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« Umps Not Buying Stephen Strasburg's Fastball | Main | Mike Mussina: King of the Called Third Strike »

Which Pitchers Pull a Glavine, Pull the String vs. Same-Handed Hitters?

It's one of the first baseball commandments that young pitchers learn: Thou Shalt Not Throw Changeups to Same-Handed Hitters. If you pull the string in such a situation, the thinking goes, you'll end up getting clobbered as batters turn on a pitch that flutters low and inside -- directly to their power zone. Most hurlers adhere to this teaching, lest they get burned for all eternity by their pitching coaches: lefty starters threw a changeup to lefties just 4.6 percent of the time in 2013, and righties tossed one to same-handed hitters 6.7 percent.

Newly-elected Hall of Famer Tom Glavine was a blasphemer, however, and a very successful one at that. During his last season in the majors in 2008, Glavine tossed a changeup to lefties a whopping 53.2 percent of the time. No other lefty came close, with Phillies Jamie Moyer (29 percent) and Cole Hamels (28.1 percent) ranking a distant second and third, respectively.

While Glavine struggled during his final year in the majors, he still managed to baffle lefties with his changeup. He induced more whiffs with his change (39 percent) than the league average (31 percent), and he also limited hard contact (.353 opponent slugging percentage, about 50 points better than the MLB average for lefty-on-lefty changeups).

Glavine excelled against lefties with his signature pitch by almost never locating low and inside. Instead, he pounded the outside corner. Against southpaw hitters, Glavine threw 78 percent of his changeups away:

Glavine's changeup location vs. lefty hitters, 2008 


Now that Glavine has reached Cooperstown by breaking the changeup commandment, it's worth asking: Which current starting pitchers share the Atlanta lefty's rebellious streak? As it turns out, a Tampa Bay righty has taken over Glavine's title as the game's biggest changeup iconoclast.

Jeremy Hellickson pulled the string 33.6 percent of the time versus same-handed batters last season, by far the highest clip among all qualified starters. Unlike Glavine, the man dubbed Hell Boy had no problem challening hitters inside with his changup:

Hellickson's changeup location vs. righties, 2013    


Among other righties, Ian Kennedy (20.1 percent), Kyle Kendrick (19.9 percent), Edinson Volquez (18.6 percent) and Kris Medlen (18.4 percent) also threw a bunch of changeups to same-handed batters. Medlen (.250 opponent slugging percentage) had the most success with righty-on-righty changeups out of this group, followed by Kennedy (.348) and Hellickson (.393). Volquez (.533) and Kendrick (.536), meanwhile, were smote by righties.

What about lefties? Mark Buehrle tossed the high rate of lefty-on-lefty changeups in 2013 (21 percent). Like Hellickson, Buehrle eschewed Glavine's approach by throwing plenty of low-and-inside changeups to lefties:

Buehrle's changeup location vs. lefties, 2013

Hamels (18.3 percent), Eric Stults (15.5 percent), Felix Doubront (9.1 percent) and Chris Sale (8.3 percent) pulled the string frequently versus lefties, too. Doubront (.185 opponent slugging percent) dominated batters, as did Stults (.189). Buehrle (.315), Hamels (.333) and Sale (.375) didn't get cut down for breaking the changeup commandment, either.

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