Before getting into the meat of this article I want to explain something that is often misunderstood about what people call “sabermetrics” or what may be called comparative statistical analysis and especially wins above replacement. What WAR simply seeks to measure is how much better player X is than non-descript AAA replacement player that maybe called up at anytime. The sabermetric community has calculated that a team that’s at 0.0 WAR that is to say replacement level, if the Marlins just called up all of the Zephyrs they would have a .290 win percentage and would win 47 games. What the Marlins must do through the month of June and beyond is to move away from replacement level and become a full fledged Major League team. Which leads us into our present discussion.
If Alex Sanabia‘s injury means that his place will be taken by Jacob Turner, that is a positive move away from replacement level and towards building a legitimate Major League roster. Turner isn’t perfect and he has much to work on to be a reliable middle of the rotation or better pitcher but he sure is better than Alex Sanabia even at his best. Tonight’s game showed us that and I want to delve into what made Turner so successful against the Mets. I read an article on Fangraphs that analyzed how Turner has lost his fastball and is no longer a strike out pitcher or a power pitcher that can rely on “stuff” alone to get outs. What tonight’s start seems to prove disregard small sample sizes and the fact that the Mets are not great offensively is to show that he has learned to pitch instead of only throwing. Compare the two charts below
It shows the outcomes and the pitches that Turner threw. It is possible to compile the two in one graph but I’m still learning how to do that. What is important to take away is that although he only got 3 Ks in the entire game he was still very effective working inside the strike zone throwing his four-seam, two-seam and cutting fastball for strikes as well as the occasional curveball. It is hard to draw too many conclusions from such a small sample size but I will venture some educated guesses about how Turner’s approach changed from the middle of last summer when he was pronounced dead as a power pitcher and he has returned as a finesse guy that can still hit 94 and 95 mph.
First, Turner was able to throw his fastball for strikes as the graph shows. According to the BrooksBaseball breakdown he threw 27 four seamers for 20 strikes. Which means that he was able to establish the strike zone and get ahead in the count. Turner may not be a power pitcher in the mold of a young Josh Johnson or the current Jose Fernandez but he still needs his fastball in order to be successful. By throwing the fastball early in the count for strikes it allows the catcher and pitcher to work hitters differently and use the other pitches in his repertoire more effectively.
Second, it important to note how Turner was able to throw his secondary pitches for strikes down in the zone. The cutter and the curveball. Cutter dependent pitchers must operate a lot like sinker/splitter guys. Location and command within the strike zone is obviously key and can’t be underestimated but it is the thought process of hitters that is key. By throwing any 3 pitches for strikes in any count puts the the hitter out of balance and he can’t anticipate what will be coming next. What makes this work is the idea of changing eye levels. One of the three types of deception along with changing bat speed and location inside/outside. Turner was deceptive tonight because he was able to make hitters expect curveballs and cutters low and finishing them off with high fastballs or vice versa.
Finally, I remember last year Turner big problem is that he wasn’t able to get outs with his fastball alone and that he was not deceiving anyone. It seems that this start shows that he worked on a new approach that is reminiscent of what post-injury Josh Johnson became. A pitcher that works off of the fastball but doesn’t depend on throwing it by hitters to get outs – that is to say – pitching to contact. It is hard to hit high fastballs when you’re expecting a cutter or to hit a cutter when expecting a high fastball. As the chart below shows Turner’s only three strikeouts were on waste pitches well outside of the strike zone.
Hopefully this start is sign that Turner has turned a corner (no pun intended) and that he will be a consistent pitcher for the Marlins as the season continues. Even though he is no longer the power pitcher that everyone thought he was.