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