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May 11, 2009
  
The Importance of the Changeup
by: John on May 11, 2009 10:56 AM | Filed under: Journals

While I was writing in the offseason about various Mets pitchers, I came across one thing that seemed pretty much true with everyone I wrote about.  The Mets bullpen had huge issues last season.  One of the biggest issues had to do with platoon splits.  Most pitchers had no trouble getting same handed batters out but had major problems getting the opposite handed hitter out on a daily basis. 

 

As we all know, Lefty pitchers are generally better against lefty hitters and righty pitchers are better against righty hitters.  The changeup is an extremely useful weapon against batters that are opposite handed (lefty pitcher vs. righty hitter or righty pitcher vs. lefty hitter).  The majority of Mets bullpen members last season either threw very few changeups or their changeups were nonexistent at all.

 

I wanted to take a look at this on a larger scale so what I did was go to Fangraphs and selected 15 pitchers that threw the most changeups and 15 pitchers that threw the least amount of changeups.  Before conducting this study I felt the pitchers with the least amount of changeups would have the biggest platoon splits and pitchers that threw a lot of changeups would have smaller splits.  Here’s a table of the 15 pitchers with the least amount of changeups in 2008.  I used 2008 data and a min of 100 innings pitched (I wanted to make sure they faced a lot of batters).  Also, there were some pitchers on this list that threw Split-Finger fastballs…….they serve the same purpose as the changeup and thus I eliminated from the chart.

 

Name

Change %

Hand

Same OPS

Opp. OPS

Difference

Tim Wakefield

0.00%

R

0.727

0.643

0.084

Justin Duchscherer

0.80%

R

0.489

0.668

-0.179

John Lackey

1.40%

R

0.846

0.658

0.188

Aaron Cook

1.60%

R

0.705

0.768

-0.063

Joba Chamberlain

1.70%

R

0.573

0.660

-0.087

Seth McClung

2.10%

R

0.649

0.789

-0.140

Daniel Cabrera

2.10%

R

0.748

0.890

-0.142

Chris Sampson

2.20%

R

0.665

0.746

-0.081

Chad Billingsley

2.40%

R

0.621

0.761

-0.140

Oliver Perez

2.60%

L

0.521

0.791

-0.270

Aaron Harang

3.00%

R

0.820

0.862

-0.042

Roy Halladay

3.40%

R

0.620

0.622

-0.002

Jon Lester

3.70%

L

0.571

0.737

-0.166

Ervin Santana

3.90%

R

0.601

0.699

-0.098

Roy Oswalt

3.90%

R

0.692

0.692

0.000

 

The typical OPS platoon split is about 50 points.  Looking at the above table, we see 9 of the 15 pitchers have extreme splits (difference of 80 or more points).  The main culprit is no other than Oliver Perez who had a massive split of 270 points.  Aside from Ollie, we see 5 other guys that had split differences of 140 points or more.  This table clearly shows that a lack of changeup definitely hurts when trying to get opposite batters out.

 

There were two guys on the above table that had reverse splits, Tim Wakefield and John Lackey.  Wakefield is a bit of an abnormal case considering he throws nearly 80% knuckleballs.  As far as John Lackey goes, he throws a lot of curveballs which are generally effective against both side of batters.  Towards the bottom you see pitchers like Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt who are just good against anybody.

 

Now let’s take a look at the 15 pitchers who threw the most changeups during the 2008 season.

