The League’s Best Changeups, Animated

In today’s edition of the Daily Notes — and by way of previewing Tommy Milone’s start later tonight in Cleveland — the author presented a leaderboard of the league’s best changeups this season, as determined by pitch-type runs. Indeed, one of the names on that leaderboard was Tommy Milone’s own, whose changeup has been worth 16.1 runs above average. In fact, Milone is first on that list — tied with another AL West left-hander, Seattle’s Jason Vargas.

Vargas and Milone have a lot in common. They’re both left-handed, they both have fastballs that sit at 87-88 mph, and they’ve both held right-handed batters to a lower wOBA-against this season (.296 and .290, respectively) than they have left-handed ones (.322 and .319) — largely on the strength of their plus changeups, one assumes.

A final thing they have in common is how the present author made animated GIFs of them this afternoon. Nor are these GIFs of either the haphazard or slapdash variety, but rather the carefully and artisanally crafted sort. Indeed, in so making these GIFs, the author sought to find instances in which each pitcher had thrown in front of one of the league’s better cameras — of particular importance when dealing with left-handers, the angles of whose pitches are distorted considerably by cameras that are not straight-on from center field.

In fact, in each case, the pitchers in question have appeared only once this season before such a camera — Fenway Park’s, in both instances. Indeed, both Milone and Vargas appear not only to have induced swinging strikes via the changeup at Fenway Park this season, but have induced swinging strikes via the changeup at Fenway Park this season against Kelly Shoppach. What follows is a record of just that sort of thing.

Tommy Milone

Milone’s and Vargas’s changes are similar in terms of velocity (79-80 mph), horizontal movement (10-12 inches armside), and vertical movement (about 3-4 inches of rise, where “rise” means relative to a ball uninfluenced by air currents).

Here’s Milone throwing a changeup from his April 30th start at Boston. It fits the above characterization almost entirely — except with a little more armside run (12.3 inches) than is typical for him.

Jason Vargas

Here’s a Vargas changeup from May 14th at Fenway, and also with mostly the same velocity (78.1 mph) and armside run (12.0 inches) as usual. The PITCHf/x record from this game suggest that this pitch is much “risier” (+7.2 inches) than what’s typical for Milone, although it seems possible — just from looking at the rest of the data from that start — that the vertical measurements from that game are slightly inflated. Of course, it’s also just possible that Vargas was getting less depth on the pitch that day.

Data from Brooks Baseball was helpful in the composition of this post.

Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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10 years ago

Vargas’ changeup almost looks like it stops momentarily as it nears the plate. That’s filthy.