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Brad Hand's brand new sinker

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The Marlins may turn to Brad Hand to deliver for them as a fifth starter, and he may need the help of his second-half sinker to play the role competently.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Here at Fish Stripes, we were quick to point out that Brad Hand's second-half performance in 2014 was not necessarily something to be proud of. He did not exactly impress even with his second half numbers, as posting a 3.89 ERA and 3.97 FIP are none too amazing to see in Marlins Park. Considering that Hand put those numbers up with a meager 13.5 percent strikeout rate and did so against a good amount of inferior competition, it seems like that second half was more illusion than reality.

However, there is one bit of that second half game that looks like it could a true change, and it may be the thing that saves Hand's career. Take a look at the difference between his pitch distribution in the first and second halves.

Trajectory and Movement - from 01/01/2014 to 06/30/2014

Pitch Type Count Freq Velo (mph) pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.) H. Rel (ft.) V. Rel (ft.)
Fourseam 257 56.73% 94.21 7.54 8.96 2.18 6.23
Sinker 17 3.75% 94.00 10.97 6.40 2.13 6.26
Change 62 13.69% 87.23 6.69 5.50 1.91 6.54
Curve 117 25.83% 80.14 -5.91 -3.03 1.58 6.76

Trajectory and Movement - from 07/01/2014 to 01/01/2015

Pitch Type Count Freq Velo (mph) pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.) H. Rel (ft.) V. Rel (ft.)
Fourseam 446 33.74% 93.19 7.94 7.95 2.36 6.17
Sinker 439 33.21% 93.00 10.86 4.03 2.39 6.14
Change 169 12.78% 86.95 7.97 5.18 2.15 6.44
Curve 268 20.27% 79.88 -5.56 -2.19 1.81 6.70

This sinker is something that Hand had never previously featured; all 456 pitches qualified as sinkers by Brooks Baseball were recorded in the 2014 season, and 439 of them occurred in the second half after he returned from injury. When broken down in this fashion, the pitch does appear to be dramatically different than the old fastball he used to throw, as Hand's fastball for his career has had a vertical break of around nine inches, typical for a normal four-seam pitch.

More evidence of this being a relatively new phenomenon can be seen when you break down his horizontal vs. vertical break chart, which is a good way to differentiate between different types of pitches.

You can see that for his career, Hand has never had a fastball-style pitch with that much sink or low vertical break than he had in the final three months of the season. The sinker appears to be a new development, but it was not necessarily something that was mentioned in the media. One CBS Sports fantasy article pointed out the sinker in August after Hand's hot July, but outside of that, there has been no media mention of a pitching change.

No matter the mention, Hand's sinker appeared to be getting results. Here were the numbers from the second half compared to his four-seam fastball.

Hand, 2014 2nd Half Usage% B/CS Swing% Whiff% GB% SLGCON
Four-Seam 33.7 1.6 39.9 13.5 42.3 .430
Sinker 33.2 2.0 49.4 11.5 73.0 .427

The good news is that the sinker had great sink, producing a whopping 73 percent of balls in play on the ground! On the other hand, despite actually similar BABIPs, the slugging percentage on contacted balls was pretty similar between the two pitches, meaning hitters were not hitting the pitches all that differently in terms of power. But you would expect that the excess ground ball rate should lead to better results going forward, even if grounder rate regresses.

The pitch otherwise has little appeal. It is a solid 93 mph according to Brooks Baseball, and it generates mostly contact swings. Compared to the four-seamer, it garners a similar number of balls, so those swings are primarily coming from pitches that could be called strikes. A called strike is generally better than a ball in play, so there is reason for Hand to mix up his four-seamer into the mix with the two-seam pitch, but neither is good at generating whiffs.

Hand appears to be firmly entrenched as a contact pitcher at this point, at least as a starter. If contact is your game, though, it cannot hurt to have an effective two-seam fastball that generates good grounder rates. Hand's second-half ground ball rate was at 56 percent, and we can all agree that he is a better pitcher at that kind of rate than he is with the low-40's rate he posted in 2011 as a rookie. Neither pitch, however, is a ground-breaking addition, and as a guy who pitches to contact but still does not pepper the zone (48 percent zone rate in the second half last year), he has a very limited ceiling. But at the very least, this addition of a sinker could mean the difference between a reasonable back-end starter and a guy who should not be pitching in the majors. That is good news for Hand and his career.