CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

Futures Guide 2014 is Now Available in Paperback and Three E-book Formats.

Premium and Super Premium Subscribers Get a 20% Discount at MLB.tv!

<< Previous Article
Avoiding Arb (04/13)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Lies, Damned Lies: Loo... (04/07)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Lies, Damned Lies: BAB... (04/20)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Getting the Call (04/14)

April 13, 2005

Lies, Damned Lies

Change-ups and BABIP

by Nate Silver

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

At its core, the scientific method is about attempting to explain observed phenomenon. A lot of sabermetric innovations have been the result of a clever researcher playing around with a large dataset, molding the data in a way that nobody has before, and emerging with a result that is both exciting and readily verifiable.

Voros McCracken started by observing that certain well-known pitchers were not very consistent in their ability to prevent hits on balls batted into play; Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson might rank at the top of the charts in BABIP one year, and on the lowest rung the next. As he soon discovered, this was not some isolated characteristic of Clemens or Johnson; throughout the annals of baseball history, the vast majority of major-league pitchers had demonstrated almost no ability to regulate their BABIP.

In that spirit, let me point out a couple of observations of my own:

  1. The White Sox' Shingo Takatsu had a 2004 BABIP of .207, an extremely low figure. Only one pitcher who threw 50 or more innings last season had a lower number. Takatsu also has a history of posting low BABIP numbers in Japan.

  2. Takatsu throws a change-up that registers in the low 60s, one of the slowest pitches thrown in the major leagues today; only knuckleballs and an occasional Orlando Hernandez lollipop take longer to reach the plate.

  3. Knuckleball pitchers, as McCracken and other researchers have demonstrated, are an exception to DIPS theory, and do consistently post BABIPs lower than league average.

You probably see where I'm going with this. We usually think of the defining characteristic of the knuckleball as being that it flutters in unpredictable directions. More basically, the knuckleball is simply a lot slower than other pitches, far slower than a conventional change. Takatsu's slow pitch is not a knuckler, but it moves at about the same speed as a knuckler, and it appears to behaving similarly in terms of preventing batters from getting their fair share of hits on balls in play.

The next logical step is to examine whether other pitchers that throw good slow balls--albeit not quite as slow as Takatsu's--have had similar success in hit prevention. Data on just which pitches a major leaguers throws is either maddeningly incomplete or prohibitively expensive, but fortunately, we have the Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers to work with. Page 35 that book contains a list of 18 pitchers with noteworthy change-ups, either included on Rob and Bill's Top Ten list, or in the honorable mention section that follows it.

Here are those 18 pitchers, rated by career Delta-H. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, I'll save you a click and give you the definition from our glossary:

"Delta-H: The number of hits above or below average for this pitcher, based on his own number of balls in play and his team's rate of hits (minus home runs) per ball in play; (H-HR) - BIP * (team (H-HR)/BIP). Essentially, the Voros McCracken number. For a team, Delta-H should be zero. Positive numbers signify more hits allowed than expected ('bad luck,' if you believe pitchers have nothing to do with the outcome of a BIP), negative numbers mean fewer hits than expected ('good luck')."

Andy Messersmith   -181
Mario Soto         -145
Pedro Martinez      -97
Jamie Moyer         -96
Jean Dubuc          -91
John Tudor          -91
Ellis Kinder        -76

Trevor Hoffman      -38
Kirk Rueter         -12
Nap Rucker**        -10
Stu Miller           -1

Mark Eichhorn        +3
Mike Boddicker       +5
John Franco         +14
Ed Lopat            +21
Bill Sherdel        +26
Johnny Podres       +35

Doug Jones          +63

AVERAGE             -37

** Neyer and James say that Rucker developed his change-up in late career.
I'm using the last five full seasons for his Delta-H number.
Of the 18 pitchers, seven have posted career Delta-H numbers significantly lower than what you'd expect from luck alone. Doug Jones is the only real outlier on the other side, and everything he threw was slow. On the average, the group of pitchers with killer change-ups posted a Delta-H of -37. That's not an enormous difference--it amounts to just a handful of extra hits prevented per season--but the evidence points in the right direction.

