(Adam Fagen / Flickr)
By Hunter Satterthwaite
During the NLDS, Stephen Strasburg threw 14 innings; let up 6 hits, 0 earned runs, and struck out 22 batters. He was phenomenal and was led by his devastating changeup. During those 14 innings, he threw 48 changeups (almost 25% of his total pitches). No one got a hit on any of those 48 changeups, and 25 of them were offered at and missed. Seeing all of these statistics, I wondered who truly had the best changeup of the 2017 season. This will turn into a full article series with each individual pitch getting its own article and winner. Yet, the question was how to quantify “nastiness” of a pitch. I used brooksbaseball.net in order to gather pitcher’s data. The statistics that I looked at were whiff percentage, whiffs per swing, and the opponent’s slugging percentage against the pitcher’s changeup. These three indicators seemed to sufficiently quantify the nastiness of a pitch in which a batter swings and misses or never barrels up. To qualify for this, the pitcher had to throw at least 100 changeups throughout the whole season. After gathering all of the data, the pitcher who had the nastiest changeup in 2017 was undoubtedly Stephen Strasburg.
Yes, the player who was the motivation behind this article was the winner of the nastiest changeup of 2017. He led the league in whiff percentage (29%), was second in whiffs per swing (52.98%), and second in slugging percentage on his changeup (.123). He was the only player in the MLB who was top 10 in all three categories. Below shows the breakdown of whiff % by the location of the changeup.
Next, let us break down his changeup.
Velocity and Movement
Strasburg threw a very hard changeup during the year; in fact, it was 2nd in the MLB in terms of velocity behind Sonny Gray. He threw it at an average of 88.7 MPH during the 2017 season. This is the 14th highest changeup velocity in a season in Major League Baseball history. Strasburg’s changeups moved down and in for a right-handed batter. His changeup’s horizontal movement was 4th in the MLB, and this makes his changeup so deceptive especially when it is thrown as hard as he throws it. Looking at this pitch from the NLDS illustrates the movement Strasburg features on his changeups.
As seen here, Strasburg features a standard circle changeup. This allows Strasburg’s arm speed to remain the same as his fastballs, but the grip slows the pitch down to a mere 90 MPH. The true deception comes with how Strasburg releases this pitch. The video below shows the violence of his arm when he releases the pitch. His wrist turns the ball while releasing, and this causes the ball to have extreme horizontal run to it. It can make any hitter look silly.
Stephen Strasburg is going to be a thrilling pitcher for years to come, and he is finally living up to his stud prospect status. Everyone was talking about his triple digits fastball that he could blow by any hitter, but it turns out he has the best changeup in the MLB in his repertoire as well. He is one of the most exciting pitchers in the MLB and finished third in the NL Cy Young this year. And lastly, one more Strasburg changeup gif to send you on with your day.