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Batter's Eye: Dallas Braden's Changeup

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I know I talk about PitchFX in a pretty technical way fairly often, but I'd like to take a step back and use it to marvel at some of the A's best pitchers and explain why some of their pitches are so difficult to hit. And so, the first entry in what will hopefully be a new series: Dallas Braden's changeup.

Dallas Braden famously rode his magnificent changeup to perfection earlier this year, but I'm going to focus on his last start, a marvelous four-hit complete game shutout of the Rangers on August 28. He mostly pitched to contact and let Oakland's strong defense do much of the heavy lifting, but his one jaw-dropping strikeout came in the 6th inning against Michael Young. Braden got Young to swing and miss on an absolutely filthy 69 mph changeup that painted the lower outside corner. (Gameday link here, video link here at the 33 second mark.)

It's considered very good if a pitcher can achieve a 10 mph difference between his fastball and his changeup. Braden's changeup is a whopping 15 mph slower than his fastball. What does that do to a batter? The following is a side view of two pitches: the 69 mph changeup that Dallas Braden threw to strike out Michael Young, and a fastball he threw in Young's previous at bat in the fourth inning. The blue line and the red line correspond to the flight paths of the fastball and changeup, respectively. Also, the baseballs show where each pitch would be at the time the fastball crosses the plate. Click for a bigger version.

Bradenchangeup500_medium

The flight paths of Braden's fastball and changeup are essentially identical until the pitch is around 15 feet from the plate. At that point, the fastball is a little more than a tenth of a second from the plate, which is far too little time for a batter to perform any necessary corrections to his swing. To successfully hit a changeup from Dallas Braden, a batter would have to guess on the pitch selection and hope for the best.

And if a batter incorrectly guesses fastball and swings accordingly, he'll miss Braden's changeup by an entire foot in height...and ten feet in distance. Ten feet! Any pitch that can make a Major League-quality batter miss a baseball by ten feet is a very dangerous weapon indeed. Throw in Braden's uncanny ability to add and subtract velocity and movement from his pitches along with his pinpoint control (1.67 BB/9, good for fourth in the majors) and you've got a pitcher who should overachieve in his fourth starter rotation spot for years to come.

 

After last night's day off embarrassing performance, the A's try to come up swinging as Vin Mazzaro takes on Phil Hughes at 4:05 PT.