The fastball – scorching hot fastball, right? Wrong!
Well then, it’s the 12-6 big curve-ball? Not even close!
Oh, it’s the cutter. NO! Slider? No! Split-fingered fastball? Nope!
It must be the knuckle-ball. No, you knucklehead! … or that knuckle-curve, or slurve, yeah that’s it, right? WRONG!
It’s the change-up! Well, that’s no so sexy!
It may not be as sexy, but it’s effective, and it’s part of the reason Chad Billingsley got beat last night. Oh, he didn’t get beat badly. He pitched pretty good actually – 11K’s in less than 8 innings, but beat nonetheless. Of course, he had no chance of winning since the Dodgers only got 2 hits and failed to score. Jason Marquis threw 86 pitches in 9 innings while the Dodgers Ace threw 118 in 7-2/3 innings. Dodger pitchers often feel they have to “blow-away” the opposition and we may have more hard-throwers on our team than any other team in baseball. By actual count, we currently have only two pitchers who cannot bring heat to the tune of at least 95 MPH (Wolf and Milton), although it may be close with Weaver, who I think can still bring it 95 if he has to. I think the Dodgers have a flawed concept of what makes a good major league pitcher, and I have a plan of how to fix it and catapult the Dodgers into the pitching Mecca of the Galaxy.
Chad Billingsley threw 1 change-up. ONE! It was a first pitch change up to Brad Hawpe who promptly hammered out out. It’s obvious to me that you don’t throw a “first-pitch” change-up, because at that point it looks like fastball and if you are tick slow, you will still hit it out. The change-up is a “setup” pitch, a pitch to keep the other team off balance. Jason Marquis threw 11 change-ups in his 86 pitches, about one in eight pitches was a change. I think anyone with eyes can tell you that Billingsley has better “stuff” than Marquis, but he has to blow people away to get them out, while Marquis keeps them off balance with a variety of pitches, including the change-up.
The Dodgers need a change-up in philosophy! A little background and history here: I live in Indianapolis, which is the home of the AAA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates – the Indianapolis Indians. Recently, the organization announced that all of its pitchers must learn the change-up before advancing. I believe that the change-up is baseball’s most effective pitch and that most of our pitchers don’t know how to throw it effectively.
It’s not a sexy pitch. You won’t get notoriety for it, and it doesn’t buckle knees, but you do get results with it. Guys like Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine used it effectively for many years. Of todays best pitchers, Santana, Lincecum and Sabathia all have excellent change-ups. There are several reasons to emphasize the change-up more often:
- It creates less arms strain than , cutters, curves or split-fingers;
- If thrown properly, it looks like a fastball because the spin and arm motion are identical (or should be identical) to a fastball, but the speed needs to be about 8-10 MPH slower;
- It takes the aggression out of a swing in that hitters become defensive and just try and keep the ball in play;
- It can be taught and learned by anyone;
- The change-up enhances the effectiveness of every other pitch; and
- It results in more fly-ball and ground outs, thus less pitches and “wear-and-tear” on the arm.
A change-up is classified as a “feel” pitch because it might take years to perfect the way it “feels” It involves risk because if the delivery looks different from the fastball, hitters will recognize it and jump all over it. I suspect that is the case with Billingsley. He throws it so infrequently, that he’s probably not good at it. Many professional hitters will flat-out tell you that a change-up is really the best pitch in baseball, but it’s no easy task to teach it to a bunch of guys who never even considered it. We have been the best in baseball in pitching nearly all year. Can you imagine how much better we would be if our pitchers could master the changeup?
To implement this, I suggest that a new organizational position be created by the Dodgers. I will call it Special Pitching Assistant to the GM. Greg Maddux would be my first choice to fill this position, but there are others, including Orel Hershiser who could do an admirable job. This person will be responsible for implementing the necessary training, routines and exercises requisite to putting all of our pitchers on a “fast track” to learning the proper way to throw a change-up. All of the current pitching instructors and coaches can stay (or leave), as long as they “buy-into” and follow through with the program. Can you imagine how good Billingsley and Kershaw would be with a great change-up? In order to begin to implement these programs in the off-season, that person needs to be hired soon. Like tomorrow!
TONY JACKSON UPDATE:
Tony Jackson called me yesterday and we talked for about 20 minutes, He is well, working out everyday (he has lost 11 pounds) and is trying to decide what he wants to do when he grows up. He has a case of the “burnout” and is just kicking-back and taking it easy. He’s in no rush, but he plans to stay in Phoenix and we made plans for having a beer or two next spring. Good Luck, Tony!