The catcher wiggles four fingers and taps his mitt against the ground, the man on the mound nods his head and they both know… this batter is screwed. There is no prettier sight in our game than watching the best hitters in the world flail wildly at a ball they never had a chance at, followed by that slow long walk back into the dugout.
The best changeups are essentially cheat codes, built to mirror fastballs before hitting the brakes mid-flight and fading into oblivion. If you like watching grown men get embarrassed, start paying attention to these ten pitchers’ elite changeups.
Luis Castillo, SP, Cincinnati Reds
2019: 15-8, 3.40 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 1.14 WHIP, 226 Ks
The prince of pronation, Castillo is likely the most obvious name on this list, as his breakout 2019 season in large part derived from the pure filthiness that is his changeup. In 2019, Castillo’s changeup had massive horizontal movement with a pfx HMov -9.22 inches. pfx HMov is a measurement in inches of how much the pitch breaks horizontally. It also had a pfx VMov of 0.98 inches, which measures the amount of downward break the pitch has. With a velocity separation of nearly 10 mph off his fastball at 87 mph on average, this pitch checks all the boxes for the eye test.
Luis Castillo, Wicked 87mph Changeup (w/ trail). 😨 pic.twitter.com/OZvX6mKkwX
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 21, 2019
Castillo threw his best pitch 32.45% of the time, posting a 26.9% SwStr ratio (15.2% was the major league average on changeups in 2019), 50.2% chase rate (31.6% pitches out of the zone were swung at in 2019), 48% whiff per swing ratio (29.2% MLB average on changeups in 2019) and a 36.9 K-BB% (2019 MLB league average was 14.4%)… that’s a ton of strikeout potential. In fact, 153 of Castillo’s 226 strikeouts were finished with his changeup. The pitch also had a .285 wOBAcon (.334 was the average on changeups in 2019) and a .071 ISO against to go along with an 81.7 average exit velocity against (85.8 average on changeups in 2019) and a 72.5% weak hit ratio (65.6% average on changeups in 2019). In other words, on the off-chance contact is made, there’s a good chance that poor batter is still going to end up sitting down with his friends.
Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington Nationals:
2019: 18-6, 3.32 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 1.04 WHIP, 251 Ks
If anyone can give Castillo a run for his money for best changeup in the game, its World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg. With a pfx HMov of -9.09 inches and a pfx VMov of 0.84 inches, the pitch has a similar trajectory to Castillo’s, showing us just how effective horizontal movement can be. In 2019, Strasburg’s changeup, which he threw nearly 18% of the time, averaged 88 mph (A six mph differential from his four-seam fastball).
Stephen Strasburg, Ridiculous 88mph Changeup. 😯 pic.twitter.com/2zeh9N94KC
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 15, 2019
In terms of swings and misses, the pitch was good for a 22.3% SwStr ratio, a 45.3% chase ratio, a 44.64% whiff per swing ratio, and a 36.2% K-BB ratio. Strasburg recorded a .277 wOBAcon and a .296 xwOBAc, and a .099 ISO against on the pitch. He generated weak contact at a rate of 75.3% for an 82.4 exit velocity against, aligning closely yet again with Castillo’s.
Jacob deGrom, SP, New York Mets
2019: 11-8, 2.43 ERA, 2.67 FIP, 0.97 WHIP, 255 Ks
deGrom arguably has the best all-around arsenal in the game today, and though his changeup might be his third-best pitch, it’s still one of the best in the game… all hail deGrom. The Mets ace used his changeup nearly 16% of the time in route to his second consecutive NL Cy Young award, shoving it down opponent’s throats at 90.61 mph on average, nearly seven mph off his fastball average velocity. The horizontal movement theme continues with deGrom, whose changeup had a pfx HMov of -7.88 inches and a pfx VMov of 1.92 inches (more drop than that of Strasburg and Castillo). The pitch generated a 20.9% SwStr ratio, a 39.43% whiff per swing ratio (the most of any of his pitches), and a 37.5% K-BB ratio (higher than both Strasburg and Castillo).