Seeking out another "objective" list of change-up pitchers, I Googled across a USA Today series of season preview pieces from last year, which included a list of top change-ups by division based on interviews with players, managers, coaches and scouts. Those lists included a total of 15 names, three of which--Trevor Hoffman, Pedro Martinez and Jamie Moyer--were already included in the Neyer/James catalog. These are the other 12, along with their career Delta-H:


Greg Maddux     -134
Tom Glavine     -131
Keith Foulke    -75
Brad Radke      -63
Mark Buerhle    -52
Wade Miller     -33
Johan Santana   -22
Eric Gagne      -14
Kirk Rueter     -12
Mark Mulder     -11
Mark Redman     +10
Matt Morris     +18
All told, that's 21 of 30 change-up artists with a Delta-H number below the norm. If you think I've missed someone obvious, feel free to look them up yourself on our DT cards.

While some pitchers, especially the relievers on this list, throw a change-up with a lot of movement or otherwise use it as an out pitch, for most others the pitch is part of a grander strategy to upset the hitter's timing and keep him off balance. A hitter might make contact with the off-speed pitch, but he's not going to make good contact, producing a lot of weak grounders and pop-ups. Contrast that with, say, a Rich Harden fastball--that pitch is damn tough to hit, but when you do make contact with it, you're going to hit it a long way. Consider a Kerry Wood curveball: most of the time, you'll swing in the wrong place entirely, but when Wood does leave one hanging, it is liable to be hit very hard. Change-ups are not difficult to hit--they're relatively easy to hit--but the best ones are hard to hit well. The same thing goes with knuckleballs; knuckleball pitchers don't accumulate a ton of strikeouts, but they compensate by not allowing a ton of hits.

It's not my goal to pick holes in McCracken's work; that we need to go out of our way to find exceptions proves his theory's strength. But I do think that I've found one here.

Nate Silver is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Nate's other articles. You can contact Nate by clicking here

0 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Avoiding Arb (04/13)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Lies, Damned Lies: Loo... (04/07)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Lies, Damned Lies: BAB... (04/20)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Getting the Call (04/14)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article What You Need to Know: Sunday Morning Defend...
The Week in Quotes: July 14-20, 2014
Premium Article Prospectus Hit List: Monday, July 21
Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: The MLB Trade Landscape, ...
Premium Article The Weekend Shift
Premium Article Monday Morning Ten Pack: July 21, 2014
Fantasy Article The Buyer's Guide: Jason Kipnis

MORE FROM APRIL 13, 2005
Avoiding Arb
Premium Article Prospectus Game of the Week: Betting in Vega...
Premium Article Under The Knife: Rained Out
Premium Article Prospectus Today: The Dodger Bullpen
Prospectus Triple Play: Florida Marlins, New...

MORE BY NATE SILVER
2005-05-04 - Premium Article Lies, Damned Lies: Introducing ORVY
2005-04-27 - Premium Article Lies, Damned Lies: Does Size Matter?
2005-04-20 - Premium Article Lies, Damned Lies: BABIP, Again
2005-04-13 - Premium Article Lies, Damned Lies: Change-ups and BABIP
2005-04-07 - Premium Article Lies, Damned Lies: Looking Back at the Marke...
2005-03-30 - 2005--Setting the Stage
2005-03-29 - Premium Article Lies, Damned Lies: PECOTA Projects the NL
More...

MORE LIES, DAMNED LIES
2005-05-04 - Premium Article Lies, Damned Lies: Introducing ORVY
2005-04-27 - Premium Article Lies, Damned Lies: Does Size Matter?
2005-04-20 - Premium Article Lies, Damned Lies: BABIP, Again
2005-04-13 - Premium Article Lies, Damned Lies: Change-ups and BABIP
2005-04-07 - Premium Article Lies, Damned Lies: Looking Back at the Marke...
2005-03-29 - Premium Article Lies, Damned Lies: PECOTA Projects the NL
2005-03-21 - Premium Article Lies, Damned Lies: PECOTA Projects the Ameri...
More...

INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2005-04-20 - Premium Article Lies, Damned Lies: BABIP, Again