Plenty of unsung heroes have stepped up for the Yankees since losing Mariano Rivera and David Robertson to the disabled list, but who the hell is Cody Eppley? Two months ago, I wouldn’t have an answer for you. I could now tell you that the 26 year old right handed pitcher was drafted by the Rangers, that he was claimed off waivers by the Yankees, and that he’s since posted a 3.65 ERA. Looking at the 4.38 K/9 and 4.38 BB/9, he hasn’t beat anyone with his “stuff”, nor has he mastered the strikezone. Pitching to contact may be a divergence from the strikeout lot of relievers in recent history, but Eppley’s 66.7% groundball rate has propelled himself from a no-name pitcher, to a growing part of the Yankees’ bullpen. In the last few years, seemingly insignificant pieces like Boone Logan, Luis Ayala, and Cory Wade have followed similar paths with the Yankees, and we can only hope that Cody Eppley follows in their footsteps.
|Pitch||Selection||H Mvt||V Mvt||Mph||Spin||Rotation||Whiffs||GB%||LD%|
Before we begin with the chart above, be aware that Eppley has an extended minor leaguer career of heavy strikeout numbers, and didn’t struggle on the mound until he reached the Pacific Coast League in 2010. Previous to 2012, PITCHf/x still has him as a slider/fastball pitcher, but with twice as many breaking pitches. This year has been a change of strategy for Eppley, who’s increased the sinker selection from 59% in 2011, to 74% in 2012. The success is in the outcome, and with a 16.46% groundball rate, the batted ball results on the sinker are some the best in the game.
With only 12.2 innings pitched this year, it’s hard to consider such a small sample size significant based solely on outcome. Fortunately, the makings of a good sinker are in the PITCHf/x numbers, which show some incredible vertical movement. While the -11.89 inches of horizontal movement into right handed hitters is slightly above average, the -34.19 inches of vertical movement (gravity included) is well beyond a typical sinker. The best comparison is to CC Sabathia’s sinker, which has -17.37 inches of vertical movement, a difference of over 16 inches. Eppley is able to achieve this through a high spin angle of his 292 degrees, which is only possible through a sidearm slot, pictured to the right.
Graphed above is the horizontal movement versus vertical movement from a catcher’s perspective. Looking at the sinker and slider locations, the vertical movement between the two pitches is very similar, so much so that the sinker is where I’d expect a hard slider thrown from a left handed pitcher. With so much sinking movement, the 16% groundball rate on the pitch is no matter of luck.
Based on PITCHf/x, Eppley’s success pitching to contact could and should continue as the season moves on, and having a tough side arming sinker-baller could become an extremely valuable asset in the bullpen when used correctly. Although David Robertson is scheduled to comeback next week, Joe Girardi has shown an unwillingness to pitch his top relievers in high leverage situations in earlier innings. Using the theory of high-leverage pitching, entering a bases loaded situation with a close game is usually best left to the best reliever, and although Eppley is far from the best reliever in the pen, his ability to draw groundballs can’t be overlooked. With nearly a 70% groundball rate at the moment, bringing that to a situation with men on base could very likely result in a double play.
Although I’d prefer to see David Robertson striking out hitters in those important leverage innings, Girardi will never realistically deviate from designating innings for his top relievers. Eppley provides the bullpen with the ability to draw groundballs at an extraordinary rate, something that could be used in double play scenarios. It’ll likely take a few more games to prove himself in the bullpen, but I envision more important innings for him as the season matures.
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