MLB Power Rankings: Roy Halladay and the 10 Best Changeups in the Game Today
In baseball today, fickle fans have a fascination with speed when it comes to pitching. Unless a pitcher can throw a fastball upwards of 94 miles per hour, it seems that he is not worth one's total attention. While the fastball is certainly a fine pitch, I would prefer today to talk about a horse of a different color: the changeup.
All in all, the changeup is the same as the fastball in terms of movement. It moves straight, but a special grip required to throw it makes it a different pitch entirely. Rather than overwhelm an opposing batter with high velocity, a changeup moves much slower than a typical fastball and most batters swing at it too early.
While many of today's pitchers do have great fastballs, many of those same pitchers rely heavily on a changeup in order to be effective. One pitcher who uses this pitch very well is Philadelphia Phillies ace Roy Halladay (pictured at left), whose changeup just seems to improve season after season.
Here are 10 pitchers in baseball today, Halladay included, whose changeups are extremely stifling.
10. A.J. Burnett
For most of his career, A.J. Burnett has been a two-pitch pitcher. He has relied heavily on his fastball and curveball and while those pieces of his repertoire have served him well, they also have made him very predictable. Given his abysmal 2010 campaign, it is no surprise that Burnett incorporated a changeup into his group of pitches for this season.
Thus far this season, the changeup has been Burnett's go-to pitch. He has gone 3-0 in three starts and while his ERA may be a bit inflated at 4.67, his 16 strikeouts in 17.1 innings say it all. He has walked only five hitters, thanks in part to them chasing his changeup when there are two strikes in the count.
It may be a bit early to call Burnett's changeup one of the best in the game, but it has impressed enough this year to warrant kicking off this countdown.
9. Dallas Braden
When he isn't throwing a perfect game or yelling at Alex Rodriguez to get off of his pitching mound, Dallas Braden is fooling hitters with his changeup. A true finesse pitcher, Braden's fastball tops out in the low 90s and he relies heavily on off-speed pitches to put hitters away. It was his effective changeup that aided him in tossing a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 9, 2010.
In that game, Braden threw 109 pitches, 77 for strikes. He struck out six batters and mixed his pitches up with ease, including the devastating changeup. Even Rays outfielder Ben Zobrist praised the pitch, telling mlb.com that Braden "kept us off-balance with his changeup."
With a bright career ahead of him, look for Braden's changeup to continue to dazzle hitters and improve over the next couple of seasons.
8. Francisco Rodriguez
When he first came to the majors full-time in 2003, Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez was a true power pitcher. His fastball topped out in the upper 90s, and he struck out hitters regularly as he soon became one of the game's more dominant closers.
Yet, despite only being 29-years-old, Rodriguez has started to lose his velocity. Thus, he has had to incorporate more pitches into his repertoire. One of these pitches is a changeup that is, for lack of better word, nasty.
In watching Rodriguez pitch today, it's as though he is a completely different pitcher. He still has some velocity, but doesn't really rely on it. Instead, he throws a changeup that buckles batters' knees the way that UConn guard Kemba Walker breaks opposing defenders' ankles.
2011 is Rodriguez's contract year, and it's a near certainty that he'll still be in the MLB next season. If he wants to get a contract similar to the one he signed with the New York Mets (three years, $37 million), he'll have to show that his changeup is one that can be consistently effective in finishing games. Call me crazy, but something tells me that K-Rod will rise to the task and become one of the MLB elite once again.
7. Shaun Marcum
Last season, according to FanGraphs, Shaun Marcum had the best changeup in terms of runs prevented. In a season that saw many surprises from the Toronto Blue Jays, Marcum went 13-8 with a 3.64 ERA. Yet, for some reason or another, he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers during the offseason.
In 2011, Marcum and his changeup have gotten off to a pretty good start. He has gone 2-1 in three starts, posting a 2.55 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. Opposing hitters are batting just .210 against him.
As good as his changeup has been recently, it must be remembered that Marcum did not really start getting a ton of media attention until last season. Yes, he throws a fine changeup, but it remains to be seen just how long his success will remain with him. Thus, he is No. 7 on this list.
6. Roy Halladay
Before being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies prior to last season, Roy Halladay was primarily a fastball and curveball pitcher, occasionally mixing in a slider. He knew how to throw a changeup, but struggled in controlling it and thus rarely used it. Since coming to the National League, Halladay has become a premiere changeup pitcher.
