Changing up the pitch mix: What’s worked for the Colorado Rockies

DENVER, COLORADO - AUGUST 01: Starting pitcher Kyle Freeland #21 of the Colorado Rockies throws in the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Coors Field on August 01, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
DENVER, COLORADO - AUGUST 01: Starting pitcher Kyle Freeland #21 of the Colorado Rockies throws in the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Coors Field on August 01, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /
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A changeup in usage

The biggest change we’ve seen throughout the rotation is an increased usage in each pitcher’s offspeed pitches, specifically the changeup. Last year, the staff threw fastballs 53.8% of the time. This year, it sits at 47.5%. That 6% drop is almost exactly equivalent to the increase in changeup usage (9.1% in 2019 to 15.7% in 2020). Slider and curveball usage is also on the rise, but the changeup is the most prominent change.

Here’s how each pitcher has increased their usage from 2019 to 2020:

Marquez: 3.2% -> 7.9%
Gray: 2.9% -> 13.5%
Freeland: 11.3% -> 31.0%
Senzatela: 4.3% -> 12.1%

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The increase in usage has helped Senzatela the most as batters are whiffing on 21.1% of all his changeups and only have a wOBA of .191 against it. He’s also seen improved results on his slider where he’s only yielding a wOBA of .058 on it whereas last season hitters were putting up a wOBA of .315 against it.

Freeland, on the other hand, is throwing his changeup 31% of the time. That’s nearly equivalent to how often he’s throwing his fastball (32.3%). He’s also apparently gotten rid of his cutter (which he threw 31.2% of the time in 2019) and has split that usage between his slider (18.8%) and new curveball (18.0%). His slider has produced the best results so far, only allowing hitters to tag it for a wOBA of .067 in his first three starts.

While the changeup’s working on a whole for the rotation, one starter who could possibly benefit from throwing less changeups is Jon Gray, who has an wOBA of .692 against his changeup. He’d likely benefit more from using his fastball, which hitters have only hit to a tune of a .144 wOBA in his first three starts (which is significantly improved from last season when hitters put up a .405 wOBA against his fastball).

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