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Could Andy Sonnanstine Rebound As The Rays Sixth Man?

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It has been a while since we had an Andy Sonnanstine apologist meeting. Thanks to our new addiction to Fangraphs' splits, I found a way to apologize for Sonnanstine some more. But before we get to that, let's get this part out of the way; Andy Sonnanstine sucked in 2009. I know that's neither progressive analysis or reasoned argument, but it's the truth. Whether you choose to look at the 6.77 ERA, or the 5.45 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), or the 4.85 Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP), or the 5.46 tERA or any other metric, he was not good.

On this site we've gone over pitch selection, location, arm slots and whatever else we could think up. However, we keep coming to conclusion. A pitcher like Sonnanstine lives and dies on control and command. In 2009, he didn't have much of either.

After posting back to back seasons with walks per nine (BB/9) under 1.80, he lost control to the tune of 3.07 per nine last year. That's not terrible, but only if you're striking out around eight batters per nine innings(K/9); Sonny's K/9 didn't even reach 5.5. In conjunction with the loss of control, there was a bit of bad luck.

Go ahead moan and groan as the apologist arguments are to follow...

Overall, Sonnanstine carried a Batting Average On Balls In Play (BABIP) of .336 and a home run to fly ball ratio (HR/FB) of 13.9%. Both numbers are above average even for a "hittable" pitcher as Boom Boom with each calling for some regression. Running some napkin calculations, I would say a BABIP of ~.310 and a HR/FB of 10.5% were more likely.

The book on Sonnanstine over the firs two seasons was that he struggled against left-handed batters(LHB) and it was true. His FIP by year (2007-2009) against LHB is as follows: 4.82, 4.19, and 4.43. Against right-handed batters (RHB), his FIP looks like: 3.69, 3.67, and 7.26!!! Sesame Street says one of these things is not like the others.

Looking at his platoon splits, you can easily see that most of the expected regression should come against right handed batters (remember small sample size rules apply). Sonny faced nearly 200 right-handed batters in 2009. His BABIP against was .397 and his HR/FB% was a hefty 17.9%.

Looking at 2007 and 2008, his BABIP against RHB was .315 and .328. His HR/FB rate was below seven percent in each season; slightly regression worthy, but not nearly 18%. Looking at the control issue, he had a 3.75 BB/9 against righties last year after a 1.51 average over the first two. Obviously, walks are not a result of "bad luck", but that number unlikely to remain at that level.

Another thing I noticed about Sonannstine's splits was that he had some funky batted ball data. Against left-handed batters, he is a ground ball pitcher to the tune of 46.2% ground ball  ratio (GB%) and just 33.8% fly ball ratio (FB%). When the batter is standing in the opposite side of the batter's box, his splits reverse. He gives up 48.8% FB and just 36% GB.

Here is some pitch usage data to chew on. Feel free to make your own observations.

2008

 VS LHB

2009

22.10

Cutter

41.90

12.30

Slider

19.20

19.00

Curveball

18.90

36.00

Fastball

8.20

N/A

4-Seam

7.20

10.60

Change

3.80

 

2008

VS RHB

2009

26.60

Cutter

37.80

19.60

Slider

33.00

30.60

Curveball

21.10

21.20

Fastball

3.80

N/A

4-Seam

3.90

2.10

Change

0.50

For whatever reason, Sonnanstine fell in love with his cut fastball and it just did not work. Maybe the fact that it's nearly a mile per hour slower than his regular fastball really through off the separation he desperately needs to have between his pitches. Maybe he was tipping his pitches, or maybe the pitch just wasn't that good.

Whatever you chose to blame for his downfall in 2009, take some solace in the fact that he is not likely to be this bad again. His track record, as well as his noted smarts in terms of pitching, suggests that whatever role he is in that he will be better. Whether in relief or backing up the rotation in Durham, Sonnanstine could be a key player as the major league version of the sixth man.