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Entries in Changeup (12)

Wednesday
Feb122014

Lefties Lay Off Rodney's Fastball/Changeup Combo

Excluding a select few bullpen iron men  like Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, relievers just aren't built for sustained excellence. Their job -- hurling max-effort pitches, logging what amounts to two months' worth of innings for a starter -- is inherently volatile. Some 'pen arms manage to dominate for a decade-plus, avoiding injury and bad bounces that balloon ERAs, but many more devolve from relief ace to dud quicker than you can say "Derrick Turnbow."

Fernando Rodney hasn't quite fallen to such depths -- he just landed a two-year, $14 million contract from the Mariners, after all. But he's nonetheless a prime example of how transient the "relief ace" label can be. The changeup artist was considered a chronic underachiever entering the 2012 season, posting a career park-and-league-adjusted ERA just one percent above average (101 ERA+) and issuing 4.9 walks per nine innings pitched. Then Rodney, in his mid-thirties, suddenly became an arrow-slinging assassin. He walked a mere 1.8 hitters per nine for Tampa Bay in 2012, with the best single-season ERA+ (638) ever for a reliever working 60-plus frames. After a decade of disappointment, Rodney turned in a year that made Dennis Eckersley's fabled 1990 campaign (603 ERA+) look tame.

Was Rodney a changed man? Apparently not. While no one should have expected a repeat performance of 2012, he was pretty much the same strike zone-challenged pitcher who unnerved fans in Detroit and L.A. for a decade (4.9 BB/9, 113 ERA+ with Tampa in 2013). Left-handed batters proved especially troublesome. While lefties took wild swings against his fastball/changeup combo during his banner 2012, they learned to lay off and trot to first base in 2013.

Rodney enticed lefties to chase his pitches 38.9 percent of the time in 2012, blowing away the 28 percent average for righty relievers against opposite-handed batters and trailing only Red Sox teammates Koji Uehara (48.3 percent) and Junichi Tazawa (39.4 percent) among American League firemen. In 2013, though? Rodney baited lefty hitters 31.3 percent of the time, which matches his overall lefty chase rate during the Pitch F/X era (2008-present).

What changed? Lefties stopped bailing Rodney out by swinging at pitches so far off the outside corner that they'd need a telephone pole to make contact. Check out lefties' swing rate by pitch location versus Rodney's fastball over the past two seasons, and then against his changeup.

Fastball 

Lefties' swing rate vs. Rodney's fastball, 2012

Lefties' swing rate vs. Rodney's fastball, 2013

Changeup

Lefties' swing rate vs. Rodney's changeup, 2012

Lefties' swing rate vs. Rodney's changeup, 2013

Rodney's fastball chase rate against lefties dipped from 33.7 percent in 2012 to 24.7 percent this past season. That's awfully close to his overall 26.8 percent fastball chase rate versus left-handers during the Pitch F/X era. He also got fewer chases on the changeup: 47 percent in 2012, and 39.7 percent in 2013. His changeup chase rate against lefties since '08? 39.1 percent. With lefties showing more typical plate patience against him, Rodney surrendered a free pass to 15.2  percent of batters faced after walking lefties just 6.3 percent the previous season. Lefties reached base at a .363 clip, after being held to a .222 OBP in 2012.

Rodney will always have 2012, but he doesn't appear to be a fundamentally different pitcher than the guy who gave Jim Leyland and Mike Scioscia heart palpitations for years. Unless lefties do him a favor by lunging at unhittable, off-the-plate pitches, Seattle's new crooked-capped closer figures to keep walking the yard.

Friday
Oct252013

Wacha's Right-on-Right Changeup Deadly

Michael Wacha evened the World Series at one game apiece last night, limiting Boston's best-in-the-bigs offense to two runs over six innings while striking out six. Just a year removed from anchoring Texas A&M's rotation, Wacha became the first Cardinals starter to win a playoff game at Fenway Park since Bob Gibson took down the Sox in Game 7 of the 1967 Fall Classic. He also tied Gibson's franchise record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched in the postseason, tossing 19 clean frames between Pedro Alvarez's homer in Game 4 of the NLCS and David Ortiz's sixth-inning shot yesterday.

