Tony Sipp was considered the last player to be added to the Houston Astros roster coming out of a lackluster spring training and a horrible 2017. In fact, the Astros even brought a former outfielder turned left-handed pitcher in Anthony Gose to West Palm Beach to compete with Sipp for the left-handed bullpen spot on the team.
Well, now Gose is back to playing outfield and Sipp has since been the dominant lefty specialist that the team hoped he would be. Since joining the team in 2014, Sipp has had a few ugly years and 1.5 really spectacular years. In this article, we are going to break down what he does in the better years and how effective he has actually been so far this season.
In 32 games this year, the 35-year-old lefty has a 1.65 ERA in 27.1 innings of work with 30 strikeouts. Following along with a theme of his career with the Astros, Sipp has been dominant at home. He currently holds a 0.64 ERA in 16 games at the Juice Box, holding opposing hitters to a .178 average against and a minuscule 0.64 WHIP.
Another interesting stat is how much better Sipp has been at night compared to day games. At night, Sipp has a 0.51 ERA compared to a 3.72 ERA in day games. The Astros pay Sipp to get lefties out in key situations, he has done exactly that. Lefties currently are hitting .156 against him and he holds a 0.63 ERA in those situations. This is a huge improvement over 2017 where lefties owned a .247 batting average against him and he had 5.97 ERA on the year. So, what has Sipp done to make this dramatic change? His heat maps might be able to show us.
The big difference between these two maps is the variety of locations that Sipp is placing his pitches. In 2017 Sipp basically located all of his pitches to his glove side, but in 2018 he has really been all over the zone. The thing that makes this really interesting is going back into Sipp’s history and seeing his heat map from his best year, 2015.
This map looks remarkably more similar to Sipp’s 2018 pitches than his 2017 results. So, this tells us that in order for Sipp to remain effective he needs to establish command to all parts of the plate more than just his arm side.
Sipp is the definition of a crafty lefty. His deceptive delivery and quirky movements are the keys to his success rather than his velocity. This is why location is so important for him. It comes down to a pretty simple fact that every pitcher realizes at some point, the softer you throw the more you have to be deceptive, change speeds, and locate your pitches. If you throw all your pitches in the same location, then hitters at the major league level are going to catch on and sit in that spot no matter what pitch you throw.
Once Francisco Lirano left the Houston Astros last offseason, nobody was really sure who would be our lefty specialist. After two bad years in a row no one was feeling very good about the aging Sipp. Thankfully, he has stepped up in a big way in 2018. Sipp has rightfully taken his spot back in the Astros bullpen and should continue to dominate lefties the way he has done for a large part of his career.