Trouble With the Change, Starring Jarrod Parker

Jarrod Parker has failed to make it out of the fourth inning in two of his three starts this season. After Sunday’s drubbing from the Detroit Tigers, it’s time to start wondering what’s wrong with the 24-year-old. Keep in mind that he’s only tossed 11.2 innings this year, so small sample caveats apply. But he’s also had time to work on improving over his last three starts and that hasn’t helped. Looking over his game logs, there’s some evidence that his best pitch from last season, hasn’t been much of a weapon in 2013.

Parker’s change-up baffled hitters last season. With a 1.83 w/CHC, Parker’s change rated as the seventh most valuable change-up in baseball. It was his primary out-pitch against both lefties and righties, and helped him post even splits. Instead of sticking with his most effective pitch, Parker’s usage has gone down this season. Against left-handers, his usage has dropped by about seven percent. It’s dropped three percent against right-handers. Even though it worked last season, Parker has relied less on the pitch in 2013.

While it’s odd for Parker to move away from his best pitch, a look at his outcomes may reveal why he hasn’t been using his change-up as much. Per BrooksBaseball.net:

Change 2012 2013
Ball 37.23% 53.33%
Call Str. 8.97% 10.00%
Swings 52.89% 36.67%
Fouls 11.55% 5.00%
Whiffs 25.38% 21.67%

The first row of the above graph points out Parker’s biggest issue this season. He’s had trouble throwing his change-up for strikes thus far. It’s been pretty significant, too, as more than half of his change-ups are falling out of the zone. This could either be because Parker is missing by some much that hitters haven’t been tempted to swing, or it could be a strategy opposing teams are taking against Parker. Of all his pitches in 2012, Parker had the most trouble dropping the change-up in for a called strike, so it’s plausible teams have game-planned for him by telling their hitters to lay off his change-up.

A look at Parker’s heat maps confirms his struggles to locate the pitch. This could explain why Parker has thrown his change-ups less often this season. Either he’s thrown it less because he’s been struggling, or he is working to alter to repertoire. As a side note, Parker has thrown a higher percentage of sinkers in 2013.

The fact that his whiff rate is still strong is promising, though. Even with the location trouble, hitters have still had a tough time making contact with the pitch when they decide to swing. Once Parker regains his control of his change-up, it should continue to be his best weapon.

Much of Parker’s success his rookie season came from a highly effective change-up. While he’s started only three games this season, his control of the pitch has been lacking. This is something to monitor with Parker going forward. If control continues to be an issue, he’ll have to adjust. But if he can get back to hitting the strike-zone with the change-up, like he did last season, a return to form should be in order.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


7 Responses to “Trouble With the Change, Starring Jarrod Parker”

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  1. OaktownSteve says:

    Parker’s public comments and those of the coaching staff have mostly been around his fastball command. I was at the game behind home plate and it was interesting to see what was happening to him. Basically nobody swung at the change at all. Last year it seemed like he would get ahead in counts with fastballs and finish guys off with the change. The difference this year doesn’t seem to be that he’s not able to throw the change for a strike, it’s that guys aren’t swinging at that pitch when it’s out of the zone. The most striking thing in the chart above is the huge fall off in swing percent against the change.

    In his first start the fastball was all over the place. As he’s struggled with it, he either misses badly or he gets too much plate. It’s been a lot of the latter. As bad as yesterday’s line looks, that’s just how bad he was. He got tattooed. Of the ten outs he managed to record, 6 were probably on hard hit balls. And the hits were not cheap. Until he can start locating the fastball earlier in the count on the edges, the game plan for teams will probably be the same. Sit fastball and forget about the change.

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    • Chris Cwik says:

      I think there’s some truth to that. I left this out of the article because it didn’t have anything to do with his change-up, but Parker has been using his sinker way more often this year. His four-seam fastball rates are down. That could have something to do with him not being able to control the pitch.

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  2. Mason says:

    Didn’t Parker struggle with his fastball command last Spring? To the extent that the A’s started him in Aaa and only called him up after he’d demonstrated the ability to throw strikes in at least a few starts (I thought)? He was so reliable and consistent last year once he got called up that I am really hoping this is a blip/ slow start. But is there reason for longer term concern?

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  3. Mac says:

    A’s fan weighing in:

    We’ve been going back and forth over at AthleticsNation figuring this one out, will post this article research as it backs up the idea that Parker’s just missing his spots.

    One question – I’m looking at pitch selection and it shows Parker as only throwing 3% fewer changeups overall, and we’re only talking three games. The fastball velocity is also right in line with career norms.

    One thing to remember – Parker just went up against the mighty 3 of Anaheim and then had to face a modern Murder’s Row in the Tigers. The Tigers especially were merciless on every mistake pitch.

    On the whole, it just seems like Parker wasn’t super sharp, faced some nasty hitters, and paid for it. The numbers look especially bad because the hits weren’t spread apart.

    Has he totally lost it? No. This seems somewhat of an early-season panic, but yeah it’s worrisome. Give the rook a few more starts before passing judgement.

    If anyone has an extra spot on the roster, well worth grabbing Parker if he was dropped this week in your league.

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  4. bigC says:

    This is a nice article and has provided much insight. Ive watched Parker pitch twice, and it seems to me he has had trouble located his fastball. I haven’t looked at the numbers for that, but I think that would consequence in him throwing more breaking pitches to get strikes.

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  5. Lenard says:

    Looking into his pitch types, a question arises: How can 31% of his pitches be classified as unknown (XX%) when the percentages for his fastball, change-up, slider, and curve equal 100%?

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  6. BleacherDave says:

    I was at the game on 4/14 as well, and have watched all of Parker’s starts this season. He hasn’t been able to consistently throw the fastball on the black to get ahead in the count, and get guys to chase the change-up. As he pointed out after his first start, his fastball command has always been a point of pride for him, and I think he’s at a bit of a loss on how to correct it – it’s not something he’s had to face before. I also think the book is out on him, and hitters know he starts his change at the bottom of the zone and lets it fall out of the zone before it crosses the plate. I’m guessing the hitters have adjusted, and Jarrod has two adjustments to make: 1) whatever he needs to do to get his fastball command back; 2) countering the hitters adjustment to laying off the change and looking fastball. The Tigers certainly looked like they knew when the fastball was coming, and Parker was up and out over the plate with it.

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