Tyler Chatwood has historically thrown around 5-7 changeups per 100 pitches, but he might implement the offspeed pitch more into his 2020 repertoire. We saw why during Tuesday’s outing, a 3.2 inning effort in which he struck out four Giants with no walks. One of those whiffs came against the right-handed batting Hunter Pence, who was unsure of what he’d just seen.
“I threw a right-on-right changeup for that last strikeout,” Chatwood told MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. “A really good pitch that I don’t throw a lot. It’s a good sign. I think I want to go out there and mix it up more. It makes my fastball play harder.”
The strikeout above obviously suggests Chatwood’s changeup has potential. Just look how that pitch does its best impression of the global economy, including Sinclair Broadcast Group, by falling off a cliff. Though it wasn’t the most awkward response we’ve seen lately from someone named Pence, the pitch was so filthy that the batter had to head back to the clubhouse to wash his hands and check the performance of his 401(k).
But seriously, there are plenty of reasons to believe the changeup could dramatically help Chatwood as he (presumably) transitions back to the rotation. He shifted his fastball usage away from four-seamers to sinkers last season, upping the latter from around 25% in 2018 to almost 40% in 2019. That is significant if he indeed starts throwing more changeups because they have similar horizontal movement to his sinker.
Chatwood’s sinker and changeup tail away with ~8 and ~6 inches of movement, respectively, whereas his fastball only tails away with 2.5 inches of break. The similarity in pitch movement between his sinker and changeup hints that batters might have trouble deciphering between the two pitches, since it takes roughly 26 feet of travel for a hitter to decipher velocity. Masking that further with similar movement means more defensive swings like Pence’s.
Even though Chatwood threw changeups at roughly a 7% rate last season, he induced a whiff on 20% of them (about 4 percentage points above league average). While it’s not fair to assume that his high whiff rate will continue with greater usage of the changeup, it’s not at all out of line to suggest that the pitch has the potential to improve Chatwood’s viability as a starter. Keeping hitters guessing with different looks could help him get through the order multiple times.