his splitter last year, and it did not fail to perform. And that is the primary issue. Each slider thrown by Neris would displace a better option.

Wanting to improve upon his breakout year is a fine sentiment, but the focus is misplaced. When Neris did struggle last year, it was not due to the lack of a third pitch. It was a result of losing his fastball command. If there is improvement to be made, it’ll be found in locating that pitch with consistency, and leaving the dust on the slider.

Now what’s this I hear about Franco’s new approach at the plate? I smell playoffs!

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10 comments

  1. Bob S

    February 27, 2017 10:56 PM

    If he does not have at least an average slider would it not be best to work on one over the winter then see how it plays up in Spring Training? Fastball command seemed to be intermittent last year so that shows he has at the least some level of mastery over it and hopefully he is currently receiving the proper instruction on improving it from the coaches. Some of his command issues could have been the result of a lot of work out of the pen. If they don’t cut back on his innings maybe having another pitch he feels comfortable with will help him mentally to get by during the rough times. If he can really get things tuned up they could leave the outfielders on the bench while he plays catch with Rupp for 9 – 10 pitches per inning.

    • Fool Me Once

      February 27, 2017 11:41 PM

      Right. Some hitters are just good at recognizing & spitting on even good splits – need something to throw at these guys?

  2. Fool Me Once

    February 27, 2017 11:38 PM

    Can’t get too excited about Franco’s hot start to spring. He crushed last spring then proceeded to flail once the lights were turned on.

    • Steve

      February 28, 2017 01:11 PM

      Seems to me.. and this is just a observation with no research done… that some players play better in warm”ish” “er” weather like they have in Florida and that is not in place in the NE in April/May… It would be an interesting study to get a breakdown of game temperature and performance for all mlb players to see if there is a trend or correlation to any extent to back up my theory… At this point it’s kind of a just makes sense idea.. shit RyNo used to heat up in August.. also helps that the air lets the ball carry a bit… Damned NE weather screwing with our players haha… this is all kind of in jest but not really… but really

      • Fool Me Once

        February 28, 2017 04:24 PM

        Or Franco feasts on spring training pitching when the pitchers are just working on getting ready v. game planning at-bats against him; doesn’t have to worry about a steady diet of low-away sliders that he’ll swing like its a center-cut fastball with his helmet flying off revealing his Predator haircut. This dude needs to mature and take the next step. I’m certainly hoping that Matt Stairs is indeed the Franco Whisperer.

    • Steve

      February 28, 2017 05:56 PM

      yeah that too FMO haha.. still would like to see a study done on temperature/performance.. i’m sure somebody has done one somewhere along the lines.. with what all those player x hits x on sundays during night games vs day games stats and all

  3. Romus

    February 28, 2017 09:40 AM

    I guess Hector cannot learn to re- throw a change-up as his third pitch?
    Didn’t even throw it 1% of the time last season, but in 2014 he threw 22% of the time.
    May save his arm also.

  4. BobSmith

    February 28, 2017 09:32 PM

    How is a 9.6% whiff rate on his slider that poor that it justifies not using it especially against RHB?

    • Tim Guenther

      March 01, 2017 12:20 PM

      The league average whiff rate on the slider is roughly 15-16%. Neris’ 9.6% mark on the pitch would be among the lowest in baseball. More to the point, how do you justify throwing the slider when you could throw the splitter instead?

  5. Pete

    February 28, 2017 10:23 PM

    Speaking of if it ain’t broke…That J.P. Crawford poll question has rolled over to a new season. Still works.

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