Felipe Rivero’s Fastball Changeup Relationship

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 30: Felipe Rivero /

Felipe Rivero has become one of the better relief pitchers in baseball with his 100 mile per hour fastball, wipeout slider, and devastating changeup.  Though, it’s the fastball changeup relationship that really makes Rivero strong.

In 2016, Felipe Rivero had the highest whiff rate on his changeup, 58.3 percent, as noted by Mike Petriello of MLB.com.  He followed that up in 2017 by getting a whiff on 53.60 percent of his changeups, most among pitchers who threw at least 100.  It’s that pitch that got Ray Searage to tell the Washington Post it was the best changeup he has ever seen:

"“Never,” Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage said when asked whether he’d ever seen a better change-up. “Yeah, never. The arm action looks like a fastball, and then it comes in about 10 miles per hour slower than the fastball, with movement. It’s amazing. He’s just blessed.”"

The changeup is such a great pitch to have, especially for left-handed pitchers.  Using baseball-reference’s play index, 523 batters had 50+ plate appearances in 2017 and 294 were right-handed (56 percent).  Having a pitch that fades down and away from a right-handed hitter is a great pitch to have.  In 2008, former Tampa Bay Rays pitching analyst Josh Kalk wrote on The Hard Ball Times the Anatomy of a Pitch: Changeup.  To end his piece, Kalk wrote at the bottom:

"Change ups are a staple off speed pitch especially to a left handed pitcher because they are so effective against opposite handed batters. Within reason, the more speed differential on a pitcher’s change up the better. Hiding the release point and slightly tailing the ball down and out to an opposite handed batter are also important. Unlike curveballs and sliders where one or two things mattered a lot and the other variables hardly correlated, all of these things are about equally important for change ups. This likely adds larger demands on a pitcher who has to master the pitch before getting rewarded. You often hear that a young pitcher doesn’t have a good feel for his change up and that likely means that one of these three things is out of whack."

According to Baseball Savant, Felipe Rivero’s average fastball sits at 98.4 miles per hour and his change at 88.4 miles per hour, a 10 mile per hour difference.  Downloading CSV’s from Baseball Savant of pitchers with 500 fourseams and 200 changeups and using a vlookup function to match pitcher ID’s, Rivero has the tenth highest difference between the two pitches.  Rivero is getting the speed differential on the two pitches, which is one of the three keys.

Using the same method that I used for Chad Kuhl’s curveball and slider relationship, a plot of Rivero’s changeups after a fastball can be seen.  Below is the plot of all Rivero’s changeups following a fastball to right-handed hitters.  The Tableau can be adjusted for any pitch pair, description, and what side of the plate the batter stands.

This is from the catchers point of view, which shows that Rivero is primarily targeting the outside of the plate with his changeup, and is going low with the pitch as well.  Given that Rivero throws left-handed and the changeup breaks arm side, this makes sense, and you can adjust the tab on the Tableau to see the horizontal break (Pfx X) and horizontal break (Pfx Y), with the axis being in feet.  Like Kalk wrote, keeping the ball low and away is important, and that’s where a large portion of Rivero’s swinging strikes on changeups following the fastball are:

Rivero has 25 swinging strikes on the fastball-changeup pitch paring, and he threw that pairing 104 times.  Among the 92 pitchers who threw the pitch 75 times, Rivero had the 12th best swinging strikes/pitch pairs thrown.  Part of the reason for that is Rivero’s break to tunnel relationship, which Baseball Prospectus defines as:

"“Break:Tunnel Ratio – This stat shows us the ratio of post-tunnel break to the differential of pitches at the Tunnel Point. The idea here is that having a large ratio between pitches means that the pitches are either tightly clustered at the hitter’s decision-making point or the pitches are separating a lot after the hitter has selected a location to swing at. Either way a pitcher’s ratio can be large.”"

Rivero’s break:tunnel is 0.4402 feet, or 5.2824 inches, and that is the 13th highest among the 92 pitchers to throw this pairing 75+ times.  Rivero is either getting his pitches clustered at the decision-making point or are separating after the batter has decided to swing.  This relationship enhances the fastball-changeup relationship, and really makes it click.

Next: Pirates Meeting With Rivero Next Week

Rivero fills out what Kalk describes in the anatomy of the changeup.  He has solid separation in velocity between the fastball and changeup, he tails his changeup down and away to right handed hitters, and he has the two pitches either clustering at time of the hitter’s decision or the two pitches separating by a lot after the hitter has decided to swing.  It’s a simple relationship, but it’s one that Rivero does so well.

*Numbers from Baseball Savant and Baseball Prospectus