Albert Einstein famously said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. One could certainly define the first nine games Houston’s Brad Peacock made last season for the Astros in such a way.
In those nine games, Peacock started five times while working four out of the bullpen. He pitched just 29 innings, allowing 53 baserunners, 26 runs, and 8 home runs. Opponents had a .419 wOBA against him and the 8.07 ERA was a harsh reminder of what can happen when a pitcher struggles with command and pitches from behind in the count. A big part of those struggles was his inability to handle left-handed batters. The 75 left-handed batters he faced in those first 9 outings had a .506 wOBA against him while the 63 right-handed batters had a more reasonable .315 wOBA.
He went down to the minor leagues in need of both confidence and a change in approach because his approach was simply not getting the desired results. One thing he did to adjust his process was to add a new pitch. As Peacock said later in the season, ““I knew I needed another pitch, and I was struggling when I came up here,” he said. “I wanted to try something different. I got a slider, so I just rolled with it.”
Roll with it, he did.
Peacock made 10 appearances in Triple-A Oklahoma City while working on his slider, and limited batters to a .228/.276/.354 stat line over 57.2 innings. He permitted 12 earned runs and allowed just 5 home runs during that time while throwing strikes 63% of the time, compared to the 56% rate he had at the major league level. It was quite the improvement from a guy who allowed batters to hit .275/.357/.470 in the same league one year prior. His improvements did not go unnoticed.
Brad Peacock has put together five straight strong starts for OKC… looking good!
— Jeff Luhnow (@jluhnow) July 5, 2013
He was recalled to Houston in early August and it did not take Bo Porter long to notice the changes the pitcher had made.
“He’s much improved from the other stints in which he was up here,..Again, when you come up and go down and you’re given certain information of things you need to do to pitch at this level. These guys are taking heed to the information. They’re going down and working on the things in which they need to work on. Our Triple-A staff is doing a tremendous job and they’re coming down here ready to play.”
His catcher, Jason Castro, also took quick notice of the differences in Peacock’s approach to his craft.
“He looks good…He’s been real aggressive with his fastball, and I think that’s kind of what he needed to work on. His (velocity) is definitely back to where it was. He’s attacking, getting ahead with his fastball and that is setting up his other stuff. He also developed a slider, which has been a big pitch for him. He threw a lot of those tonight. It’s his swing-and-miss pitch. I was really impressed when he came back that he was able to kind of get a feel for it that quickly. He’s done a good job.”
His final nine outings of the 2013 season were all starts. Over 54.1 innings of work, he struck out 54 batters and limited batters to a .287 wOBA and his 3.64 ERA was a far cry from the first half of the season. The gap between his results against lefties and righties still existed, but it was much less drastic. With the slider in his repertoire, Peacock limited righties to a .223 wOBA and lefties to a .330 wOBA. He threw 144 sliders in that time allowing just 7 hits – all singles. With both a curveball and a slider in play, Peacock was able to generate more swings and misses and his rate upon his return from the minors was in the top 15th percentile in the league. Previously, his rate was in the bottom 15th percentile in the league.
By season’s end, Peacock was looking like the pitcher the Astros wanted when they dealt Jed Lowrie to Oakland last season. Nearly two years ago, Kevin Goldstein projected him as a good third starter. Peacock certainly made strides in the second half of the season to reach that projection after looking like he may not get to that point in the first half of the season.