photo © 2011 Keith Allison | more info (via: Wylio)This weekend Terry Francona decided in a 4-2 score game while down to bring Dan Wheeler in to face a right hander. Unlike earlier this season though he immediately went to the lefty Tommy Hottovy to face the left hander later in the inning. This was a pet peeve of mine this season as Wheeler has never had the ability to get left handed
I can’t imagine before this weekend the Red Sox had no idea his splits were so bad, so it had to be one of to things. The first answer is the Red Sox have not felt comfortable with their left handed option, but I don’t think that’s a good answer as anyone would be better than Wheeler against lefties.
The other answer could be that the Sox have worked with Wheeler and instructed him to attack lefties differently. Looking at his Pitch F/x data I have some data that says this might be the answer.
In 2010 Wheeler was only allowed to face 44 lefties and he threw 88 four seam fastballs, 32 change ups, 20 sliders and 10 curve balls. Now in 2011 he has already faced 32 batters and the repertoire is nothing like last year. He threw no four seam fastballs and no change ups. He has started using a Sinker and Splitter according to Pitch F/x.
My initial expectation was Curt Young might have given him a cutter, but it looks like he is using this new repertoire against both lefties and righties. The next question is how different are these pitches. Looking at movement there isn’t much difference. Here is his 2010 and 2011 movement graphs.
The shapes have changed but the movement really hasn’t changed and even looking at the speed vs movement graphs I see the pitches might just have changed classification, but otherwise look the same to me. His “Sinker” is very much like his four seamer and his “Splitter” is almost exactly like his change up.
Both pitches have about 2 inches on average less vertical movement, but looking at the full spread I’m not sure these are really huge changes. If this was a conscious attempt to make a change on his approach against lefties the results have not worked. Obviously sample sizes are miniscule, but he’s still walking to many and only 3 strikeouts every 9 innings.
His xFIP against righties is 2.92 and a horrifying 5.87 against lefties. Any changes the team tried to make him a more rounded pitcher have not worked. It’s time to return Wheeler to what he does well and pitch as a righty specialist and only should see left handers when the Red Sox have a huge lead or the bullpen really can’t spare another arm.