How Does Dallas Braden Succeed?

December 28, 2010 at 11:19 am Leave a comment

Dallas Braden AP Photo

Dallas Braden is not a household name.  Heck, there are probably people in Oakland that would say “who’s that?”  If you have not heard of Dallas Braden by now here is a quick rundown of him:

1) He threw the 19th perfect game in MLB history in front of his grandmother on Mother’s Day. Braden lost his mother to cancer while in highschool.

2) You don’t step on his mound.

3) He throws soft.

Braden had a fine 2010 after posting a surprising 3.89 ERA, 3.73 FIP, and 2.8 fWAR and 3.0 rWAR in only 136.2 innings in 2009.  In 2010 he pitched a career high 192.2 innings while posting a 3.50 ERA and 3.80 FIP, good for 3.0 fWAR and another 3.0 rWAR. 

Very solid production but not quite All-Star caliber.  So why am I baffled by him?  Because he throws so soft!  Braden only struck out 5.28 guys per 9 innings in 2010, coupled with a fastball that averages a whopping 86.7 mph (6th slowest in the Majors).  He also only surrendered 0.79 homeruns per 9 innings and held opponents to a .249 average.

How did he do it?  Well, one would think his home ballpark showed major splits, right?  Not exactly.

 Stat  Home  Road
 ERA  3.56  3.43
 FIP  3.51  4.17
 HR/9  0.66  0.96
 sOPS+  83  85
 BAA  .246  .252
 BABIP  .279  .269
 SLG  .358  .394

 

While he did perform a little better at home in his homerun rates he still performed close to the same across the board, especially when you take park factors in effect (sOPS+).  He keeps the ball in the park and had a 40.9% groundball rate.

So, how does Braden do it?  Other than using his home park to his advantage, he pitches almost backwards for a starter (throws more off-speed and breaking pitches than fastballs).  He threw his fastball 57.4% of the time.  His change-up was thrown a whopping 25.9% of the time, only Jason Vargas and Johan Santana threw it more.  This helps him keep hitters off balance.

Braden also threw a lot of strikes, walking only 2.01 per 9 innings.  He would get a head of hitters, and impatient hitters seeing a slow pitch coming their way get a little anxious.  Braden had a 30.9 O-Swing% (out of zone) and O-Contact% of 76.7 (tied for 8th in the Majors).  This helped him get a lot of weak contact which is pivotal to his success while only missing 7.6% of swinging bats and not being able to put hitters away.  He gave up a .295 average with an 0-2 count.

Braden, to me, is quite the enigma.  Guys like him can succeed but I have a hard time seeing him succeed at the 3.0 WAR level for long.  Hitters will eventually figure out that Braden succeeds on first-pitch called strikes.  If it’s in the zone and you swing early (.352/.659 on first pitch and .387/.677 on 1-0) you can hit him hard.  I project a step back next year but I am probably wrong, though, since I didn’t think he could duplicate his 2009 given more innings and thought hitters would figure him out after that season.

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