There are very few pitchers in baseball who can get by as a starting pitcher with just two pitches. Having a larger arsenal to go to keeps hitters guessing a little bit more. It gives hitters different zones that they need to account for, different movement on pitches to account for, different velocities that they have to account for. On the first day of spring training both Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo spoke with the media about something they focused on during the offseason and the change up was something both of them brought up.
“Working on my third pitch, and I feel great about it (his change up),” Greene said. “I obviously spent a lot of time working on that. It was my main focus, to have that pitch in my repertoire going into this year is going to be really exciting. It will help with lowering my pitch count and having early contact, so an extra tool to become even a better pitcher. That’s helped a lot with my own development and my own expectations.”
Hunter Greene was good last season, posting a 4.44 ERA (101 ERA+) with 104 hits allowed, 48 walks, and 164 strikeouts in 125.2 innings. He even pitched 7.1 innings in a team combined no-hitter that the Reds somehow found a way to lose in Pittsburgh back in May. From August 1st through the end of the season he made five starts (he missed six weeks on the injured list in this time) he allowed two earned runs in 29.0 innings while giving up just one home run – an issue that plagued him earlier in the season. He made adjustments throughout the season, but one of those adjustments wasn’t really throwing his change up more.
During the season his change up usage was between 3% and 6%, with the exception of April when it was 8%. But when it comes to pitching to right-handed hitters, the change up wasn’t even on the table. In 257 match ups against righties in 2022, Greene threw two change ups. Against left-handed batters he threw 114 of them in 274 plate appearances.
Many pitchers will use their change up against opposite handed hitters and go more with a fastball/breaking ball combination against same handed hitters, but they will occasionally show that third offering to keep guys a bit more honest. You don’t have to be Luis Castillo (he threw his change up 15% of the time to righties and 29% of the time to lefties) with the usage of the change up, but you should probably throw it more than twice in 125 innings to guys in one batters box.
What was interesting for Greene, though, was that at the end of the season his change up did become a different pitch than the one that he had earlier in the year. It began to drop off more and it had a little more run on it, too. The pitch also had more velocity (as did his fastball and slider). In the chart below from Brooks Baseball you can see the clear difference in the plotting of his change ups when it comes to how they move.
It’s a similar story with Nick Lodolo. In 2022 he had a 3.66 ERA in 103.1 innings while allowing 90 hits, walking 39 batters, and picking up 131 strikeouts (he also led the league with 19 hit batters). He used his change up more than Greene did, but it was still a focus of his this offseason.
“I think as I watched back games (in the offseason), realizing how much my change up – if I continue to progress on that and mix that in more can really help me.”
Lodolo threw 174 change ups during the 2022 season. Only one of them was thrown to a left-handed hitter. It’s also worth noting that in the first 10 starts he made last year he used his change up far more often than he did after that. In each of the first 10 starts he threw his change up at least 11% of the time, going over 25% twice. During his final nine starts he never threw it 10% of the time in a single game, with multiple outings where he was under 4%.
For both guys it’s not just about finding spots to throw the change up more – doing that on it’s own probably isn’t the right answer. Being able to have a quality change up matters, too. It’s the worst pitch for each guy, which isn’t exactly a bad thing given just how good both guys are with their fastball and breaking ball. Lodolo may need a little more velocity separation between the change up and fastball as there’s just a 6 MPH difference based on last year’s data. Greene’s velocity separation was 8-9 MPH from the fastball to change up in 2022.
Having the confidence to throw it more, knowing when to throw it, being able to do so with the same arm speed and action, and having enough difference in both movement and velocity on the pitch is going to be needed. Every year there are guys talking about things they worked on in the offseason. Sometimes those plans get scrapped when real games begin. But sometimes those things work out, and if Greene and Lodolo can both make progress with their third pitch it could be a difference maker for them.