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Trouble With the Changeup

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Philadelphia Phillies v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Phillies’ offense has an Achilles’ heel, and it’s not just Rhys Hoskins who’s encumbered by it.

Deep into the season, it’s become clear that the Phillies’ offense has a rather alarming problem with changeups, leaving themselves incredibly vulnerable to losing at-bats on swings geared for pitches expected to be 10 MPH harder than how they arrive.

In the wake of being dissected by young Reds fireballer Luis Castillo - 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K - the point feels reinforced: Six of Castillo’s nine strikeouts came on changeups, and each of those six were swinging Ks. For the season, the Phillies have a team batting average of .185 and a group slugging percentage of .309 against changeups, per MLB’s pitch type data; both of those are the worst marks in baseball in their respective categories.

There’s a pretty dramatic split between the hitters who’ve been able to handle those offspeed pitches and those who haven’t, so it’s worth calling out that not all Phils hitters have been useless against them. For example:

  • Jorge Alfaro: .348 AVG, .522 SLG (23 balls in play)
  • Maikel Franco: .296 AVG, .519 SLG (27)
  • Odubel Herrera: .294 AVG, .549 SLG (51)
  • Nick Williams: .271 AVG, .417 SLG (48)

But there’s another side to this coin, and it’s not quite so pretty:

  • Cesar Hernandez: .188 AVG, .319 SLG (69 balls in play)
  • Rhys Hoskins: .162 AVG, .270 SLG (37)
  • Carlos Santana: .145 AVG, .182 SLG (55)
  • Scott Kingery: .083 AVG, .139 SLG (36)
  • Andrew Knapp: .080 AVG, .080 SLG (25)

It also doesn’t seem to be a total accident that the guys being victimized most by changeups are having some great success against fastballs.

Speed Up the Bats

Player CH AVG CH SLG FB AVG FB SLG
Player CH AVG CH SLG FB AVG FB SLG
Hernandez .188 .319 .310 .411
Hoskins .162 .270 .353 .758
Santana .145 .182 .227 .431
Kingery .083 .139 .282 .380
Knapp .080 .080 .273 .545

The struggles of these five can be tied, largely, to their inability to even make contact on these pitches.

The unlabeled dot in the bottom right is Aaron Altherr.
BaseballSavant

Franco, Herrera, and Williams do a relatively good job of not whiffing on changeups. Santana, ever the outlier, whiffs the least even while seeing the most total offspeed pitches, but doesn’t have much to show for it.

Hoskins, Hernandez, and Kingery are having issues. They’ve seen a healthy dose of changeups, are whiffing frequently, and aren’t getting bang for their buck. Take a look at those three individually.

BaseballSavant

Hoskins has seen his share of changeups dip since the start of June, when he returned from his DL stint for a broken jaw. Four of his 25 strikeouts this month have ended on a change.

BaseballSavant

Cesar has seen a greater share of changeups than Rhys overall. From June 22 to July 9 - the valley in that graph above - he had a .403 OBP in 72 PA.

BaseballSavant

Kingery hasn’t been fed a changeup as often as the other two; his troubles really extend to all pitches low and away.

BaseballSavant

For Hoskins and Santana, this weakness hasn’t proven to be a downfall, and for Kingery, it’s one of the myriad things thrust onto his plate in this crash course of a season.

It may not be the most pressing problem to fix, but it’s something currently afflicting half the lineup, and should be addressed at some point in the near future.