Jacob deGrom, Filthy 90mph Changeup. 😷 pic.twitter.com/3FtfEppVql
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 1, 2019
deGrom’s changeup posted a .312 xwOBAcon and a .062 ISO against. The biggest difference between this changeup and the two listed above it is the batted ball events, as deGrom’s changeup garnered weak contact 64.3% of the time with an average exit velocity of 86.3. So deGrom’s changeup gets hit a bit harder than Strasburg and Castillo’s but there’s on the rare occasion it actually gets hit… and it’s his THIRD best pitch.
Mike Minor, SP, Texas Rangers
2019: 14-10, 3.59 ERA, 4.25 FIP, 1.24 WHIP, 200 Ks
Minor may not have the swing and miss factor that the previous three hurlers do, but there is a reason Minor has such a successful 2019 campaign… and the reason is his changeup is silly. Minor uses his changeup nearly 25% of the time, and this thing MOVES… recording a pfx HMov of 9.98 inches and a pfx VMov of 5.90 inches (both good for the most on this list to this point).
Mike Minor, 87mph Changeup Movement (home plate view). 😳 pic.twitter.com/9Jn0jLDULU
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 21, 2019
With a relatively un-arousing 15.5% SwStr ratio, 31.51% whiff per swing ratio, and 16.3% K-BB ratio, you may be wondering why Minor is on this list? Here is your answer, Minors change piece was good for a .249 wOBAcon (stupid), a .275 xwOBAcon (also stupid), a .087 ISO. It induced weak contact 72.7% of the time and an average exit velocity of 83 mph. Basically batters hit Minor’s changeup like they are trying to wake it up from a little nap (shout out Brockmire).
Zac Gallen, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
2019: 3-6, 2.81 ERA, 3.61 FIP, 1.23 WHIP, 10.8 K/9
This is where the list starts to get fun. As the new kid on the block, Gallen’s change hasn’t gotten the love it deserves. In 2019 the Marlin turned Diamondback used his changeup about 16% of the time, throwing it approximately 85 mph (About an eight-mph difference from his fastball) with a pfx HMov of -6.68 inches and a pfx VMov of 2.30 inches, which isn’t eye-popping movement. In terms of swings and misses, the changeup garnered a 21.7% SwStr ratio, a deGrom like 40.34% whiff per swing ratio, and a 35.1 K% which led to a 24.6% K-BB ratio which could be improved if he can limit his 10.5 BB%, which shows potential for growth in 2020.
Zac Gallen, Filthy 87mph Changeup (release/spin axis/slow). 😷 pic.twitter.com/C6HdG4NOQz
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 11, 2019
Gallen’s offering recorded a ridiculous, and likely unsustainable .247 wOBAcon, outperforming his still solid .309 xwOBAcon. A .039 ISO against along with an 83.7 mph average EV and a 3.2 barrel% show that the pitch is very difficult to square up. As Gallen develops, we could see his changeup become even more of a devastating weapon for years to come.
Ryan Yarbrough, SP/RP, Tampa Bay Rays
2019: 11-6, 4.13 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 1.00 WHIP, 7.4 K/9
This soft throwing left-hander turns over a changeup at 79.5 mph, a differential of nearly five mph from his cutter, with a pfx HMov of 10.14 inches and a pfx VMov of 2.80 inches that he throws over 25% of the time. Yarbrough’s changeup generated an 18.1% SwStr ratio, a 31.95% whiff per swing ratio, and a 21.6% K-BB ratio.
The pitch had a wOBAcon of .283 and a .307 xwOBAcon with a .106 ISO against, average exit velocity of 83.8 and a weak contact rate of 66.7%. What sticks out about Yarbrough is the improvements he made from the 2018 season, a year in which the pitch only had a 12.9% SwStr ratio, a 26.33% whiff per swing ratio, and 13.6% K-BB ratio. He turned a below-average pitch into one of the better changeups in the game.
Zack Greinke, SP, Houston Astros
2019: 18-5, 2.93 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 1.07 WHIP, 187 Ks
Zack Greinke is a weird dude, from his principled stances on guacamole prices to his arsenal, pretty much everything about this guy is unique and his changeup is no exception.
