Patrick Sandoval’s Changeup Is a Whiff Machine

When you sit back and daydream about the perfect changeup, which one comes to mind? Do you think of Luis Castillo’s circle changeup, or maybe Gerrit Cole’s power change? Perhaps modern pitchers aren’t doing it for you and Trevor Hoffman has your favorite changeup. Regardless of what changeup takes shape in your imagination, there is always room for a new one to catch your fancy.

That’s Patrick Sandoval and his changeup is one of the nastiest pitches in baseball. I know that is quite the claim, but take a look at the best swinging strike rates for starting pitchers, broken down by individual pitch.

The Best Swing and Miss Pitches
Pitcher Pitch Type SwStr%
Jacob deGrom Slider 34.4%
Patrick Sandoval Changeup 31.9%
Shohei Ohtani Splitter 29.7%
Tyler Glasnow Curveball 29.0%
Kevin Gausman Splitter 27.4%
Clayton Kershaw Slider 26.7%
Shane Bieber Slider 24.7%
Robbie Ray Slider 24.2%
Max Scherzer Slider 24.0%
Shane McClanahan Slider 23.9%
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
Among starting pitchers with a minimum of 150 pitches thrown

Being sandwiched between two of the most supremely talented players in the game is no easy feat, not to mention the number of Cy Young awards and All-Stars appearances that comprise the rest of the list. In fact, Sandoval sticks out like a sore thumb as he’s nearly unheard of compared to these other pitchers. Sandoval has the best whiff inducing changeup in baseball this season and it’s not particularly close. The next best among starting pitchers is Brandon Woodruff’s changeup with a 23.0% SwStr%, or Raisel Iglesias’ changeup at 27.7%, if you are interested in relievers as well.

You could hardly be blamed for being unfamiliar with Sandoval, especially before this season. The 24-year-old has had a fairly slow introduction into the big leagues since debuting in 2019 and carried a career 5.33 ERA and 5.23 FIP heading into this season. He even found himself left off the Opening Day roster until injuries gave him an opportunity with the team in early May. On June 6, he had his breakout performance against the Mariners. In the start he compiled a career best 10 strikeouts along with a whopping 29.7% swinging strike rate on the night — the highest single game rate for any starter all year. The league average swinging strike rate is 11.5%, and even Jacob deGrom has only had a rate that high in a game once in his career (last September against the Phillies he had 35 whiffs on 108 pitches). It was the kind of performance that put Sandoval on the map, at least to this writer. Seventeen of his 30 whiffs came on his changeup, which he threw 36.6% of the time.

But his changeup has been great all season. Here’s how his changeup stacks up to the league average for changeups in a few key attributes.

Sandoval’s Changeup Vs. League Average Changeup
SwStr% GB% wOBA EV
Sandoval 31.9% 60.6% 0.180 84.9
League Average 14.5% 51.2% 0.288 86.0
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Getting whiffs on a pitch is obviously good. Sandoval’s changeup is exceptional in that regard but it also gets an elite rate of grounders. He’s been able to keep the pitch off of hitter’s barrels and it’s made the pitch a huge weapon for him at a time when he’s cementing his role in the rotation with his overall performance.

Let’s take a closer look at the pitch to see how he’s using it and whether he’s changed anything to take it to it’s current level. We’ll start by acquainting ourselves with how he grips and releases the pitch.

Sandoval throws his changeup with a circle-change grip where his thumb and index finger come together on the side of the ball to give the middle and ring fingers the center stage. The added friction of the index and pinky finger on the side of the ball, as well as the grip being deeper down on the fingers, helps slow the pitch down without dropping arm speed. When closely watching the release, you’ll notice the ball is almost coming out on the side of his hand and his wrist turns over upon release as if he were throwing a screwball. This release gives the ball about a 10 o’clock spin coming out of his hand leading to the nasty arm-side movement you saw in the earlier GIF.

