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PITCHF/x: Just how good is the changeup of Marco Gonzales and just how good can it be?

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Marco Gonzales, the 19th overall pick of the 2013 MLB Draft, is already making his presence felt at the big league level. Scouts have raved about his changeup since his days at Gonzaga, but now that he is in the big leagues, we finally have the chance to see it ourselves as well as the opportunity to analyze its PITCHF/x data. Enjoy.

That grip, though...
That grip, though...
Ezra Shaw

As the regular season comes to a close, the immediate future of Marco Gonzales in the Cardinals rotation is rather murky, but armed with a plus left-handed changeup, his long-term future is clearer, as he has the ability to become a valuable asset for many years to come. As Eric discussed in yesterday's VEB Daily, we don't know who the "real" Marco Gonzales is just yet, but this is completely understandable considering he has made just five big league starts in his career. One thing we do know, though, is that his changeup appears to be as good as advertised, and it will be a vital component to his future success.

Over the course of 2014 (seven games, five starts), Gonzales has thrown 139 changeups. Ideally, we would have a larger sample size to work with, but in my opinion, given the fact that the changeup is Gonzales's signature pitch, we likely won't see too much deviation from this data going forward, as long as he stays healthy, of course. Thus, how does it compare to notorious left-handed changeup throwers: Cole Hamels and Johan Santana?

Pitcher Velocity H. movement MPH Drop-off from FB Vertical Release Point Difference (from FB)
M. Gonzales 79.31 MPH 10.27 inches 11.15 MPH -2.64 inches
C. Hamels 82.65 MPH 8.53 inches 9.31 MPH -0.96 inches
J. Santana 80.81 MPH 7.49 inches 10.32 MPH -1.56 inches

As you can see, Marco's changeup has the slowest average velocity of the three, but he counters this by having the most horizontal movement (1.74 inches more than Hamels, 2.78 inches more than Santana) as well as the largest drop-off in velocity from his fastball. However, all three pitchers are within the desired drop-off range of eight to 12 MPH, so it is hard to determine whether or not this should be considered significant.

In order to have lasting success as game-film piles up, Gonzales is going to have to cut down on the difference shown in the last column. At present, his changeup's vertical release point averages at 2.64 inches lower than his fastball's vertical release point. As you can see with Hamels, he averages less than an inch difference between the vertical release points of his fastball and changeup which is a huge factor in the deception of the pitch. Thus, it is good to see that the movement is already there for Marco, but let's hope the Cardinals pitching staff works with him on synchronizing his vertical release points over the offseason. If he is able to make necessary refinements, his changeup could soon become not only the best on the Cardinals, but one of the best in all of baseball as well.

Let's now enjoy some GIFs...

Marco strikeout of Jordan Lyles

Marco1

The late horizontal movement of this changeup is just not fair for opposing hitters. It helped that the pitcher was at the plate, but given the pitch's location, combined with its movement (over 12 inches(!), per BrooksBaseball), I'm not sure many hitters make contact with this one, and if they do, it will almost certainly be weak contact at best. Oh, and don't forget the A+ frame job by Yadier Molina. The pitch painted the corner beautifully, but it doesn't hurt to help the home plate umpire out as well.

Marco strikeout of Brandon Barnes

Marco2

As with the changeup to Lyles, this one, too, had over 12 inches of horizontal movement, per BrooksBaseball. Couple that with the fact that he threw an inside curveball, in the dirt, on the pitch immediately prior to this one, and it is understandable that Barnes looked quite foolish swinging at this one. If you can remember back to my 4th of July article on the "art of the set-up pitch," you'll understand why this two-pitch sequence from Gonzales is so lethal. Plus, in my opinion, there is nothing more exciting in baseball than really good pitching, and this match-up between Gonzales and Barnes is a perfect example of it.

Hamels strikeout of Freese in 2011

Hamels

I apologize to Cardinal Nation (especially the David Freese Fan Club) for choosing this pitch for the GIF, but from the videos I saw on MLB.com, this was hands-down one of the dirtiest changeups I saw Hamels throw. Freese has mashed changeups in his career, so in my opinion, this adds credibility to how devastating this pitch actually is. Unfortunately, ESPN did not provide us with the dead-center viewing angle we are blessed with on the Fox Sports Midwest telecast, so it is tough to get an accurate grasp of this pitch's horizontal movement. Thankfully, we have BrooksBaseball as a readily-available resource, and it shows that this 84 MPH changeup had nearly 11 inches of horizontal movement—virtually identical to Marco’s average, but still less than the two changeups GIF'd above.

Johan strikeout of Steve Pearce

20120619johansantanachangeup

Go ahead and watch this one at least 15 times, if you please. This change was so good that it appears to climb up at first, stall at an apex roughly half the distance to home plate, and then drop back down into the bottom corner of the strike zone. As with the Hamels GIF above, the camera angle is not ideal for checking horizontal movement, but after cross-checking with BrooksBaseball, it is somewhat surprising that it had only 2.5 inches of horizontal movement—five inches less than Johan's career average and nearly eight inches less than Marco's so far in 2014. Yet, Pearce found himself frozen in the right-handed batter's box, and a large reason why is Johan's 90 MPH fastball up in the zone that he used as the set-up pitch.

As usual, I must thank Matthew Streeter (he's on twitter: @mstreeter06) for producing the GIFs as well as BrooksBaseball for the PITCHF/x data.