Category Archives: Pitch Usage

Taylor Jungmann can’t survive on two pitches

Not many starting pitchers in Major League Baseball can be successful while throwing just two pitches. Pitchers usually face a batter two or three times throughout a game, and if the batter has to guess from just two pitches, odds are he’s going to have a favorable outcome. Hall of Famer Greg Maddux is one of the few successful two-pitch pitchers, but he’s the definition of an outlier. He relied heavily on an elite sinker and devastating changeup, and ended up being one of the game’s best thanks to his knack for forcing ground balls. You’ll be hard-pressed to find another two-pitch pitcher who can do that.

That’s what Taylor Jungmann is trying to do, though, as he is solely throwing a four-seam fastball and a curveball thus far in 2016. Yet, the results haven’t been favorable. In fact, they’ve been downright poor.

Through three starts, Jungmann has a 9.00 ERA, 4.88 FIP and 4.39 xFIP. He’s striking out just six per nine and is allowing a .357 batting average on balls in play, which, by the way, is the 12th-highest mark in the majors. Usually I would say that high of a BABIP isn’t sustainable, but Jungmann’s pitches are getting crushed at such a high velocity, I’m not so sure we’re going to see much of a dip. According to Baseball Savant, Jungmann has allowed an average exit velocity of 93.98 mph; only 10 other pitchers have been hit harder (min. 100 pitches). Oddly enough, two of those pitchers are also Brewers in Wily Peralta (95.64 mph) and Jimmy Nelson (94.83 mph). Maybe it’s a Milwaukee thing.

Clearly, hitters aren’t being fooled by what Jungmann has to offer, partly because neither of his two pitches are considered dominant. That’s showcased by his numbers.

Jungmann

As you can see from the chart, Jungmann loves throwing his fastball, while mixing in his curveball about 31% of the time. Brooks Baseball says he’s thrown three changeups, but that could just be a classification error.

Jungmann has just eight strikeouts on the year, 75% of those coming via is curveball. His curveball has actually been somewhat successful; it’s his heater that batters are demolishing. Just look at Jungmann’s BABIP and isolated slugging. It’s sky high. The reason his curveball has limited hitters to a .211 batting average can be explained by the fact that hitters are simply expecting his fastball. Wouldn’t you be if you knew your pitching opponent threw it at a 66.8% clip with only one other pitch option? Of course you would.

Throwing just two pitches is new for Jungmann. He didn’t do it in 2015, and as far as I can tell, he didn’t do it in the minor leagues. Last season Jungmann used a bigger arsenal of weapons.

Pitch

A year ago he had a changeup and sinker. Where have they disappeared to in 2016? And why? It’s not like they were ineffective pitches. On the contrary, actually. Jungmann allowed a .244 batting average against his sinker, and a lowly .143 average versus his change. And in case you forgot, Jungmann had a wonderful rookie season, posting a 3.77 ERA and 3.92 FIP. Why he chose to abandon two pitches that worked for him is a question that deserves an answer. Did new pitching coach Derek Johnson make that call? Was Jungmann uncomfortable throwing those pitches?

Before we all start freaking out, though, we must realize it’s only April and Jungmann has only pitched 13 innings. Maybe the right time to throw his sinker or changeup hasn’t occurred yet. That seems likely seeing as how Jungmann threw those two pitches just 18% of the time last year.

But nonetheless, Jungmann’s season hasn’t started according to plan. His strikeouts are down, his walks are up and his fastball is being served on a silver platter. He needs to either start mixing up his pitches like an actual major league starting pitcher, or hope his fastball and curveball magically become Aroldis Chapman– and Clayton Kershaw-esque.

An update on Kyle Lohse’s changeup

Back in February, I took a look at Kyle Lohse‘s changeup usage in individual games and attempted to figure out whether it, in some way, correlated with success. I discovered that since 2013, whenever Lohse threw his changeup 20 or more times, his Earned Run Average was significantly lower than when he didn’t. Here’s the chart that illustrates what I’m talking about.

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

Like I said back then, two years of data is still a somewhat small sample size, but from what I gathered, the more changeups Lohse throws, the more success he will have.

Still, I was curious to see if that holds true so far in 2015. Lohse is having a horrific and catastrophic season, so much so that at least one MLB executive thinks there’s no way the Milwaukee Brewers will be able to trade him. He has the worst ERA among qualified starters, has the 12th-highest home-run-to-fly-ball ratio and is inducing the fewest amount of ground balls since 2007. By those numbers, it’s probably easy to guess that even if Lohse has used his changeup more this season (he’s actually thrown it at the highest rate of his career), the results won’t be pretty.

Let’s take a look, anyway. First, however, we need to understand how hitters are faring against his change. There’s no place better than Brooks Baseball to find that out.

Count K XBH Batting Average ISO
261 14 5 .247 .117

Lohse’s changeup isn’t nearly as effective as it was a year ago. In 2014, hitters batted .143 with an isolated power of .095. He threw it at just a 12.7% clip then, which has since risen to 19.5% this season. Is it possible he’s throwing it too much now?

I broke down each of Lohse’s starts in 2015 the same way I did from 2013-14 in the first table I showed you, and here’s what I found:

Changeups Starts ERA
0-10 2 5.54
11-19 7 9.76
20+ 6 5.22

Once again, Lohse has had the most success when he throws his slow pitch 20 or more times. It’s nowhere near the same kind of success he’s had in the past, but nonetheless, it’s still something. What’s interesting is how much he’s getting crushed when he throws it 11-19 times. His ERA has ballooned from what it was in 2013-14, so maybe Lohse’s change can only be dominant when he uses it on a somewhat rare basis. Maybe throwing it 19% of the time is too much. Maybe it’s about pitch location.

Lohse

Nope, it’s not pitch location.

You know what it probably is? Lohse is just not a good pitcher anymore. His age is catching up to him and his time as an effective pitcher is over. His changeup is still his best pitch in terms of changeup runs above average, but because his other pitches have become so hittable, the value of his change has dropped dramatically (even though it has had the most vertical movement in 2015 of Lohse’s career).

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.