The key to Wacha's Game 2 win? His willingness to throw his changeup to same-handed hitters. Most right-handed starters shelve their changeups when facing righty batters, pulling the string just 7.2 percent of the time. Most pitchers don't have Wacha's changeup, though.

Wacha has thrown his plus-plus change to righties 17.1 percent of the time overall in 2013, and he used it 31.4 percent of the time versus Boston's righty hitters last night. Red Sox righties went a combined 0-for-6 with four strikeouts against Wacha's changeup. Xander Bogaerts went down swinging twice, while Shane Victorino came up empty once and Dustin Pedroia punched out on a foul tip. The whiffs are nothing new for Wacha, whose miss rate with his changeup against righties (47.4 percent) trails just Stephen Strasburg (51.8), Jarrod Parker (48.5), Homer Bailey (47.8) and Kris Medlen (47.7) among right-handed starting pitchers.

Command is big reason why Wacha's tumbling, mid-80s change is so effective. Check out his changeup location versus right-handed hitters this season:

Wacha's changeup location vs. righty batters in 2013

Wacha buries his changeup at righties' knees, throwing the pitch to the lower third of the strike zone 67.9 percent of the time. That's well above the 59.2 percent average for right-handed starters. He also rarely leaves a changeup belt high: Wacha tosses just 18.3 percent of his off-speed offerings to the middle of the plate against righties, way under the MLB average (26 percent) and lowest among right-handed starters save for Homer Bailey (16.3).

Why does that matter? Righty pitchers dominate when they throw their changeups low to same-handed batters (.248 opponent slugging percentage) and get eviscerated when they throw the pitch belt high (.541 slugging percentage). By locating his off-speed stuff low, Wacha has smothered righty hitters for a .125 opponent slugging percentage against the changeup (third-best in the majors, behind Strasburg and Bailey). No righty batter has taken Wacha deep on a changeup, and Willie Bloomquist is the only one to tally even an extra-base hit (a double during Wacha's second big league start back on June 4). Gibby must be proud of this 22-year-old prodigy.

Friday
Aug232013

Martin Perez's Changeup a Plus Pitch

Martin Perez has stepped forward as a crucial part of the Texas Rangers' starting rotation, providing quality outings with Matt Harrison (back surgery) out for the season. The 22-year-old lefty has done a pretty convincing Harrison impression thus far, making up for a modest strikeout rate (6.2 per nine innings) with few walks (2.6 BB/9) and plenty of ground balls (49 percent of pitches put in play). Perez's park-and-league adjusted ERA is 22 percent above average this season (122 ERA+), besting all American League rookie starters throwing at least 75 frames, save for Tampa Bay's Chris Archer.

Perez is thriving thanks to his changeup, which he has tossed 24 percent of the time. Opponents are slugging a paltry .287 when he pulls the string, putting Perez's change just outside the top 10 among starters and ahead of changeup aficionados like Matt Cain (.291), David Price (.313) and James Shields (.315).

What makes Perez's changeup so nasty? Here's more on Perez's plus pitch as he prepares to take on Chris Sale and the Chicago White Sox.

  • Perez buries his changeup at hitters' knees, locating nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of them down in the strike zone. The MLB average, for comparison's sake, is about 56 percent. Keeping his changeup low, Perez has induced a ground ball 60 percent of the time that hitters put the ball in play (51 percent MLB average).

Perez's changeup location

  • He's getting hitters to chase his changeup off the plate about 42 percent of the time, compared to the 36 percent MLB average. Batters are a combined 3-for-26 (.115) when they chase Perez's change out of the strike zone.
  • The lefty uses his changeup in any situation, throwing the pitch with nearly the same frequency whether he's behind the hitter (22 percent), even (23 percent) or ahead in the count as (27 percent).
  • Perez's changeup is unusually hard, with an average velocity (84.7 MPH) well above the league average for lefties (81.9 MPH). The only southpaws who throw a speedier changeup are Francisco Liriano (86.3 MPH average), Jon Lester and Jose Quintana (85.3 MPH).