Lindbergh: The Rays’ changeup revolution

From SABR member Ben Lindbergh at Baseball Prospectus on June 26, 2013:

“The game evolves constantly,” Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey tells me on a Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, after wrapping up a bullpen session an hour before first pitch. Evolution in baseball works a lot like it does in real life: traits that confer a competitive advantage tend to be passed on. But before a new approach is adopted around the league, Hickey says, “someone’s going to have to be successful doing it.”

The Rays are often that someone. If the Rays have an identity—aside from their status as a team that doesn’t draw, locked into a lease that never expires—it’s that they do things differently. Driven by their need to make the most of their limited resources and the creativity of their front office and field staff, the Rays under General Manager Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon have authored a long list of innovations. Shifting more aggressively than almost any other team. Giving defensive specialist Jose Molina a starting job for the first time at age 37. Opening an academy in Brazil. Refusing to sign free agent starters (before Roberto Hernandez). And so on.

One minor innovation Maddon has made hasn’t received much mainstream attention: the manager’s tendency to stack his lineup with same-handed hitters against certain starters, intentionally surrendering the platoon advantage that most teams seek. Dubbed the “The Danks Theory” by Tommy Rancel of DRaysBay, who picked up on it after it was employed against White Sox starter John Danks in 2010, Maddon’s unorthodox tactic is an attempt to deprive opposing pitchers of their nastiest stuff. He’s broken it out against pitchers who throw one of their best offerings almost exclusively to batters who don’t hit from the same side, among them Danks, Mike Mussina, Dallas Braden, Shaun Marcum, Jered Weaver, and Jon Lester. Combat selected righties with righties and selected lefties with lefties, Maddon’s thinking goes, and what you lose in platoon advantage, you more than make up for by eliminating one or more of a pitcher’s most effective options from his arsenal.

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Originally published: June 26, 2013. Last Updated: June 26, 2013.