Shaun Marcum’s Changeup

Over the past few years, Toronto has gained great intrigue from the baseball world over the breakouts of Adam Lind, Jose Bautista, and of course for its dangling of ace Roy Halladay on the trade market.  During this same time, the unnoticed Shaun Marcum emerged as one of the more promising pitchers in the AL, had Tommy John surgery, missed an entire season, and then reclaimed his position near the top of AL starters.  He hasn’t done it with a juiced up fastball or disgusting breaking balls, but with a simple changeup instead.

Shaun Marcum was nothing short of dominant during the first half of 2008.  Through 98.2 innings, he posted a 2.65 ERA and 1.00 WHIP with the support of a 86:27 K:BB and a .198 BAA.  Then he was hit hard for the first time all year, not by batters, but by injuries.  Marcum missed his last couple starts of June, first few starts of July, and struggled to limit his walks and home runs before eventually being shelved near the end of 2008 and pegged for Tommy John surgery.

On April 5th of this year, Marcum stepped onto the mound for Toronto’s opening day start in Arlington.  His first start back from surgery was nothing short of spectacular as he carried a no-hitter into the 7th inning before Vlad pushed a 1-out hit to the opposite field.  Marcum gave up a 3-run bomb to the next batter, Nelson Cruz, but finished the inning and was in line for the victory by the time Scott Downs entered the game in the 8th.  This became the type of start Toronto could count on every 5 days.  Through his first 20 starts, Marcum has gone 125 innings with a 3.24 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 107 K, 28 BB and 12 home runs allowed.  Unlike some other Tommy John success stories, the surgery didn’t add life to Marcum’s fastball; it sits at the same 87 MPH it was at prior to him going under the knife.  However, it has allowed him to retain the same killer changeup, and that’s really all he needs.

Shaun Marcum’s changeup is currently the best in the big leagues, according to pitch value.  His wCH of 13.5 is nearly a full point ahead of John Danks.  But the most impressive thing about his changeup is that he uses it so effectively despite there only being about a 5-6 MPH difference between it and his fastball.  Not to mention his fastball is rather average to begin with.  Even James Shields, who is probably the most comparable pitcher to Marcum, sets up his 83 MPH change with 91 MPH heat.

The changeup is Marcum’s out pitch.  Not just his pitch to get bad contact, but his pitch to get misses and strike batters out, something he has done uncharacteristically well for a pitcher that uses a change so much.  This year, he has used the change 30% of the time on an 0-2 count, 33% of the time on an 1-2 count, 40% on 2-2, and 35% when the count is full.  Basically, he has adopted the style of pitching that made Johan Santana so effective and his changeup so popular throughout his career.  And this year, Marcum’s changeup has been every bit as good as Johan’s.  Marcum’s change ends up a strike 72% of the time and is swung on and missed at an amazing 27% of the time.  To put that in perspective, Johan’s change has been a strike 67% of the time and been whiffed at 19% of the time while James Shields’ change has sat at 68% and 20%, respectively, since this data started being recorded.  To further show just how hard this pitch is to hit, I will also compare it to some of the best sliders in baseball.  Shaun Marcum’s whiff% of 27 on his changeup is higher than Clayton Kershaw’s slider (19%), Francisco Liriano’s slider (23%) and even Carlos Marmol’s slider (19%.)

Rarely do we see big league hitters baffled by an 80 MPH pitch that doesn’t move all that much, but Shaun Marcum has been able to force just that on a consistent basis over the last two years.  It’s without question the best change in baseball today, and I would go one step further and call it one of the better pitches in baseball.

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One Comment on “Shaun Marcum’s Changeup”

  1. Disco Says:

    Good piece.

    Yanks face Marcum on Wednesday. Shields owned us with his change up yesterday, so Marcum should have a field day as well.

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