Was John Axford tipping his pitches with the Brewers? | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

When the Brewers traded reliever John Axford to St. Louis for reliever Michael Blazek on August 31, it seemed that the pitcher that had once saved 49 consecutive games for the team had lost his former magic. After the deal, however, it was apparent that Axford hadn’t quite lost his old form.

After a 46 save, 1.95 ERA season in 2011, Axford posted a collective 4.57 ERA over 124 innings in his next two seasons with Milwaukee. After the trade, he posted a 1.74 ERA in 13 games for the Cardinals and bested that with a 1.59 ERA in six postseason appearances. In large part due to his rebound in St. Louis, Axford earned a $4.5 million deal with the Indians this winter as a free agent.

Though his time in St. Louis was relatively short, it was “pivotal and profitable”, per John Lott of the National Post:

“On John Axford’s first day with the St. Louis Cardinals, his new coaches sat him down for a meeting. We’ve been scouting you for five years, they said. And by the way, you might be interested in one thing we know about you: You’re tipping your pitches.
I don’t think I would be in the position I’m in right now with the Cleveland Indians if I wasn’t traded [from Milwaukee].”

If the Cardinals caught onto this flaw in Axford’s delivery that the Brewers never got onto, it’s hard to to see it in his career splits against St. Louis. In 27.2 innings against the Redbirds, he holds 2.93 career ERA, 1.482 WHIP, and 1.40 K:BB, compared to his career marks of 3.29/1.326/2.67. Obviously St. Louis was able to put the ball into play more, walk more, and strike out a lot less. It’s difficult to read too much into the numbers in any case that the sample size is so small, not even taking into account the difficult of trying to figure out how/if pitch tipping influenced those figures.

Axford did credit Cardinals coaches for pointing it out to him, making no mention of it ever being addressed in Milwaukee.

“[The St. Louis] coaching staff really helped me out, picking that up and helping me along the way for those two months. And pitching well, and pitching well in the playoffs – I think that’s what really catapulted the opportunity for me to be a closer again.”

So you can take everything in and read into it how you would prefer.

(H/T to Hardball Talk)

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. J.P. Breen says: January 13, 2014

    It’s certainly an interesting storyline, and I hope the changes help him find success in Cleveland. His tipping pitches is not a new story, though. We were talking about this back in 2010, too. http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/sports/fanblogs/98684049.html

  2. Zak says: January 13, 2014

    Is it possible it could have been just a clever mental play by the Cards? The Cardinals tell Axford the only thing wrong with him is that he is tipping his pitches, and thus he gains more confidence in his ability because his problems are easily correctable. Then he pitches better due to confidence.

    • Curt Hogg says: January 13, 2014

      That would probably be the most Cardinals thing ever so I wouldn’t be shocked if that was the case, at all. They would have needed to provide substantial film evidence to full convince Ax that he was tipping pitches and show him what he needs to alter, which is where I think it’s more than just a ploy.

  3. Steve Garczynski says: January 13, 2014

    Baseball Prospectus did a quick write-up today on Axford tipping pitches, and it looks like the issue was with his delivery: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/a/22572

    I guess this means that 1) it wasn’t a similar issue to 2010 when he was digging for breaking balls, and 2) The Cardinals aren’t run on pure voodoo. They do watch the games.

    • SecondHandStore says: January 13, 2014

      Interesting. Perhaps this is a good example of the value of coaching. Perhaps the Brewers really should overall their coaching staff. Maybe they should have before they started bringing up this new crop of pitchers. Not too late to do that, I suppose.

  4. SecondHandStore says: January 13, 2014

    It’s a difficult thing to analyze since we’ll never know if and which other clubs knew his tells, if they existed at all. It may not have just been the Cardinals. If he returns to high quality pitching in 2014 it’s probably not wise to simply infer it’s because he had been tipping pitches. It could be for any number of reasons. Still, the Brewers pitching is seemingly always suffering from something. I’m not sure it’s fair to put a lot of emphasis on the coaching, but I’d be fine with an overhaul regardless.


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