Oakland starter Jesse Hahn is throwing the changeup more than ever before. In some ways, it’s new. In other ways, though, this was the changeup he’s always had. This isn’t just semantics or word play, though.
Let’s make the case that Hahn’s changeup is new, first, and see what that might mean for Hahn.
No changeup, thrown by a starter at least 20 times this season, has improved more than Hahn’s. At least by whiff rate. This year, he’s showing a 21% whiff rate on the pitch (six whiffs), and last year he showed a 6.5% whiff rate. You can call it a small sample size thing, but he threw 77 changeups last year and didn’t get six whiffs.
He’s basically doubled his usage of the pitch, and it’s doing better. At the least, his appraisal of the pitch is new. “I feel really good about my changeup this year,” Hahn said before a game with the Astros.
Given that Hahn just had a blister problem for the first time in his career, it’s fair to ask if this new pitch is going to lead to (literal) growing pains for the pitcher. But after demonstrating how the blistered area touched the ball, he affirmed that it was probably the two-seamer that somehow rubbed his finger the wrong way. Nothing a little pickle juice can’t fix. (“No, we’ve got much better creams and ointments now,” laughed Hahn about the reference.)
If it’s a new pitch, you might also want to point to Hahn’s distressing peripherals. His overall swinging strike rate is down, and his strikeout rate is third-worst among starters right now.
The pitcher wasn’t worried. “It’s early in the year,” he said. “I’m happy to get more grounders and quick outs with my two-seamer and changeup now, and once I start seeing these guys more often, I’ll switch it up and we’ll see more strikeouts.”
Given that only starters Carlos Martinez, Corey Kluber, Jose Fernandez and Trevor Bauer threw at least 200 curves last year and had a better whiff rate than Hahn did on his curve, that seems about right. He’s now added a changeup and a bit of velocity, and should be fine.
Particularly if the changeup isn’t new, and he’s just about the same Hahn as he was last year, when he was really good. Take a look at the movement on the pitch last year and this year, compared to the average right-hander.
|Changeup||Horizontal Move||Vertical Move||Velocity Diff|
Hahn is currently sporting a couple inches more drop and fade than average, with just about league average velocity differently. That’s impressive! Most of these things were true last year, too, though.
Ask the pitcher and he emphasizes confidence in the pitch over any differences in the pitch itself. “I spent spring training throwing changeup after changeup after changeup,” he said. He didn’t change a grip, didn’t change his mechanics, he just threw the pitch over and over again.
The A’s pitcher remembered when we spoke back when he was a Padre, and how I told him that PITCHf/x said his changeup had good shape, and said he really felt that he agreed with me now. Back then, he said he just needed to throw the change more in order to “get comfortable with it and get more confidence with it.” He’s done that work now.
So Jesse Hahn’s changeup is the same it’s been, more or less. But his confidence in the pitch has changed, and that now gives him another weapon. As some of his peripherals regress positively to his career means, he’ll still have that extra pitch to give lefties some pause.
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.