Finding the Best MLB Pitchers: Changeup Dominance


While a changeup is not always a pitcher’s go-to pitch, it’s often a vital piece in a starting pitcher’s repository. A changeup is an off-speed pitch (which means it has a lower velocity than a fastball), and its aim is deception – it’s relatively slow and can fool a batter into swinging before the ball gets to the plate. Adding to the deception is the fact that changeups are thrown with a similar motion as a fastball, which serves to trick the batter further.

Dominating With the Changeup

Let’s take a look at PITCHf/x data (wCH/C, weighted changeup runs per 100 pitches to be specific) for MLB pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched through Aug. 27, 2017, and see who dominates the changeup pitch.


This scatterplot compares dominance against the percentage of time a pitcher throws a changeup. The ideal location here is the upper left quadrant – it represents the pitchers who have had the best changeups and who use them frequently. Lefty starter for the Kansas City Royals Jason Vargas is well-known for the quality of his changeups, often relying on a changeup with a circle grip. While primarily making use of his fastball, teammate Danny Duffy also has a quality changeup in his arsenal. Carlos Carrasco and Gio González, of the Cleveland Indians and Washington Nationals respectively, also command a dominant changeup.

In the lower right quadrant, you’ll find pitchers who haven’t necessarily fared well with changeups, but they also don’t tend to use them very often. Mike Foltynewicz of the Atlanta Braves is one example – he uses his four-seam fastball most often but will utilize the changeup now and then. J.C. Ramírez is another example of a player who uses changeups very infrequently.

The upper right quadrant, interestingly, shows pitchers who use changeups frequently but aren’t necessarily performing well with this pitch. Jeremy Hellickson of the Baltimore Orioles is one such pitcher – changeups are his favorite, but he hasn’t had much success with them.

curveball_aug_27_asset_3 copy 2

This chart incorporates the same data as the scatterplot above but may be a bit clearer to see which pitchers are more dominant with the changeup when compared to their peers. Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers comes first in this category – although he doesn’t use a changeup frequently, he’s certainly mastered it. Carlos Carrasco is second, and his changeup frequency is higher than Kershaw’s, so he’s taking advantage of his changeup dominance.

At the opposite end, we find J.C. Ramírez, who uses his not-so-dominant changeup infrequently, as well as other pitchers like Drew Pomeranz of the Red Sox and Lance Lynn of the Cards.

Throwing a Change of Pace

While you’re checking out your favorite pitchers as they race to the postseason, make sure you’re suitably attired with great swag from Fanatics.