Here's a Thought: MLB's 10 Most Effective Changeups
Based on the success of my "MLB's 10 Most Effective Curveballs" and "MLB's 10 Most Effective Sliders" articles, I decided to look at the 10 most effective changeups in 2009.
I'm measuring changeup effectiveness by Pitch Type Linear Weights, which says how many runs a pitcher prevents above average every time he throws 100 pitches.
So, if I say a changeup's effectiveness is one run above average, that means that every 100 changeups that pitcher throws, he allows one run less than average.
I set two ground rules. First of all, pitchers have to have thrown at least 30 innings this year. Second, they have to use the changeup at least 10 percent of the time.
For each pitcher, I'll list the average changeup velocity, average changeup movement relative to an average major league fastball (if you want to know why I'm comparing it to a fastball, just ask), changeup usage (how often the pitcher throws the changeup), and changeup effectiveness (as measured by Pitch Type Linear Weights).
Also, just to clarify, this is me taking the leaderboard on changeup effectiveness, listing the top 10 pitchers, and analyzing their changeup's success. This is NOT a subjective list.
So don't tell me I'm "leaving somebody off." It's just the leaders in the stat and my analysis for why they're leading.
Let's take a look.
#10: Ryan Madson
Changeup Effectiveness: 3.12 runs above average
Changeup Usage: 26.5 percent
Changeup Velocity: 83.4 mph
Changeup Movement: 3.4 inches left to right, 1.1 inches down
Madson's changeup doesn't have incredible movement, but the deception in his delivery and arm action is exceptional.
The changeup has long been a great pitch for Madson, and there's little reason to think it won't continue to be.
#9: Zach Duke
Changeup Effectiveness: 3.23 runs above average
Changeup Usage: 17.6 percent
Changeup Velocity: 81.2 mph
Changeup Movement: 3.6 inches right to left, 4.5 inches down
Duke gets good sink on his changeup, which has always rated as an excellent pitch. He throws it effortlessly from the same arm slot as his fastball. The changeup headlines an arsenal of three effective offspeed pitches for the Pirates lefthander.
#8: Javier Vazquez
Changeup Effectiveness: 3.25 runs above average
Changeup Usage: 13.3 percent
Changeup Velocity: 79.5 mph
Changeup Movement: 0.7 inches left to right, 3.0 inches down
Vazquez has the third-most effective curveball in the majors, and his changeup also rates in the top 10.
His changeup doesn't move much, but it has a nice 11.5 mph differential from his fastball. It also moves similarly to the fastball, but has two extra inches of drop at the end—just enough to sneak under a hitter's bat.
#7: Garrett Olson
Changeup Effectiveness: 3.38 runs above average
Changeup Usage: 11.6%
Changeup Velocity: 81.9 mph
Changeup Movement: 3.4 inches right to left, 2.7 inches down
Olson proves that one amazing off-speed pitch doesn't make a good pitcher.
In fact, all three of his offspeed pitches are above-average, but his fastball is 2.17 runs below average, and he throws it 63 percent of the time.
So that explains the 5.61 ERA and still making this list.
Olson has good command of his changeup, and because of his low usage of it, hitters don't expect the pitch, so it surprises them.
#6: Esmerling Vasquez
Changeup Effectiveness: 3.94 runs above average
Changeup Usage: 17.9 percent
Changeup Velocity: 84.8 mph
Changeup Movement: 4.7 inches left to right, 5.3 inches down
Apparently, there always has to be a Vasquez or Vazquez on these list—we had Javier Vazquez on curveballs and changeups and Virgil Vasquez on sliders.
Anyway, this Vasquez was the biggest surprise (to me, anyway) to make this list.
A wild, hard-throwing righty, Vasquez has actually struggled with his fastball (-.90) and slider (-1.31) this season, but his changeup has obviously excelled.
The pitch has well-above-average fade and sinks down and away from lefties and down and in to righties, and hitters worry more about the mid-90s heat than the changeup, making it even more effective.
#5: J.P. Howell
Changeup Effectiveness: 4.17 runs above average
Changeup Usage: 15.2 percent
Changeup Velocity: 79.7 mph
Changeup Movement: 4.2 inches right to left, 1.2 inches down
Howell's devastating three-pitch mix includes a mid-80s sinker, heavy curveball, and the changeup. As with Javier Vazquez, Howell's changeup doesn't have a ton of raw movement, but it basically looks exactly like a fastball out of his hand and then comes in six mph slower.
#4: Francisco Rodriguez
Changeup Effectiveness: 4.52 runs above average
Changeup Usage: 19.6 percent
Changeup Velocity: 84.8 mph
Changeup Movement: 0.4 inches right to left, 4.2 inches down
K-Rod's changeup actually acts a little bit like a cutter with late drop. There's a ton of deception in his delivery and hitters are usually more worried about the low-90s fastball and sharp breaking ball than the changeup, which Rodriguez only began heavily using in 2008.
#3: Brandon League
Changeup Effectiveness: 4.53 runs above average
Changeup Usage: 21.5 percent
Changeup Velocity: 85.6 mph
Changeup Movement: 0.9 inches left to right, 10.8 inches down
Here's an interesting case.
League is one of the toughest pitchers in baseball to hit, firing a 94-99 mph fastball and hard slider from the low arm angle you see in the picture.
He never used his changeup much before this year, but he added some extra sink to it and quadrupled the pitch's use in 2009.
With a whopping 10.8 inches of sink relative to a fastball, League's changeup, like his fastball, takes a huge tumble at the plate. Unbelievably enough, this year is only it's third-best showing in League's six-year career.
#2: Danny Ray Herrera
Changeup Effectiveness: 4.60 runs above average
Changeup Usage: 24.1 percent
Changeup Velocity: 68.8 mph
Changeup Movement: 3.5 inches right to left, 11.6 inches down
It's not a changeup.
Actually, it is sometimes, but not usually.
Herrera throws both a changeup and a screwball, and the pitch f/x system doesn't have a "screwball" category, so it lumps the two pitches together.
The screwball (which he throws far more often than the changeup) comes in as low as 64 mph, and has even more drop than League's changeup.
Hitters don't often see screwballs, and Herrera's is an extremely effective pitch, so batters almost never put a good swing on it.
#1: Tim Lincecum
Changeup Effectiveness: 5.62 runs above average
Changeup Usage: 21.7 percent
Changeup Velocity: 83.1 mph
Changeup Movement: 2.7 inches right to left, 5.0 inches down.
Doesn't Lincecum winning something make a lot more sense than Ryan Franklin (best curveball) or Virgil Vasquez (slider)?
Lincecum's change is set up by his unbelievable fastball-curve combo, and it has a lot of cut action on it. The combination of the cut and sink on the ball make it absolute death on lefties, and righties also have difficulty with the pitch.
Combine that with Lincecum's baffling mechanics and good command, and you get the best changeup in baseball.