Is James Shields’ Changeup Overrated?

Before this pitch, you might have heard a lot about James Shields‘ changeup being the best righty change in the business.


But early in the game, both Gregor Blanco and Brandon Belt managed to touch the pitch for singles. They aren’t alone this year.

In terms of whiff rate, James Shields‘ changeup ranked 55th of 105 pitchers that threw 200 changeups this year. Even if you limit the sample to righty starting pitchers, his changeup ranked 31st in that department. Even if you open the sample to the last three years, Shields’ change isn’t top of the line — his changeup has had a 19% whiff rate, which is above average but not elite. Over the same time period, Stephen Strasburg’s right-handed changeup has had a 26% whiff rate, for example.

In terms of shape and movement, maybe it’s not such a surprise that the change is only okay. Harry Pavlidis did work that suggested that, for whiffs at least, the ten mile per hour velocity gap between the fastball and change was important. Shields has a 7.6 mph difference this year. Tilt and fade are also important. Shields’ changeup fades less than his sinker and drops just short of three inches more than his sinker. Sounds good but not great.

Here’s a comparison of Shields’ movement and velocity on the changeup to league average right-handed changeups:

Changeup x-mov y-mov velocity
James Shields -7.8 4.7 85.2
League Ave -6.5 4.3 83.1

Less vertical movement, more horizontal, and a little bit faster. But that faster quality can cut both ways. Here’s a table that shows the relative difference between the movement and velocity on Shields’ changeup and sinker versus the league average:

CH-FT x-mov y-mov velocity
James Shields -0.4 -2.7 -6.9
League Ave -1.6 -1.9 -8.4

The velocity gap between Shield’s changeup and sinker is less than league average. So is the difference in his horizontal movement. That might be surprising to some.

If you look at his pitches this year, his knuckle curve was the most impressive. Among the 114 pitchers that threw 200 curveballs, his was 27th in whiff rate. He had the 14th-best whiff rate among right-handed starting pitchers. Of course, Shields has thrown eight knuckle curves so far, with five balls, one swinging strike, one called strike and a Pablo Sandoval double.

Sometimes it’s just not your night.

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Shields changeup was horrid this year, despite its success in the past. In 2014, Shileds posted a wCH of -4.9, which is certainly down from its previous 3 year average of 14.2 (which is only behind Felix in terms of RHP over that span). So what happened? Velocity stayed about the same though BB says it’s “firmer”, usage dropped a bit based on his new, very good Knuckle Curve, so what? Well, part of what you would expect…the pitch had less fade, which is desirable in a CH. (’11-’13 H-Mov: -8.2; ’14 H-Mov: -7.7). Also at first glance at BB, it seems like Shields threw more CHs toward the middle of the plate, up in the zone this year, but someone please correct me if I’m wrong in that regard. Either way, more KC in Game 4, Shieldsy.


Nope….game 4 will be in San Francisco.

I’ll show myself out.


I take issue with looking at pitch values, and think they’re a junk stat. They completely ignore the context of the pitch.

I believe sequencing is hugely important to a pitcher’s success, so to eliminate all that context and look at a pitch in isolation doesn’t seem worthwhile.


Thanks Eno. Costanza, So more a believer in this?

For me, I’m still on the fence of how this theory completely ignores pitch movement, but I digress.