Marco and the art of the changeup

Through three starts, Marco Gonzales has used relied on his changeup to balance out his cutter. As a result, he’s pitched 3.20/3.57/4.57 while already wracking up an fWAR of 0.3 after 19.2 innings.

Gonzales has used his changeup on 25.8% of pitches thrown throughout this season, and he’s holding opposing batters to an OPS of .586 with a wRC+ of 98 during the early part of the season. While it hasn’t been his most effective punch out pitch, it’s been fairly effective at inducing strikeouts — 9.5% of his Ks this season have come on it. What he has been really good at with it is limiting the number walks he’s given up, which is the result of his extremely effective command.

The lefty has faced a lot of right handed hitters in the early going this season, and you can see how he’s carefully been keeping his changeup away from them. Gonzales’ command has allowed for him to induce a ton of week contact…even though batters aren’t really swinging at his changeup when its outside of the strike zone at this point. That weak contact has led to a lot of soft fly balls and grounders that have been relatively easy for the Mariners’ challenged infield defense to pull in.

What is concerning about the use of his changeup is that it’s not inducing as many swinging strikes as it did last season (8% to 11.9%). Now that’s probably due to the fact that he hasn’t earned a ton of wings on his changeup when its outside of the zone, but it’s still concerning to see batters swinging and missing at it less as his career develops; especially since he relies on it so much.

If batters continue to not swing and miss at the changeup — I know its early, but this trend does trouble me — then the starter could easily run into trouble with how much he uses this pitch. This changeup is the third most thrown pitch in his arsenal and batters are making a lot of contact with it. Now this could mean that they’ve figured out his changeup, and aren’t swinging at it because they’re better recognizing it out of his hand…which would be a problem.

Going forward, I’d like to see Gonzales reduce his changeup usage just a little bit in favor of his slider. This will give him a more effective counter to his dominant cutter, while also allowing him to keep his changeup as an effective pitch.