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Street's Slider versus Duchscherer's Curve
2007-01-28 02:11
by Ryan Armbrust

With apologies to the recently departed curveball addict Barry Zito and multiple slider maestro Kiko Calero, I'm of the opinion that Justin Duchscherer and Huston Street have the best breaking pitches on Oakland's pitching staff.

I have to admit, I'm completely fascinated by their movement. When either of those hurlers takes the mound, I've been known to call members of my family, friends, and whoever happens to be around into the room. I'll beckon them to "Just watch the break on this pitch...", and though they aren't nearly the baseball nut that I am, they're usually impressed.

Street's slider whips down and away from flailing hitters, causing many to check their bats for holes. Duchscherer's swooping curve drops down from nowhere to leave the once confidant batter looking downright befuddled and embarrassed. Hence my nickname for the Duchscherer hook: Death from Above.

Both Street and Duchscherer have used their powers to erase dozens of batters in the past couple of seasons. Duchscherer has a K/9 of 8.7 since shifting into a full-time relief role at the beginning of 2005, while Street has a 8.4 mark since making the team out of spring training in 2005.

They both average just a hair under strikeout an inning, but here's where it gets interesting... While Street's slider is nearly unhittable (when he's in the groove), Duchscherer's slow curve relies more on misjudgement by the hapless hitter.

Take a look at the percent of all of their strikeouts that are swinging:


Duchscherer Street
2004 66.10%
2005 52.94% 73.61%
2006 62.75% 76.12%


Here's another way to look at that. These are sparklines, (which I'm very fond of) with the red marks denoted as swinging K's and the gray marks designating a looking punchout.

Street - 2005

Street - 2006

Duchscherer - 2004

Duchscherer - 2005

Duchscherer - 2006


It appears that when Street was getting his feet wet, batters laid off everything he threw at them, hoping he couldn't get his stuff across for strikes. When it became apparent that he indeed could, they started hacking at it. And missing.

In Duchscherer's All-Star season of 2005, he struck out nearly as many batters by making them watch it into Jason Kendall's mitt as he did my making them miss the ball. Duchscherer had as many looking K's by the All-Star break as Street would have all year in his Rookie of the Year campaign.


There's one story about Duchscherer's curve that I can't seem to tell often enough. Last March, I was in Arizona watching spring training baseball, as usual. The A's were playing the Padres, and over the course of two and one third innings of work, Justin Duchscherer struck out, consecutively, Mark Bellhorn, Dave Roberts, Mike Cameron, Brian Giles, Mike Piazza, and Ryan Klesko. Four of those were looking, most were with the Death from Above curve, and all were impressive.

(I had to look back in my scorebook to make sure I wasn't imagining things, and as far as I can tell, I'm not. The official box confirms it.)

2007-01-28 12:07:28
1.   Ken Arneson
At Fan Fest yesterday, I attended a Baseball 101 workshop with Duchscherer. It was quite enlightening. I'll try to do a writeup on it once I get done with my warden duties.

Just as a point of comparison--what's the league average for called vs. swinging strikeouts?

2007-01-28 14:07:36
2.   Ryan Armbrust
I had to manually tally the swinging strikeouts and called strikeouts from B-R:PI data. I've been trying to figure out a way to calculate the MLB average, but I can't seem to find enough data. I've asked Sal Baxamusa if he's already got that data in his spreadsheet from this Hardball Times article:

I'll find this info and bring it back to you all, that I promise.

Or, I could just estimate that about 65% of all strikeouts are swinging. But that's just a total guess.

2007-01-28 18:25:11
3.   Philip Michaels
I've often wondered if the A's would be better off handing the closer duties over to Duchscherer and trading Huston Street. Not that I have anything against Street, but closers tend to be over-valued and teams that worship at the altar of the false god of Saves might be tempted to hand over a bunch of players the A's could put to good use. It's an especially alluring proposition, given that Duchscherer handled ninth-inning duties with some success last season when Street was on the shelf.

The knock on my Duke-as-closer theory, I suppose, is that his fastball doesn't really break 90 and do you really want to rely on a guy who turns to guile instead of gas to get guys out. So I don't suspect this will ever come to pass, which is probably just as well, given my track record as a talent evaluator.

2007-01-28 18:42:13
4.   salb918
Ryan, using 2005 retrosheet data for the AL, about 70% of strikeouts were swinging, 26% were called, and the rest were foul tips. This was extremely surprising to me; I thought a much higher fraction would be called. Street is somewhat above average and Duke is well below average in generating swing-through punchouts (assuming that foul tip strikeouts are counted toward swinging strikeouts in your above chart). This would seem to support your observation that Duke's yakker freezes batters and Street's slider is untouchable.

My two cents: you really want a swing-through pitcher to be your closer. That's a much more dramatic way to end the game.

2007-01-28 20:05:18
5.   Ryan Armbrust
Wow, 70%? I thought my guess of 65% would be a hair high... not low.

And yes, sal, I counted foul-tips as swinging strikeouts in the above data, since the batter is swinging and not standing there with the bat on his shoulder.

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