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Spring training 2014: The newness of Brad Peacock's new changeup

When is a pitch new? What can we learn from this story?


In this article from the weekend, we learn that Astros starting pitcher candidate Brad Peacock has learned a new pitch. By working with new pitching coach Brent Strom, Peacock has picked up a changeup that has completely changed his chances for making the team.

Or something.

Here's the quote from the story:

"Me and (pitching coach Brent Strom) have been working every day on it. I'm trying to throw it like my fastball and make it look like my fastball, and it did today."

Peacock, who had pitched in a pair of minor-league games between Grapefruit League appearances, gave up five runs in his only other major-league appearance this spring. He threw mainly fastballs, curves and sliders last year.

Notice that last passage, emphasis mine. The headline of this piece says that Peacock shows off his "new" change, but at no point in his comments does Peacock reference the pitch as new. He simply states that he's been working on the pitch the most.

But, that last section is puzzling, because Peacock has not just learned a new pitch. Beside fitting into the spring training bingo game (we're one "retooling his swing" story away from a winning card!), the author seems to miss the fact that Peacock already had a changeup.

In fact, by using the publicly available pitch trackers, like this one on Brooks Baseball, we see that Peacock has thrown a four-seam fastball, a knuckle curve, a changeup and a slider while rarely throwing a sinker. On his Brooks Baseball card, it lists that out in a paragraph, so you don't even have to bother with funny statistics or data to glean that information.

Digging a little deeper, we can see that Peacock used his change a whopping 20 percent in March, 11 percent in April, seven percent in May, nine percent in June, eight percent in August and five percent in September. With the exception of August and September, Peacock used his change at least as frequently as his slider during the season.

What's the story, then? Well, as we've said before, pitchers don't really "learn" a "new" pitch during "spring training." They just refine something they've known how to throw before. Sometimes, a guy will work on a slightly different grip or work on getting his arm angle or release point more steady. But, he's not cutting a pitch out of whole cloth.

That seems to have been what's going on with Peacock. His change was not very effective in 2013. By FanGraphs' measurements, Peacock's change was worth -1.17 runs per 100 pitches thrown last season. That's not disastrous, but it's not a great pitch.

The story, then, is how Peacock is seeking to hone his change, so it makes his good fastball play up. If he can keep the 12 mph average difference between the two pitches, but with the fastball and change looking the same out of his hand, Peacock goes from a below-average offering to an above-average one.

The author above clearly is dealing with restraints. His story is short, almost a notebook item instead of a fleshed out piece. In the 200-odd words that his story runs, he has to get a quote in from Peacock and describe his outing on Sunday.

Still, instead of implying that Peacock has learned a new pitch on the fly or recounting the anecdote of Peacock's former pitching coach congratulating him on throwing four innings at the tail end of a spring game in which few actual big leaguers were still playing, maybe the author would have been better served to impart the finer points of baseball. As an expert in the field, possibly the author should have discussed how Peacock intends to make the fastball and change look the same or discuss Brent Strom's history at teaching the change, getting into speed differentials and their effectiveness.

The author's audience is much larger than that here on TCB, but I'd wager he could have carved out some part of his story for one or two of those things. Instead, we get another cookie cutter spring story that brings no baseball understanding to the masses.