(photo credit: Yardbarker.com)
In the grand tradition of Nick Punto Day and Delmon Young Day, Jesse Crain Day is the brainchild of Andrew Bryz-Gornia and Andrew Kneeland. I meant to post this a couple of days ago (you know, on the actual day itself), but I had to study for a test and didn’t get time to finish it until now. In my defense though, I wrote something about the much-maligned Crain Wreck a bit earlier in the season* and most of what I wrote still stands. Especially this part:
This season alone, Crain has thrown his four-seamer only 53.2% of the time, compared to his career average of about 66%. He’s been using his slider (33.1%) and curveball (13.9%) to retire hitters a lot more, and despite his inflated ERA, his peripherals show this approach has been getting results…As long as he stays healthy and continues to trust his secondary stuff, I’d put money on Crain finishing the season with an ERA under 3.50.
I noted that Crain’s fastball was his worst pitch, and at -9.7 runs, it is one of the worst in the league among relievers, second only to the Indians’ Hector Ambriz. Crain seems to have noticed this too, since he’s been using the pitch even less since that article was written (just 48.2% of all his pitches have been four-seamers according to pitch F/X), while relying on his secondary stuff a lot more. He has a very good curveball (+8.2 runs, 10.3% whiff rate) and slider (+3.4 runs, 13.5% whiff rate), which he has been mixing in 10.4 and 41.1 percent of the time, respectively. As a result, Jesse Crain is currently the proud owner of a 3.93 ERA, a 3.70 FIP, 3.53 tERA, a career-high 7.60 K/9 rate, and a 3.15 BB/9 rate that ranks among his career best. His 4.43 xFIP is a bit high, but since his other peripherals look good, it’s probably not something to be concerned about, especially since xFIP isn’t a great metric for relievers (like UZR, xFIP works best over larger sample sizes).
I have to give Jesse Crain a lot of credit. Apparently, he realized that hitters were teeing off on his fastball, and rather than continue to throw it anyway in hopes it would somehow magically start missing bats, he made an adjustment. It seems so simple, stop throwing a pitch if hitters keep hitting it, but it isn’t. The league would be full of superstars if it were. Crain is lucky in that he has good enough secondary stuff to get by without a great fastball; there aren’t many relievers (and almost no starters) who can say that. Still, it isn’t easy for anyone, professional athlete or schlub in a suit, to come to terms with his own personal limitations, but Crain did it and is ultimately being rewarded for his efforts with one of the best seasons in his career.
*I even used the same picture, but that’s because, strangely, there aren’t many good pics of Jesse on the internets that I would not get in trouble for using.