Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Nick Burdi and the splitter

I thought the most intriguing piece of information out of the first day of workouts for Twins pitchers and catchers was this from Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press: Relief prospect Nick Burdi is experimenting with a split-fingered fastball.

This comes off in Berardino's piece as Burdi's brainstorm, not something that is being pushed on him by a pitching coach. No matter who it came from, I doubt it's a good idea. Burdi has a fastball that approaches 100 mph and a plus slider; I can name any number of relievers who have thrived with a fastball-slider arsenal that isn't nearly as impressive.

Burdi's ascent through the farm system did hiccup last season; he opened in Double A, fared ill, was demoted to High A, got his command straightened out, and finished in Double A before allowing one run in the Arizona Fall League,  His problem wasn't repertoire, it was location. Uncertain command of three pitches does not trump uncertain command of two.

Another curious aspect of this: The Twins have for years been loathe to have pitchers use a splitter. I can only think of two such pitchers since the mid 90s, Carlos Silva and Mike Pelfrey last year, and they were both veterans on the last year of their contract who almost desperately needed some sort of reliable off-speed offering, Silva's case was particularly amusing; He reported to camp talking about his new split-fingered fastball, and by the end of the week the terminology had been changed to changeup. I imagine that somebody (then-pitching coach Rick Anderson?) told him: You can throw it, but I don't want these 20-year-olds thinking they can try it.

The splitter didn't really work for either Silva or Pelfrey. Pelfrey used it for 14 percent of his pitches last year (according to Baseball Info Systems) and put up his usual mediocre numbers.

Anyway: Neal Allen may be more open to the splitter than Anderson was, but there are reasons the pitch fell out of widespread use about 20 years ago -- elbow strain and command prominent among them. Burdi probably doesn't really need a changeup, and I rather expect that his experiment will be squashed.

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