Danks staggers to the finish


Sep 18, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago White Sox starting pitcher

John Danks

(50) delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning at U.S Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

This post would have a lot more rhetorical punch if John Danks had kept along his path to disaster on Wednesday afternoon. Instead, he retired 16 in a row to finish out his outing, and results that extreme are hard to dismiss even with rationalizations like “Bad Twins lineup is bad” or pointing out that Danks has now struck out 19 of the last 190 batters he has faced, which would give him the worst strikeout rate in baseball if he made his living like this full time.

Which no one is accusing him of doing, but excuses that Danks is fatigued don’t show up in velocity readings, that have him sitting at the 90 mph average fastball he’s been stuck with all season. Command is something that could be escaping Danks, but it’s hard to pick that out from the limitations he’s dealt with all season.

I joked about Danks getting punished on high changeups on Wednesday, and while that has been the case a lot, I don’t think it’s necessarily because he’s throwing bad changes more frequently, it’s that they are no longer protected as well by his sequencing. Every lefty who hopes to have a chance against right-handers has a changeup, but The Danks Theory came about because everything in his compliment was useful toward retiring opposite-hand hitters; specifically a cutter that he could work into their hands and keep them from sitting on changeups away.

That’s the pitch he’s throwing 10% less now (16%) than he did the last year he was healthy (25.6% in 2011), and a pitch that has suffered every bit of the three miles per hour loss his fastball has endured, and isn’t as available for him to use as a sort of hard slider against left-handers either. There’s also the issue of a 4.75 ERA and a massive home run rate, while we’re throwing out correlations.

Looking back at it’s placement from Danks at his height:

Courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com

The placement seems tighter than it has been for this season, though not to an insane degree…

Courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com

It certainly seems to be enough to affect Danks’ confidence. If he needs a swing-and-miss, or is trying to put a hitter away, he trust himself to rip off a great changeup that spin a good cutter. It’s an accurate assessment, but one that makes him more predictable and easier to prepare for.

The easy thing about deciding to agree with this is that there really isn’t a point in resisting. Danks is going to be here anyway and getting opportunities, so waiting to see what his countermove to this season–reclaiming the cutter somehow, working in his curveball even more, eephus pitch, etc.–is inevitable.

Tales of plans to work with Don Cooper over the winter sound encouraging because Don Cooper is involved, but also because it should be clear now what the limits of this year’s approach of doing what he does well more and risking punishment to avoid walks are. He can hang in there, as he did Wednesday, but the punishment racks up too fast for him to truly excel, and Danks will inevitably clamor for more.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan