Brandon McCarthy’s New Changeup

As FanGraphs readers know, Brandon McCarthy made some notable changes prior to the 2011 season. As Ryan Campbell wrote last October, the A’s right-hander fined-tuned his mechanics and traded in his four-seamer for a two-seamer and a cutter. The results of his data-driven adjustments were striking. Armed with a new repertoire and approach, McCarthy emerged as a frontline starter. He wasn’t satisfied. McCarthy is in the process of perfecting a new pitch, which he talked about prior to last night’s game at Fenway Park.


Brandon McCarthy on his new changeup: “When I started this process, I knew that I needed a changeup and that I wasn’t going to go back to my old one. Finding a grip that will work has kind of been a slow process. I need something that I can throw for strikes, where I want it, and with enough action. It also needs to be slow enough.

“My old changeup was something nobody else throws. I gripped it with my ring finger, pinky finger and thumb. I didn’t want to go back to that, so I’ve kind of flirted with different grips. Some feel really good, but when you throw the ball it doesn’t do what you want it to do. [The new] one has sort of stuck the last month or two. It’s close to a split-finger grip, but it’s not as far down on the ball. My fingers kind of run along the sweet spot, just outside the seams. Now it’s a matter of finding out which counts it will work in and who the best candidates are for it. I need to get it into more game situations to see what the reaction is to it.

“It’s 85-86 mph, so it’s not like a true, true changeup. But it has some sort of deceptive action and depth to it, so I can make it work. I’ll kind of find out [about the velocity] as we go. Felix Hernandez’s changeup is 89 and [Tim] Lincecum’s changeup, when it’s at it’s best, is 85-86. It’s the movement on it that gets hitters. Two to three mph will work if you make it look like a fastball and have some downward action on it. I need to make sure I have that. If it just kind of rolls into the zone at that speed, I’m going to get killed.

“In my last game, I ended up not feeling a need to throw any. The few games before that, we started throwing it more. [Kurt] Suzuki knows that if he wants to call it, I’ll throw it. It’s just a matter of working it into the game plan and finding out what we can and can’t do with it.

“It’s a pitch that I’d love to be able to go to 15 or 20 times. If I can possibly get it to be a strikeout pitch, that would be my ultimate desire for it. The best pitchers in the game all seem to have a good changeup. Hitters don’t like to face it. The good ones can be almost impossible to hit. In order to reach the next level, I need to somehow introduce a good changeup. That’s why this process has been so frustrating. I’ll kind of struggled to get it, but it’s coming along.”

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

12 Responses to “Brandon McCarthy’s New Changeup”

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  1. Turbo Sloth says:

    I love this guy. I want him to succeed, but do you think even with his new pitches, that he’s likely to top his 2011 numbers? His BB rate was said to be fluky low and is higher, K rate and velo seem lower. But he improved as 2011 went on, hoping for the same.

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  2. Confused says:

    Er, this is a pitch he’s thrown 5 times based on Joe Lefkowitz’ pitch fx tool, and he’s given up 100% line drives on it for a -4.30 pitch value — it’s certainly “coming along.” Slow news day, I guess.

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    • njd.aitken says:

      5 times is certainly a reasonable sample…

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      • I am a Red Sux Fan says:

        Very small sample for sure but a 5 for 5 line drive rate indicates he may need a little more depth and deception on that sucker

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    • Great article, will keep an eye out for his progress. I think most readers, by that I mean persons with the ability to read, realize that pitches don’t develop over night and that it takes lots of nuance and time.

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    • jerbear1985 says:

      Might be pitch classification issues. I have a hard time believing he’s only thrown the pitch 5 times. McCarthy himself says it’s not a true changeup.

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  3. I am a Red Sux Fan says:

    The Red Sox Rake that garbage at Fenway. That’s just how it is. The Red Sox rake change ups at Fenway period.

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    • pft says:

      Seems they brought their mops instead of rakes tonight.

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      • Scott Walker says:

        I would have to say that the Red Sox have not really “raked” anything this season. Last night was another example. I think it is great that McCarthy is always looking to improve his repertoire, he seems invested in statistics and trends and I wish more pitchers would follow him. I think a changeup is one of the hardest pitches to master due to the fact the arm action has to remain the same as the fastball in order for it to be effective, it will take time, but he has proven that he is adaptable.

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      • I am a Red Sux Fan says:

        I’m starting a tradition, I commented the previous night in the Jarrod Parker Analysis that the Red Sox Raked all rookies at Fenway period. Wrong again, I’m jinxing them. Actually the Sox have been hitting pretty decent this season. After 19 games they led the league in runs scored. They still lead the league in runs per game even after the last two night.

        Runs/game OPS+ wOBA
        Red Sox-5.50 TB-117 Tex-353
        Texas-5.44 TEx-116 NYY-347
        New York-5.07 BOS-113 Bos-343

        So actually they have hit pretty well despite next to nothing from Alex Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and nothing From Ellsbury and Crawford. Big Papi is hitting, Mike Aviles is hitting, Cody Ross is hitting, Ryan Sweeney has a 400 obp and 12 doubles, Salty has 4 homers while splitting playing time with Shoppach. Pitching has been better lately but has been the real achilles heal for this team as they are second worst in the American league in runs allowed per game.

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      • Synovia says:

        “I would have to say that the Red Sox have not really “raked” anything this season”

        3 Teams have scored more runs than the Red Sox.

        Two of them have played more games than the Red Sox (and have outscored the Red Sox by 1, and 4 runs).

        The remaining team, St. Louis, has outscored the Red Sox by 3 runs.

        So, you are completely, and utterly, full of shit in this instance.

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  4. MC says:

    Maybe he should ask Johan Santana about changeups. It’s really incredible to me watching Santana pitch, but he doesn’t look he has good stuff (his fastball is usually at 90MPH even right now), yet I suppose because of his changeup, he still makes hitters look foolish.

    To paraphrase Rick James – “changeup’s a helluva pitch.”

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