Jamie Moyer’s Mystical Changeup

Jamie Moyer made major league history Tuesday night in Colorado, becoming the oldest pitcher to record a win, at age 49. I’d also be willing to bet Moyer made history in another fashion: as the first non-knuckleball pitcher to record a win without cracking 80 MPH on the gun. Regardless of if my bet would pay, Moyer’s accomplishment is made all the more impressive by the low numbers flashing on the gun.

How did he do it? As any good pitching coach at any level teaches their pupils: change speeds. Moyer had his changeup working magically Tuesday night, as he drew nine total outs with the pitch — two double plays, two other groundouts, and three flyouts.

Unless a changeup has incredible movement, there needs to be a large difference between the speed of the fastball and the changeup for the pitch to be effective. For example, two of the league’s best changeup artists in Tim Lincecum and Shaun Marcum average over a six MPH difference between the fastball and the changeup. Moyer’s changeup was just over five MPH slower than his fastball last night, which is a similar proportional difference given the overall lower velocities of Moyer’s hurls. This allowed Moyer, as odd as this sounds, to set batters up with his 79 MPH fastball to get outs with the 74 MPH changeup.

Or, in the case of Jason Bartlett, who grounded into a double play in the fifth inning, set up the 71 MPH changeup with the 76 MPH fastball.

Set ‘em up:

And knock ‘em down:

Yes, they both look slow, but these nearly imperceptible differences are what have allowed Moyer to succeed over his long career in the first place, whether he was topping out at 79 or 89.

Moyer placed the second pitch just outside of the center of the plate and low in the zone. Had the pitch been 76 instead of 71, Bartlett may have lined it up the middle or to right field for a base hit. Instead, Bartlett’s bat was just a touch ahead of where he wanted it to be at the point of contact — or, depending on your perspective, the ball was a touch behind — and the result was an easy one-hopper to Troy Tulowitzki for the double play.

This was a theme all night. When the changeup was at a noticeably different speed from the previous pitch, it produced outs. When it wasn’t — which wasn’t often — it produced hits. The eight changeups which resulted in outs were on average 4.5 MPH slower than the preceding pitch; the two singles were a mere 3.5 MPH slower coming in.

Can Moyer repeat this kind of performance? I have doubts that most MLB hitters will miss sub-80 stuff on a regular basis. They will get aggressive and hit the fastball before the changeup can even surface. Said fastball has been torched by hitters already this year — pitch type linear weights have it a whopping 4.8 runs below average per 100 pitches. His location will have to be pinpoint, his arm action will have to deceive completely, and quite frankly he’ll need a little luck. But for at least one night, Moyer proved one of the basic tenets of smart pitching: keep the hitters guessing and they won’t know what’s hit them until the zeroes are up on the scoreboard.

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Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.

36 Responses to “Jamie Moyer’s Mystical Changeup”

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  1. Matt H says:

    Wow. It’s a pretty big blow to your ego when you realize that you still can’t throw faster than Jamie Moyer’s changeup.

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    • NBarnes says:

      I know, right? Moyer’s four-seamer would be completely dominant in your local amateur league. People would be talking about how unhittable his high heat was.

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  2. bork says:

    On the theory that Moyer was the first pitcher not to throw over 80 in a win: I willing to bet that at some point, some LOOGY came into a tied game, threw a couple of off speed pitches, got one guy out, and his team took the lead for good the next inning. But Moyer was definitely the first starter, which is far more impressive.

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  3. Daniel says:

    Loving this recent trend of pitch gifs. Keep it up!

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  4. John says:

    “first non-knuckleball pitcher to record a win without cracking 80 MPH on the gun”

    I doubt it. My father (player/scout) feels guys didn’t throw nearly as hard (on the average) back in the 40′s-50′s-60′s. He said guys with Moyer’s current repitoire were fairly common place.

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    • Andrew says:

      Not to mention the early part of/turn of the century.

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    • Bip says:

      Yeah, that’s what I figured. Even if we restrict the pool to starters who have recorded a win, there’s no way the average fastball was 91 even 50 years ago.

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      • jfree says:

        Bob Feller pitched over 100mph on this pre-radar gun test – http://youtu.be/knbsYEA0Eu0. And Bob Feller thought Satchel Paige had a much faster fastball than he had. I’d bet even back to Walter Johnson and Cy Young threw at speeds that pitchers today would barely match.

        I actually doubt that the average fastball has increased in velocity much over the years – unless average pitcher height/wingspan has also increased in that time.

        The biggest difference between now and then IMO is that back then the top pitchers threw over 300 innings per season (500+ innings back in the 1800′s) so there would have been a lot more wear on those arms than on arms with pitch count restrictions (and no relievers who tend to get the fastest measured speeds anyway). And the rare “speed tests” back then could only measure the speed of strikes. They couldn’t measure the pitches of the Steve Dalkowski’s – aka Nuke LaLooshes of this world.

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      • Nick44 says:

        Yeah. Makes sense. It’s not like humans have performed better over the years in things that are simple athletic actions. Witness how far people could long jump and how fast they could sprint back in the day.

        It makes total sense that pitchers “back in the day” had speeds pitchers today could not match.

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      • jfree says:

        Nick44 – Saying that pitchers were slower “back in the day” is simply saying that batters “back in the day” weren’t as good either. That Ted Williams was good mainly because pitchers just couldn’t throw very fast back then.

