PHOENIX -- As detailed in today’s Sacramento Bee, A’s right-hander A.J. Griffin this spring is moving away from the cut fastball he threw the past two seasons and focusing more on developing his changeup, which was an effective pitch for him in the minors.
Griffin said a main reason for the change was that he felt the strain the cutter put on his arm contributed to the elbow tendonitis that kept him from pitching in the playoffs last year. He also said the pitch wasn’t very effective in the first place, with opposing hitters seeming to jump on it more than his other pitches.
At least one data website bears that out. The analytics site FanGraphs attempts to assign "pitch values" to a pitcher’s repertoire based on how effective each of his pitches was in preventing runs. The value expresses the amount of runs a pitcher saved per 100 pitches when throwing a particular pitch.
Griffin’s FanGraphs page classifies most of what he called a cutter as a slider instead, and says he threw the slider on 9.5 percent of his total pitches last season (and the cutter 2.3 percent). The site assigned a value of -0.88 to the slider, meaning Griffin’s slider/cutter saved him a below-average number of runs (or wasn’t very effective).
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In fact, the slider was assigned the largest negative value of any of Griffin’s pitches in 2013, according to FanGraphs. Griffin’s changeup, on the other hand, which he threw 13.2 percent of the time, was given a value of 1.61 runs saved per 100 pitches - the highest positive value of any of his pitches in 2013.
Griffin said he mostly used the changeup against left-handed hitters last season, but he started throwing it more to right-handers toward the end of the season with some success. He pointed to one game where the Angels’ Mike Trout homered off him on a changeup, but said he had struck Trout out on a full-count changeup in the previous at-bat, "so he was just looking for it the next at-bat."
Catcher Derek Norris said that when Griffin’s changeup is working, "it’s just deceptive. The rotation is the same as his fastball. The speed differential isn’t a ton, but it’s enough to get (hitters) off-balance, and I think that’s just the biggest thing."
Griffin and manager Bob Melvin said basically the same thing about going more to the changeup - as long as Griffin is locating his fastball well, the changeup should provide a good change of pace, and Griffin always has his big, looping curveball to throw into the mix as well.
As for Griffin’s cutter last season, Norris said: "It was just really inconsistent. One week it’d be good, another week he just couldn’t find it, and I think ultimately when it comes down to it, the best pitch in the game is a located fastball. And when he’s got that, he’s locating and using his changeup, which is a very good pitch, it makes it tough on hitters."
* The A’s have two split-squad games today - home against the Brewers in Phoenix and in Mesa against the Cubs. The lineups for each:
Home vs. Brewers
Away vs. Cubs
* You’ll notice Michael Taylor starting once again in the home game. Taylor has the second-most at-bats this spring of any A’s player (15, one less than Billy Burns) as the A’s give him an extended look. Taylor, who has spent most of the last four seasons at Triple-A Sacramento with a few short call-ups to Oakland, is out of options, meaning if he doesn’t make the 25-man roster out of spring training, the A’s will have to designate him for assignment, leaving him open to be claimed by another team off waivers.
Taylor, as mentioned, has had several call-ups but never hit like he has in the minors, due in part to the short and sporadic nature of his playing time when he has been in Oakland. It’s probably past the point where he’s considered an up-and-comer, but manager Bob Melvin said this morning that the A’s "do value him" still. Taylor, meanwhile, said he spent the offseason trying some tweaks to his swing, working a lot with Josh Donaldson, who himself broke out last year after several years in the minors.
I’ll have a longer story on Taylor, who also got married over the offseason, later this week. But expect to continue seeing him on the field and in the lineup for now.
* Dan Straily makes his Cactus League debut today. Melvin said he has thrown to hitters in a simulated situation already, but this is Straily’s first time on a mound facing another team. Melvin said he’ll throw about 45 pitches, with an emphasis on feeling comfortable, throwing all his pitches and throwing strikes.
* It’s also John Jaso’s second game behind the plate. Jaso’s first -- his first game catching after missing nearly the entire second half of last season with concussion issues -- was cut short after he was hit by a pitch while batting. Jaso said this morning his right elbow is still "tender," but he wants to get in as much game action as possible.
Jaso said there hasn’t been much of a transition getting back to catching in games. The bigger challenge was when he first started catching bullpen sessions, with handling the movement and velocity on some pitches. Now, he said, it’s back to the familiarity of catching in games. One change is that he has gone back to a steel catcher’s mask, hoping it might protect him better against potential foul tips.