The changeup has been a very versatile pitch for Sandoval so far this season. Look at how his usage against righties has changed from last year.

He is peppering the outside edge of the plate this season. That location, even up in the zone, makes a lot of sense for a pitch that looks like a fastball yet comes in about 8 mph slower with movement taking the ball off the plate. That’s a tough pitch to lay off and an even tougher one to not be so far out in front that you roll over with a grounder or pop the ball up.

Looking past the execution off the edge of the plate, you’ll also notice that he is throwing more changeups below the zone, as well. When looking at the movement profile of his changeup, you’ll start to understand why he’s throwing it more in that location.

He’s getting a different type of movement on a lot of his changeups this season. That area circled in red translates to more downward movement on the pitch. He’s still throws plenty of changeups that resemble the shape of last year’s pitch but he now seems to throw a version that has more vertical drop. A perfect pitch to be dropping at the bottom of the strike zone. It’s possible that spreading out his ring and middle finger more is giving him more drop and allowing his changeup to act more like a splitter. If this new wrinkle on his changeup isn’t enough, he also happens to be getting almost two more inches of movement on average compared to last season.

So his changeup has become more versatile and more nasty. Let’s see it in action a few more times. Here’s an example of this downward movement he has on the pitch.

Sandoval’s out of zone swing rate on his changeup (O-Swing%) is 43.4%, 12% higher than last season. It’s no wonder his heat map shows so many changeups perfectly placed around the edge of the zone. It looks like a fastball in the strike zone then the movement draws the pitch away from the zone.

Finally, check out this sequence to Jose Altuve, where Sandoval triples up on the pitch and gets whiffs on both types of movement.

That was three straight whiffs on a changeup to a hitter who only swings and misses on 7.6% of the pitches he sees. After two consecutive changeups below the knees, Sandoval had him set up with numerous options and Altuve seemed to be geared up for a high fastball as he was more out in front of the third changeup than either of the first two. That’s an impressive mix of locations from Sandoval and all from the same pitch.

Sandoval has had a breakout first half but it’s not as if he’s a finished product. For one thing, his changeup is not a pitch that’s good against lefties, though that hasn’t been an issue because he has a slider that has limited lefties to a .172 wOBA. His slider is a legitimate second weapon but right now it’s his fastball that is letting him down. His four-seamer and two-seamer are both allowing wOBAs over .400. His four-seamer is only in the 10th percentile in spin rate yet he works it up in the zone a lot, probably too much. When he’s not perfect with that location, home runs can be the result and that’s happened too often for Sandoval this season. He’s allowing 1.64 home runs per nine innings, which is 30% higher than average. That’s quite a bit for someone that gets a lot of grounders. Even a bad fastball can make a changeup better, though. You can read more about how his fastball plays with his changeup in Cole Bailey’s article that went up over at Pitcher List this morning.

Since joining the rotation Sandoval has a 3.44 ERA and 4.00 FIP in seven starts. He’s turned himself into a valuable rotation piece for a team that has been looking for quality starting pitching for years — the Angels are 29th in baseball in starting pitcher WAR since 2017. Sandoval looks to be providing some stability and has upside to build upon. For now, his changeup is a sight to behold and if you tune in to one of his starts you are bound to see lots of whiffs and soft contact because of it. Adding a new movement profile to the pitch has diversified his arsenal and allowed him to secure a rotation spot with the Angels. There is still work to be done, especially in regard to his fastball, but this changeup is a building block that any pitcher would love to have and that the Angels have desperately needed.

Luke Hooper is a designer and writer at FanGraphs. He lives in Portland, Oregon, longing for a major league team to materialize.

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2 years ago

My favourite change up is definitely prime Felix!

OddBall Herrera
2 years ago
Reply to  amartin

Johan Santana, though I am a biased Twins fan

2 years ago

Going back a bit, my favorite all time change up was Rick Reuschel’s. The tighter the situation, the slower he would throw it.