Brennen Davis Left Me Fascinated By Jason Adam’s Probably-Awesome Changeup

In last week’s Instagram Live with Brennen Davis, Brett had me ask the top prospect what the best pitch was that he faced at the Alternate Training Site. He offered two (6:50 mark): the slider that has raised Adbert Alzolay’s floor and ceiling, and Jason Adam’s changeup.

I might have guessed the Alzolay one, but the Adam answer took me by surprise, and led me down quite a wormhole. And in doing so, has me wondering if we’re sleeping a bit on Adam’s ceiling as a late-inning reliever.

Before Brennen’s answer, I’d have answered that the breaking ball was Adam’s best pitch, a 3,000-rpm slurve that yielded an absolutely ridiculous 69.2 whiff% in 2020 (Brooks Baseball separates these into two, a slider and curve, which I think is correct,  but they serve similar functions). And in 2019, when Adam was with the Toronto Blue Jays, he had the most success with his four seam fastball that combined elite spin and mid 90s velocity. And yet Brennen’s telling us that the best in his arsenal might just be a changeup, a notion that Pitching Coach Tommy Hottovy signaled he might agree with in this quote from a Sahadev Sharma piece last September:

“The one pitch I think is so unique with him is the changeup. He’s such a high-spin four-seam, high-spin breaking ball, stuff that’s off the charts in terms of spin rate and then all of a sudden he has a crazy low-spin changeup. You just don’t see a lot of guys who have rise and high-spin-four-seam and breaking balls and then have a really good changeup, too.”

In that piece, Sharma offered a simple but perfect description of the pitch: “it almost looks like a two-seamer.” This is exactly right. Adam throws it 88-92 mph, which isn’t great separation off his 93-97 mph four seamer, but the movement makes them so distinct. The Adam changeup has depth and arm side run that are both 13% above league average for the pitch type, according to Baseball Savant. Here’s one that has Maddux comeback two-seam type movement:

And while all that is mighty impressive in its own right, I wondered if there was something else happening that might make it more challenging to hitters like Brennen than it looks to viewers like us.

These days, if you’re a nerd like me, that means three words: seam-shifted wake. This is a concept being led by Dr. Barton Smith — you can find great explanations of it here, here, here and here – but I love the simple phrasing via Pitching Ninja: using baseball seams to alter pitch direction. The slight differences that pitchers have in the way the seams of the baseball are oriented as they travel through the air can create differences in movement, even if the velocity and release point and spin rates are identical.

So I asked Dr. Smith if he would be willing to lend me his analysis on whether Jason Adam’s changeup benefitted from seam-shifted wake in 2020. And indeed it did. According to the professor, Jon Lester’s changeup had the seventh-highest axis shift (the measurement Smith uses to describe seam-shifted effects) among pitchers to throw 100 changeups in 2020. Had Adam reached that threshold – he threw just 40 – he would have ranked above Lester.

This is the visual representation that Dr. Smith uses (the deviation representing the axis shift):

So I do wonder if part of what makes the Adam changeup particularly difficult on hitters is its seam-shifted effects. Weaponizing that consistently is one of the next frontiers in Major League Baseball.

The lower hanging fruit for the Cubs and Adam in the meantime will simply be finding more opportunities to call for the changeup (it had a career-high 15% usage in 2020). It’s important to remember that Adam is still pretty new to trusting the changeup in short appearances. In 2018, Adam suggested Salvador Perez began calling for “three of them every time I go out” after he barely threw it in the minors. He finished the season having used it 7.9% of the time. At the time, Adam saw the pitch mainly as a diversion: “It just helps to have that extra pitch to get them off the fastball a little bit,” Adam said then.

The changeup is probably the pitch which depends the most on its sequencing, with Adam pointing out its main tool: to slow the bat on fastballs, usually for hitters from the opposite side, usually thrown below the zone. Those are still the ways Adam seems to prefer it: 26 of the 40 changeups he threw were to lefties, 26 of the 40 were in the bottom third of the zone and lower, and 20 of the changeups were preceded directly by a fastball.

