Seven innings into his MLB career (0.00 ERA, 1.86 FIP, 0.2 fWAR/0.5 bWAR), Alex Reyes’ primary weapon has been his fourseam fastball — a pitch he has thrown 78.51% of the time. Considering both Reyes’ current role (the bullpen) and the pitch’s average velocity (98.66 MPH), this honestly should not be viewed as much of a surprise. However, remembering back to our Q&A last March, Reyes informed readers about the importance of his changeup development — as he called it a pitch used to “get hitters off [his] fastball” and to “help [him] get down in the zone with his fastball.”
While these quotes definitely make it sound like Reyes believes the changeup is his second or maybe even third best pitch, a not-insignificant amount of time has passed since the referenced Q&A, giving the pitch in question time to be further refined and commanded. If you have ever discussed Reyes’ repertoire with me, you know that I have argued and until further notice, will continue to argue that the changeup, not the fastball, possesses the potential to be Reyes’ best pitch, especially when the time comes for him to transition into the MLB starting rotation.
But, Joe, have you seen Reyes reach triple digits at least 20 times through his first 95 fourseam fastballs thrown at the MLB level? Why yes, yes I have, as I just tallied the count myself by flipping through his game logs on BrooksBaseball.net. Yet, for how impressive a radar-gun reading of 100 MPH may be, MLB hitters will eventually catch up to it, and this will happen quickly should command issues come into play (an issue Reyes has fought with his entire career).
Now, a pitch MLB hitters will never “catch up to” is the deception and movement of a hard changeup thrown from a nearly identical arm slot and with the exact same arm speed as the fourseam fastball. Seriously, though, I dare you to spot a noticeable difference between the two pitches’ respective release points (h/t @VanHicklestein):
Alex Reyes is mean. pic.twitter.com/LzQUM7uMSR— vhs (@VanHicklestein) August 17, 2016
If you are mesmerized by the GIF, I completely understand, so let me put my point into words (this is a blog, after all). Thanks to the presence of landmarks, we can see that Reyes releases his fourseamer from the middle horizontal line of the letter “E” on the H-E-B advertisement behind home plate. Next in the GIF is the changeup, and despite being a pitch down in the zone, as opposed to a fastball up in the zone immediately prior, the release point is identical, right at the middle horizontal line of the letter “E.” If we aren’t able to spot a mechanical difference with multiple looks on a looped GIF, good luck to hitters who have to spot a difference in the moment, all while being ready for the threat of a triple-digit heater.
Let’s now take a look at two filthy Reyes’ changeups with some commentary after each:
87.6 MPH Changeup to Jake Marisnick
Marisnick was the first Astros batter to face Reyes, and as you can see from the three-strikes compilation in the tweet embedded above, the 21-year-old top prospect surely did not treat him kindly. Reyes started Marisnick off with a perfectly-placed, low-in-the-zone 76.4 MPH curveball for a swinging strike (it would have been a called strike as well). Being in the American League, I am not sure how in-depth of a scouting report the Astros had on Reyes, but a devastating first-pitch curveball was clearly something Marisnick was not expecting.
Pitches two and three came in at 97.5 MPH and 97.9 MPH, respectively, with each climbing higher in the zone — and subjecting Marisnick to a velocity difference of 21.3 (!) MPH. Reyes put Marisnick, a right-handed hitter, away with an 87.6 MPH changeup in essentially the exact same location as strike number one. Thus, not only did Reyes use a Yo-Yo on velocity (76.4 MPH, 97.5 MPH, 97.9 MPH, 87.6 MPH) in order to record this strikeout, but also location as he started down, climbed up, and ended down.
90.7 MPH Changeup to Carlos Ruiz
First and foremost, this changeup was faster than the average fastball velocity of 25 current MLB starting pitchers. Second, Ruiz, generally a pretty good changeup hitter, was late on his swing against the pitch. Sure, part of it was probably Ruiz’s late recognition of the pitch being out of the strike zone, but again, the word “late” presents itself when discussing Reyes’ changeup.
For a pitcher averaging 100 MPH on five fastballs thrown in at bat, it is borderline mind-blowing how deceiving the changeup must have been to a Ruiz, clearly befuddled based on the shape of his swing. Plus, as was the case with Marisnick, Ruiz was the first Phillie to face Reyes, so it was a tall task to assign to the veteran.
Reyes is only seven innings into his MLB career. He has only thrown 15 changeups. We have a long way to go before drawing any real conclusions on him. However, if these two strikeouts are any indication, Reyes clearly understands how to sequence the pitch into his repertoire. Sometimes, grasping the mechanics behind the process is harder than executing on said process. In other words, a pitcher can throw three great pitches (the execution), but if he is not comfortable with sequencing these three great pitches (the process), he will struggle finding consistent success.
Reyes appears to be well on his way in mastering both, and should he ever stray from the path to success, he can always look back to these two at bats.
As always, I must credit to PitcherList.com for the GIFs used in this post. You can follow them on Twitter: @ThePitcherList.