Can Renyel Pinto's changeup be effective?: A Pitch f/x Attempt

Last night, Renyel Pinto threw about nine pitches and was magically able to produce two runs for the other team, widening the gap between the Marlins and the Houston Astros from 4-3 to 6-3. It didn’t change the results all that much, since the Fish still lost, but it represented yet another terrible Renyel Pinto outing, something Marlins fans are quite used to.

Looking at the defense-independent statistics, Pinto does have an edge in some regards For one, he strikes out a ton of guys. In almost 46 inning and 201 batters faced this season, Pinto has struck out 44 batters, a rate of 22% and 8.67 batters per nine innings. In general, you expect that from relievers. What you don’t expect or want from them is the 32 walks that Pinto has doled out during that same span, a rate of 16% and 6.31 batters per nine innings. Pinto’s inability to stay in the zone has allowed a ton more baserunners than necessary, and it’s a trend that he’s set throughout his career.

Pinto has been able to suppress hitters despite his walk totals is what has kept him afloat this season. On the year, Pinto has only allowed two homers, despite currently giving up a career high 46.7% fly ball percentage. This has yielded an absurdly low 3.4% HR/FB, a big reason why his FIP is even close to acceptable (it stands right now at 3.96). Pinto has generally held opponents to a low BABIP (.280 this season, .262 career in 742 batters faced), perhaps due to a low line drive rate by opposing hitters (15.6% this season, 17.2% career). This may be a result of uncomfortable at-bats and swings that hitters often have against Pinto, something that I often have observed.

I wanted to use Pitch f/x to take a look at Pinto, since he is a frustrating yet intriguing pitcher. How does he rack up the strikeouts and walks so consistently? His profile isn’t all that much unlike Carlos Marmol, a pitcher with great stuff who simply can’t command it well. Using Dan Brooks’ excellent Pitch f/x tool, I compiled all of Pinto’s pitches this year according to Pitch f/x, up until but not including last night’s game, covering 784 pitches. I then eliminated any intentional walks from the study.

Let’s start off with Pinto’s repertoire. To visualize this, we look at his horizontal vs. vertical break chart.

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Big guy, big break...

There are a lot of intermingling pitches on there, as you can see by the red dots in the blue section and some pink dots in the red section. This is in part due to Pitch f/x’s difficulty in classifying Pinto’s breaking pitch. The pink spots over to the left, near the neutral part of the axis, are quite clearly sliders, as they have the most break away from lefty hitters. However, Pitch f/x had two classifications for Pinto’s red pitches, a two-seam fastball and a changeup. They obviously move the same, and based on the velocity, all of them are in the low-80’s, meaning they’re likely the same pitch. I’ve always heard on telecasts that Pinto throws a changeup, and I’ve never heard of him throwing a two-seamer, so I’m going to go with the changeup description. If it means a few outliers, so be it.

Pinto’s slider is rarely thrown (50 pitches this season), so there isn’t much we can say about it. His fastball, for all intents and purposes, seems fairly ho-hum, but the so-called “changeup” is where I believe Pinto’s issues lie. Though it has the speed differential of a changeup, it hardly breaks like a traditional change. Check out the vertical movement over velocity graph.

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Gosh, what is that red thing anyway?

You can see that there’s a pretty hefty difference in both speed and movement between the cluster of fastballs and the cluster of changeups. The average four-seam fastball break, according to FanGraphs’ Pitch f/x page, for Pinto is 9.16 inches. Meanwhile, the average break of the “changeup” is 2.44, a 6.7 inch differential in break to go along with a seven mile an hour difference in velocity.

I checked out FanGraphs’ leaderboards for players whose changeups were getting the most value this year, using their linear weights pitch values. I wanted to see if any of these pitchers had that sort of break and break differential. Here are the top five changeups in the game and their breaks.

1. Tim Lincecum (SF): 3.9 in break, 7.0 in differential
2. C.C. Sabathia (NYA): 5.9, 3.2
3. Brian Tallet (TOR): 5.6, 4.4
4. Felix Hernandez (SEA): 3.3, 4.5
5. Mark Buehrle (CHA): 5.3, 3.5

So as you can see, just in that small sample of top-flight changeups, only that of Tim Lincecum’s, the most valuable changeup this season, has the sort of break and difference in fastball-changeup break as Pinto’s. But while we know that Lincecum has good control of his changeup, I’m sure many Marlins fans have witnessed Pinto bury change after change in the dirt. There’s no surprise there, as he has a pretty large dip in his change’s vertical break, close to that of a slider.

I’ll make quick mention also that the pitch averages a good deal of horizontal break as well, averaging at 10.74 inches of horizontal break, moving into the left handers. This is also a drastic change compared to his fastball, at 6.3 inches of break. In fact, the average changeup and fastball are so drastic as to not really appear similar. I’m not sure what hitters are necessarily seeing when they see Pinto’s “changeup,” but if it’s significantly different that his fastball, then there’s very little in the way of fooling hitters into thinking it’s the fastball.

Let’s see what that kind of break on his changeup has gotten in terms of results. Here is a strike zone plot of Pinto’s changeups that were not batted in play, color-coded for individual pitch results.

Strike Zone Plot: Changeups Not in Play

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that he’s been keeping the pitch low; there’s simply too much sink to the changeup for it to hang up. What I was interested in was the ratios of the pitch results. Of particular interest is his swinging strike, or “whiff” rate on the changeup. In 96 pitches swung at, including all balls put into play, Pinto has a 43% whiff rate on the changeup. Of the pitches not put into play, 195 in total, 21% of those changeups resulted in strikes of the swinging kind; in comparison, only 10% of those pitches were called strikes. Overall, however, Pinto’s changeup is not hitting the zone, inducing a strike of some sort only 44% of the time.

Here’s what the balls in play looked like.

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Strike Zone Plot: Changeups in play

Not a lot of balls put into play against Pinto’s changeup, and even if they are in play, it seems like most of them are ground balls. The “in play (no outs/run)” plays included a groundout, three ground ball singles, a line drive single, a double, and a home run. In total, out of the 32 changeups put in play, 20 of them turned into ground balls, yielding a 62.5% ground ball rate.

All in all, the results of Pinto’s changeup have so far made it a decent pitch, worth 1.05 runs per 100 pitches on the season, and 2.2 runs overall on the year. The sharp vertical sink has had major effects on a variety of fronts. The good news is that it has been a nasty out pitch for Pinto’s strikeouts, and when hitters have made contact, it has been mostly contact on the ground with a few glaring exceptions. However, because the ball dips so much, it has mostly resided outside of the strike zone, resulting in a subpar strike percentage.

This generally confirms my initial hypothesis of Pinto’s change. It results mostly in whiffs and strikeouts or balls and walks. Since he has an extremely difficult time locating it in the zone, and it is his only other pitch, he has to depend on locating a below average fastball in the strike zone to not walk everyone. Next time, I’ll use the same data set and check out Pinto’s fastball and see if his location and movement are bad enough to explain Pinto’s often horrendous outings.

Tags: Brian Tallet C.C. Sabathia Carlos Marmol Felix Hernandez Mark Buehrle Miami Marlins Renyel Pinto Tim Lincecum

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