It's been said that "change is constant, but that doesn't make it easy." In baseball, a pitcher being able to consistently vary speeds on the mound is imperative to his success. Often times, the ability to throw an effective chanegup is the difference between a pitcher being able to have success as a starter or being relegated to the bullpen.
As a whole, it's difficult to describe the performance of the Milwaukee Brewers' pitching staff as anything but awful this season. Unless of course, you use a synonym for awful like dreadful, ghastly, terrible, nauseating...but I digress. Brewers' pitching ranks last in the MLB with a 5.16 ERA and 29th with a 5.11 FIP. Only one team, the Reds, have allowed more home runs than Milwaukee's 56 and only four teams are walking hitters at a higher rate than the Brew Crew at 9.8%.
One significant issue that has held the Brewers back is the staff's collective ineptitude at throwing the changeup in 2016. Last season, the Brewers ranked first in the MLB in changeup runs above average with a 23.6 wCH, according to Pitch F/X's pitch type values. Without changeup artists like Francisco Rodriguez or Mike Fiers in the fold this year, the Brewers have tumbled all the way to last in the league with a -12.0 wCH. That's three runs worse than the second-to-last place Diamondbacks.
According to Fangraphs, 11 of the 17 pitchers that the Brewers have employed this season have thrown changeups, and the results have been mostly negative:
|Pitcher||Percent of CH Thrown||wCH Runs Above Average|
|Chase Anderson||22.9%||-4.4 wCH|
|Chris Capuano||20.8%||0.0 wCH|
|Zach Davies||18.1%||-1.3 wCH|
|Tyler Cravy||14.6%||0.1 wCH|
|Tyler Thornburg||12.3%||0.9 wCH|
|Wily Peralta||6.0%||-3.4 wCH|
|Taylor Jungmann||4.3%||-0.2 wCH|
|Jeremy Jeffress||3.5%||-0.9 wCH|
|Ariel Pena||2.3%||-1.4 wCH|
|Jimmy Nelson||0.9%||-1.5 wCH|
|Carlos Torres||0.6%||0.1 wCH|
Only three pitchers: Thornburg, Cravy, and Torres have changeups that are considered "above average" this season, and even then only barely. Capuano's changeup can basically be considered league average, but the rest of the bunch have all hurt the Brewers by throwing their cambio in 2016.
Wily Peralta being among the worst offenders shouldn't be that much of a surprise this season when one considers his overall performance in 2016. Peralta's change has always been thought of as his least effective pitch and he's never thrown it all that often, just 6.0% of the time for his career. But after putting up a 1.4 wCH last season there was some optimism that perhaps he could find greater success by mixing in the change more often to throw hitters off his potentially dominant sinker-slider combination.
Unfortunately that has not been the case. This season Wily's change-of-pace has been abused by opponents to the tune of a .500 batting average and 1.000 slugging percentage against, according to Brooks Baseball. With uncertainty as to how much longer Wily will remain in the starting rotation, moving Peralta to the bullpen and allowing him to abandon his change could help him thrive.
Much more surprising than Peralta's struggles, at least in my opinion, are those of former D-Back Chase Anderson. When the Brewers acquired Anderson as a part of the Jean Segura deal over the winter, he was branded as a controllable, ready-made fifth starter that had posted a 4.18 ERA in 48 starts over the previous two seasons. Much of that success was due to his mastery of the changeup, which was worth a combined 14.9 runs above average from 2014-15.
Anderson has flopped to a 6.11 ERA and 5.96 FIP so far in 35.1 innings thus far in 2016 and the sudden loss of potency with his changeup has been a major culprit for his struggles. Anderson is among league leaders in throwing the highest percentage of changeups, but his -4.4 wCH ranks him 397th out of 403 pitchers in terms of effectiveness.
As evidenced by the above chart, Anderson has had a bit of an issue with keeping his change-of-pace out of the middle fifth of the strike zone, or about belt-high to the hitter. Predictably, batters have teed off against the pitch as a result. Per Brooks Baseball, Chase has allowed a .268 batting average and .610 slugging percentage against his change, including three home runs, three doubles, and one triple.
Anderson did manage a quality start his last time out and his spot in the rotation is considered safe, at least for the time being. But pitching coach Derek Johnson has his work cut out for him in working with Chase, Wily, and most of the rest of the Brewers' pitching staff to improve their changeup proficiency as the season moves forward.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs