The inside change-up: courage or folly?by John Walsh
July 28, 2008
Last time I wrote about Keith Hernandez's excellent book Pure Baseball, which I truly enjoyed. I especially liked the stuff on pitching and the focus of that piece was Keith's take on locating three kinds of pitches: the fastball, the slider and the change-up. Let's start with the change-up—here is what Keith wrote about locating the pitch:
The change-up is never thrown purposefully inside. Never. If the change does what it's designed to do and gets the hitter off stride, about all he can do with the pitch over the outside part of the plate is to hit it weakly toward the end of the bat. But even if he is off stride he can still get the head of the bat on the inside change-up and pull it with power, sometimes with one arm. The pitcher who throws an inside change-up runs a major risk that he will soon be, in the immortal words of George Hendrick, "rubbing up a new one".This explanation didn't exactly convince me, mostly because I didn't understand it. I believe I understand now, however, thanks to the comments left on Ballhype by sabermetrician Mitchel Lichtman (aka MGL). Basically, Lichtman's point is that the batter needs to swing early on an inside pitch and the swing on a change-up tends to be early anyway, hence the likelihood of "rubbing up a new one."*
|Ted Lilly delivers a change-up (note the grip). The pitch is likely headed, despite conventional wisdom, to the inner half of the strike zone. (Icon/SMI)|
* That is a good phrase by Joggin' George Hendrick, isn't it? Anybody out there remember Hendrick? Back in his St. Louis days, he had a reputation as a lazy bum (hence the "Joggin'"), but I always liked him. Sure, he did sit down on the outfield grass during Cardinal pitching changes, but I can't recall him dogging it going down to first on a ground ball, stuff like that. He also would talk to us bleacherites during those pitching changes, which we all thought was very cool.
Ok, so inside change-ups are dangerous pitches and nobody ever throws them purposefully. "Never," as Keith said. "Never" is a big word, so I thought I might have a look at the PITCHf/x data to see if I could learn something about inside change-ups. Keith did say "purposefully," and even the PITCHf/x data, marvelous as it is, cannot tell us where the pitcher was trying to throw the ball.* Still we can look at change-up pitch location for some pitchers and see if we can learn something.
* One thing I've been thinking about is trying to get an idea of how well pitchers can actually locate their pitches. That will vary of course, depending on pitcher and type of pitch, but let's say the best control pitcher out there, throwing his best-controlled pitch (almost for sure the fastball). Can he put it within six inches of where he wants it? Eight inches? A foot? That'd be an interesting number to know, I think.
Anyway, back to inside change-ups. To try to get some feeling for the inside change, the first thing we can do is pick a few pitchers with good or famous change-ups and see if they avoid the inside part of the plate. Why don't we start out with Mark Buehrle and Jamie Moyer? Buehrle's change-up was ranked very high in a previous study I did, while Moyer's change-up is very famous*. Below you see location diagrams for change-ups by these two lefties.
*If you are wondering who had the best change-up ever, well have I got a book for you. The incomparable Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers lists the 10 best practitioners of each kind of pitch. Here is their list of the top 10 change-up artists in baseball history: 1) Stu Miller, 2) Jean Dubuc, 3) Ed Lopat, 4) Jamie Moyer, 5) Pedro Martinez, 6) Trevor Hoffman, 7) Doug Jones, 8) Ellis Kinder, 9) Bill Sherdel, 10) Andy Messersmith. Go on, head over to Baseball Reference to look up Dubuc and Sherdel. I'll wait ...Right, so here are the location diagrams for Buehrle and Moyer (change-ups only). By the way, I'm only looking at change-ups to opposite-hand hitters, which are the vast majority of change-ups thrown. The charts:
Ok, but these are just two pitchers*; what about all the others? Does anybody work the change-up on the inside part of the plate? Well, as much as I like the plots with the colored dots and all, I'm not really enthused about looking at the 130 location plots for pitchers who have at least 100 PITCHf/x-captured change-ups thrown in 2007.
*Two left-handed pitchers. You've probably noticed that many of the great change-up artists are left-handed: Santana, Hamels, Moyer, Glavine, etc. There's a good reason for that: change-ups are used primarily against opposite-handed batters and lefties face far more opposite-handed batters than righties. Southpaws need to develop a pitch that will keep those platoon-advantaged hitters off-stride. There have been many great change-ups thrown by right-handed pitchers of course—the names Pedro Martinez and Trevor Hoffman spring immediately to mind.
So, let's try a different tack. Let's go through the PITCHf/x data and for each pitcher show how often he throws the change-up inside compared to how often he keeps it away (see the Resources section for more details). Let's call the ratio of inside change-ups to outside change-ups the CourageQuotient (CQ for short), because you need to be brave (or stupid) to intentionally come inside with the change. Mark Buehrle's CQ is 0.1, meaning for each inside change-up, he threw 10 outside change-ups. Got that? OK.
The following list shows the 10 pitchers who most kept their change-ups outside. Steve Trachsel only threw two inside change-ups to compare with 68 thrown outside.
+-------------------+-------+-----+---------+--------+-------+ | pitcher | speed | NP | outside | inside | CQ | +-------------------+-------+-----+---------+--------+-------+ | Trachsel_Steve | 80.8 | 106 | 68 | 2 | 0.029 | | Durbin_Chad | 79.4 | 113 | 66 | 2 | 0.030 | | Moseley_Dustin | 82 | 119 | 87 | 3 | 0.034 | | Zito_Barry | 72.7 | 269 | 171 | 9 | 0.052 | | Mitre_Sergio | 84.1 | 104 | 61 | 4 | 0.065 | | Vargas_Claudio | 81.9 | 122 | 73 | 5 | 0.068 | | Davies_Kyle | 81.4 | 183 | 111 | 8 | 0.072 | | Marcum_Shaun | 82.1 | 278 | 182 | 15 | 0.082 | | Gabbard_Kason | 80.1 | 186 | 105 | 9 | 0.085 | | Smoltz_John | 85.5 | 245 | 148 | 13 | 0.087 | +-------------------+-------+-----+---------+--------+-------+OK, so these are the extreme never-throw-the-change-inside guys. The average CQ is around .25, or one change thrown inside for every four thrown outside. So, even on average, pitchers are really keeping their change-ups outside. Not always, but usually. Of course, we don't know if the relatively few inside change-ups are the result of pitchers missing inside (this would be Hernandez' view) or if they are trying to throw it inside.
Now let's look at the leaders in CQ. These are the guys who come inside most often with the change-up:
+-------------------+-------+-----+---------+--------+-------+ | pitcher | speed | nCU | outside | inside | CQ | +-------------------+-------+-----+---------+--------+-------+ | Lilly_Ted | 79.2 | 169 | 42 | 66 | 1.571 | | De La Rosa_Jorge | 81.8 | 124 | 49 | 39 | 0.795 | | Hamels_Cole | 82.3 | 226 | 80 | 52 | 0.650 | | Hill_Rich | 82.4 | 107 | 44 | 28 | 0.636 | | McGowan_Dustin | 87.9 | 196 | 77 | 47 | 0.610 | | Matsuzaka_Daisuke | 82.3 | 115 | 49 | 29 | 0.591 | | Beckett_Josh | 91 | 152 | 64 | 34 | 0.531 | | Reyes_Jo-Jo | 84.1 | 147 | 64 | 34 | 0.531 | | Pettitte_Andy | 79.7 | 105 | 52 | 26 | 0.500 | | Tomko_Brett | 84.7 | 135 | 59 | 29 | 0.491 | +-------------------+-------+-----+---------+--------+-------+Note that only one of the guys, Ted Lilly, throws the change-up more often inside than outside. I'll come back to Lilly in a minute, but first a few comments are in order. First, note that only a handful of pitchers throw even half as many inside change-ups than outside change-ups. So even these fearless change-up artists are throwing the large majority of their changes outside.
And what about control? Maybe the intention was to throw all these change-ups outside and they just missed inside. That would be Keith's view. Let's go back to the pitch location graphs and let's compare Cole Hamels and Jorge de la Rosa.
Ted Lilly had a CQ of 1.57, which is about twice as high as any other pitcher. I don't know how many of these inside change-ups are intentional, but it's pretty clear that Ted Lilly is doing something that nobody else in major league baseball is doing. The sheer number of inside change-ups would make you think that some decent fraction of them must have been intentional. On the other hand, Lilly does not rely heavily on the change-up (he only throws the it around 11 percent of the time), which makes me wonder why he'd be so "revolutionary" with his least important pitch, if that makes any sense.
The question that we need to answer is this: What is happening to all those inside change-ups? Does Lilly have to "rub up a new one" often after throwing one of these changes on the inner part of the plate? Lilly's location plot can be seen on the right, but this time I've added information on what happened to each pitch.
Wow, now isn't this interesting? Look at the change-ups on the inside third of the plate: almost every single one that was even close to the strike zone was a "success," i.e., it resulted in either a strike or an out. Actually, quite a few pitches that were off the plate inside were taken for called strikes. See all those green dots on the inside corner? Maybe these inside change-ups are so rare, the batter is taken by surprise?
Only one of the hits that Lilly served up on the change-up was thrown on the inner third, and as for the long ball, the single home run he surrendered was on the outer third, high in the zone. No, the inside change-up did not hurt Ted Lilly in 2007.
So, where do we stand with inside change-ups? Well, despite Keith Hernandez's assurance that the change-up is never thrown inside purposefully, we are seeing quite a few inside change-ups. I suppose all those inside pitches could have been aimed outside but just missed their target, but that seems unlikely to me.
Furthermore, we have seen that Ted Lilly in 2007, who threw more of his change-ups inside than any other pitcher, had a great degree of success with the inside change-up. Lilly, of course, is just one pitcher, and although a quick look at what happened on inside change-ups from Hamels and Santana didn't show that they were getting killed on those pitches, a more comprehensive study would probably yield some interesting results.
References and Resources
To calculate the Courage Quotient, I look at all pitchers with 100 recorded changeups against opposite-hand batters in the 2007 PITCHf/x data. CQ is just the ratio of inside pitches to outside pitches. Inside pitches are those that cross over the inner third of the plate or are inside but within about 7 inches of the strike zone horizontally. Outside pitches are defined analogously.
For me, Joe Posnanski* is the best baseball writer on the web right now.
* I stole this asterisk/digression thing from him, and though I cannot hope to approach even a fraction of his talent, I at least have the asterisks. Thanks, Joe.
John Walsh dabbles in baseball analysis in his spare time. He welcomes questions and comments via e-mail.
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