Lincecum’s Great Changeup

Last night Tim Lincecum was the youngest pitcher to start an all-star game since Dwight Gooden. Lincecum is having a great year, striking out over 10.5 batter per nine, with, having cut his walk rate for the third year in a row, a K/BB over four. He is best known for his electric fastball, but interestingly this year he is throwing it a bit less (59% of the time versus 66% of the time in 2008 and 2007) and the average speed has dropped from 94 mph to 92.5 mph. It looks like Lincecum is learning to take a little off the fastball and mix in his curve and changeup more often.

His curveball is quite good, worth about one run per 100 pitches over the past three years. It is has lots vertical movement-12 to 6 break-and induces nearly a 30% whiff rate. He throws it about equally to lefties and righties, about 16% of the time.

His changeup is a great pitch. He throws it more to lefties (24% of the time), but still throws it to righties fairly often (16%) a testament to how good it is. The pitch has been worth 5.28 runs per 100 pitches this year, which is just incredible. Of pitchers who have thrown more than a handful of changes the next closest is Josh Johnson‘s worth 3.8 runs per 100. Among starting pitcher’s changeups it is second to only Rich Harden‘s in whiff rate. It is a huge reason for his success.

Of course you cannot evaluate his changeup in a vacuum, since its success is predicated on his fastball. Here is the average run value, change in run expectancy, of changeup based on the number of fastballs that preceded it in an at-bat. The numbers are averaged over his career not just 2009.

+-------------------+----------------+
| Num. Preceding FB |  Run Val of CH |
+-------------------+----------------+
| 0                 |         -0.014 |  
| 1                 |         -0.026 |
| 2                 |         -0.028 |
| 3                 |         -0.023 |
| 4+                |         -0.010 |
+-------------------+----------------+

After the first fastball the success almost doubles, where it stays until, as the at-bat lengthens, it falls back off. The two pitches average about 9 mph difference in speed. Here is the change in run value for his changeup based on its difference in speed from the previous fastball. The gray lines are error bars.

lince_dif

As you can see the success of Lincecum’s changeup is very much influenced by his fastball. When he is throwing it 8 to 10 mph slower than his fastball (as he does on average) he is successful. When it gets too slow or too fast, he is not as successful.

Changeups have no platoon split and as with other pitchers who succeed on the strength of a great changeup Lincecum shows almost no platoon split. It will be fun to continue to watch the career of this great young pitcher getting it done with a superlative changeup-fastball combo.




Print This Post



Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.


27 Responses to “Lincecum’s Great Changeup”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. joser says:

    I love this kind of analysis. The changeup is still such an underrated pitch, despite it being key to the success of some of the best pitchers in the game (Santana, etc), probably because there’s nothing dramatic about it. You don’t get the high gun numbers; you don’t see the knee-buckling arc of the curve. You just see the batter swing through the pitch, both of you left wondering how he didn’t connect.

    It’s rare to see a changeup so good in a pitcher so young, but that’s just one more way Lincecum breaks the mold. And it’s perhaps not so surprising on reflection: so many phenoms come up quickly by throwing heat past unprepared hitters their own age… until the reach the professional ranks and meet guys who can hit the fastest pitch they can throw. Then they have to start learning the subtler arts of pitching. Lincecum was never big enough to be one of those all-smoke guys, and while his 92 mph heater is certainly respectable, he clearly learned the value of those other pitches early and well.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Ben says:

      In general, I agree with you, but as Dave wisely pointed out, the changeup is only as good as the pitcher’s ability to manage it in concordance with a plus fastball.
      Guys like Santana, Johnson, and Lincecum all had the heat to begin with, which both instinctively and psychologically can influence the hitter’s approach and subsequent reaction to a changeup (or a perceived changeup).
      When Santana lost a couple ticks on his fastball for a month or two, it took it’s toll on his changeup. His changeup’s effectiveness has been down in 2009, in part due to that rough patch (though he has been throwing it more, interestingly enough).

