Why is Bronson Arroyo Still Throwing a Changeup?

I respect the change-up. As a pitcher myself, I know how difficult it is to throw a good one (thus I don’t). It’s not the most glamorous pitch in baseball, but certainly an effective one if executed correctly. Plus, what constitutes a good off-speed offering reads like a laundry list of mechanical and ball path attributes that have to be repeated over and over again. Proper grip on the baseball. Delivery and arm speed must be identical to the fastball. Velocity needs to be lower than the fastball. The ball should move (ideally both horizontally and vertically) and spotted in a good location. And lastly, there’s the intangible pitching IQ of understanding when to throw it.

The Diamondbacks Bronson Arroyo and his change-up seem to be missing a majority of these qualities… but for some reason he continues to throw the darned thing. 16% of the time in 2013, in fact, and already almost 18% of the time this season. I’m baffled.

Now, of course I can’t know what’s going on in his head (although if someone can point me to an all-encompassing Pitching IQ metric I would be more than happy to apply it). And I also can’t measure his arm velocity at release. So I can’t quantify all of his deficiencies. But there is, fortunately, hard numerical and visual data showing he’s lacking the necessary skills to throw a change-up well.

Let’s look at Arroyo compared to pitchers who threw more than 200 change-ups between 2011 and 2013:

Movement:

Since change-ups (especially the circle change) tend to move down and to the right for right-handed pitchers versus down and to the left for southpaws, absolute value of x-Mov and z-Mov is used to standardize axis movement for both.

2011-2013 Abs(x-Mov) Abs(z-Mov)
League Average 7.17 4.30
Arroyo 6.00 3.60

I’ll give him a C- for movement. F’s are left for the likes of a Samuel Dedunowho posted a whopping 0.3″ of lateral and 1.6″ vertical (ignoring the natural pull of gravity) movement in 2013.

Velocity:

Again, keep in mind this does not include all pitchers, just ones who have thrown 200 or more change-ups between 2011 and 2013.

2011-2013 vFA (pfx) vCH (pfx)
League Average 90.9 82.9
Arroyo 86.6 78.2

When batters are already sitting on a below average fastball, it’s fair to say it won’t take much of an adjustment to catch up to the change. Below average may even be an understatement. There are only 12 guys in this data set of 275 with a lower average vFA. Jamie Moyer is one of them.

D+.

Location:

There are very few pitchers that can have success locating the change-up for called strikes.  Fernando Rodney being the freak off-speed guru who fools batters looking with a career 46.2 Swing%, 48.8 Zone% and 1.51 Val/C on the change. Typically the best change hurlers induce swings. And those swings either result in bad contact or a flat out whiff. But location of the pitch is still overwhelmingly crucial to achieve either.

I’ll use 2013 poor contact master Hyun-Jin Ryu and Braves injured whiff king Kris Medlen for illustration.

Ryu, with his 56.2 Swing% and 70.9 Contact% is looking to get bat on ball with the change. Ending 2013 with a .187 BABIP, the pitch worked beautifully to induce dribbling grounders (54.7 GB%) to an already above average Dodgers defense (3.1 UZR/150). How did he do it? Pin-perfect location (courtesy of Brooks Baseball).

 photo 74025e6d-0ca0-4068-802d-d2575977591e_zps07ccd3d1.png

Arroyo also induces hitters to get the bat on the ball with the change… at a whopping 85.5 Contact% rate. But is he getting poor contact with the pitch? I somehow don’t think .600+ SLG and 23 HR  over the past three full seasons would constitute bad contact. Let’s compare his zone chart with that of Ryu.

 photo 53238386-6da5-4f8b-9c21-44707dbd34a3_zpsc37ace95.png

 

Not quite, Bronson.

“But what about whiffs?” you ask. With a 6.8 career SwStr%, batters aren’t swinging and missing Arroyo’s meatballs either.

Let’s look at Medlen who owns a 27.5 career SwStr% on the pitch for comparison.
 photo 312d97a3-59b7-474d-8d46-43e4196b2988_zps9c5924cd.png

Pretty, no?

I’ll give Arroyo a D- for location. At least he’s not hanging them up and in on lefties.

So overall grade: barely passing.

I really don’t know what to say at this point. I’m miffed. Confounded. And who is the culprit to blame in the grand mystery of why he continues to throw this sub-par pitch? Batters have already gone deep on it twice in 2014. Is it the catchers? Do we point the finger at Devin MesoracoRyan Hanigan, and now Miguel Montero for keeping blind faith and confidence? Are these guys cursed with chronic short-term memory loss? Or do we blame Arroyo for stubbornly going out there outing after outing and continuing to shove that ball in the back of his palm and firing away? If that’s the case, I get it. I’m a pitcher. I’ve stood there on the mound and though, “This next one will be better, guys. I swear!”

So, please, Bronson. In the end, there is really nothing good that has come from you throwing the thing so often. I like you. I really do. I will forever be indebted to you for giving my beloved 2004 Red Sox their first World Series since “tarnation” was a common curse word. But please. Enough change-ups already.




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Slava Heretz is a Finance Manager, Red Sox fan, and adult ball league hack in Somerville, MA. Business metrics is like sabermetrics... just a different form of nerdy storytelling.


3 Responses to “Why is Bronson Arroyo Still Throwing a Changeup?”

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  1. Dan Rozenson says:

    First I don’t think it’s totally fair to judge a player’s changeup based on spin deflection. Very effective changeups can have different spin deflections. It depends on arm angle, release point, arm speed, etc., to sell the pitch as a fastball.

    Since the beginning of the 2011 season, Arroyo’s changeup and fastball have been hit at a similar clip — .291/.539 for the FB and .299/.541 for the CH. They each have a BABIP around .283. It’s essentially just a slower version of his fastball. Without the ability to change speeds, the fastball might be hit even harder.

    It’s important to remember when Arroyo is using his changeup — typically early in the count, when the batter is ahead. http://www.brooksbaseball.net/tabs.php?player=276520&p_hand=-1&ppos=-1&cn=200&gFilt=&time=month&minmax=ci&var=usage&s_type=2&startDate=02/02/2010&endDate=04/24/2014&balls=-1&strikes=-1&b_hand=-1

    Those are times when he’d have to either groove a fastball to get a strike or use the change, so the odds of a hard-hit ball increase anyway.

    Don’t get me wrong, his change is nothing special. But it’s not so obvious that eliminating it from his repertoire would help him that much.

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    • Slava Heretz says:

      Interesting. Also of note is that he almost never throws a traditional fastball anymore and has switched exclusively to the sinker. Forgetting all other factors, for the sake of argument just looking at movement, his sinker and change have similar attributes trajectory-wise. Only significant difference is velocity. Visually, hitters could just be seeing a nearly identical pitch.

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  2. Bearman says:

    With Arroyo, its probably best if he throws as many different pitches as he can. If guys sit on the changeup then that mean they are not sitting on his curves, get rid of the change up and the hitter will look for something else.

    For Arroyo its probably best to just stay away from it in high leverage situations.

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