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Entries in Changeup (12)


Jose Bautista Adjusting to the Changeup

Jose Bautista(TOR) hasn't shown any signs of letting up from his powerful 2010 season.  He is currently tied for the HR lead with 7, and his on base percentage of .506 leads all major league players.  Pitchers are now treading carefully when Bautista comes to the plate.  His walk rate is up from 14.6% in 2010 to 22.9% this season, highest in the majors.

One pitch that gave Bautista trouble last season was the changeup.

Jose Bautista vs. 2010 Changeups (304 pitches)

The right-handed slugger has apparently made some adjustments and is hitting changeups much better early in the 2011 season. Three of his home runs have come off changeups with a total of 5 hits in 11 ABs decided on the pitch. He's seen 55 changeups so far this year and has made contact on only 47.4% of his swings (72.4% contact rate in 2010). So while he's not making as much contact, his swings are producing much better results so far.

This tells me that he's recognizing the pitch better, and as a result is swinging harder. While he may miss the pitch completely more often, the changeups he does connect on will go a long way. Even the one triple he hit off a change (a broken bat looping liner on April 22nd) shows Bautista's patience. He recognized the change out of Jeremy Hellickson's(TB) hand, which fell away from him off the outside corner of the plate. Bautista waited on it and got the end of his bat on the ball, dunking it in front of a diving Ben Zobrist in right field.

Given that changeups were the one pitch he had trouble with last year, if he continues hitting them hard, he could put up as good, if not better overall power numbers this season.


Konerko Clobbering the Change

Paul Konerko was one of the best changeup hitters in the game last season, batting .324 and slugging .647 against it.  This is a fairly significant rise over his .212 average and .423 slugging percentage off changeups from 2008 to 2009.  What's most interesting is the shift in his power zones on changeups.

Paul Konerko vs. Changeups
(Click to enlarge)

Prior to last season, Konerko was only producing power on outside changeups, and could do nothing against it on the inside half of the plate. However, he began to tee up on changeups coming inside in 2010.  Whether it came from a lefty or righty made no difference.  His high overall slugging percentage versus changeups was a result of a .654 SLG% off lefties and a .643 SLG% off righties throwing the pitch.

The increase in power was not without a drawback.  Konerko's strike out rate increased 7.5% on changeups.  Compare his 2010 SLG% heat map above with his contact rate below:

Paul Konerko vs. Changeups
(Click to enlarge)

While Konerko didn't make great contact on changeups dipping down in the zone, his slugging heat map indicates that the ones he did connect on, particularly inside, he made the most of.


Breaking down Tim Lincecum's Changeup

It goes without saying that Tim Lincecum has one of the best changeups in the game.  Since 2008, batters have only made contact on 55.5 percent of their swings, good for 4th best in the league among pitchers throwing at least 500 changeups.  Lincecum has also induced a high swing rate of 59.0 percent over that period, good for 5th best in the league.  The combination of the two speaks volumes to the quality of his change, as Lincecum has been able to successfully fool batters with the pitch, getting them to both swing and miss frequently.

As can be expected with any changeup, the more downward movement you get on the pitch, the harder it is to hit.  Lincecum's change has averaged 15.8 feet per second of downward velocity when crossing the plate since the beginning of the 2008 season, but when put in play, the ball averaged an entire foot less of vertical movement.

Here's a breakdown of his changeup by vertical movement (PVZ):

Tim Lincecum Changeup 2008-2010
≤13 ft/s22483.482.9%33.0%13.4%2.8%.293
13.1 - 14 ft/s23483.279.9%31.2%10.1%1.1%.274
14.1 - 15 ft/s29083.368.9%36.7%7.0%1.8%.267
15.1 - 16 ft/s32383.462.5%41.7%7.1%0.0%.221
16.1 - 17 ft/s34383.444.6%46.3%7.4%0.0%.207
17.1 - 18 ft/s24983.734.0%48.7%10.0%0.0%.214
18.1 - 19 ft/s17783.414.3%50.8%10.3%0.0%.203
≥19 ft/s17883.611.9%46.4%14.4%0.0%.252

It's quite telling based on contact rate alone how much more effective the change is when it has more downward velocity. It's important to note that a changeup with less vertical movement will more often end up higher in the zone, as those with more movement often end up down in the zone. So you're bound to get less contact with changeups that end up scuffing the plate than those that float over the strike zone. But as his expected K-Rate indicates (as well as his overall swing percentage), Lincecum is getting batters to swing at those changeups down in the zone, resulting in a lot of strikeouts.

The plummeting xwOBA that accompanies the increase in downward velocity on Lincecum's change is impressive. With 15 feet per second of movement or more, batters essentially can do nothing with his change. The expected walk rate jumps a bit with more than 17 ft/s of movement, and that is mainly due to the number of those changeups that fall out of the strike zone for balls. However, the actual walk rate on those changeups is around 7.0%, which is still lower than the 8.2% walk rate Lincecum holds on all pitches since 2008.