No major league pitcher wants to have the kind of career start that Jalen Beeks had. His first three major league appearances (two for the Boston Red Sox) featured 9.2 innings pitched and and 17 runs surrendered.
However, since the Rays acquired him from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Nathan Eovaldi Beeks performances have continued to improve. In his last two outings it has been easy to see why the Rays decided to trade for him.
Beeks made his Major League debut at Fenway Park as a member of the Red Sox, the team who selected him in the 12th round of the 2014 MLB Draft. In his debut, Beeks had two pitches that drew the most swings and misses, his cutter and his changeup, which he threw 18 and 12 times, respectively. His cutter has developed into a strong pitch, one that he now uses 32% of the time. I want to focus on his changeup, which he only threw 11% of the time in Boston.
MLB Pipeline had graded Beeks’ changeup as a 55 on the 20/80 scale. The changeup ended up being the pitch he threw the least with the Red Sox, even though he was generating ground balls with it and causing swings and misses at a higher percentage than any other pitch.
Although the effectiveness of Beeks’ changeup was evident, the pitch was seldom used while Beeks was with the Red Sox. That’s something that would change in Jalen Beeks’ first outing with the Rays.
Behind opener Ryne Stanek, Beeks made his Rays debut on July 28 against the Baltimore Orioles. Although Beeks allowed eight earned runs and did not seem to have improved upon his previous outings in Boston, things were actually different in his first Rays outing.
For starters, he threw the changeup 20 times, which was more than in both of his appearances for the Red Sox combined. That’s just a bit above 24% usage of that pitch, bumping it up from his least used pitch to his third pitch. This chart from Baseball Savant visually shows this trend.
In that outing against the Orioles, Beeks managed to induce two double plays and two additional groundouts with the changeup, while also generating two swings and misses.
Beek’s changeup has also been thrown with a small uptick in velocity, from an average of 85.2mph with Boston to an average of 86.6mph with the Rays. There is also a very small increase in spin rate.
In his second outing for the Rays and first at beautiful Tropicana Field, he allowed only two runs in five innings of work while striking out four Angels hitters. Throwing the changeup 16 times and allowing zero hits with it, it was his third most used pitch. Beeks induced one double play with his changeup as well en route to his first major league win.
Beeks’ third outing with the Rays would be the one that saw the most effective usage of his changeup. In five innings of work against the Baltimore Orioles, Beeks allowed one run on two hits (a solo home run to Mark Trumbo on a fastball). His changeup was thrown 14 times, or 20.6%, and he induced three groundouts and two swings and misses with it.
Although Beeks has yet to record a strikeout with his changeup, the only run that he has allowed from it was a groundout with a runner on third. The batting average against on Beeks’ changeup is .200, the lowest of any of his pitches, and the wOBA against it is .236, also the lowest. Beeks’ FIP- with the Rays is down to 104, and it is easy to see where a noticeable contribution to that is coming from.
Ranking in the top 68 of changeups in the MLB, Beeks’ off-speed pitch is better than league average. His changeup is a strong pitch that compliments his fastball, cutter and curveball very well, and it would not surprise me to see this increased usage be sustained by Beeks and the Rays.
Did limited use of his above-average changeup hurt Beeks in his early Boston appearances? In an admittedly small sample size the pitch seems to be effective for the young lefty. Beeks has the potential to be a great addition to the Rays rotation or bullpen making full use of his four-pitch repertoire.