 

Name

Change %

Hand

Same OPS

Opp. OPS

Difference

Edinson Volquez

31.90%

R

0.660

0.700

-0.040

Cole Hamels

31.50%

L

0.779

0.619

0.160

Rich Harden

28.80%

R

0.523

0.593

-0.070

Johan Santana

28.70%

L

0.678

0.637

0.041

James Shields

26.30%

R

0.680

0.735

-0.055

Jair Jurrjens

26.20%

R

0.687

0.732

-0.045

Jeff Francis

25.80%

L

0.772

0.839

-0.067

Carlos Villanueva

25.30%

R

0.860

0.654

0.206

Jorge Campillo

25.10%

R

0.780

0.678

0.102

Jamie Moyer

23.80%

L

0.721

0.734

-0.013

Kenny Rogers

23.30%

L

0.847

0.881

-0.034

Shaun Marcum

22.20%

R

0.668

0.693

-0.025

Greg Maddux

21.80%

R

0.728

0.705

0.023

Odalis Perez

21.50%

L

0.652

0.874

-0.222

Carlos Silva

21.30%

R

0.789

0.935

-0.146

 

The first thing that jumps out to me is that 6 of the 15 pitchers that threw the most changeups are left handed.  This makes sense.  The changeup is effective against opposite handed batters and there are a lot more right handed batters then left handed batters.  This makes the changeup essential for the left handed pitcher.

 

Here we see the difference between throwing a changeup and not throwing one.  5 out of the top 15 have reverse splits.  They are more effective against opposite handed batters compared to same handed batters.  Furthermore, 8 of the 15 have normal splits.

 

Only two of the top 15 changeup throwing pitchers (Odalis Perez and Carlos Silva) have extreme splits.  I didn’t really see anything as to why they would have extreme splits.  Perez career OPS split was only 15 points so maybe 2008 was a nominally.  Silva actually has reverse splits of 119 points.

 

CONCLUSION


I don’t think there’s any doubt that throwing changeups will help combat opposite handed batters.  That being said, I’m not a pitching coach and I’ve heard learning the changeup is probably the toughest pitch in baseball to learn.  Another thing that I learned from pitch FX articles I’ve done is that a changeup is most effective when there is a large differential in velocity between the pitchers fastball and changeup.  The average is somewhere around 10 mph difference, the best have larger differences.  Also, changeups are more effective with a lot of sinking movement or a lot of rising movement.  Any changeup close to (0,0) gets crushed.  So while it’s easy to say pitcher X needs to be throwing more changeups, there’s a lot more that goes into it.


4 Responses to “The Importance of the Changeup”

  1. Comment posted by argonbunnies on May 11, 2009 at 4:39 pm (#976845)

    Fantastic stuff, John.

    I’ve never understood why a change-up that’s effective against opp-handed batters isn’t also effective against same-handed batters. Yet that seemed to be the case for Glavine through his whole career, and is obviously true of many of the guys you list. I wonder what Moyer’s secret is?

    RE: learning the pitch:
    I wonder how long you try to teach a pitcher a change-up before you give up. All the Mets’ young starters seem to be slow learners, despite having had Pedro and Peterson and now Santana and Warthen to learn from. A good change-up would make such a huge difference for Pelfrey, but maybe he’ll never get it and his time would be better spent working on a different pitch. Even a lazy curveball might be sufficient to mess with hitters’ timing just enough to get them off the fastball. Your pitch breakdown for Ollie’s 2008 showed clearly that his curve was a better weapon vs RH than his change-up was.

  2. Comment posted by bcuster on May 11, 2009 at 6:38 pm (#976939)

    i think an extremely efeective pitch for modern pitchers can be the split-fingered fast ball. very few pitchers master the change-up to the point where they can always rely on it

    imo, a classic starting pitcher will have a three pitch arsenal, fastball, a curve and a dropping pitch like the splitter…

  3. Comment posted by MightyJoeOrsulak on May 12, 2009 at 4:38 pm (#977778)

    John, good work.

    Couple of things, the word for Odalis Perez’ 2008 is not “nominally”, it’s anomaly. And the phrase, “nonexistent at all” is redundant, as existence does not leave room for degree.

  4. Comment posted by John on May 12, 2009 at 7:55 pm (#977931)

    Couple of things, the word for Odalis Perez’ 2008 is not “nominally”, it’s anomaly. And the phrase, “nonexistent at all” is redundant, as existence does not leave room for degree.

    haha thanks. I knew that word didnt look right.

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