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. marc w. says:

    Yeah, I’ve been keeping an eye on Lincecum’s change, and not only does it appear to be the best pitch in baseball on a per-pitch basis (with some threshold like 5%/10% of pitches thrown), but it seems like it’s getting better.
    It was #1 in baseball earlier this year when it was around +4/100 pitches, and now it’s up to 5.3. This really is stunning.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Great article! Very interesting.

    I would also note that Jason Schmidt combined a great fastball with a superlative changeup while with the Giants to dominate for a number of years as a Giant. Perhaps the Giants have a good changeup teacher in their instructor ranks, as neither Schmidt nor Lincecum did much with a changeup previously.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • marc w. says:

      No, Lincecum’s had that pitch for a while. Not sure if they helped him refine it or what not, but I saw it in the minors and it’s one of the two greatest pitches I’ve ever seen live. Jaw-dropping.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • DC says:

        Lincecum never threw this pitch in 2007. It’s something he refined last year, and it’s the pitch that put him over the top.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. baseballfan says:

    I don’ really get what makes a good changeup. Lots of guys throw as hard as Lincecum. Is it just a matter of getting it the 8 mph below the fastball? Is there movement on the change that differs from the fastball?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • B says:

      Lincecum’s changeup drops relative to his fastball in addition to the velocity difference. It also tails a bit away from lefties.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • marc w. says:

        B’s got it. It’s the drop. I thought it was a split-finger, it drops so much (and late).

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • David says:

        I believe I have heard the Giants announcers comment that Lincecum holds his change-up more like a split than a change.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • B says:

        I dunno about Lincecum’s changeup grip, but I can tell you the Big Unit throws his changeup very much like a splitter.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Ben says:

      Movement plus no discernible change in either the form or speed of his delivery. Throw in the ability to locate (which really is the hardest part), and you can draw weak contact all day.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. joe says:

    And lost in the discussion of changeups this season is that of Brian Tallet, who’s changeup has been worth 12.4 runs so far this season, second only to the showcase of this article, and he throws it about as often. It’s far and away from all of his other seasons, but this is also his first as a [emergency-turned-permanent?] starter. I would love some sort of analysis on how his changeup became so good.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Eric Cioe says:

    He actually throws it with a split-finger grip, so you could call it a splitter if you want, marc.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • joe says:

      When things like this happen, you cant help but question whether a split is actually a separate pitch and not just a type of changeup.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • marc w. says:

        A splitter IS a type of changeup, in that the grip allows the pitcher to use the same delivery and have the pitch come in with a lower velocity. Still, I wasn’t aware that he was using a split grip. That’s interesting, and I wonder I was corrected when I asked if it was a split. Maybe that’s one of the refinements he’s made at the MLB level, although it certainly explains the action on the pitch I saw.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Eric Cioe says:

        I would call a split a changeup, sure. There certainly is a lot of overlap between them, like sliders and cutters. Pitch f/x often doesn’t really differentiate between sliders and cutters, and there is really no way of telling the difference in grip if a pitch is going 5-15 mph slower than a fastball and moving in basically the same manner.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • CaR says:

        Its a bit of a semantics argument but a true split is a breaking ball that works due mostly to movement rather than deception. Great change-ups move a little but most of their effectiveness is because the rotation looks similar to a fastball coming out of the pitchers’ hand which in turn gets the hitter jumping out in front.

