March 16, 2012; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Eric O

Eric O’Flaherty’s Changeup and 2011

In the first segment of this Eric O’Flaherty investigation I focused mainly on his increased use of the sinker. If you missed out fret not, because I am kind and will provide you with this handy link. In the second installment—and likely the last unless I stumble upon some other intriguing pitch—I am going to go into more detail about O’Flaherty’s worst pitch; his changeup.

This might be a bit unnecessary since O’Flaherty only used the pitch 3% of the time last year but the point of this mini series was to find out why EOF was so successful last year, and see if he will be again in 2012. Based on the research I did yesterday, I believe that Eric’s decreased usage of his 85 mile per hour changeup was a big part of his break out year.

Here some info on the pitch per Brooks Baseball:

MPH Frequency Ball Call Strike Whiff FB/BIP
85.49 10% 56.45% 6.45% 12.90% 40.00%

These numbers are from the 2010 season because 2011 only gives us 38 pitches to deal with and because the hypothesis is that his success in 2011 was partly because he didn’t throw the pitch as much.

The first bit of data we have is likely the key to the problem with the pitch. A changeup’s effectiveness is based on its ability to deceive hitters. The pitcher grips the ball in a different way, with much more of his hand on the ball to slow it down so he doesn’t need to slow down his arm and tip off the batter. Then the pitch comes in, looking just like a fastball, and the pitcher gets to smirk as the batter lets loose a massive swing that is completed before the ball reaches the plate.

That’s the theory anyway. Problem is, an 85 mile per hour changeup isn’t exactly slow, especially not when EOF’s fastball and slider both sit around 92 mph. That is only a 7 mile per hour difference. The pitch is essentially a meatball. Pitchers like Ryan Madson have dominant changeups because they throw them at 83-84 miles per hour with  a 95 mile per hour fastball.

The whiff rate of the pitch is 12.90% compared to the average whiff rate of 17.44% for relief pitchers. This is a pretty big difference and likely comes from the speed issue.

The next issue is the batted ball profile of the pitch. 40% the changeups that are put in play are fly balls (note that Brooks Baseball has a separate category for pop ups and so the fly balls are all the best kind of fly ball for a hitter). That is easily the worst number out of all his pitches with the fastball coming in at 25%, the sinker at 11%, and the slider at 30%. The slider also has a whiff percentage of 16.29% which is above the reliever average.

So when EOF throws the change up he either throws the pitch for a ball or the hitter puts it in the air at a horrible high rate. He doesn’t get the whiffs he needs to get out of them for the pitch to be effective and he either needs to somehow figure out how to slow it down, increase the movement, or abandon the pitch altogether. I am all for abandoning the pitch. That is essentially what he did last year and the break out year he had supports the case as well.

Tags: Atlanta Braves Eric O'flaherty PitchFX

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