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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.