        Its long standing tradition to teach over-hand curves and change-ups initially to younger pitchers for a couple of reasons. First, as mentioned above, those two pitches combine deceptiveness with off-speed qualities which in general are more desirable. Second, there is a perception that splits and sliders are not quite as effective and they are elbow shredders. Whether that 100% true is questionable but there is some anecdotal evidence backing that up. In Lincecums’ case, there has to be some rotation to the ball even with a grip that looks closer to a choked fork ball that plays off of the fastball which in his case has that late hop that makes it so effective.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • B says:

      Looks like a circle change grip to me. It seems if your fingers are long enough, though, there really isn’t a whole lot of difference between a circle change and splitter (in terms of grip)…

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Eric Cioe says:

    No, no. A circle change has the middle finger on the inside part of the ball and the ring and pinky fingers on the outside. Those last two fingers basically don’t factor into a split. When I think of the classic circle changeup, I think of Verlander’s grip: http://www.rotorob.com/uploaded_images/Justin_Verlander2-705199.jpg

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • B says:

      Interesting, I was never a pitcher so I don’t really know a whole lot about grips. My impression is anything involving the circle grip is a circle change. I’m actually looking again at that Lincecum picture, and realizing what I thought was his index finger might just be a smudge on the ball. I can’t tell.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Dave Allen says:

      All of the links and discussion about his changeup grip have been very interesting, thanks all.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. WW says:

    Fantastic article/discussion for a fantastic pitch.

    Dave, you posted the whiff rate of his curve — how about his split/change?

    I’ve seen about every pitch Timmy has thrown this season and the change seems to result in a swing and a miss as often as all other outcomes combined. It almost surprises me when a batter puts the change in play (very few hit squarely too). I’m fairly certain that no one hit a homer off of it this year and am curious to see the number of liners/doubles etc. Anyone know how I can look this up?

    On a side note: Tim’s struggles early in ’09 were due to: poor defense, lack of command and an 88-92 fastball. Still, he was quite successful because of the change — posting solid #s through april/may. But for the past month or 2, the fastball has been flying out of his hand and painting black at 92-96.. giving hitters even less of a chance against what might be the best pitch in the majors.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Dave Allen says:

      A huge whiff rate, just under 42%. It looks to me like contact on his changeup has induced 32 ground outs, 10 fly outs, 5 line outs, 4 pop outs, 17 singles and 4 doubles.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. SharksRog says:

    The analysis of Tim Lincecum’s change up has been excellently done here, both in the article and the comments. Allow me if I might to clear up a few misconceptions about the pitch.

    First, although Mike Krukow keeps saying Tim didn’t have the pitch until 2008, it was actually his best pitch by the end of 2007 according to the metrics here at Fan Graphs. Tim threw mostly his fastball and hammer curve in 2006, but said after his first start at Fresno that he had used mostly the fastball and change up.

    Tim actually threw enough curves in that Fresno opener to strike out three batters with the curve, three with the new change up and two with his fastball.

    Tim worked heavily on the change up between the 2006 and 2007 seasons, and added a slider between 2007 and 2008.

    Tim’s change up is indeed somewhat of a split finger pitch, although it might more accurately be called an abbreviated forkball.

    And as mentioned in the comments above, it is the drop that makes the pitch so devastating. It is very hard to pick up Tim’s let up, so its speed takes the sting out of the bat and the drop often causes the bat to miss the pitch altogther. With two stikes batters have a good idea the pitch is coming — and they usually STILL can’t hit it.

    Three primary factors have contributed to Tim’s thus far having even more success in 2009 than in his Cy Young Award season of 2008. The change up just keeps getting better, Tim is using it more, and his control keeps improving.

    Tim is having more success keeping his pitch count down now (about a pitch per inning lower than in 2008) not only because of the decreased walks, but also because batters are tending more and more to seek fastballs early in the count.

    Tim’s a tough guy to hit even on the first pitch though. He has faced over 2000 batters now, and only 13 of them have managed an extra-base hit on any one of those 2000+ first pitches.

    There haven’t been many pitchers who have gotten off to career starts as good as Lincecum has. I’m sure there are others, but the only ones I came across today in a rudimentary search were Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Tom Seaver, Vida Blue and Dwight Gooden. That’s rather elite company.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. engingireva says:

    Welcome;

    Looking for a forum of his old friend, he had a nickname once qfilier

    Has anyone can contact with him? Do not be granted on this board?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *