With the spread of the novel coronavirus delaying the start of Major League Baseball's 2020, we have plenty of time to ponder life's big questions. Rather than do that, we've decided to use this interim period to rank things -- like, say, the best pitches in baseball. Over the last two weeks, we've been highlighting pitchers who offer quality renditions of five different pitch types:and , , , and changeups. That process culminates today, with changeups.
Here's how this will work. In each article, we'll touch on five pitchers: the three best; a "best kept secret," whose offering is underappreciated for some reason; and a "who's next?" or a pitch that belongs to a prospect but could someday top the field.
A fair and valid question to ask is: well, how did we come up with these rankings? The simple answer is that we used a combination of analytics and observations. The more complex answer -- and the one tailored specifically for changeups-- is that we prioritized a couple of attributes, including the pitch's fade. We also required that the pitch was usable -- that means the pitcher could locate their offerings well enough for its innate characteristics to matter.
It should be clear by now that these rankings are objective by nature. We're not pretending these are gospel handed down from above, and we're fine if people want to swap in other pitchers as they see fit. There are more than three good practitioners of any given pitch, folks.
With all that legal mumbo jumbo out of the way, let's rank some freaking cambios.
The three best
This shouldn't be too surprising if you've followed our work over the offseason. Back when Strasburg re-signed with the Nationals, we listed his elite changeup as one of the reasons the D.C. faithful should be thrilled with the move.
In addition to more than passing the eye test, the changeup also grades well statistically. Opponents have hit no better than .171 against the pitch in any season, per Baseball Savant. They've also whiffed on at least 40 percent of their swings taken on it. Those are wild numbers.
Strasburg's changeup has all the traits necessary for a great one: he maintains his fastball arm speed; the pitch has fade and run (it's thrown from a circle grip); and so on and so forth. Take a look for yourself:
We could've ranked Strasburg "1A," because Castillo would make for a worthy "1B."
According to Baseball Prospectus, Castillo threw the most changeups in baseball last year. He did so while generating the fourth highest whiff rate in the game. That isn't easy to do.
We're going with Hendricks here, because you have to have a good equalizer when you're a right-hander with a mid-80s heater. Watch and see, folks:
We'll note that Hendricks' changeup was uncharacteristically hittable last season, ending the year with a .265 average against. That's by far the worst mark in his career, but we're banking on that being an aberration.
The best kept secret
A Rule 5 pick from the White Sox, Brennan had an uneven season, posting a 96 ERA+ and a 1.96 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He was at his best when he was throwing his mid-80s changeup, which held opponents to a .125 average and generated a 54.9 percent whiff rate. For an illustration of how money Brennan's change was for him, take a look at him getting Renato Nunez to swing and miss at three cambios in a single at-bat:
The next best
The Padres have more arms than conjoined squids. As such, Baez sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. That's too bad, because he's a big lad with a big changeup. Here's Baez throwing a particularly effective one to Joc Pederson: