In this week’s Hok Talk, we discuss Brady Singer’s mythical third pitch and how he can improve as well as Salvador Perez’s recent barrage of dingers.
Brady Singer made it very clear earlier this season that he doesn’t want to throw his changeup.
“Yeah, I had plenty of outings where I didn’t throw the changeup but I had plus command of my fastball and slider. Tonight with balls in the middle of the plate, it doesn’t matter if I’ve got a third pitch or not. It doesn’t matter at all, actually.”
There’s a nugget of truth to that, of course; if you’re not commanding your pitches, you’re unlikely to do well regardless of how many pitches you throw. However, having more pitches is still better in that scenario. Why? Because it means there are simply more things for the hitter to think about. If they’re thinking about more possibilities, they’re more likely to make a mistake and help you out. Even if you’re leaving pitches over the middle, if it’s not the pitch they were planning for, they’re less likely to do damage with it. In his last start against Houston, we saw this a bit: he didn’t have tremendous command as he walked four batters, but he still only allowed one earned run. Part of that was because he threw his changeup enough times to keep his opponents honest. It was one more thing that the Astros had to consider.
Still, as I’ve said before, he’s also not entirely wrong. When he has his fastball and slider command, he pitches quite well without a changeup. Which is one reason that, if I was Brady Singer, I’d never want to throw that changeup either.
It’s not a good pitch for him
Before we can really dig into why his changeup is not good, we have to establish what does make a good changeup. After doing lots of investigation on Baseball Savant and FanGraphs (with a hat tip to Shaun Newkirk for helping me find and parse some of the data), it appears there are two qualities that can make a good changeup. And, unsurprisingly given the name, they both have to do with the difference between the changeup and the fastball - the pitch from which the changeup is ostensibly “changing things up.”
1. Difference in velocity
Pitchers who found a lot of success with their changeups frequently have a large gap between velocities on the two pitches. This makes sense if you think about it; an average 10 MPH gap or so puts the hitter trying to find his way through two very different velocities. That leaves him in a position where his swing might be too slow to barrel the fastball but too fast to crush the changeup. He’ll also be more likely to completely whiff on either if he’s cheating too much in the other direction. A changeup that’s only five or seven MPH difference means that the hitter in between the speeds still has a better chance of making contact with either pitch. Also, when the average gap is that low, it usually means particularly hard changeups are as fast as particularly soft fastballs. If the two pitches are arriving at the same time, the hitter just needs to find the location.
2. Difference in movement
The pitchers for whom the changeup is their bread-and-butter primary weapon almost always utilize four-seam fastballs. This is because the four-seamer is, on average, straighter than the two-seam or sinking variety. The problem for pitchers with sinkers who want to implement changeups is that the pitches move in generally the same direction, down and to the throwing-arm-side of the pitcher. By choosing to throw two pitches that differ only in velocity, a pitcher is making things that much easier for a hitter who now only needs to get the timing right because the ball is going to the same place regardless.
To have a reasonably effective changeup, a pitcher only needs to meet one of those two criteria, though those that meet both obviously do better. Even a sinker-baller with a changeup that’s relatively close in velocity can have success if he can get his changeup to move significantly differently.
As you may have guessed, Brady Singer’s problem is that his changeup is too similar to his sinker. His changeup drops about five inches more on average than his sinker but compared to other sinker-throwers, that’s not a very large gap - especially since they’re separated by only two inches horizontally. Additionally, before his last start, his changeup averaged only seven MPH slower than his fastball, and they both regularly entered the 90-91 range. We saw on Thursday that his changeup is different enough to make him a more effective pitcher. He doesn’t need it to be an actual weapon. So why should he stop throwing it?
He’d be better with a different third pitch.
As we discussed in this week’s podcast episode, Brady Singer has a pitch that moves down and in to righties and one that moves down and in to lefties. A third pitch that also moves down and in to righties is wasting the potential of disrupting hitters more with movement as well as timing. If Singer were to adopt a curveball or a splitter or even a forkball, he’d be able to offer hitters not only a change in velocity to consider but also a third direction in which the pitch might move. Pitching is primarily a competition of trying to get the hitter to guess wrong about where and when the ball will arrive at the plate, so he will swing and miss or at least make poor contact.
Is Brady Singer a good pitcher with only two pitches? Unequivocally. Is he a better pitcher when he adds a changeup to the mix? Definitely. Could be he be the best version of himself with a different off-speed pitch? Very likely. Hopefully, that will be something he investigates this off-season.
Salvador Perez deserves all of the iron man praise Whit Merrifield is getting
Good for Whit Merrifield and his games played streak and all, but there’s no doubt that his offensive skills have noticeably declined this season. Meanwhile, Salvador Perez has missed exactly one game this entire season despite playing what is likely the most physically demanding position. On top of that, no other catcher has it as bad as Salvy because no other catcher plays for the team that throws the most balls in the dirt. Salvy has been all kinds of beaten up all season long. And yet, as I write this on a Friday afternoon, he is third in the AL in home runs with 35 despite batting in a lineup largely devoid of any talent to protect him. (Edit: He hit another grand slam last night and tied Guerrerro Jr. for second in the AL and all of baseball.)
Vlad Guerrero Jr. has 36 dingers but was moved to first base last season to take some pressure off defensively. Shohei Ohtani leads the AL - and all of baseball - with 41 bombs. Sure, he pitches, but he also gets to DH whenever he’s not on the mound. The best part, though, is that while many home run hitters will swoon a bit after the All-Star Break, Salvador Perez is tied for the league lead in bombs with 14 (Edit: 15) since then. It’s an outside chance, but it’s starting to be reasonable to wonder if he might challenge Jorge Soler’s team record. It’s especially not unreasonable to wonder if he might find a way to lead the league in home runs by the end of the year. For reference, while Salvy has been doing his thing, Guerrero and Ohtani have only hit eight each. Vlad and Shohei are also 22 and 27, respectively; Sal is 31 while he’s out there crouching all day before hitting massive dongs.
Only time will tell if Salvy can keep doing this next year and beyond. Still, I honestly would have put money against him having an offensive renaissance after age 30 that would last at least two seasons, so I’m not prepared to bet against him again. They say Father Time is undefeated, but it seems as if Salvy and his deep love of baseball plan on giving that bearded grouch a run for his money.