Zack Greinke, 87mph Fastball and 88mph Changeup.
Remember: It's Zack Greinke. It doesn't have to make sense. pic.twitter.com/9jcG3Tnu8H
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 18, 2019
Thrown nearly 22% of the time, his 87-88 mph changeup is less than three MPH slower than his fastball on average with a pfx HMov of -6.96 inches and a pfx VMov of 1.85 inches. With nearly no speed differential off the fastball and underwhelming break, it seems a bit odd that Greinke’s changeup is as effective as it is. A large part of the reason is the 45% chase rate on the pitch, which he locates exceptionally well. The pitch was good for a below-average 14.1% SwStr rate, a 30% whiff per swing ratio, and a 20.1% K-BB ratio. Greinke tossed the pitch to the tune of a .271 wOBAcon, a .105 ISO against, with a barrel percentage of just 4.8%.
Roberto Osuna, RP, Houston Astros
2019: 38 SV, 2.63 ERA, 3.21 FIP, 0.88 WHIP, 10.1 K/9
Though mostly known for his high-octane fastball and sharp slider, Osuna’s changeup may be the best pitch in his arsenal. His 84.4 mph changeup (12 mph difference off his four-seamer) which he throws nearly 17% of the time has a pfx HMov of -7.66 inches and a pfx VMov of 6.20 inches… falling off a cliff.
Roberto Osuna, Wicked 86mph Changeup…and Sword. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/MQOJqnDdHJ
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 20, 2019
The pitch dominates hitters to a 21.1% SwStr rate, a bananas 47.5% whiff per swing ratio, and a 35.7% K-BB ratio… leaving the man within the box essentially helpless. The pitch also produced an xwOBAcon of .217, an ISO of .157, exit velocity of 80.3 and induces weak contact 81% of the time. There is an argument here that Osuna may throw the best changeup in the MLB.
Carlos Martinez, RP, St. Louis Cardinals
2019: 24 SV, 3.17 ERA, 2.86 FIP, 1.18 WHIP, 9.9 K/9
Martinez pitched his 2019 innings out of the bullpen for the Cardinals, but is allegedly in the mix for the rotation entering 2020, which makes his changeup even more intriguing. Thrown 19% of the time, Martinez’s changeup has around a nine mph difference from his fastball with a pfx HMov of -8.52 inches and a pfx VMov of -1.44 inches. The pitch recorded a 16.6% SwStr rate, 39.44% whiff per swing ratio and a 31.7% K-BB ratio.
Carlos Martinez, Wicked 90mph Changeup. 🤢 pic.twitter.com/t3SwqOaKrL
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 6, 2019
When put in play the pitch had a .194 xwOBAcon, a ground ball percentage of 75%, an exit velocity of 81.4 and induces weak contact 75% of the time. In 2017 as a starter, Martinez xwOBAcon on his changeup was .364. In 2018 it dropped to .285 and dropped even further in 2019. If the improvements he’s made with his changeup survive the switch back to the rotation, we could see a more dominant Carlos Martinez than ever… watch out.
Daniel Norris, SP, Detroit Tigers
2019: 3-13, 4.49 ERA, 4.61 FIP, 1.33 WHIP, 7.8 K/9
Norris had a solid 2019 campaign, racking up a career-high 144.1 innings with 29 games started for the miserably bad Tigers. Norris flashed signs of brilliance with his changeup, a pitch he threw just over 19% of the time. The 86-mph offering featured a pfx HMov of 6.92 inches and a pfx VMov of -0.66 inches and was five mph slower than his four-seam.
Career-high 41.9% changeup usage for Daniel Norris on Wednesday pic.twitter.com/EAnHYWCk9g
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) September 26, 2019
Norris’s changeup had a 20% SwStr rate, 37.2% whiff per swing ratio, and a 25.7% K-BB ratio. The pitch also turned in a .281 xwOBAcon, .083 ISO, and induced weak contact 75.6% of the time. If Norris can somehow increase his fastball velocity and create more separation from his changeup, he could be an extremely valuable sleeper.