Tigers Preach Changeup, David Price Listens

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

One of my favorite New English D pieces last year pointed out how the Tigers seemed to be increasing their use of the changeup rotation wide. It wasn’t clear if the changeup directive was coming from the front office, Jeff Jones, or Alex Avila, but it sure looked like changeups were on the menu in Detroit. Normally, we don’t do small sample analysis with predictive interpretations here, but I think there is enough of a track record to call your attention to this: David Price is throwing way more changeups as a Tiger.

It’s only been six starts compared to 23 in Tampa, but the difference is incredible and the organizational history suggests it’s probably not a fluke. Let’s take a peak:

Season Team FA% FT% FC% SL% CU% KC% CH%
2008 Rays 75.1 20.6 4.3
2009 Rays 71.3 3.3 19.9 5.5
2010 Rays 56.8 17.5 3.4 15.6 6.6
2011 Rays 36.7 34.1 8.4 9.3 11.1
2012 Rays 25.2 35.8 9.7 7.0 11.2 10.9
2013 Rays 19.6 33.7 17.7 0.6 11.5 16.9
2014 2 Teams 15.3  42.1  13.2    6.5  3.2  19.5 
2014 Rays 15.1 42.2 14.1 8.1 2.8 17.6
2014 Tigers 16.1 41.7 9.6 4.8 27.8

These are the PITCHf/x classifications. Note that there are three lines for 2014. The first one is season totals with his Rays and Tigers numbers broken down further. He’s backing off his cutter and his breaking ball in favor of way more changeups. Way more.

Over his six starts in Detroit he’s throwing a changeup 28% of the time after doing so only 18% of the time in TB. Now we know PITCHf/x can get the classifications wrong, but according to Brooks Baseball’s manually tagged pitches, 17.3% of his pitches in TB were changeups and 28% in Detroit. In other words, this is not one of those freaky classification problems.

Funny thing is, he’s not getting more whiffs or more swings with the changeup in Detroit. He is, however, dramatically reducing the quality of contact. We don’t know that for sure, but ISO against his changeup in TB was .182 this year and it’s .038 in Detroit.

The percentage of changeups is way up against lefties, going from about 3% to close to 15% with a 10% jump in whiff rate to boot. The power is down against righties and lefties and there is a usage jump from 21 to 32% against RHH. It’s a universal increase in his use of the pitch.

And it’s working. Looking at FanGraphs’ PITCHf/x pitch values per 100 pitches, which simply tell you how well a pitcher has limited production against those pitches (positive is good, league average is 0), his changeup has become crazy valuable. Same chart as above, this time with pitch values:

Season Team wFA/C wFT/C wFC/C wSL/C wCU/C wKC/C wCH/C
2008 Rays 1.35 1.48 3.02
2009 Rays 0.57 0.32 -2.60 1.67
2010 Rays 0.54 2.11 0.99 0 1.13
2011 Rays 0.39 0.79 0.28 -1.5 2.51
2012 Rays 0.86 1.03 1.83 -0.22 2.02 1.12
2013 Rays 0.75 1.16 0.02 4.30 -1.88 1.86
2014 2 Teams 0.17 0.61 1.26 -0.61 2.01 0.62
2014 Rays 0.41 0.91 1.49 -0.61 2.15 -0.35
2014 Tigers -0.77 -0.66 -0.2 1.68 3.2

Look at that huge leap in value from the pitch. Incredible.

Now I wouldn’t take these results are predictive. It’s only a small number of innings and teams will adjust. But Price coming to Detroit and completely changing his mix of pitches to both righties and lefties can’t be a coincidence. For now, it’s working like a charm and he’s just another in a long line of Tigers who get the most out of their offspeed pitch.

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One response

  1. […] was that the Tigers changed his approach, but their big thing has always been the changeup and they had him throwing a bunch of those last year. In August and September of 2014, he was throwing his two-seamer and cutter like normal. And then […]

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