Many of us were excited to hear from Ryan Madson on the Reds 30 in 30 show on MLB network last year, especially when he said that Aroldis Chapman had been expressing interest in his changeup. If you can put together Chapman’s fastball and Madson’s changeup in a way that works, that’s scary. It’s ridiculous. It’s two platonic ideals of pitches embodied in a single, 6’5″ Titan, who throws from both sides, and is impressively bilingual. While there’s not guarantee that this is happening, at all, it’s a lot of fun to think about.
But how does that work? Do guys who throw 100 succeed with change-ups that come in at 90? We have to also throw in the issue, that, as of today’s 3 inning start by Chapman, we’re looking at converting him to a starter. Today I’ll look at the individual parts:
- Aroldis Chapman threw his fastball with an average speed of 98.1 mph last season. He also threw a slider, and a changeup. The changeup he only threw 4% of the time – and it came in at an average of 93 mph, only in the strike zone 41% of the time. Chapman actually threw his fastball in the strike zone 60% of the time, and the slider almost as frequently – but obviously, the numbers tell you that Chapman suffered from command issues that go above and beyond basic control.
- Ryan Madson still throws fast: with his fastball coming in at about 94 mph, and his changeup coming in at 84. Those two pitches essentially make up the entirety of what he throws. I’ve waxed poetic about this changeup before, but it bears repeating. He hits the strikezone about 60% of the time, and gets an overall 33% swing rate on the change – which he throws for over 20% of his pitches.
But here’s the take home point about Madson’s changeup. He’s not using it as a breaking ball, he’s using it as a straight change of pace. I’m going to go into some comps in tomorrow’s post, but what I’ve looked at seems like a lot of guys who rely on the change-up are using it as a breaking pitch. That is, it’s coming in with a much more aggressive horizontal spin, and breaking like a screwball. Madson on the other hand, has a very similar horizontal break in his changeup as his fastball. Now, I assume that most people would consider heavy screw-type break to be a feature, rather than a defect, but I think Madson’s just showing us using a straight change-of-pace pitch can be exceptionally effective. A pitch with a lot of break is good, but putting a different spin on the ball may put a good batter on notice.
Madson’s 30 in 30 bit actually tends to explain how he gets that different break. Madson described his change as like a circle-change. Generally a circle-change will roll to the outside (to the right on a right handed pitcher) – off the thumb and forefinger, which generates that screw-ball like spin. The difference that Madson pointed out was that he drops his pinky down to support the ball on the outside. That support takes away the outside spin – the ball rolls off his middle fingers – a lot like a fastball. (This is partially based on Mr. Tiger (fiance) experimenting with changeups on his own. He says that the issue for him is simply getting the ball out of his hand, once he brings that pinky down – but at 6’6″, Mr. Madson probably has bigger hands and longer fingers, so it wouldn’t be an issue. Chapman is 6’4″, so he’d probably be fine as well.)
So, IF Chapman learns Madson’s changeup – that’s the kind of pitch he’ll be learning. A slow pitch with very little break – and hopefully, one that looks like a lot like a fastball coming out of his hand. However, in this case, I think Chapman will need to learn more than just how to throw it. A breaking ball is great because it’s just hard to hit, but a real change-of-pace pitch is strictly illusion, and probably involves a little more psychology. Obviously, it’s something that could really take Chapman to the next level, but I think it’s something we’d want him to be able to work on extensively (likely at AAA), and that’s in addition to some very needed work on his control.
Tomorrow, I’ll at some other guys who throw hard with slow changeups.