When you look at the player pages for a prospect, you’ll see present and future grades. When it comes to the grades per pitch, the difference between the two is mostly consistency. As Kiley McDaniel puts it, the future grade is “usually the best version of the pitch currently.”
If you watched Michael Pineda pitch yesterday, you know exactly what this means. By Gameday, he threw nine changeups, but by PITCHf/x he threw 12, and the number might be even larger. Only twice before in his 42 starts has he thrown that many. They weren’t all good. But when they were good…
They were great. He’d been working on the change all spring, so he debuted it with two strikes on the first batter. Jose Reyes was batting left-handed. This pitch was labeled a fastball in Gameday, and the announcers were enthused.
Ken Singleton: Not sure what this pitch was but it had a lot of movement to it.
David Cone: I think that’s a power changeup is what that is!
Singleton: Very powerful! Fell off the edge of the earth. Great pitch.
Cone: 90 mph, took a little bit off.
Singleton: Changeup, 90.
It’s an unconventional changeup, but it has a lot of movement. It averaged nine inches of arm-side run on Wednesday, about three inches more than average for a righty. That’s good because movement is the most important thing for a changeup, and hard changeups are fine for grounders, at the very least. If Felix Hernandez can live with a change that sits around 90, maybe Pineda can do well with his changeup.
|Changeup||Velocity||Horizontal Move||Vertical Move|
|Michael Pineda 2015||86.7||-9.4||5.3|
|Pineda to Reyes||90.6||-12.0||6.6|
|Felix Hernandez 2014||89.9||-6.4||1.4|
The problem is, the change doesn’t always look that. Or he might *be* Felix Hernandez. In the very next inning, he threw another changeup — 88 mph this time — that didn’t look as nasty. Or at least, it wasn’t going to get offered at because it never looked like a strike.
Command and consistency is the way forward. It can be frustrating, because in the course of one at-bat, you might see the gap between his present and future grades on the pitch. In the course of three pitches, even.
He threw this changeup to Russell Martin with batters on in the top of the third inning, for example.
Meh. Decent movement, but it wasn’t ever going to get a swing.
But it did inspire the broadcast team to talk about the importance of the ground ball in general, and the importance of the changeup to Michael Pineda.
Michael Kay: We told you that Pineda looking for the double play, that’s really not part of his arsenal, he has no double play grounders in his 22 starts, dating back to when he was with Seattle, and that’s the longest current streak in the majors.
[Pineda throws a slider that Martin fouls off.]
Kay: You think that’s a product of his arsenal, David, that he doesn’t get more ground balls?
Cone: Partly yes, he’s not noted as a ground -ball pitcher, and usually power guys are more pop up and strikeout pitchers. His best chance to get a ground ball you see right there as he threw a changeup in the dirt. Brian McCann trying to get him to get the ball down. His slider is more of a swing and miss pitch, cut fastball is more of a jam shot pop up pitch. The best chance for a ground-ball pitch for Pineda is that ever-improving changeup we saw in spring training. Now, with two strikes, he’s probably looking for the strike out and a swing and miss pitch.
So Pineda threw this changeup, which had three inches more drop than his average changeup.
And the broadcast team was almost at a loss for words. After a silence, they rallied:
Cone: That’s.. that’s impressive, if you think about it, to go to his third-best pitch, the changeup, you see the grip. Sorta that corkscrew pitch and straight down. That is an outstanding pitch right-handed pitcher on right-handed batter. High degree of difficulty to pull that off.
Maybe it doesn’t matter if he can’t command it so well. For one, it gives him different movement. Because he uses a cutter and a four-seamer, he doesn’t have anything with arm-side movement like the change. There’s a whopping six inches of difference in movement in that direction, and he can command his other pitches well enough that one wild pitch isn’t such a big deal.
Consider this pitch to Jose Bautista. It was in the dirt, and it didn’t matter.
Later in the game, David Cone talked about how difficult it is to get through the batting order three times. “That’s a big test for frontline pitchers, the third time through the order. And that’s where the changeup can really help, even against righties as we’ve seen tonight,” the announcer said.
And yes, Pineda did pitch a good game, and used his changeup against batters of both hands. He got at least three our four whiffs on at least 12 pitches, and all of the balls in play were ground balls. Even if he can’t command the pitch or get the same amount of drop on every single one — which would help it become the plus-plus pitch that it might some day be — it’ll do for now, as an occasionally awesome third pitch that keeps the batters a little more off-balance.
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.