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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.