        Baseball is not like track. Pitchers are not throwing more nowadays to “train”. In fact, they are throwing quite a bit less. They are not throwing “better”. There are virtually no recent innovations in pitching mechanics or any other technology constraint. The pool of wanna-be-pro baseball players has actually shrunk since football/basketball have now won over the generic “young athlete” pool – even if you add the entire population of Dominican Republic and other new recruiting grounds back in. Where is the supposed “pitching improvement” coming from?

        Is it merely time – where we moderns are great because we have radar guns and guys “back in the day” were merely more closely descended from non-baseball playing apes? Which BTW, may explain why it was said about Walter Johnson that he could scratch his knees without bending over.

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      • Franco says:

        While, I don’t think the top 1% of freak humans throw any harder now than a hundred years ago, there is a reason they moved the mound back eventually. There were no little leagues, high school programs, scouting on a massive scale like there is in modern times. You just didn’t find every guy who could throw 90 like you do now.

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      • Socrates says:

        Nick44 is absolutely correct. There is no way that pitchers threw harder back in the 50′s and before that. If it is true that Feller, threw 100 and that Paige threw harder then baseball is the ONLY athletic endeavor that has not advanced enormously in the last 100 years.

        This isnt a slight against the players of that time. The 100 meters, the mile, the marathon. The time didnt get better because more physically gifted people where born, but more largely because we learned training techniques, and running forms that allowed the newer generation to run faster. Feller, Paige, Young, and Johnson where just as physically talented against their piers as Maddox, Pedro, Clemens, and Halladay. Bonds was as talented as Williams. But if put our Barry Bonds (love him or hate him) on a team with Ruth, Williams, or Hornsby, you would have had a guy hit over .400 with over 100 HRs.

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    • cavebird says:

      I assume he meant in the post radar gun era. Obviously, nobody cracked 80 mph on the gun before then. Since the gun didn’t exist, it was impossible.

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      • flightrisk says:

        Training techniques have changed for sprinters, sure, but the surface they run on and the shoes they wear is probably more important. Jesse Owens on a modern track instead of cinders and in modern shoes instead of the old spikes would be very fast…

        I have no idea how fast Walter Johnson threw, but sun and shadows and bad backgrounds likely made his pitches seem faster. And the lighting in the early days of the Night Baseball Era was nothing like today’s, so again, fast balls must have seemed faster.

        Baseball players earlier in the 20th century usually were farm kids whose lives involved hard exercise far more arduous than today’s little league players endure, so they were getting a form of strength training that modern players don’t get. Of course, they didn’t have access to modern chemicals…

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      • Purple_Haze says:

        Of course, the obvious and most important difference between the quality of players then and now is a reflection of the difference in population size. Since there are far many more total people than there were in the past, the high end of the athletic talent bell curve is correspondingly more populated. Which raises the average level of play all around.

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  5. jfree says:

    This changeup may result in Moyer pitching better at Coors than he does on the road. The pitch is more effective there. That said, I also think Moyer is going to have a whole heap of trouble this year getting through lineups the second time. I think he’d be more effective as a 3 inning reliever – and definitely as one on the road.

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  6. Ed says:

    Watched the whole game and I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It just looks like you could drill every pitch and yet…

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  7. Hunter fan says:

    How many inches of vertical and horizontal break does Moyer’s change up have? Maybe it’s just the camera, but his change up almost looks like a breaking pitch.

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  8. melotticus says:

    At that point it becomes a gravity ball. The only movement is from gravity pulling it down.

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  9. vivalajeter says:

    Doesn’t RA Dickey throw a 79MPH knuckleball? Insane that his knuckle is just about on par with Moyer’s fastball. And he got rocked today.

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  10. eastsider says:

    John Tudor was 4-1 in April of 1990 with a 78 mph fastball. (73 mph in that loss).


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  11. Bob B. says:

    Well, the Tudor reference above already provided an example, but I remember Phil Niekro claiming he won a game (I think No. 300) without throwing the knuckleball. I doubt that’s true. Hell, maybe he never even made the claim. But how fast was his fastball?

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  12. Brian says:

    Moyer relies on being different than all other pitchers. The Rockies are the perfect team for him because their starters are mostly hard-throwing fastball studs. Moyer’s think is still unbelievable though – that he could survive eve 3 games. In 19 years I’ll work up to a point where I can pitch in the majors just like him…

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  13. Dismayormaynot says:

    In my eyes he hasn’t broken the record until he wins against a major league team. The AAA Padres are too easy fodder.

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  14. Brent says:

    Jack; “For at least one night?” Where have you been? This is the M.O. for every win Moyer’s had in the last 20 years. Slow, slower, and Bugs Bunny. The more anxious you are to swing, the slower he’ll throw it.

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  15. Casey says:

    If it is a timing issue, shouldn’t we look at the difference in time to the plate of the fastball and change up?

    for Moyer

    60.5 feet/76 mph = .5428 seconds
    60.5 feet/71 mph = .5810 seconds

    is a difference of .0382 seconds

    for a pitcher with a 96 mph fastball and a 90 mph change up

    60.5 feet/96 mph = .4297 seconds
    60.5 feet/90 mph = .4583 seconds

    is a difference of only .0286 seconds

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    • Raff says:

      For Moyer, that means his change-up takes 7.0% longer to arrive than his fastball (sic). For those other pitchers, the difference is 6.7%.

      So Jack’s original point stands: the difference between Moyer’s pitches is proportionate to the difference between other pitchers’.

      Batters may not have to pull the trigger as quickly when facing Moyer, but an unexpected 7% difference will still leave them tapping weak grounders to short.

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