How David Price Honed His Changeup

The Red Sox just paid an enormous amount of money for the baseball-throwing services of David Price. The deal makes sense, as Boston struggled last year in that department, and now they’ve basically ensured, barring injury or anomalous performance, that they’ll struggle less in that department next season. Price is a an exceptional pitcher. That was a well-established fact before he was handed $30 million a year — dating back to his breakout 2010 campaign with the Rays, in fact. However, this past season provided glimpses at a repertoire that might facilitate the next stage of David Price, Pitcher, and it was centered around the use of his cutter and the improvement of his changeup.

Jeff went over the changes in Price’s cutter usage in late September, but the main premise is this: Price started throwing more cutters, throwing them harder, and locating them further inside to right-handed hitters toward the end of last season. As we’ll see, that impacted how successful his changeup was in different parts of the zone.

Now, the changeup: we often hear about how difficult they’re to learn. They’re a “feel” pitch, and we’re told that, because of that, they need a lot of work — work that usually comes from experience. It takes confidence to throw any type of pitch well, and when confidence is lacking in a particular offering, the pitcher is reluctant to throw it very often. This is a little different for left-handed pitchers: as Eno pointed out in this piece, left-handed starters throw changeups 65% more often than right-handers do. Lefties inherently have a difficult job because the majority of hitters are right-handed; to combat this, they throw more changeups, the pitch with the best reverse platoon split.

Price has always thrown a changeup, going back to his debut in the league. And, fitting the narrative that changeups are found with more experience, he’s thrown them with increased usage every season of his career. Take a look at his pitch usage every season since 2010:

David Price Pitch Usage — 2010-15
Season Four-Seam% Two-Seam% Cutter% Slider% Curveball% Changeup%
2010 56.8% 17.5% 3.4% 15.6% 6.6%
2011 36.7% 34.1% 8.4% 9.3% 11.1%
2012 25.2% 35.8% 9.7% 7.0% 11.2% 10.9%
2013 19.6% 33.7% 17.7% 0.6% 11.5% 16.9%
2014 17.1% 39.6% 13.8% 9.5% 20.0%
2015 32.2% 22.1% 14.9% 8.1% 22.4%
SOURCE: FanGraphs

In 2015, he cracked the 20% mark with his changeup usage, and he’s now transitioned firmly away from using his curveball as his main secondary pitch. In truth, he had already transitioned away from that approach beginning in 2013, but this year marked not only another increase in usage, but a few other adjustments that merit attention from us.

To start with, there were velocity changes. His velocity increased across the board this past year compared to the 2014 season, with his average fastballs seeing an uptick of between 0.7 – 1.0 mph. This wasn’t exactly a reclamation of his velocity glory days in 2012 when he averaged 95 mph on both of his fastballs, but he averaged 94 on both offerings for the first time in three seasons. Probably as a side effect, his other pitches also saw an increase in velocity, with his changeup gaining almost half a mph. The most important fact to take from this: in 2015, he threw his changeup harder than he ever had before.

Though Brooks Baseball measures a smaller increase in his changeup velocity than our PITCHf/x leaderboards, this graph gives us a good idea of the type of velocity increase we’ve seen with that pitch the past two seasons:

2_Price_Changeup

There was also an increase in movement for Price’s changeup in 2015. He added almost a full inch of arm-side run on the pitch, allowing him to fade the offering away from right-handed bats with more success. Again, from Brooks, take a look at the increase in horizontal (arm-side) movement from 2010-2015:

2_Price_Changeup_Movement

More controlled velocity and movement are usually positives for any type of pitch, and we can see the resulting changes in whiff rate quite clearly in the outcomes of Price’s changeups. Take a look at Price’s whiff rate on changeups from 2010-2015:

David Price Changeup swSTR% — 2010-15
Season Changeup swSTR %
2010 7.7%
2011 10.4%
2012 12.7%
2013 17.0%
2014 17.0%
2015 19.5%
SOURCE: Brooks Baseball

A 2.5-point increase in swinging-strike rate on a pitch is pretty substantial, especially when the pitch was already roughly three points above league average in 2014 (league average swSTR% for changeups was 13.7% in 2015). Price’s change has become a serious weapon, and it’s not a surprise that he’s started using it more often, especially in two-strike counts. In addition to the increase in use we saw at the beginning of this article, we should also highlight the changeup’s use in the context of helping Price develop a weapon to deal with his platoon split. Being a left-handed pitcher, Price has always dealt with lefty hitters well, but righties have naturally always been his main problem.

That changed in 2015. Here’s a table for the rate of changeups Price threw to right-handed hitters with two strikes, the wOBA for righties against Price, and the percent of overall strikeouts his changeup accounted for:

David Price Changeups vs. RHH — 2010-15
Season Two-Strike Changeups vs. RHH wOBA Against Price, RHH Percent of Overall Ks by Changeup, RHH
2010 3% .295 1%
2011 7% .310 5%
2012 8% .278 6%
2013 13% .311 12%
2014 18% .283 15%
2015 26% .265 30%
SOURCE: Brooks Baseball

Price actually had a reverse platoon split this past season and in 2014, as he effectively neutralized the advantage right-handed hitters had over him. The changeup was a driving force in that trend, as he employed only his four-seam fastball more often in two-strike counts against righties (28% vs. 26%). The new Red Sox left-hander heads to Boston with the tools and game plan to effectively eliminate his previous platoon issues by a combination of better cutter usage and a much-improved changeup.

Interestingly, building off of Jeff’s September cutter article, it appears as if the success of Price’s cutter and the success of his changeup could be related, as their whiff rates rose and fell during the same points of the past season. This would make sense, as one of the strength of pitching inside with the cutter is setting up the outside changeup. Take a look:

Price_Cutter_Change_Whiffs

Whether these two pitches are intrinsically linked or not, this is the pitcher the Red Sox paid for: a starter who continues to evolve, continues to experiment, and continues to get better. We’ve seen how great of a pitcher Price has been for the past few years, and the market proved it. With a varied, veterans repertoire that now includes a top-15 changeup among starters, Price has set himself up to be successful for many years to come.





Owen Watson writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @ohwatson.

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John Gibbons
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John Gibbons

Actually he honed it during his side bullpen sessions during crucial playoff moments when we were trying to ensure Marcus Stroman took his place in the rotation.

soaktherich
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soaktherich

Turns out that the northerly climate and short growing season in Toronto produces grapes that are decidedly sour…

soaktherich
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soaktherich

Turns out the northerly climate and short growing season in Toronto produce grapes that are decidedly sour…

Adam
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Adam

The problem was the grapes were harvested too early into the winter season. Once they’ve been hit with a good heavy frost at about -10C, they become sweet enough to become a desert pairing.

Niagara Region Vinters Association
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Niagara Region Vinters Association

Thanks, eh!

(Golf Clap, Golf Clap, Golf Clap…)