# The Best Changeups of the Year by Shape and Speed

No, we aren’t just going to do a leaderboard sort for best movement in each direction and call it a day. It’s a little bit more complicated to figure out the best changeups by shape and speed, mostly because it’s all relative. The changeup, as the name implies, functions off of the fastball, as a change of pace and movement. So we need to define anything the changeup does relative to the pitcher’s fastball.

Then we can do a sort and call it a day.

In order to define fastball movement, let’s just group together all of the fastballs thrown by a pitcher. It’s probably more nuanced than that; the concept of tunneling or sequencing shows that pitchers can pair their changeup with one fastball or the other for different results. But some of this comes out in the wash: by averaging movement across fastballs, their selection of different fastballs will weight the movement in the direction of the pitcher’s usage.

So then our x and y movement, and velocity, are defined against this average fastball for each pitcher. Using a minimum of 50 changeups thrown, and z-scores to sum up the values, we can get a list of best changeups quickly.

First, the relievers.

Best Reliever Changeups by Movement, Velocity
 Pitcher FB (pfx_x) FB (pfx_z) FB (velo) CH (pfx_x) CH (pfx_y) CH (velo) Sum Z CH swSTR% Brad Boxberger -3.3 10.6 92.6 -7.8 2.0 79.8 6.7 14% Shawn Tolleson -2.6 11.0 92.9 -4.8 4.0 79.8 4.9 15% Josh Fields 0.1 11.5 94.1 -0.6 3.7 81.4 4.5 8% Roberto Osuna -4.2 10.7 95.5 -8.0 6.9 82.3 4.0 16% Josh Smith -4.1 7.6 89.9 -8.4 1.9 79.4 4.0 8% Chasen Shreve 7.3 10.6 91.4 6.3 1.5 82.6 3.5 18% A.J. Ramos -3.0 8.6 92.4 -7.5 1.0 85.5 3.5 35% Jeff Ferrell -4.1 10.2 93.0 -7.4 4.9 82.4 3.5 20% Danny Farquhar -5.0 8.5 92.7 -7.5 1.0 84.5 3.2 24% Fernando Rodney -6.7 7.1 94.7 -9.6 3.3 82.7 3.1 17% Andrew Schugel -7.9 7.8 91.6 -9.6 2.3 80.5 3.1 23% Joaquin Benoit -6.5 8.9 94.2 -7.5 1.9 84.1 3.1 24% Tyler Thornburg -0.8 11.1 92.2 -5.8 6.3 83.8 3.0 19% Arnold Leon -5.1 9.8 91.6 -4.6 2.8 80.2 2.9 22% Pat Neshek -8.5 4.9 89.9 -4.6 3.7 68.4 2.9 9% Tommy Kahnle -1.9 7.4 94.8 -7.6 2.8 87.2 2.8 23% Mike Morin -4.7 8.9 92.3 -0.5 6.8 71.7 2.8 25% Deolis Guerra -5.1 10.0 90.8 -6.7 4.0 80.7 2.8 15% Daniel Hudson -6.6 8.3 96.0 -9.9 4.9 84.8 2.7 18% Erik Goeddel -3.9 9.2 93.0 -4.7 2.0 84.3 2.5 32%
SOURCE: PITCHf/x
pfx_x = horizontal movement
pfx_z = vertical movement
Sum Z = sum of the z-scores for the differentials between fastball and changeups in x, y movement and velocity
swSTR% = swinging strikes over pitches for the changeup
Minumum 50 changeups thrown in 2015

If you listen to The Sleeper and The Bust, you know I talk about this all the time and do the math in my head. Now the math is there for us on the sheet of paper.

And now we know that Brad Boxberger had the biggest differential between his fastball and changeup movement and velocity in baseball this year. And right away we see the importance of defining movement this way.

Boxberger’s fastball is straight (three inches less horizontal movement than average) but has some ride (one more inch of “rise” than average). If you looked at his changeup without the fastball there, you’d say that it has some nice drop (two inches more than average) but is straight (near-average arm-side run). Except! His fastball is straight! So suddenly, Boxberger has a changeup with good run, exceptional drop, and elite velocity difference.

Let’s GIF it up, with Boxberger’s fastball on the left and changeup on the right. The change looks much more wicked after a riser. Here, we have two consecutive pitches to Curtis Granderson that illustrate exactly how different the change (right) looks after the fastball (left).

The average swinging strike rate on all changeups is around 13%, and the average swinging strike rate on these changeups is 19%, so generally we’re on the right path. We knew we were because Harry Pavlidis paved this path, but it’s nice to see once again.

And, generally, the list is of some of the better relievers in baseball this year. We’ve got four current closers (Boxberger, Tolleson, Osuna, and Ramos), three former closers (Farquhar, Rodney, and Benoit), and perhaps three future closers (Fields, Kahnle, and Hudson).

The outliers are interesting. Josh Fields looks like he should get more whiffs from his change than he does, and he admitted to me that he’s been going away from it a bit. Probably because it looks, in a vaccum, like a terrible pitch. His arm slot doesn’t lead to much run, and it doesn’t have a ton of drop. But maybe if he paired it better with his riding fastball, he could get better results?

