Explaining "The Danks Theory"

ST. PETERSBURG - MAY 14: Manager Joe Maddon #70 of the Tampa Bay Rays watches his team from the dugout against the Seattle Mariners during the game at Tropicana Field on May 14, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

DRaysBay user, Kericr, raised a good question yesterday morning - what is The Danks Theory? Allow me to apologize for using the term without ever properly explaining what it is in the first place. Basically, The Danks Theory is a phrase I've coined for a specific lineup strategy employed by Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays. By now we should all know what I'm talking about; however, here is the basic explanation...

If an opposing starting pitcher has a specific above-average pitch that he throws to a certain type of batter, then let's put a lineup together that neutralizes that pitch as much as possible, if such a line-up is possible.

No one really knows where the idea originated within the organization, but we hope to find out who is behind the concept. The name comes from when the strategy was first used in 2010 - in a start against John Danks. So far, we've seen The Danks Theory (shortening it to TDT) three times this year. All three instances have come against change-up heavy pitchers .That said, Joe Maddon and others have used this strategy before.

On September 17, 2008, the Rays were in a heated battle with the Red Sox for the division crown. With right-handed, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield on the mound, the Rays' manager decided to change things up (no pun intended). Wakefield had a long history of dominating the Rays, especially at Tropicana Field. Maddon penciled in two switch-hitters for that night - Willy Aybar and Fernando Perez - but instead of them batting from their traditional left side against the RHP, they were instructed to bat right-handed. Both players hit a home run and the Rays won 10-3. I don't remember seeing much more of the theory after that - at least until now.

*Graham Macree of Statcorner.com fame tells us teams employed a similar strategy against Jamie Moyer in the past.

You may not remember this outing, but during a May afternoon game this season, Dallas Braden worked his change-up (amongst other pitches) effectively - nay, perfectly - against the Rays. Braden's change-up is arguably his best weapon and this year he is throwing it 24.7% of the time - 28.9% of the time to right-handed batters and just 13.1% of lefties. Employing the regular platoon splits, the Rays started seven RHB against Braden that fateful day. Safe to say, it didn't work out.

Back on April 20th, the Rays were set to face John Danks. Like Braden, Danks is a lefty and his best offering is a change-up. He has thrown it 21% of the time in 2010 and, also like Braden, he throws it much more against righties (27%) than lefties (10%). The Rays once again started seven RHB. Danks pitched eight innings - allowing one earned run. He threw 29 change-ups.

A few weeks after Braden's perfecto, the Rays faced Danks again. However, this time they started four left-handed batters instead of two in the previous outing. The Rays would rough up Danks for eight runs in four innings. They saw only 15 change-ups in total.

Twice in the past 10 days we've seen TDT put in motion against right-hander Shaun Marcum. Marcum has thrown a change-up 21% of the time in 2010, with righties seeing the pitch 14% of the time and lefties seeing it double the amount at 28%. The Rays loaded the line-up with righties both times. Surprisingly, Marcum stuck to the change-up in both outings; however, the results (20 hits with 11 earned runs in 12.1 innings) suggests that overall, he was much less effective than normal. Danks Theory? Or just two bad starts? Who knows?

Knowing what we know about putting faith in small sample sizes, we cannot say that A) the Danks theory really exists, and B) that it actually works. In general, a team should field its best nine players - ignoring small platoon splits along the way. However, when you know your team struggles in certain situations and you know a certain pitcher can exploit that weakness, it makes sense to at least think outside the box.

Over a larger sample size the results are almost guaranteed to vary, but like most of the Rays moves, you have to appreciate the process and admit it's pretty fun to watch them play out.

For more takes on TDT, check out what Tom Tango and Jack Moore have written on the subject. 

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