Felix’s Change-Up

Dave · April 19, 2012 at 9:53 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Most of the talk about Felix so far this year has centered around his missing velocity, and as a result, the mediocrity of his fastball. But, the fastball has always been Felix’s worst pitch, even when he used to throw 98 with regularity. His curve is very good. His slider is one of the best in the game. But his change-up… that’s the pitch that makes him King Felix.

Change-ups get a bad rap a lot of times, as people think it’s just a slow fastball that throws off a hitter’s timing by fooling them into swinging too early. That’s part of it, but the really good change-ups are so much more. They don’t just float up to the plate – they dive and fade, tailing down and away from opposite-handed hitters, which is why they’re such an effective weapon for RHPs against left-handed batters (and vice versa). They not only get a batter out in front because of the lower velocity, but the tailing, sinking movement causes hitters to swing over the top, so they can be lethal groundball/strikeout pitches.

And no one throws a better diving, tailing change-up than Felix. He doesn’t even bother with the whole deception part of the pitch. His change-up is 87-89, just a couple of ticks below the fastball he’s currently throwing at 90-93. It doesn’t matter. The pitch has so much movement that opposing hitters don’t have a chance, even when they know it’s coming.

And tonight, the Indians had to know it’s coming. Every time he needed a punch-out, he went to the change-up. And not just to left-handers – he was not shy about throwing it at righties either, letting it fall off the table and end up at their ankles. You generally don’t want to throw a pitch that breaks down and in towards a hitter, but his ability to start it in the strike zone and end it outside of the strike zone makes it a swing-and-miss pitch even against same handed batters.

From a quick perusal of the Pitch F/x data, I have him throwing 23 change-ups. Nine of them were swung at and missed, a ridiculous 39.1% swinging strike rate. Six others were fouled off, so 15 of the 23 he threw convinced the opposing batter to chase and yet failed to lead to any kind of quality contact. In fact, not one single change-up was put in play all night long – the other eight were taken for a ball. That’s absurd.

Never was the pitch more on display than in the eighth inning. After one clean single and two cheap infield hits, Felix had the bases loaded and only one out with a one run lead. Left-handed batter Jason Kipnis stepped in. Felix needed a strikeout or a double play, but given that a ground ball could score the run even without leaving the infield, a K was Felix’s best bet to preserve the lead.

Curveball, taken, strike one.
Change-up, swinging strike, strike two.
Fastball, taken, ball one.
Change-up, swinging strike, strike three.

Then, up stepped Shin-Soo Choo. He’d been watching Felix throw change-ups all night long. He just watched Felix put Kipnis down with two deadly change-ups. He had to know what was coming, especially if he got behind in the count.

Curveball, taken, ball one.
Fastball, foul, strike one.
Fastball, taken, strike two.
Change-up, swinging strike, strike three.

There was no doubt that Felix was going to throw Shin-Soo Choo a change-up on that 1-2 pitch. I knew it. Felix knew it. Choo knew it. He still couldn’t touch it.

Mariano Rivera’s cutter. Justin Verlander’s fastball. Clayton Kershaw’s slider. Felix’s change-up is right there with them, and in the discussion for the best pitch in baseball.

Yeah, he didn’t get a “win” tonight, but anyone watching the game saw Felix at his best. Even without his best velocity, it didn’t matter. His change-up is that good.


17 Responses to “Felix’s Change-Up”

  1. ZVAZDA on April 19th, 2012 10:16 pm

    Thanks for being the voice of reason Dave. This game hurts, but lets try to remember how on fire Felix was.

    It’s baseball, sometimes you lose tough games. We should be so lucky that this tough game had so much awesome.

  2. 300ZXNA on April 19th, 2012 10:42 pm

    Dave- I know you had mentioned concern over Felix’s GB rate, and in this came it was 58% combined with a 13.5 K/9. Insane that he was able to pitch in the lower part of the zone so well and still rack up the K’s . . .

  3. justinh on April 20th, 2012 12:07 am

    Just got back from the game and along with a buddy of mine, we sat with a couple scouts.

    It is funny DC just wrote this piece because it hits on a lot of what we talked about. One scout said the two most underrated pitches in the game right now are Felix’s change up and Jonny Venters sinker. He also said he would bet over 50% of GM’s would take Felix in a game 7 over any other pitcher. It was pretty funny when he said, “Your running back Marshawn Lynch needs a new nickname because the guy who can put it into beast mode whenever he wants is Felix.”

    The other scout, intently focused on League more than anyone else, said he thinks the drop in velocity is partially by design. I haven’t checked PFX or Gameday yet, but he is pretty sure Felix has more movement and a better slider with a little less velo. Obviously the slider was pretty awful last year, so I wonder if he maybe right? Who know, but it is still interesting and eased my mind a touch.

    I have been to every game this year, though I didn’t have tickets for yesterday because I gave mine away. So at the last minute I decided to call Epic Seats. They used to advertise on USSM and I have bought tickets through them many times. Great guys! Well I got 2 tickets in the 2nd row behind the dugout for $25 each! I just cannot fathom why folks wouldn’t want to pay $25 for amazing seats and watch a pretty fun Mariners team. Two years from now when the team is coming off a 87 win 2013 campaign and looking like a playoff contender, the days of inexpensive awesome seats will be over. My advice is take advantage while you can!

  4. vj on April 20th, 2012 7:17 am

    Awesome change-up or not, I’d prefer Felix to show up in the top quarter of qualified starters for fastball velocity. Right now, he doesn’t.

  5. djw on April 20th, 2012 8:15 am

    Actually, vj, some of Felix’s worst stretches with the Mariners have been those chunks of time where he’s been trying to “Establish the fastball early” and throwing too many of them in tough situations. For some reason, he or the team occasionally decide to be slaves to moronic CW rather than following a game plan that highlights his strengths every so often. One benefit of somewhat decreased fastball velocity is that it would make another trip down that idiotic path somewhat less likely to occur.

  6. seizethecarp on April 20th, 2012 8:52 am

    Better changeup? Felix or Lincecum? And who has the best changeup in the game?

  7. GripS on April 20th, 2012 9:17 am

    I’m glad we can put the “What’s wrong with Felix” garbage to bed. There’s nothing wrong with Felix. He is awesome. Too be the rest of his team isn’t.

  8. MrZDevotee on April 20th, 2012 9:19 am

    The drop in velocity with Felix doesn’t really matter, as he relies so much on movement. There’s an argument to be made that a few mph off his fastball actually makes it less hittable (and apparently the scout Justin was talking to thought the same thing– more time in the air = more movement).

    It obviously hasn’t affected his results. Not like he’s getting knocked around. And heck, if the fastball and the changeup are only 4ish mph apart, can you imagine the sort of perception it takes to figure out which one is coming in the tiny fraction of a second you get to decide– that TOO might be a benefit… Whereas at 98 mph a batter can figure “too fast to be the change” WAY quicker.

    My thoughts anyways.

    And like I mentioned a few days back, I’ll take 15 more years of Felix throwing 92 mph, versus 7 or 8 more years of Felix throwing 98 mph, anyday. Especially if he can be just as effective.

  9. hailcom on April 20th, 2012 10:18 am

    Dave, this is a great post and helpful in understanding the amazing pitching performance from Felix last night. The blown save was such a bummer after what Felix did, but refocusing on how lucky we are to be able to watch Felix do his thing helped take some of the sting away. I was dreading reading the post-game recaps, but instead, the glass is again half-full! Thanks.

  10. Mid80sRighty on April 20th, 2012 12:17 pm

    “Whereas at 98 mph a batter can figure “too fast to be the change” WAY quicker”

    Have you ever faced a 98mph pitch? You don’t have time to even THINK too fast to be the change… lol

    And if his “changeup” is only 3-4mph slower than his fastball is it even a changeup? With the tailing movement and similar speed wouldn’t a better description be a shuuto?

  11. thedude1987 on April 20th, 2012 12:59 pm

    As a hitter you try and anticipate high inside fastball as it’s the hardest pitch to catch up to. You can adjust to anything slower, but you can’t adjust to something faster if you are expecting off speed.

  12. RaoulDuke37 on April 20th, 2012 2:07 pm

    Felix is awesome. That is all.

  13. msfanmike on April 20th, 2012 2:12 pm

    If “shuuto” means fast screwball in English – then yeah, maybe … probably?

    Felix is throwing a hybrid of some sort. Mid 80’s is right, it’s not really a changeup and its not HIS fastball. It’s a slightly reduced velo fastball with some screwball action. Felix can call it whatever he wants … the pitch simply works and it will work for a long time.

    It’s kind of a Pedro Martinez whippy arm change up with speed and screwball action. It’s the ‘WACUSSA’

    Maybe Shuuto is a better name. Changeup works too.

  14. thedude1987 on April 20th, 2012 2:59 pm

    I would say his change up is a mix between 2 seemer and splitfinger.

  15. MrZDevotee on April 20th, 2012 4:20 pm

    “Have you ever faced a 98mph pitch? You don’t have time to even THINK too fast to be the change… lol”

    I guess I phrased it the opposite of my point… You always pretty much gauge fastball– it’s an instinctual “go” action anything else is adjustment. So yeah, that’s what I meant. If the fastball and the (whatchamacallit) are similar speeds you don’t have the time to decide if it’s a different pitch or not. Will it move or not is pretty much a coin flip– good luck.

    But if he’s throwing the fastball 8-10 mph faster than the (whatchamacallit) you then have a margin for adjustment. However small you gauge that margin, there is NO MARGIN if the two pitches are close in speeds.

  16. MrZDevotee on April 20th, 2012 4:28 pm

    Speaking of moderate speeds with movement…

    Danny Hultzen 6 1/3 innings of shut-out, 2 hit ball.

    Man it’s fun to keep an eye on Jackson this season…

    2012 stats:
    Danny Hultzen – 16 innings, 7 hits, 21 K’s, .94 whip
    Taijan Walker – 11 innings, 6 hits, 17 K’s, .73 whip
    James Paxton – 15 innings, 8 hits, 21 K’s, 1.13 whip

  17. Dave on April 20th, 2012 5:16 pm

    You guys are weird. It’s a change-up – he just throws it harder than everyone else’s. Justin Verlander’s fastball doesn’t magically become a new pitch just because he throws that harder than everyone else.

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