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Carlos Carrasco’s and the effects of change

The Indians righty throws a changeup sometimes. Is it a good idea? Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Carlos Carrasco has a pretty strong repertoire of pitches. His mid-90’s fastball is routinely impressive, hes been throwing a slider more and more the last couple years that has generated a swinging strike 26.5 percent of the time last year and 23.1 percent this year, the best rate of any of his pitches. His curve is pretty good too.

He also has a changeup.

It’s not really an overly impressive pitch, nothing writers rave over in its movement or spin rate or anything like that. By Baseball Savant, it’s dropped an average of 1.63 feet the last two years, the 239th most of those who threw at least 100 of them over that span. The 1493 RPM spin rate is the 35th lowest in baseball since 2017. Lower spin rates help a pitch drop more, which is good. When paired with his fastball (2268 RPM) it makes for a nice horizontal dance partner:

And it creates a lot of separation on the vertical side of things:

All of that seems like a great thing. Fastballs get used a lot generally. Having a complementary changeup is very helpful. Carrasco has moved away from the fastball the last couple years, though, just like everyone else on the Indians, adding more sliders and curves — especially the slider — and using breaking pitches as almost primary tools.

Check it out:

That 2016 was a weird little inflection point. In general what he’s doing flies in the face of what traditional baseball wisdom suggests, but as hitters hunt fastballs for home runs more and more, it only makes sense. But it also raises the question — what’s that mean for the changeup?

Carrasco never really featured his at any point in his career, and the 13.6 percent rate he’s tossed it this year is his lowest rate since 2014. It could simply be that he doesn’t trust it, but even if he did, you do need the fastball to change up on. If he’s only throwing the four-seam like a third of the time, what’s the point of a merely decent change? It does induce a swinging strike 21 percent of the time, but batters are also posting a 156 wRC+ against it. He’s thrown 104 of them so far this year, about a quarter of what he usually throws. A couple dozen more without hits will crater that wRC+, so it’s not much to get worked up over.

Obviously starters need to throw more than two pitches. Maybe Randy Johnson or Chris Sale could get away with it for stretches of their career, but Carrasco is not that kind of pitcher. It just seems like, if he’s really pulling back on the fastball, it makes no sense to throw it at all, ever. I wrote in the spring about how his throwing more sliders is a good thing, but there’s ripple effects to the decisions he’s made in his approach. He can’t replace it with a slider, eventually there’s a breaking point. Maybe more curves though? They’re slow, and really weird for hitters.

He only uses it as a tertiary or whatever fourth is for smart people pitch, so how much or littler we see it is probably nothing to get worked up over. And it’s been good in the past. It’s not really bad now, just small sample size has given hitters the look of crushing the change. It’s there though, and Carrasco will keep throwing it if he throws fastballs. If that stops happening, that’s a real problem. It’s certainly a pitch he throws though.