Monday night, the Athletics played a critical game against the Rangers, which is not what this is about. The starter and the winning pitcher for the Athletics was Jarrod Parker, which is more what this is about. Parker allowed three runs in six innings, with two walks and six whiffs. One notes that, through his first 13 starts of the season, Parker had 39 walks and 61 strikeouts. One notes that, over his final 16 starts of the season, Parker had 24 walks and 79 strikeouts. And a higher ERA. But anyway.
Early on in the Oakland/Texas action, I got people on Twitter asking me to whip up a .gif. It seemed Jarrod Parker had thrown a particularly unhittable pitch to Josh Hamilton to close out the top of the first inning, and people wanted to be able to watch that pitch over and over in a low-quality repeating image. I didn’t immediately make a .gif, because I was otherwise occupied, but I made the .gif just a little while ago. And then I .giffed the last pitch Parker threw to Hamilton in the top of the third inning, too. They are presented below for your viewing pleasure, or for your viewing torture, if you are Josh Hamilton.
Let us agree that it is not an unfamiliar sight to see Josh Hamilton swinging and missing at an offspeed pitch down and away. Hamilton is a very good hitter with a very clear weakness, and Parker took advantage of that weakness on consecutive occasions. But those are two dynamite changeups right there. The first one was thrown right on the target. The second one barely missed the target, and it missed in the right direction. Josh Hamilton’s first two at-bats against Jarrod Parker lasted a combined six pitches, and they both ended with strikeouts.
It is hardly a secret that Jarrod Parker’s changeup is probably his biggest strength. There are reasons why he’s long been considered a top talent, and the changeup is one of them. Or, two of them, per this FanGraphs Q&A from May 1. Parker throws two varieties of his changeup to go with his two varieties of his fastball. For our purposes, we’re going to lump all the changeups together, because a changeup is a changeup even if the grip’s a little different. That and I don’t want to make things overly complicated.
How good has Parker’s changeup been this year? A couple weeks ago, I noted that, by contact rate, Stephen Strasburg‘s changeup was the most unhittable pitch thrown by a starter of the season. 54 percent of the time batters swung at Strasburg’s changeup, they missed. Against Parker’s changeup, 46 percent of the time batters swung, they missed. Facing opposite-handed hitters — which is where a changeup really comes in handy — Strasburg’s change had a whiff rate of 55 percent, and Parker’s change had a whiff rate of just under 53 percent. I don’t know if it’s fair to say that Jarrod Parker’s change is as good as Stephen Strasburg’s change, but one figures a big factor driving the success of Strasburg’s change is the rest of Strasburg’s stuff. Parker isn’t so blessed, so he might need his changeup a little more.
That paragraph isn’t what I’m trying to get to, though. See, Parker made his first big-league start of 2012 on April 25, and he didn’t miss a turn through Monday, starting 29 times in all. His regular season is over although his 2012 season might not be. On Monday, against the Rangers, Parker didn’t allow a home run on a changeup. Which meant that Jarrod Parker went the entire 2012 regular season without allowing a home run on his changeup.
And Jarrod Parker throws a lot of changeups. Parker allowed 11 dingers in all, and nearly every one of them was hit off his fastball. One of them was hit off of a slider. None off the change. That’s incredible enough on its own, completely in isolation, but now consider this: according to this PITCHf/x tool, starting pitchers have combined to throw 293 different pitches at least 500 times. Parker’s changeup is the only one of those pitches yet to be hit for a dinger, and there are just two days left in the regular season. Brandon League, Pedro Strop, and Ryan Webb are yet to allow a dinger on their sinkers, but starting and relieving are very different and so we should treat them very differently.
By some measures, among starting pitchers, Jarrod Parker’s changeup is rubbing elbows with elite company. By some measures, among starting pitchers, Jarrod Parker’s changeup stands alone. Parker made 29 starts, throwing a lot of pitches and a lot of changeups, and not a one of those changeups was knocked out of the park. Several of those changeups were swung on and missed. One of the reasons people have been taken by surprise by the A’s is because people don’t know a lot about the Athletics’ starting pitchers. That’s not the fault of the Athletics’ starting pitchers.