Trusting Your Changeup
Doug Fister doesn’t throw particularly hard. Today, his heater sat between 85 and 89, topping out at 90 a couple of times. The thing is, Fister knows he doesn’t have a very good fastball, so instead, he relies on a pitch he has a lot of confidence in – his change-up.
Here’s Fister’s pitch types via Dan Brooks’ Pitch F/x tool for today’s start:
See that big glob of yellow in the middle? That’s Fister’s change-up, and you’ll notice that the yellow glob is nearly as large as the green blob in the upper right hand corner (his fastball). That’s because he attacked the Yankees with a steady stream of change-ups, and he didn’t particularly care about the handedness of the opposing hitter.
For most pitchers, the change-up is used almost exclusively against opposite handed hitters. Felix, for instance, almost never throws a change to a right-handed batter. He goes after them with fastballs, sliders, and curves, saving the change for the lefties. Fister, though, realizes that the change-up is his best pitch, and that it was his best chance to get Yankee hitters out, regardless of which side of the plate they were standing on.
It worked, too. Of the 33 change-ups he threw (the Pitch F/x algorithm misidentified seven fastballs as change-ups, if you’re wondering why I’m quoting a lower number than what Brooks’ tool shows), he got six swinging strikes and four ground outs. He gave up two hits on the change, but one of them was A-Rod’s “single” to Josh Wilson where the throw pulled Branyan off the bag, and the other was Cano’s little bloop single to left.
Wondering how a guy got through the Yankees line-up with a Triple-A fastball? By not throwing it all that much. By relying heavily on his change-up, Fister was able to keep hitters off balance and get ahead in the count. It even worked as an out pitch a few times, due to some really good locations.
The fastball isn’t major league quality, and the curve is pretty blah, but that change-up is a weapon and Fister knows it. He’s not going to be a good major league pitcher with this repertoire, but when you command one good pitch as well as he does, you can survive with a big park and a good defense, which the M’s have.
He’s probably still best suited to relief work in the majors long term, but there are worse guys in major league rotations than Doug Fister. When we talk about how it really isn’t all that hard to find back-of-the-rotation starting pitchers, he’s what we’re talking about.