Gerrit Cole’s New Weapon: The Changeup
Gerrit Cole throws in the upper 90s and has a devastating slider. Those were his two primary pitches in his 2015 campaign, when he finished fourth in the National League CY Young award race. He sprinkled in changeups here and there, but this year, he has really added the pitch to his repertoire.
Entering this season, Gerrit Cole had thrown his changeup just 5.16 percent of the time. He would double down on the changeup only just 0.72 percent of the time. His changeup was just there and used a show me pitch.
However, in 2017, the Pittsburgh Pirates right handed starter has increased his changeup to 13.92 percent. In terms of raw pitch count, Cole has already thrown more changeups in 2017 (104) than he did in 2016 (101). This increase in changeups has also seen a large increase in Cole doubling up on the pitch.
So far through eight starts, Cole has gone changeup changeup 2.98 percent of the time. His previous career high was 1.20 percent, and in his 2015 All Star season Cole only doubled down 0.46 percent of the time. That is a 248 percent and 648 percent increase respectively.
Doubling down on the changeup is not the only method that Cole is following. So far this year, after throwing a fastball, Cole has thrown a changeup 5.11 percent of the time. From 2013 to 2016, Cole only went fastball to changeup 2.70 percent, which is an increase of 189.26 percent.
But throwing the pitch doesn’t mean much if you’re not getting results on it. So far, Cole has gotten great results.
From 2013-16, Cole got a whiff 11.79 percent of the time on the change, and this season it is 15.38 percent. He has increased the amount of times it has been a strike, 21.89 percent (2013-16) to 28.85 percent, and increased the whiff per swing from 23.63 to 28.57 as well.
Furthermore, opponents from 2013-16 hit .301 with a .480 slugging. Compare that to 2017, when those numbers are .154 and .192 respectively.
From 2015-16, the first two years of StatCast, opponents hit Cole’s changeup with an average exit velocity of 86.7 percent. In 2017, opponents are hitting the ball with an average exit velocity of 86.1 percent. Not much of a difference, but the difference in xwOBA (expected wOBA) is large.
From 2015-16, the xwOBA on Cole’s changeup was 0.321 (Cole’s actual wOBA was 0.395), but this year it is only .264 (actual is .186). Cole is having much better results with the changeup.
In fact, using fangraphs pitch values, Cole’s changeup ranks ninth best among qualified pitchers at 4.1 runs. Just last season, Cole’s changeup was worth -4.5 runs, and from 2013-16 the pitch was worth -4.7 runs, with the only positive coming in his rookie season of 2013 (4.8 runs).
The pitch has 9.18 inches of movement to Cole’s arm side, from 2013-16 it only had 8.29 inches of movement arm side. This increase in movement can explain some on why left-handed hitters are only slugging .177 on the pitch compared to .505 from 2013-16. But Cole doesn’t just throw the pitch effectively against left-handed hitters, he throws it against right-handed hitters effectively as well.
He has increased the right on right change by 446.35 percent, and this has resulted in a .222 slugging (0.000 isolated power) in 2017 compared to a .364 slugging prior to this year.
Next: Pirates Should Extend Juan Nicasio
Cole has thrown the chnageup more than ever before, and is willing to both double down on it and throw it against right-handed hitters. The results have been great so far, as the increase in arm side movement has helped with this. If he can keep throwing the changeup effectively, Cole will not have to rely on just his fastball and slider like in years past. Cole has four (five if you separate sinker and fourseam) pitches now, and he is developing into a pitcher with a nice arsenal.
*Numbers from Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball, and Fangraphs