Just because the 2020 season hasn't started yet, that doesn't mean baseball fans have to forget what it's like to watch the best of the best. This week, MLB.com is highlighting some of the nastiest pitches in baseball -- a different pitch type every day, with five pitchers featured for each (no repeats), picked by our reporters. Check out the nastiest fastballs, the nastiest curveballs and the nastiest sliders here.
Up next: changeups.
You're ready for the fastball. You know the heat is coming. And then … changeup. Uh oh.
A perfectly executed changeup can induce some of the ugliest swings you'll see from a Major League hitter. And for these pitchers, getting ugly swings is a specialty.
Here are five of the nastiest changeups in baseball.
Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
Why he's so nasty: 45.3% chase rate
A standard changeup thrives on deception. The batter is geared up for a fastball, and instead, he gets something a good bit slower. Ideally, the pitcher helps disguise it with his arm speed and release point.
Strasburg has all that, certainly. But his change is a weapon on its own merit. He throws it relatively hard -- in the upper 80s -- and imbues the ball with tremendous late movement that sends it diving toward the dirt and away from a left-handed batter. As teammate Brandon Snyder put it recently to The Washington Post: "It literally looks like it stops and dies."
Strasburg's changeup renders hitters helpless -- and not just lefties, who would be the typical target for a righty change. Left-handed hitters went 13-for-93 (.140) with 33 strikeouts against it last year; righties were 11-for-79 (.143) with 43 K’s. Strasburg added 22 more changeup strikeouts during his masterful postseason run, including eight in one game against the Cardinals in the NLCS.
In 2019, Strasburg threw nearly three quarters of his changeups out of the zone, and opponents still went after almost half of them. When they did so, they missed 56% of the time and batted 10-for-108 (.093), often losing their balance in the process.
-- Andrew Simon
Luis Castillo, Reds
Why he's so nasty: 48.0% whiff rate
Castillo’s changeup kept hitters off balance all season. Even with it being his most-used pitch, at 32.5%, batters looked nowhere near ready for it when he threw it.
Like Strasburg, Castillo sits on the higher end of changeup velocity at an average of 87.2 mph. He induced a 48% whiff rate on swings against his changeup last season, the highest of any starter to get at least 150 swings against their changeups in 2019. That tells you the pitch is doing its job: catching batters off guard and keeping them off balance and swinging and missing.
Castillo had 155 strikeouts on changeups last season -- nobody else had more than 76. He had a 30.8% putaway rate on two-strike changeups, meaning that almost a third of the time, his two-strike changeups resulted in strikeouts.
A whopping 148 of Castillo’s 155 strikeouts on his changeup were swinging. Hard to pick up, hard to make contact -- nasty.
-- Sarah Langs
Kyle Hendricks, Cubs
Why he's so nasty: 0.4 inch movement differential between changeup and two-seamer
How do you dominate with one of the slowest fastballs in Major League Baseball? Have a devious changeup to pair with it and insane command of both. When Hendricks has his two-seam/changeup doppelganger effect going, he's as unhittable as anyone. Just look at the Maddux he threw against the Cardinals last May, an 81-pitch shutout, if you need an example.
Hendricks sits at 86.7 mph with his two-seamer (slower than some of the other changeups picked here). But his changeup looks like the exact same pitch -- only it comes in even slower, at 78.6 mph. That's an 8-mph differential between two pitches that follow the same trajectory. The speed difference is significant, but the difference in their running action is nearly zero. Hendricks' two-seamer moves 12.7 inches from left to right. His changeup? 13.1 inches. You try to tell the difference when he tunnels those two pitches.
Oh, there's also this: one half of all the changeups Hendricks threw last season were on the edges of the strike zone -- a top-10 mark among offspeed users. He doesn't give you anything good to hit, but you have to try, or else you're just going to get punched out.
-- David Adler
Chris Paddack, Padres
Why he's so nasty: 1.09 inch pre-tunnel max distance between fastball and changeup
The tunneling stat above (courtesy of Baseball Prospectus) sounds super technical, but it really boils down to this: When it’s time for the hitter to decide whether to sit or swing, how tough is it to tell a pitcher’s pitch types from one another?
With Paddack, the answer is very tough. The perceived difference between his fastball and changeup was among the smallest in MLB last year, and that’s part of why he succeeded while largely throwing just two pitches. Paddack’s changeup comes in on the same plane as his four-seamer, and it spins in almost the exact same direction. But then it drops like a brick, coming in 10 mph slower than his riding, top-of-the-zone heater. It’s a combination engineered to make hitters look silly.
Paddack is a throwback, adept at changing speeds as he manipulates your eye level and works you north and south like Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling used to do. With only so many milliseconds at a hitter’s disposal, Paddack’s changeup is a master of disguise.
-- Matt Kelly
Tommy Kahnle, Yankees
Why he's so nasty: 39.9% whiff rate on in-zone changeups
Of the 229 pitchers who threw at least 1,000 pitches in 2019, only one used his changeup more than half the time. It was Kahnle, at 51.9%. But even with the predictability, batters still couldn't hit him. The right-hander allowed a .181 wOBA on changeups last season, the best in MLB among regular changeup users, and he collected 68 of his 88 strikeouts with the pitch.
Kahnle throws one of the hardest changeups in the game, and with the low spin rate you want out of a changeup for downward action -- his changeup averaged 1,483 rpm in 2019, well below the MLB average of 1,807 rpm. Kahnle is able to get a ton of swings and misses against left-handed and right-handed batters alike, even when he throws the ball in the strike zone. In fact, his 39.9% whiff rate on changeups in the zone was the highest in the Majors.
-- Thomas Harrigan
David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.
Sarah Langs is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @SlangsOnSports.
Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.
Thomas Harrigan is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @HarriganMLB.