On Saturday, Alex Cobb delivered one of the most bizarre performances anyone had ever seen, striking out 13 but lasting just 4.2 innings. By that standard, Jeremy Hellickson's outing was pretty ordinary as he struck out 8 while walking just 1 in 6.2 innings yet allowed 6 runs. But both Cobb and Hellickson had a big similarity between their performances: an extreme over-reliance on their changeups.
According to Brooks Baseball, Cobb threw more split-changes than fastballs among his 117 pitches, 50 against just 43. He had an unhittable changeup, which is why he threw so many of them, and sure enough he generated a ridiculous 21 whiffs among the 50 times he threw it, including an insane 11 of his 13 strikeouts. But even though it was so incredible, why did Cobb throw it so often? The answer is that his fastball was downright terrible, managing just a 3.21 linear weights in the game including both home runs he allowed. Per Texas Leaguers, look where Cobb's two-seam fastballs were on the day.
Cobb just wasn't able to command his two-seamer, leaving way too many up in the zone and hittable, and because of that he had to keep going to his changeup. HIs changeup was so good that Cobb was able to strike out a ridiculous amount of batters, but hitters can lay off of even the best changeups a good amount of the time, raising his pitch count up and getting him out of the game early.
On the day, it was amazing to see Cobb's changeup work so well, but for Cobb to get to being a successful pitcher and not a gimmick, it has to start with the fastball. And if Cobb can throw that type of ridiculous changeup off a solid fastball, it will be only better and hitters are going to be in serious trouble.
The critical moment in Hellickson's outing was when there were 2 outs and the bases loaded in the 7th inning with pinch-hitter Jesus Guzman coming to the plate. Hellickson proceeded to throw six straight changeups before the final one up in the zone, and Guzman didn't miss it, drilling a grand slam to tie the game at 6. Why in the world did Hellickson throw six straight changeups? Did he not trust any of his other pitches? Simply put, yes.
In his start, Hellickson threw his changeup even more than Cobb did, throwing it 44.5% compared to Cobb's 42.7%. It wasn't quite as good as Cobb's but was still outstanding, going for strikes 38 of 49 times and forcing 18 swings-and-misses. Of course, his fastball wasn't nearly as good. Here's the plot of where Hellickson's fastballs were.
Hellickson just kept missing off the plate to the arm side, not having nearly as sharp command as he does when he's going strong. Most of that came against lefty batters, but bottom line, Hellickson didn't know where his fastball was going and didn't trust it with the game on the line. The common refrain is "you can't hang a fastball," but Hellickson's changeup was so good that he thought he was better off taking his chances exclusively with it.
The issue was that Hellickson's fastball wasn't nearly as bad as Cobb's, managing a -0.15 linear weights. His changeup was incredible, but Hellickson's fastball wasn't so bad that he couldn't even show Guzman one of the plate to set up a strike three changeup. Helickson's bread and butter is his fastball and his changeup, and when he stops using one, he's a vastly inferior pitcher. Hellickson's changeup is clearly his best pitch, but he has to learn to trust his fastball more or he will be in serious trouble moving forward.
Here are your links for today:
-Maddon was incensed with Hellickson following the game, saying about his performance "That's inappropriate. That's got to stop. We're better than that."
-Jose Molina did more quality framing.
-Ben Zobrist appeared in a straight-to-DVD movie. Fun.