The concept behind changeup usage is simple, yet profound, as it is thrown with a similar action as a fastball, but with less speed and more movement in order to deceive a hitter expecting a heater.
A good changeup when a batter is expecting a fastball can be one of the best weapons in a pitcher’s arsenal. Brian Bannister — who serves as the Red Sox’s director of pitching analysis and development and had a five-year MLB career with the Mets (2006) and Royals (2007-10) — recently weighed in on changeups over at FanGraphs by David Laurila.
Bannister calls the change “such a fun pitch” because of the various ways pitchers go about throwing them.
The most interesting aspect of Bannister’s analysis of changeups are the pitch’s variables.
“There are two variables. It’s a lack of spin or it’s a flatter spin axis. Both contribute to gravity having a greater pull on the pitch, which ultimately leads to depth. It’s similar to a two-seam [fastball] that way. When you can reduce the amount of backspin on the ball, you’re reducing its perceived rise.”
For what it’s worth, the Red Sox — for whom Bannister works — threw the eighth highest percentage of changeups (12.1 percent) in 2015, according to PITCHf/x’s data.
As for the Cubs, they checked in with the lowest percentage of changeups (6.6 percent) thrown among 30 teams.
Kyle Hendricks might have the most recognizable and proficient changeup on the staff, but Cubs relievers (0.76 wCH/C) had the fifth best pitch value number for a changeup per 100 pitches and eighth best (5.1 wCH) overall. Trevor Cahill (3.4) and Fernando Rodney (2.8) stood out among that group.
Hendricks’ 8.9 wCH led the staff, with Arrieta (2.2 wCH) finishing a distant second. However, it is worth noting that Arrieta’s changeup usage jumped from 3.4 percent in through the end of August to 8.2 percent after Sept. 1, and it graded out as a 1.5 wCH that month. Arrieta adding another pitch to his arsenal in 2016 could be something to watch for moving forward, and indeed he’s mentioned this spring working on his changeup.
Also a bit of an eye-opener is seeing Jason Hammel’s 2.2 wCH grading as the best among Cubs starters from the first half of last season. That number took a nose dive in the second half (-1.3 wCH) — as did the rest of Hammel’s peripherals.
The slider was baseball’s most effective pitch in 2015 — and the Cubs were good at throwing them. But it is evident that a good changeup, with its many variations, might be undervalued and could a sleeper pick to be a most useful pitch for Cubs pitchers in 2016.