No Regard

July 9, 2008

The Campaign Continues

Andy Sonnanstine For 2008 AL Cy Young

Not convinced yet? Already convinced? Doesn’t matter, here’s another reason why you should jump on the Sonny for Cy 2008 Campaign (yes, I understand we have zero influence over the vote as non-BBWAA members, just play along).

4. The Comfort Factor

Last season, more than half of Sonny’s 2100 pitches were four-seam fastballs. Not surprisingly, he was hit hard, to the tune of a .291 batting average against and more than 10 percent of his fly balls leaving the ballpark. Three of his last four starts were horrendous, and he gave up home runs in all of them after giving up just three in a 10-start stretch from July 19 to Sept. 5. He was tired, he depended way too much on one pitch, and he paid the price.

That’s exactly why I paid no regard (HAHAHA hahaha ha ha ha…yeah) to the pre-season previews that labeled him as a middle/back end of the rotation guy who wouldn’t last long in Tampa’s rotation with the number of stud prospects waiting in the minors.

This was a guy who had never, ever, ever been hit like this at any level of real competition, from his first days at Kent State all the way through the minors. In addition, he pitched more innings in 2007 than he ever had. It wasn’t exactly the best of circumstances to pass judgment; why ignore the hundreds of innings that say he’s going to be a good starter simply because he had handful of bad starts in his rookie season?

This season, Sonny is much more comfortable with his cutter, which he has thrown nearly 29 percent of the time according to Fan Graphs. That has come at the expense of the four-seamer, which he has thrown 34.5 percent of the time, a huge drop from last season. The cutter is his go-to pitch when he’s behind in the count according to Pitch f/x, and with good reason. Opponents are OPS’ing under 650 on 2-1 counts (23 AB…small sample size, I know); the OPS on full counts (36 AB) is a paltry 573.

But the cutter and the four-seamer sit at 84-87 MPH consistently, so a lack of variation hurts. However, his slider, which he has relied on 20 percent of the time this season and is a popular pitch when he is ahead in the count, sits 8-11 MPH slower, so it plays off well.

The point of this exercise was to prove that the naysayers who labeled Sonny as a junk baller prior to the season were off base, I guess, depending on what your definition of “junk baller” is. I take it as a derogatory term meaning a pitcher who gets by on luck and mediocre stuff. Sonny is not that. He has good variation to his stuff and he’s more and more comfortable with it after every major league start. His stuff is plenty good to provide quality starts this year and beyond.

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