Matt Shoemaker on Splitter-Heavy Aggression

Matt Shoemaker dominated the White Sox this past Saturday. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim right-hander threw a complete-game, six-hit shutout while walking no one and striking out a season high 13. Per Brooks Baseball, 58 of the 114 pitches Shoemaker threw were splitters, 49 were either two- or four-seam fastballs, and seven were sliders.

The splitter usage jumps out even more than the pitching line. Shoemaker throws his signature offering 35% of the time — the most of any starter — but Saturday’s 50%-plus ratio was akin to that of relievers like Koji Uehara, Hector Neris and Zach Putnam. A heavy diet of splitters for nine innings is highly atypical.

Just last month, Jeff Sullivan wrote about Shoemaker’s increased reliance on the pitch, and how it has helped him to elevate his game. Intrigued by the article, and having recently written about Putnam, a longtime friend of Shoemaker’s, I went directly to the source for further information. It turns out that the splitter is only part of the reason he’s been pitching as well as he has.

Shoemaker, who has a 2.37 ERA over his last 11 starts, shared his thoughts on the subject in early July.

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Shoemaker on upping his mental game: “The biggest thing for me has been a mental adjustment. There are small mechanical things I’ve worked on in bullpens, like trying to keep my weight back, but it’s more of a mental thing. Every time I go out there, I need to have good intent with every pitch. Every one needs to have a purpose. When you focus that way, you’re more aggressive and there’s more behind the ball. There’s no fussing around.

“In the past, I was kind of just going out there and throwing the ball to the catcher. Now I’m pitching. My mental approach is that I’m in a competition, and I’m going to beat you. I’m a lot more aggressive with all of my pitches.

“I kind of lit a fire under my own butt. I told myself, ‘You’re in the big leagues. You want to do well. You want to win.’ I basically gave myself a reality check. It was, ‘Hey, you need to be better. You are better, so you’re going to be better.”

On his increased splitter usage and injury concerns: “I am throwing more splitters, but maybe not as many as people think. When I go back and watch video, a lot of my sliders get marked down as splitters. My focus is that I’m trying to throw every single pitch that I have — fastball, curveball, slider, split — and mix them up the best I can. I’m going to attack hitters with everything I have.

“Sometimes I throw a split and it kind of cuts. But whether a slider goes the right way or backs up, or if a split cuts or goes the right way… I understand that any pitch can get misconstrued as another one. It happens. But I don’t care what the pitch is called. I just want to get guys out.

“Injuries are a concern for every pitcher, but you don’t think about it. You get your workouts in and do your arm program. You want to maximize your health. But I’ve thrown my splitter for a long time. I feel that guys are more susceptible to that kind of stuff when they’re just starting to throw it, because it’s different on the arm. Zach and I have thrown the pitch since we were in our teenage years.”

On data and pitch ratios: “I don’t go back and review, ‘OK, how many fastballs did I throw this game?’ or “How many splitters did I throw this game?’ Argumentatively, that data might help me, but the way I look at it, X amount of pitches isn’t necessarily going to make you pitch better. In the long run, it’s more about how you go about getting a hitter out.

“When a hitter is in the box, all you want to do is get him out and it doesn’t matter how you do it. If you throw 100 pitches in a game, and X amount are this pitch and X amount are that pitch, that doesn’t help you with each individual hitter. For me, it’s all about pitching aggressively, with a good mix, and focusing on the hitter who is standing in the box. Sometimes the best pitch to throw to him is a splitter. Other times it’s not.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Lunch Anglemember
6 years ago

Great stuff. It’s interesting how analytically, Shoemaker’s resurgence is so easy to explain: he just started throwing his best pitch way more. But he clearly doesn’t buy into that himself. Or doesn’t want to? I’m not quite sure I believe him that the reason for his success is mostly a change in mental approach.

Kenneth Noisewatermember
6 years ago
Reply to  Lunch Angle

Totally agree. I never understand the players who choose not to look at data. Numbers don’t lie.

Travis Lmember
6 years ago

They’re afraid of mentally outplaying themselves and second guessing. Confidence in your actions *feels* really important to players. Data might show them something useful, but as these are not generally statistics majors, they don’t have the skills to differentiate useful from not useful data.

Most players won’t understand the difference between BABIP (bound for regression when extreme) and a stat like “he hits .344 during daylight games with a pitcher born in May or August on the hill”.

Since they see all the stats with a similar perspective (junk + good stats alike), they paint them all with the same brush.

Additionally, they made it to the big leagues by doing what they feel is correct. Takes a lot of guts to tinker with that. Might not be worth it.

An interesting way to frame it, is this: has Trevor Bauer’s cerebral tendencies helped or hurt him? He’s always had the physical tools, but his tinkering seems like it might have cost him a couple years of prime. [or maybe not.]

larphraulen
6 years ago

I don’t think you can say with certainty that he doesn’t buy into data in general but perhaps he doesn’t buy into certain arrangements of data.

In the lens of pitch selection that he mentioned, it seems he doesn’t care for high-level data. That is: summary data of how many times he used each pitch over the course of the game.

Your counted pitch mix could look vastly different based on what lineup you’re facing. RH-heavy power threats vs. LH-heavy power threats.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Shoemaker pays more attention to micro-level data. That is: pitch results for individual batters

“If you throw 100 pitches in a game, and X amount are this pitch and X amount are that pitch, that doesn’t help you with each individual hitter.”

vs.

“For me, it’s all about pitching aggressively, with a good mix, and focusing on the hitter who is standing in the box.”

Angelsjunky
6 years ago
Reply to  Lunch Angle

Because that is how he experiences it. You and I and the rest of the folks who read this site watch the game, look at the stats – which is all objective, from the outside. But it doesn’t take into account the mental (internal/subjective) aspect.