Best Changeups Among 2023 Top 100 Prospects
Changeups are always a major question mark for any younger pitcher. It’s important to have a changeup you can throw against offhanded batters. For many pitchers, it is the difference between a career as a starter and a move to the bullpen.
Today we wrap up the individual best pitch articles among Top 100 Prospects by looking at the best changeups on the list. More so than any other pitchers in the Top 100, these five prospects utilize a multitude of qualities that generate excellent results with their changeups.
Key Changeup Metrics
Velocity Separation: The difference between the velocity of a pitcher’s fastball and the velocity of a pitcher’s changeup.
Vertical Approach Angle Separation: The difference between the vertical approach angle of a pitcher’s fastball and the vertical approach angle of their changeup.
Horizontal Break: Simply how much the pitch moves horizontally. When discussing changeups all horizontal breaks are toward the pitcher’s arm side. This movement is described as “run” in common baseball vernacular.
Whiff Rate: The rate of total swings against a pitch that results in a swinging strike or a whiff. This is the purest way to determine how well a given pitch misses bats.
Chase Rate: The rate of total swings against a pitch that induces chases or swings out of the zone.
Called + Swinging Strikes Rate (CSW%): The number of called strikes and swinging strikes added together and then divided by the total number of pitches.
Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA): Weighted on-base average is a variation of on-base percentage that weighs each method of getting on base differently. Think of it like this; a walk is worth less than a double and a double is worth less than a home run. This is an excellent way to view a pitcher’s ability to drive outs.
Expected Weighted On Base On Contact xwOBAcon: xwOBAcon is useful when analyzing fastballs for a very simple reason. It eliminates strikeouts and walks and only measures the quality of balls in play. It also excludes foul balls unless they result in an out, which is a useful inclusion when looking at fastball quality. The ability to induce infield fly balls and foul pop outs is a skill and is a common characteristic of pitchers with high induced vertical break and a flatter fastball plane. While more complex in its construction, xwOBAcon allows us to remove things we can measure with other metrics (example: whiffs or called strikes, etc.) and isolate the quality of contact against the pitch.
Exclusions: As we did in the other installments, we will exclude the Guardians’ Daniel Espino and the Rays’ Shane Baz due to a smaller sample size not in line with the rest of the group. We’ll also eliminate both the Mets’ Kodai Senga and the Padres’ Dylan Lesko, as neither has thrown a pitch in front of a ball-tracking device in North American affiliated baseball.
1) Gavin Stone, RHP, Dodgers
Whiff Rate: 52% | Velocity Separation: 9 mph
By all accounts it was a breakthrough season for Stone, the Dodgers 2020 fifth-round pick, as Stone took home the MiLB ERA title. Stone is an athletic righthander with a four-pitch mix led by a mid-90s fastball, a slider, a curveball and a changeup. While Stone’s fastball is above-average, it’s his changeup that truly stands out among Stone’s arsenal.
A mid-80s changeup with tumble and fade, Stone’s changeup has 9-10 mph of velocity separation off of his fastball and a vertical approach angle separation off the fastball of just under -2 degrees. The combination of movement and velocity separation allows Stone to sell the pitch off of his fastball. The results speak for themselves as Stone is one of five Top 100 pitchers with a whiff rate greater than 50% against the pitch.
Stone is just one of two pitchers on the Top 100 with a whiff rate of 50% or higher, a chase rate of 40% or higher and a called + swinging strike rate of 40% or higher. Stone’s changeup had the second-highest chase rate, the highest CSW% and the second-highest strike rate. When batters did make contact with his changeup, more often than not it ended in a ground ball—Stone had a 61% groundball rate.
Even more impressive, Stone threw his changeup more than any other Top 100 prospect; he threw nearly 200 more changeups than any other pitcher. Stone has a plus-plus changeup that can be used in any count against either handedness.
2) Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Orioles
Whiff Rate: 47% | Velocity Separation: 12 mph
Injury robbed Rodriguez—and Orioles fans—of a 2022 big league debut. With all eyes on Rodriguez heading into spring training, the potential ace certainly has the stuff across his pitch mix to make the jump. As will be discussed in the forthcoming best pitch mix article, no pitcher has as many plus weapons at his disposal as Rodriguez. His most impressive pitch might be his changeup.
