We looked at pitcher mixes over the last month in order to see who’s made the biggest changes to their arsenals. First up were the pitchers that had gone to the slider more often.
Now let’s look at the pitchers that are throwing more changeups over the last month than they did earlier in the season. The changeup has none of the negative health ramifications of the slider, so in this case the question is: sure, you’re throwing it more, but is it a good pitch? And, also, why they might have made the change.
Alex Cobb (+15.9%)
The best swinging strike rate of his career and the most splitters of his career — these things are related. Since the splitter (19% whiffs) is the only pitch that has above-average whiffs, it’s all about throwing the splitter, which he’s done about 30% of the time in the second half according to PITCHf/x. Cobb told me he didn’t think the pitch led to injury and that he hasn’t felt anything in his forearm since he first learned it, so don’t let Masahiro Tanaka‘s injury scare you too much. The particular genius in Cobb is that his sinker and splitter have the same amount of horizontal movement, come out of the same slot with the same arm action, and then the splitter drops six more inches vertically and goes five miles per hour slower. Injury is the only asterisk here, if you want it to be. There’s not a big enough sample on splitters to say anything definitively.
Jeremy Hellickson (+10.6%)
Hellboy has thrown the changeup almost 45% of the time in the second half, which is about 50% higher than his career norms. BrooksBaseball has it under 40%, so perhaps it’s not so pronounced an effect, and obviously we have sample issues here. (He threw 4.1 innings in the first half.) Let’s just take this as an opportunity to check in the pitcher then. He’s still got a great change (21.1% whiffs), and nothing else (4% FB swSTR, 5% CB). That makes him a fly-ball homer-happy pitcher that’s worth pitching in his homer-suppressing home against weaker offenses at best.
Felix Hernandez (+9.7%)
Since July 5th this year, Felix Hernandez has been throwing his change more than any other pitch. First time in his career that’s happened. If you watched the All-Star game, you saw him throw the pitch over and over again to Yasiel Puig, who could do nothing with it. It goes 90 mph, which is only about three mph slower than his fastball, and yet the fact that it drops five more inches than his fastballs makes it impossible to hit. Even during the period where he’s gone to it as his number one, he’s still gotten 21.3% whiffs on the pitch. Don’t know what to say here except, “Sigh, he’s so dreamy.”
Jorge de la Rosa (+9.1%)
Over the last two months, de la Rosa has thrown the splitter as much as his four-seam for the first time in his career. It would be hypocritical to make too much of a big deal out his health outcomes, but you have to note that he’s been brittle compared to the King. If there was a good candidate to pitch backwards on this list, though, it would be the Rockie. Though his fastball goes 93, it’s been a hittable pitch forever. This year is no different, the fastball has a 5% whiff rate. With the splitter (18%), cutter (11%), and curve (10%), de la Rosa has the arsenal to hide his fastball. The peripherals have loved the change. His strikeout rate is up (16.8% to 19.1%) and his walk rate is down (9.9% to 4.8%). The result is a K-BB that’s above average. With a 3.75 FIP in the second half, de la Rosa is a decent pickup if you can hide him in Coors or you’re in a deeper league.
David Price (+9%)
Price has never thrown his change more than 20% in any month of his career, before last month. When he threw it 30% of the time. Four of the five games with the most changeups have come with Detroit. It really seems like they told him to throw it more. Which is fine, it’s his best pitch (18% whiffs). What’s really crazy is that he’s getting 14% whiffs on his fastball right now, that’s what location and gas will do for you. The change is slightly less effective with the added volume (14.7% whiffs), but it’s still great. And now David Price has 32 strikeouts against six walks in 30.2 innings with Detroit. At the very least, it wasn’t a bad idea.
Rubby de la Rosa (-11.1%)
One bonus: the guy throwing the least change-ups compared to his early season work. You’re not comparing a ton of games before and after the All-Star break with de la Rosa, but at least the early season sample (37 innings) is about the same as the post-break sample (34 IP). Unfortunately, in terms of results, the approach with fewer changeups has not been productive. His strikeout rate halved (22.6% to 10.8%) and his walk rate doubled (5.5% to 11.4%). He’s given up fewer line drives and coaxed more infield flies, but those seem like huge sample stats, so we won’t even report them here. What’s probably going on here is that his change-up is his best offspeed pitch (18% whiffs), but the team wants him to throw more sliders (12% whiffs, below average) to work on the pitch. If only he could throw a slow curve, he could stretch out the velocity range a bit. In any case, you’re watching the slider here. If it can get better, de la Rosa can be more effective with a traditional mix.
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