Thursday, August 30, 2012

Samuel Deduno: Possibility of Dramatic Pitching Approach Changes

On July 7th, Samuel Deduno made his first major league start for the Minnesota Twins. He lasted 5.1 innings yielding six hits and three runs to the Texas Rangers, a respectable outing to be sure. A little beyond the surface, however, was three walks and three strikeouts, not exactly awe-inspiring.

On August 19th, Deduno would make his eighth start against the Mariners. Once again, he kept the Twins in game - allowing two runs in six innings. Once again, his lackluster peripherals lurked below the surface, walking six and striking out just two.

Over these eight starts, the 29 year old Dominican looked impressive on the surface (4-1 3.33 ERA) but awful if you took a look at the base skills (5.87 K/9, 7.04 BB/9). His success had relied on a depressed babip (.256) and home run rate (0.782 HR/9); all these signs point toward some serious regression and a trip back to the minors.

Deduno's stint up until August 19th showed a few things. First, that he has impressive stuff: a live fastball and a filthy curveball (his 10.67% whiff rate tops that of Clayton Kershaw's curve). The fact Deduno merely throws a show-me change up, points to a potential future in relief work, but that is besides the point for now. The other extremely evident point from the first eight starts is the most significant, his 36 walks. No pitcher has ever had enduring success with a similar rate of walks.

And Sam knew this. Asked after that game in Seattle (after allowing just 2 runs in 6 innings) what he thought of his outing, Deduno responded, "I don't know what to say about the walks. Too many. Too many people. Too many bodies. I have to be better. That's too many." He's responded on the field as well, walking just one batter in his last two starts (12 IP).

The question is, has Deduno found better control of his pitches and can he keep it up? There are a couple responses that are the current dichotomy of baseball analysis.

Response A: Two starts is an extremely small sample size and won't tell us anything about the player in question. In fact, it's downright irresponsible to lend any credence to such a notion. Deduno has a history of poor control and that's what we should expect until he proves otherwise over a period of time. This would usually be my response. We can call this the saber response.

Response B: Clearly, Samuel Deduno is cognizant of his lack of control and has made a change to improve that attribute. Perhaps the major league coaching staff picked up on small mechanical issue or Sam, himself, has become more focused or started chewing gum during his starts. Who knows what the reason, but it is entirely he became a new pitcher overnight.

My response as of now is a mix of the two. But first let me say, I wouldn't bet a stick of gum that Deduno will be in the starting rotation this time next year, I'm not a huge fan for a few reasons that aren't particularly relevant to this post. I also wouldn't bet a stick of gum that this burst of exquisite control from Deduno will continue. However, I also have to accept that pitchers aren't automatons and can change their approaches. He has thrown about two-thirds of his pitches for strikes over the last two weeks. The effects of this change in his approach could have hitters crushing all his pitches in the zone and sending him back to throwing around the zone or possibly fewer walks and more strikeouts. I won't be counting on a massive change of his skill set, however, the early signs are more than interesting and will be well worth keeping an eye on for the rest of the season.

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