In his first season with the Phillies, he went 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA and an astounding 1.04 WHIP. His changeup played a key role in those numbers as he went on to win the NL Cy Young Award, throwing two no-hitters in the process (including one perfect game).
Long story short, Roy Halladay's changeup is so unpredictable that it is near-impossible to approach it in any way. It could rise, fall, break either outside or inside, and hitters would still be fooled. He's off to another good start this season, so look for Halladay and his changeup to continue dazzling hitters as the season progresses.
5. Johan Santana
While Johan Santana is well known for his fastball that is used to strike opposing hitters out, he is even better known for his devastating changeup that is considered to be one of the best in MLB history. He throws a variation of the pitch called the circle changeup, which moves more like a curveball and relies on the use of the pitcher's latter three fingers.
Santana may have his critics given how he currently plays for the chronically underachieving New York Mets, but that doesn't take away from the fact that he is a top changeup thrower. He changes speeds effectively, has won two Cy Young Awards (2004, 2006) and simply put when he's on, he's ON.
The dominating lefty is currently on the disabled list as he recovers from shoulder surgery and is expected to return around the end of June. Assuming he's fully healthy when he comes back, look for his changeup to continue to be one of the majors' best.
4. CC Sabathia
At 6'7" and 265 pounds, it's no surprise that CC Sabathia throws a hard fastball that overwhelms hitters. Yet, what makes him an even better pitcher is his uncanny ability to fool the opposition with a devastating changeup.
Used primarily against right-handed batters, Sabathia's changeup has a way of just finding the right spot across the plate. More often than not, hitters can only stand and watch as the big lefty's signature pitch dances its way into the catcher's mitt and leaves them walking back to the dugout with a strikeout.
He may be off to a slow start in 2011, but Sabathia will definitely finish the season with more amazing numbers. If he wins the Cy Young Award, the first to be thanked should definitely be his changeup!
3. Felix Hernandez
Based on wins and losses alone, Felix Hernandez had a fairly average year with a 13-12 record in 2010. Yet, he also had a 2.27 ERA with an amazing 1.06 WHIP. Throw in six complete games and 232 strikeouts, and you have the 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner.
Hernandez certainly has velocity with a fastball that has been clocked as high as 100 mph, but his go-to pitch over the past couple of seasons has been is ever-improving changeup. Batters swing at it and if they don't miss it completely, it's hit on the ground directly to an infielder and an easy groundout occurs.
The man they call "King Felix" has gotten off to a slow start in 2011, but keep an eye on him to return to his old form in the very near future. Regardless of how his team does or how fast his fastball is, that changeup is his bread and butter in getting opposing hitters out. Once he is his old self again, watch for it on his campaign to retain his Cy Young crown.
2. Tim Lincecum
For most of his young career, Tim Lincecum has been called "The Freak." This nickname could come from his herky-jerky windup motion, his laid-back personality (compared to his intense one on the field), or even the long flowing hair coming out the back of his cap. Yet, I believe that the diminutive righty's moniker comes from his freakish variety of pitch selection.
Lincecum throws both a four and two-seam fastball, a curveball, a slider and most importantly, a changeup. This young man's changeup is the go-to pitch that has played a large role in him leading the National League in strikeouts each of the previous three seasons.
Yes, Lincecum is certainly a versatile pitcher, but his changeup is the pitch that deserves the most attention. Hitters are still completely fooled by it and cannot figure it out. Look for Lincecum to make a campaign for a third NL Cy Young Award as his changeup continues to draw opposing batters off-balance.
1. Cliff Lee
Well, where do I begin with this guy? He throws a fastball, two-seamer, cutter, knuckle-curve and of course, a changeup. Each of the past two seasons, he has played an integral role in helping his team reach the World Series.
That all being said, Cliff Lee's changeup is the best in the game. For those of you who have never watched him pitch, he makes hitters look foolish so easily, it's as though he's doing simple arithmetic. We're not exactly sure what he does, but he does it so well!
Being a New York Yankees fan, I've watched Cliff Lee dominate my team in the playoffs for the past two seasons. The key to beating him is making him throw a lot of pitches, but his pitches (especially his changeup) are located so perfectly and their speed is so impeccable that batters have no choice but to swing in some instances. His changeup is a circle change, and its late movement is so effective that all hitters can do is watch.
He is fresh off a shutout of the Washington Nationals and if that performance (9 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 12 K) was any indication as to how good his changeup can be, fans can expect an amazing season from the lanky left-hander. There's no other way to say it. His changeup is simply the best.