Josh Smith started for most of the year, so maybe that has something to do with his whiff total. The Indians claimed Deolis Guerra off of waivers from the Pirates, but then Guerra’s knee turned up hurt. Good changeup, though.

But Pat Neshek, he’s very interesting. He has the biggest velocity difference in baseball, and actually had negative z-scores in the movement categories. Given Pavlidis’ claim that movement is more important than velocity — and the extent to which Felix Hernandez and Zack Greinke live that maxim every day — perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.

If you re-do the list with just movement, your reliever leaders are Boxberger, Ramos, Jason Frasor, Shreve, Farquhar, Drew Storen, Kahnle, Smith, Tolleson, Fields, and Ferrell. Just a bit of a reshuffle, really.

The starters! With velocity in, at first.

Best Starter Changeups by Movement, Velocity
 Pitcher FB (pfx_x) FB (pfx_z) FB (velo) CH (pfx_x) CH (pfx_y) CH (velo) Sum Z CH swSTR% Scott Kazmir 8.4 9.9 91.2 9.8 4.2 75.9 3.6 19% Chris Archer -2.5 11.2 95.1 -6.5 6.2 85.7 3.1 15% Dan Straily -3.9 10.4 89.2 -5.5 1.9 82.2 2.7 15% Aaron Brooks -6.7 8.6 91.5 -8.6 2.2 82.4 2.7 16% Adam Warren -4.2 9.3 92.6 -8.2 4.3 84.2 2.6 13% Mike Fiers -2.6 11.2 89.4 -7.1 5.2 82.9 2.6 17% Vincent Velasquez -3.0 10.1 94.4 -6.1 4.2 86.5 2.5 10% Jose Fernandez -5.9 9.0 95.7 -9.0 2.7 88.3 2.4 13% Nate Karns -2.2 11.6 91.6 -6.1 5.3 85.0 2.4 15% Chase Whitley -5.9 9.6 89.1 -8.5 3.0 81.6 2.4 19% Max Scherzer -8.1 7.8 94.1 -9.0 1.3 84.8 2.4 16% Mike Wright -5.2 8.1 93.0 -7.2 5.9 80.1 2.3 13% Noah Syndergaard -4.8 8.7 96.7 -8.3 4.1 88.1 2.2 16% John Lamb 6.5 9.5 91.1 7.6 5.6 77.3 2.1 23% Cody Anderson -6.4 9.0 92.1 -9.2 4.0 83.6 2.1 16% Luis Severino -4.7 9.5 95.1 -9.4 5.3 87.8 2.0 18% Buck Farmer -5.9 8.0 92.5 -7.7 1.1 85.4 2.0 15% Stephen Strasburg -6.0 9.1 95.4 -9.3 3.4 88.4 2.0 21% Chase Anderson -5.4 8.9 91.4 -9.7 6.7 81.5 2.0 16% Henry Owens 9.8 9.4 89.1 8.4 6.2 77.4 2.0 23% Michael Wacha -4.6 10.4 93.9 -7.0 4.7 86.3 1.9 17%
SOURCE: PITCHf/x
pfx_x = horizontal movement
pfx_z = vertical movement
Sum Z = sum of the z-scores for the differentials between fastball and changeups in x, y movement and velocity
swSTR% = swinging strikes over pitches for the changeup

Once again, our sample does better than league average (16% whiffs). It’s full of guys known for their changeups like Stephen Strasburg, Chase Anderson, Michael Wacha, Henry Owens, Luis Severino, John Lamb… and yet, there are some surprises on this list.

We all knew that Scott Kazmir has a good changeup, he’s built a career on it. But Chris Archer? There’s a lot out there about how he needs a better changeup, and I’ve written some of it. But with a rising, straight fastball, his changeup actually is pretty decent when put up in contrast.

Jose Fernandez doesn’t use his changeup much. Maybe he should. It’s even better if you take velocity out of the equation. His 89 mph changeup has the chance to be a Felix/Greinke pitch, as if he needed more help. Noah Syndergaard’s change is hard, with lots of movement. And maybe Vincent Velasquez should trust his change more.

Nate Karns had the year’s most improved pitch, and we can see how that change works in tandem with his straight, rising fastball. Since he’s a new Mariner, let’s take a look at how the fastball (left) and change (right) look next to each other.

Re-do the list for movement and movement alone, and guess who’s number one. Zack Greinke, who learned from the master and took his place on the throne. Following him are Fiers, Straily (the umpteenth changeup grip worked!), Karns, Fernandez, Whitley, Lance McCullers (it’s nasty), Velasquez, Warren, and Strasburg. Notables Chi Chi Gonzalez, Jake Arrieta, and Miguel Gonzalez jump into the top 20.

Changeups, man, it’s all relative. Remember that the next time you’re squinting at a Chris Archer change, or wondering how Tyler Thornburg’s low-drop change gets so many whiffs, or throwing shade on Mike Fiers‘ change-piece. It’s their fastball that makes their changeups better.

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.