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Sonny Side Down

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Today’s scapegoat of the day lined up for public execution is Andy Sonnanstine.  Somehow we are still debating whether or not the Rays should have traded Sonnanstine rather than Edwin Jackson, forgetting any differences in their salary situations or even the minor fact about what compensation could be had for each. Regardless, Sonny would love to forget the first half of the season. Let’s take a look at some #’s and see where some blame may lay and where there may be just be some incredibly bad luck. As we always seem to, let’s start with the FIP Components:

 

 

Season

BB/9

K/BB

HR/9

FIP

2007

1.79

3.73

1.24

4.26

2008

1.72

3.35

0.98

3.91

2009

2.92

1.81

1.28

4.86

Not good. The walks are up over an entire walk. The K/BB has declined exponentially year over year and the Home Runs have seen a big jump. The walks and home runs are very bad and not up for discussion, though we will try to look at what has caused the spikes. Let’s look at FIP’s other component, the strikeout:

 

 

 

Season

K/9

K%  

kS%  

SwStr%

F-Strike%

2007

6.68

17.5%

13.2%

9.2%    

60.8%

2008

5.77

15.1%

10.8%

7.3%    

64.0%

2009

5.29

12.7%

7.9%

6.7%    

60.7%

 

 

Like with Scott Kazmir, the strikeout decline is worse than the K/9 indicates. The K/9 fell almost a full strikeout from 2008 to 2009 while the % of batters striking out fell 2.4%. The K/9 has only fallen about a half a strikeout this year, but the K% dropped 2.4% again.  Sonny is having a hard time making people miss. Only 7.9% of plate appearances are resulting in swinging strikeouts while his swinging strike % has fallen to 6.7%.  Sonny is also not getting ahead of batters as he did when he was grooving in 2008. His first strike % has dropped over 3%.

 

Now let’s look at batted ball data:

 

Season

LD%

GB%

FB%

IFFB%

HR/FB

BABIP

2007

18.0%

38.9%

43.0%

8.4%

0.101

0.329

2008

17.0%

42.1%

40.9%

13.3%

0.08

0.312

2009

21.3%

42.7%

36.0%

6.3%

0.109

0.371

 

 

Its clear there’s a jump in HR/FB and a decline in IFFB%, both not good. However a .371 BABIP is absurd. Below is a table comparing Sonny’s BABIP per batted ball type to the league average. Remember pitchers may have some influence on batted ball type, but do not typically deviate too far from the mean per type.

 

 

 

SonnyBABIP

League BABIP

GB

0.299

0.238

FB

0.167

0.145

LD

0.825

0.724

 

 

In each category Sonny has had some hard luck. If we apply his batted ball type %’s with the expected league BABIP per type we would get an expected BABIP of .308. This should even be adjusted further downward when accounting for the Ray’s top ranked defense. This is a far cry from his current BABIP of .371.

 

Lastly, let’s look at his pitch selection. I’ve never been a pitcher so this is an area I’d love to see people with more knowledge interject upon. On the table below you will see Sonny’s % of pitch use with the accompanying linear weight/100 pitches for that season. Also the average career velocity for the pitch is included in the fourth row:

 

Season

FB

SL

CT

CB

CH

2007

51.4%   0.58

23.9%  -0.36

6.3%    -3.17

8.5%    1.18

9.8%  -3.94

2008

32.7%  -1.05

21.8%   0.14

30.2%   1.62

11%    -0.05

4.2%  -2.97

2009

22.7%  -2.61

13.8%  -4.77

46.7%  -0.13

14.4%  -1.37

2.4%   -0.6

MPH

87

77.4

86.8

73.9

81.6

 

 

This is what jumps out to me. Obviously, none of his pitches are working above average this year. In 2007, the fastball and curveball were above average. In 2008, it was the slider and cutter.  Where pitch use is concerned, his fastball continues the trend of  being used less, now down to 22.7% from 51.4% where the cutter has gone from 6.3% to 46.7% in the same period. Last year when Sonny was at his best, he did not throw any of his five pitches more than 32.7% of the time.

 

He also has 4 different speeds, the cutter and fastball (87), the changeup (82), the slider(77), and the curveball 74%. He is throwing 87 MPH on 69.4% of his pitches. It has to be a lot less guesswork on the hitters. The slider and changeup are being used dramatically less this year. Some of this may have to do with falling behind in the count.

 

With some simple pitch recipe tweaking is it possible Sonny could see improved results? Who is behind the cutter love? Is it simply trying too much of a good thing from 2008? Whatever happens, the one thing that should be certain is the BABIP falling.  I remain hopeful Sonny can right the ship going forward.