I just wonder if the key to using this dangerous pitch is to expand the possibilities on when he can sequence in a changeup. Here, for instance, was the only time Adam used the tunnel of a high fastball to get a swing-and-miss from a good right-handed hitter on the change. It seems worth going back to:

I also think there’s a good case to be made that Adam might be even better off sequencing the changeup off his breaking ball instead of the fastball. You’ll see on his Brooks Baseball page that his release point on the change is far closer to the breaker than the fastball, and I like the way they can confuse hitters in moving opposite directions. If you see the 3D Pitch Visualizer on Baseball Savant, they also just look a bit more similar than either does with the fastball.

Here you see an awkward swing from Nick Castellanos on a not-even-that-great change that benefitted from the previous pitch:

The numbers, even in their tiny sample, do give a bit of support to the eye test. Adam threw 12 changeups directly after the breaking ball, and those pitches led to four swinging strikes, three foul balls, two balls, two outs, and a called strike.

I guess what I’m saying is this: the pitch is nasty, and we have confirmation from hitters, professors, numbers, and results. I’d like to see Adam throw more of them in 2021. I think it will help him rise up the ranks (perhaps even to the top) of the Cubs long-term bullpen plans.

(Honestly, like six people helped me write this silly post about a single pitch. They know who they are, and I thank them.)

written by

Bryan Smith is a Minor League Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @cubprospects.

more cubs news

Pre-Gamin’: Cubs at Mariners – Lineups, Broadcast Info, Game Thread

CUBS LINEUP — Don't shoot the messenger, but this Cubs game doesn't start until 8:40pm CT ... and it's on AppleTV+. I don't make the rules. In any case, it's been a nice long break since the frustrating series in...

REPORT: Cubs Calling Up Keegan Thompson – Recent Performance, What to Expect, More

Last night, we learned that the Chicago Cubs had optioned right-handed reliever Jose Cuas to the Triple-A Iowa Cubs after a pretty horrendous start to the year. Although he's got some arm talent and a funky delivery (which creates a...

More Late-Night Games: Cubs vs Mariners Series Preview

Cubs vs Mariners — The Cubs west coast trip continues tonight in Seattle, where they'll open up the first of three games against the Mariners at T-Mobile Park. The Cubs are coming off a pretty frustrating series loss in San...

Apparently the Cubs Traded Catcher Joe Hudson to the Mets After Signing Ali Sanchez

In another bit of news dropping on the transactions page, the Chicago Cubs have traded catcher Joe Hudson to the New York Mets. Nothing is listed on the Cubs page or the Mets page as the trade return, so I...

Cubs Farm Report | April 11, 2024: Reginald Preciado’s Big Night Not Enough for Myrtle Beach

We've got a shorter Cubs Farm Report today, with half of the affiliates being rained out. The Iowa Cubs got their game in against the St. Paul Saints but lost to the Twins' affiliate. Myrtle Beach scored nine runs with...

Random Awesome Highlight Flashback: The Time Reed Johnson Robbed Prince Fielder of a Grand Slam

Thanks to yesterday's off-day and today's game being of the late-night variety, we're having to wait a very long time between games. For that reason, I very much appreciated today's random flashback from the Daily Random Cub account, which took...

Small Change Coming for Hendricks? Dreaming on Old Keegan Thompson, Streaks Alive, and Other Cubs Bullets

Sorry for the late bullets this morning. Brett is still working his way back (no pun intended), and I still have some other "running-the-site" duties to address on any given day. To that end, we are working on some stuff...

Cubs Prospect Reginald Preciado Making Some Early Noise

When the Cubs traded Yu Darvish to the Padres, everyone understood it to be two things: (1) saving some payroll in the wake of the pandemic, and (2) getting a volume-based return to stock up the farm system. In other...

Jose Cuas is Headed to Iowa, So the Cubs Must Be Making a Bullpen Move

As spotted by a number of eagle-eyed folks out there, the Chicago Cubs transaction page was updated tonight to include this line: "Chicago Cubs optioned RHP Jose Cuas to Iowa Cubs." There is no corresponding move listed. Yet. That means...

