Over at FanGraphs, Eno Sarris took a look at changeups using metrics such as drop, fade, and velocity difference. He noted that a few pitchers saw significant improvement in their changeup over the course of the 2016 season. It’s a pretty interesting list, and you should go read the entire thing.
One bit of analysis from Sarris caught my eye, as you might imagine:
If we focus on the velocity differential, the 15th-ranked improver according to PITCHf/x Ã¢â‚¬â€ Brandon Finnegan Ã¢â‚¬â€ jumps into the top seven. And that looks legitimate, as all systems say he added almost a mile and a half of velocity gap between the first and second halves. Teammate Dan Straily, who himself had to try 17 different changeup grips before he found the right one, showed Finnegan a grip that worked for him, and the leftyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s confidence in the pitch skyrocketed. He went from throwing the pitch around 10% of the time to 15%, and finished the season with a string of six starts with 20% changeup usage.
In that six-game stretch, he had a 2.37 ERA backed by a 30% strikeout rate. Sure, his 10% walk rate diminishes his upside, but a 10-mph gap on the change means that the lackluster movement is not as important now. Ten miles an hour is a benchmark, because itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s around that sort of gap that you get swings like Finnegan got on this changeup in September.
So, sure, Mike Fiers improved his changeup the most by incrementally improving in all three aspects as he threw the changeup more and more often over the course of the season. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not sexy, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a finding. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also interesting that a young lefty in Cincinnati made huge strides with his changeup, as well, and it might be a bigger deal going forward. Brandon Finnegan always had that plus slider, after all, and above-average velocity for a lefty. That change could mean everything.
Go over there to check out the video (well, gif) proof of Finnegan’s improved changeup. I’ve been pretty bullish here in the electronic pages of Redleg Nation about Finnegan’s chances to stick in the Reds rotation long-term. This is just another data point to support that argument.
Now, if Finnegan could just throw strikes more consistently…..
[Note: Steve Mancuso wrote a reply post with a different view of the evidence regarding Finnegan’s changeup.]