What if Kyle Lohse threw more changeups?

Kyle Lohse has had five pitches in his arsenal throughout his major-league career; a fourseam fastball, a sinker, a slider, a curveball and a changeup. He used the fourseamer heavily for the first few years of his career, but has weaned off it and has almost abandoned it completely. His sinker and slider are the two pitches he trusts the most and therefore uses the most, but he mixes in his curveball and changeup occasionally as well.

Let’s take a look at Lohse’s pitch usage over the last three seasons (according to Brooks Baseball).

2012 2013 2014
Sinker 50.6% 44.8% 39.2%
Slider 23.3% 27.6% 29.6%
Fourseam 2.5% 2.0% 6.4%
Curveball 4.2% 10.3% 11.8%
Changeup 19.2% 15.1% 12.7%

Beginning in 2012, Lohse began to alter how he uses his pitches. He’s become less reliant on the sinker and changeup, and has begun to use his slider and curveball more regularly. And concidentally (but maybe not), his ERA and xFIP have risen in each season since. This could be because of a number of reasons, like his rising age, but there’s one aspect of his repertoire that I want to take an especially close look at.

In terms of pitch values, the changeup has been Lohse’s best pitch. It’s been worth 63.8 runs above average since the beginning of his career in 2002, and registered a 7.5 wCH last season, which was the 11th-highest among qualified pitchers. Lohse caused a swinging strike 8.1% of the time, but that number balloons by 10% against his changeup.

Here’s another chart that illustrates just how superior his changeup was in 2014.

Count Avg ISO XBH Swinging Strikes
382 .143 .095 5 63

He allowed a Logan Schafer-esque isolated power. Pretty darn impressive, right? But yet, Lohse keeps cutting back on it. It’s like he’s beginning to trust it less and less. And that realization led me to an idea. Maybe his changeup is only effective when he uses it at a minimal amount. Maybe if he throws it too much, hitters will pick up on it and use it to their advantage.

To test this theory, I looked at every start Lohse has made over the last two seasons.

Lohse has made 63 starts since 2013, and has thrown his changeup 20 or more times in just eight of those starts (two in 2014). In those eight starts, however, Lohse has an earned run average of 2.73. But as we all know, eight starts is a very small sample size, so in order to prove (or disprove) my theory, I looked at the starts in which he threw 0-10 changeups and 11-19 changeups. I broke the results down in yet another chart.

Changeups Starts ERA
0-10 27 3.83
11-19 28 3.42
20+ 8 2.73

Remember, since these results are only from two seasons, the sample size is too small to put that much weight in it, but it’s still interesting to look at. Plus, ERA is misleading, but calculating Lohse’s FIP would take about six years of my life. In order to fully evaluate his changeup, I would need to look at his other pitch uses, which is something I’ll save for another time. For now, we’ll solely focus on his changeup.

Anyway, from the information above, my original thought was wrong. You can clearly tell that the more Lohse throws his changeup, the more success he has. The difference in effectiveness is pretty large too. He doesn’t have a high velocity fastball, but it’s still (obviously) faster than his changeup (90.5 mph vs. 80.8 mph). Hitters may have a hard time recognizing the difference since both of those pitches are relatively slow.

Lohse has started an ugly trend by leaning on his curveball over his changeup, and I’d like to see him alter that in 2015. I want to see him utilize his changeup on a more consistent basis. I want him to throw it 25+ times in a game. I want him to start hitters out with it, which is something he rarely did last season.

Lohse is (getting) old, and the projection systems don’t like him. Steamer is projecting him to be worth 0.8 WAR with an ERA and FIP over 4.40. My projections aren’t that harsh, but I understand where Steamer is coming from. Maybe using his changeup more is exactly what Lohse needs to give Steamer the finger.

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