The Chicago Cubs’ Bonus Pool for the 2024 MLB Draft is Smaller Than You Probably Hoped

The full bonus pools for the upcoming 2024 MLB Draft are out, and the Chicago Cubs, despite picking 14th in the first round, will have only the 19th largest bonus pool, at $9,802,300. Thanks to compensatory draft picks and -...

Latest News

Twins vs. Tigers Prediction: Expert Picks, Odds, Stats & Best Bets – Saturday, April 13, 2024

The Minnesota Twins will take the field against the Detroit Tigers (8-4) on Saturday. The game begins at 1:10 PM ET on BSN, with the Twins listed as -134 favorites on the moneyline.Minnesota's Joe Ryan gets the start, and he'll...

Reds vs. White Sox Probable Starting Pitchers – April 13

The Cincinnati Reds (7-6) go on the road against the Chicago White Sox (2-11) on Saturday. The contest is set to begin at 2:10 PM ET.The Reds will give the nod to Nick Lodolo and the White Sox will turn...

Twins vs. Tigers Probable Starting Pitchers – April 13

The Minnesota Twins (4-7) visit the Detroit Tigers (8-4) for an away game at 1:10 PM ET on Saturday.The probable pitchers are Joe Ryan (0-1) for the Twins and Kenta Maeda (0-1) for the Tigers.Twins vs. Tigers Pitcher Matchup and...

Mets vs. Royals Probable Starting Pitchers – April 13

The New York Mets (6-7) host the Kansas City Royals (9-5) for a home game at Citi Field on Saturday. First pitch is at 1:40 PM ET.The Mets will give the ball to Sean Manaea (1-0, 0.82 ERA), who is...

Wild vs. Sharks Prediction: Picks, Live Odds and Moneyline – Saturday, April 13, 2024

The Minnesota Wild play at the San Jose Sharks on April 13 at 10:30 PM ET, and are -238 favorites, with the home team a big underdog at +195.Wild vs. Sharks Favorite, Moneyline, TotalFavorite: Wild (-238)Underdog: Sharks (+195)Total: 6Best Wild...

Kings vs. Ducks Prediction: Odds, Picks, Best Bets – Saturday, April 13, 2024

The oddsmakers really fancy the Los Angeles Kings to top the Anaheim Ducks in their clash on Saturday, April 13, with the Kings given moneyline odds of -355 at home, and the Ducks at +280.Kings vs. Ducks Favorite, Moneyline, TotalFavorite:...

Oilers vs. Canucks Prediction: Picks, Live Odds and Moneyline – Saturday, April 13, 2024

The Edmonton Oilers are solid favorites (-135) at home against the Vancouver Canucks (+114) on Saturday at 10:00 PM ET.Oilers vs. Canucks Favorite, Moneyline, TotalFavorite: Oilers (-135)Underdog: Canucks (+114)Total: 6.5Best Oilers vs. Canucks Promo Codes[lasso type="table" id="1"]How to Watch Oilers...

How to Watch Dodgers vs. Padres: Live Stream or on TV

Mookie Betts and the Los Angeles Dodgers (10-6) host Fernando Tatis Jr. and the San Diego Padres (8-8) on Saturday, with first pitch at 9:10 PM ET.The article below will give you everything you need to know to watch Los...

Predators vs. Blue Jackets Prediction: Live Odds, Stats, History and Picks – Saturday, April 13, 2024

The Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets face off on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, and the sportsbooks give a big edge to the home team (-305) over the visitor (+245).Predators vs. Blue Jackets Favorite, Moneyline, TotalFavorite: Predators (-305)Underdog:...

How to Watch Cardinals vs. Diamondbacks: Live Stream or on TV

The St. Louis Cardinals (7-7), who will give the ball to Kyle Gibson, visit the Arizona Diamondbacks (6-8) with Ryne Nelson on the hill, Saturday at 8:10 PM ET.Keep reading to see how to watch the St. Louis-Arizona matchup below.When...

more cubs news