Time to start paying more attention to Gavin Floyd

Time to start paying more attention to Gavin Floyd
Gavin's finding a new balance // US PRESSWIRE

After Jake Peavy's 6th inning meltdown Tuesday, Gavin Floyd is now the ERA leader of the White Sox staff at 2.53.

Besides not starting quite as well, less attention has been paid to Floyd because there's no hope that he's channeled his ace form of old.  

This is his 5th season in the starting rotation, and most people have stopped waiting around for a big breakout from the 29 year-old.  He's a middle of the rotation starter, and probably not catapulting himself out of that fate without a bionic arm.

At first glance, Floyd start to 2012 has every go-to marker for a guy getting a little bit better results than his performance deserves.  Gavin is currently stranding 80.2% of the runners that reach base against him, which is above normal.  It's not an impossible mark to uphold, and some pitchers perform particularly well out of the stretch.  However, it's abnormal, and Floyd's career average is 69.7%, so he probably won't dance out of bases loaded situations like he did last Friday all season.

When hitters put the ball in play against Floyd this year, they're only batting .225.  Again, that's not impossible to maintain--it's around where Verlander finished last season--but Gavin's career average is .286, so he likely is due for a few more ducksnort singles falling in on him.

But while a breakout might be out of the question, a career-year--as in 'a year somewhat better than all his other years'--is certainly possible.

For one, he's striking out batters at what would be a career-high rate; 8.16 batters per nine innings, to be precise.  Now, he's only pitched 46.1 innings, so that only amounts to six more strikeouts than he would have if he was performing at his career norm.

To get newly excited about a veteran pitcher with a long and stable track record, there needs to be definitive change in his approach, and Gavin happens to have one.  Last season, the Pitch FX system started classifying what was once Floyd's slider as a cutter, exclusively so.  The rate he used his cutter at increased by the amount which he used to throw his slider, which disappeared.

There's little separating a cutter and slider in movement; the change represented the completion of Floyd's gradual modulation of his arsenal. 

He throws it slightly harder (1 mph perhaps), and gets a bit sharper break on the pitch, inducing more swings.  Last season saw Floyd post his lowest walk rate of his career, but it was mostly a wash as far as making him a more effective pitcher. 

This season Gavin has more thoroughly embraced the cutter, and has used it almost as often as his regular fastball, improving the performance of both.  Swings-and-misses are up 7% on Floyd's cutter, and trying to account for it has made it harder for hitters to line up Gavin's typically vulnerable fastball, which is getting fouled off more, and put in play less at a clip around 4-5%.

In simpler terms, he's been steadily tweaking his primary breaking pitch over the past two years--it's hard to remember now that he broke into the league relying on his overhand curveball--and now looks to have a dominant offering.  Since Gavin is no fool, he's responded by throwing it all the time, and it's leaving opposing hitters off-balance.

Players make adjustments all the time and the league adjusts to them in turn, but there's a little extra reason now to look forward to Gavin's starts.

Like tonight, for example.


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