It wouldn’t be spring training without a pitcher tinkering with a new pitch. This is precisely what is going on with Jim Henderson. According to manager Ron Roenicke, Henderson has been dialed back a bit this spring as he tinkers with a new pitch. One would expect this pitch to be something he can use to get left handed hitters out, something he really struggled with in 2013.
While Henderson was dominant against same handed hitters, holding them to a line of .165/.232/.243, he was far less successful against lefties. Lefthanders put up a .236/.339/.448 line against the Canadian reliever. While it is not a terrible line to have against off handed hitters, you’ll notice a large discrepancy when looking at his FIP against both sides. Against lefties he posted a poor 4.73 FIP (compared to 2.62 against righties). With the large split, it’s same to assume that Henderson is attempting to combat lefties better this year by adding a pitch that will be more successful against left handers.
Everyone knows the book on Henderson. He possesses a mid nineties fastball that he complements with a mid eighties slider. Research has confirmed repeatedly that both of these pitches carry platoon splits with them (slider very much so). This leaves Henderson at a constant disadvantage to left handed hitters. So what should Henderson add to combat lefties?
There are three types of pitches that carry zero or a backwards platoon split: Change-ups (including forkballs and splitters), curveballs, and cutters. A curveball does not seem practical from Henderson’s low 3/4 arm slot because it is unlikely he could get the vertical action he wants instead of a more horizontal slurve. Ideally, he’d want to add a change-up, or some form of one (forkball/splitter) to his arsenal. This would create another off-speed pitch for him to utilize. Unfortunately, the change-up is not an easily learned pitch. It is often the pitch that prevents players from becoming starters, and can take years to develop one that is even playable at the ML level.
This leaves the cutter as the most likely option. It would give him another speed to work with (assuming it falls a few MPH below his fastballs, and a few above his slider), and help cancel out his platoon split. It is also one of the easier pitches to learn, at least from anecdotal evidence. We here each spring of dozens of pitchers trying to add the pitch, and it appears to stick with at least a large handful. It’s a relatively easy pitch to learn (I myself learned it and used it after only a few weeks), since it merely involves pressure on the ball. It doesn’t require the feel that the change-up does, nor the loose wrist action of the curveball, so it would make sense that a pitcher who has shown he has neither of the two would turn to the cutter instead.
It does appear that the cutter is going to be Henderson’s new pitch. Aside from it being the most reasonable pitch to add, Adam McCalvy tweeted “I’m guessing the mystery pitch rhymes with butter.” I’m not sure of exactly what he does know about the new pitch, because the organization has been oddly tight-lipped about it, but he appeared to come to the same conclusion as I did. Hopefully Henderson can establish a playable cut fastball, and cut down on his platoon split. If he can, he should be a weapon at the back-end of the bullpen for the Brewers this year.