The League’s Best Changeups, Animated

In today’s edition of the Daily Notes — and by way of previewing Tommy Milone‘s start later tonight in Cleveland — the author presented a leaderboard of the league’s best changeups this season, as determined by pitch-type runs. Indeed, one of the names on that leaderboard was Tommy Milone’s own, whose changeup has been worth 16.1 runs above average. In fact, Milone is first on that list — tied with another AL West left-hander, Seattle’s Jason Vargas.

Vargas and Milone have a lot in common. They’re both left-handed, they both have fastballs that sit at 87-88 mph, and they’ve both held right-handed batters to a lower wOBA-against this season (.296 and .290, respectively) than they have left-handed ones (.322 and .319) — largely on the strength of their plus changeups, one assumes.

A final thing they have in common is how the present author made animated GIFs of them this afternoon. Nor are these GIFs of either the haphazard or slapdash variety, but rather the carefully and artisanally crafted sort. Indeed, in so making these GIFs, the author sought to find instances in which each pitcher had thrown in front of one of the league’s better cameras — of particular importance when dealing with left-handers, the angles of whose pitches are distorted considerably by cameras that are not straight-on from center field.

In fact, in each case, the pitchers in question have appeared only once this season before such a camera — Fenway Park’s, in both instances. Indeed, both Milone and Vargas appear not only to have induced swinging strikes via the changeup at Fenway Park this season, but have induced swinging strikes via the changeup at Fenway Park this season against Kelly Shoppach. What follows is a record of just that sort of thing.

Tommy Milone

Milone’s and Vargas’s changes are similar in terms of velocity (79-80 mph), horizontal movement (10-12 inches armside), and vertical movement (about 3-4 inches of rise, where “rise” means relative to a ball uninfluenced by air currents).

Here’s Milone throwing a changeup from his April 30th start at Boston. It fits the above characterization almost entirely — except with a little more armside run (12.3 inches) than is typical for him.

Jason Vargas

Here’s a Vargas changeup from May 14th at Fenway, and also with mostly the same velocity (78.1 mph) and armside run (12.0 inches) as usual. The PITCHf/x record from this game suggest that this pitch is much “risier” (+7.2 inches) than what’s typical for Milone, although it seems possible — just from looking at the rest of the data from that start — that the vertical measurements from that game are slightly inflated. Of course, it’s also just possible that Vargas was getting less depth on the pitch that day.

Data from Brooks Baseball was helpful in the composition of this post.




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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.


18 Responses to “The League’s Best Changeups, Animated”

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  1. therood says:

    Vargas’ changeup almost looks like it stops momentarily as it nears the plate. That’s filthy.

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  2. Transient Gadfly says:

    That gets a ‘wow’ from me. Both of those pitches appear to just suddenly plunge low and outside at the end. That’s crazy.

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  3. Ruki Motomiya says:

    Damn. Vargas’ looks like it just stops and heads south right at the plate. Filthy.

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  4. Kevin says:

    Down 0-2 to Milone, Shoppach had no choice but to flail at that nasty pitch. But on a 1-0 count I’m surprised he’s swinging at that outside corner at best pitch. What’s he going to do with it? The runner’s stealing, but based on Shoppach’s reaction it doesn’t look like it was a hit and run.

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  5. MarketMaker says:

    Can I throw some changeups to Kelly Shoppach?

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  6. Jay says:

    They look like wiffle pitches.

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  7. Mac says:

    Fangraphs always like to be picky about grammar, right? That word – animated – very interesting use here. If you took it took mean animated pictures, as in GIFs, well that’s not quite what the word animated is for. Really a GIF is a video data compression format, though often GIF creators add animated features such as words or clip art or all manner of internet silliness. But a GIF itself isn’t really an animation.

    Then again, another reading of that headline bring a whole different meaning. Animated is synonymous with lively. Often baseball pitches with a lot of movement are described as lively, and one could properly state that the changeups of Vargas and Milone have an animated quality about them. Perhaps their straight change-ups have more movement than the average MLB pitch?

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    • Emu says:

      Picky Grammar corrections

      -“If you took it took” should read “If you took it to”

      -“headline bring” should read “headline brings”

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    • beerman says:

      Syntax != grammer

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    • Rex Manning Day says:

      Editing involves recognizing and incorporating widely used terminology specific to the subject matter at hand (i.e., jargon). The phrase “animated GIF” is standard internet terminology for moving images in the graphics interchange format, such as those used in this post; thus the headline is a valid use of the term.

      Furthermore, “animated” in the context of “moving pictures” simply means “the rapid display of a sequence of images to create an illusion of movement.” Which is precisely what an animated GIF does; it is a series of “frames” compressed into a single file which, when viewed in a browser, “creates the illusion of movement”. The fact that, in this specific case, the frames have been pulled from video does complicate things, but does not necessarily invalidate the use of the word “animated”. And the ubiquity of the use of “animated” to describe GIF images of this sort ultimately serves as a sort of tie-breaker, indicating that society has accepted “animated” as a valid descriptor for such images.

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  8. The Anchorman 2 says:

    National Leagues Best Changeup (and better than either of those two) = Tim Lincecum (yes a split change counts)

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  9. Billion Memes says:

    Watch them carefully. Milone’s release point is out wider, Vargas slightly closer to his body. The movement is very near identical, accounting for the differing release points. It just struck me that these images are an excellent example of how catcher framing alters our view of pitches. First one looks like it fades in, second one like it fades out. Seriously, watch the ball very closely and not the gloves.

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  10. Bronnt says:

    Kris Medlen just had another fantastic start in which he continues to prove that his change-up is as good as anyone’s. Of course, he’s not in the American League, so perhaps his change-up doesn’t belong in THAT discussion, but he’s really making Braves’ management look a tad foolish, regardless of what Ben Durino will tell you.

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  11. kodamatree says:

    I love GIFs. More articles should use GIFs.

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