From a shape and separation perspective few pitches are better than Rodriguez’s changeup. It has, on average, 12 mph of separation off his fastball and a vertical approach angle separation of well over -2 degrees. Rodriguez has the best combination of velocity and shape variance off of his fastball. These characteristics, when sold with arm speed, serve as a formidable challenge for opposing batters.
The performance numbers back this, as opposing hitters produced a weighted on-base average of .224. Rodriguez continually generates whiffs in and out of the zone, with a 47% whiff rate in 2022 and a chase rate of 40%. With all this success, hitters still couldn’t lay off of the pitch, with a swing rate of 55% against it in 2022. Rodriguez's changeup should be a catalyst for early success with the big league club.
3) Tanner Bibee, RHP, Guardians
Whiff Rate: 41% | Velocity Separation: 10 mph
Bibee cracked the best curveball list yesterday, but it’s his plus changeup that is the real jewel of his arsenal. Bibee experienced a bump in velocity heading into 2022, and it’s resulted in a clearer separation between his fastball and changeup. Now with a four-seamer sitting 94-95 mph, Bibee has a velocity separation of over 10 mph between the two pitches and a vertical approach angle separation of over -2 degrees. It was one of three changeups thrown by a Top 100 prospect that shared that pair of attributes.
Bibee drove excellent results against the pitch in 2022, generating whiffs on 52% of swings. Additionally, he was one of two pitchers on the list—Stone is the other—with a whiff rate above 50%, a chase rate of 40% or higher and a called+swinging strike rate of 40% or higher. Also like Stone and Rodriguez, hitters couldn’t help themselves against Bibee’s offspeed, as they swung at the pitch 57% of the time Bibee threw it.
When hitters did make contact, they didn’t do much damage—they produced a weighted on-base average of .202, and his weighted on-base average on contact (.250) was the lowest xwOBAcon against a changeup thrown by a Top 100 prospect with a sample of 200 or more pitches. It’s Bibee’s ability to generate whiffs, chases and weak contact that make his changeup one of the best in the minor leagues.
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4) Logan Allen, LHP, Guardians
Whiff Rate: 55% | Velocity Separation: 8 mph
Allen is likely the surprise name on the list, and possibly the pitcher whose changeup performance might most surprise you. Allen was one of three pitchers on the list (Stone and Bibee the other two) who had a whiff rate above 50%, a chase rate above 40% and a called+swinging strike rate of 40%. In fact, Allen’s changeup had the highest whiff rate of any changeup thrown by a Top 100 prospect.
While Allen is the softest tosser on the Top 100, his unusual fastball shape plays perfectly off of his changeup—it has a 3.5-degree vertical approach angle separation off of his fastball. That’s the largest VAA separation on the list, and a primary reason batters struggled to make contact against the pitch. Allen uses his unique low release and a variety of pitch shapes to keep hitters off balance.
Thankfully, Allen avoids contact at the highest rate of any changeup on this list, but when hitters made contact with his changeup it resulted in damage. Luckily for Allen that’s a rarer octane for him than any other Top 100 pitcher. A lefty with a deep pitch mix, Allen’s changeup might be his go-to pitch once he touches down in the big leagues with Cleveland.
5) D.L. Hall, LHP, Orioles
Whiff Rate: 51% | Velocity Separation: 11 mph
It’s not an exaggeration to say Hall could qualify for each of these best pitch articles. While his fastball and slider made the cut, his curveball just missed. He has an elite combination of stuff across his arsenal, but his changeup might be his best bat-missing pitch.
With 11 mph of velocity separation and just under -2 degrees of vertical approach angle separation, Hall had the second lowest wOBA against his changeup of any pitcher in the Top 100—opposing hitters posted a .188 wOBA against the pitch. A large reason for this is Hall’s ability to sell the changeup off of his fastball with Bugs Bunny-type shape. It lacks the tumble of other changeups, but it generates whiffs by mimicking the shape of his fastball.
This shape allowed Hall to generate the fourth-highest whiff rate by a prospect in the Top 100. He was also one of four pitchers inside the Top 100 to produce a whiff rate above 50%, a chase rate above 30% and a called+swinging strike rate of 35% or higher. Beyond his ability to miss bats, Hall was able to keep the ball on the ground more often than not when hitters made contact, with a 50% groundball rate.