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An update on Michael Wacha’s changeup

Good Michael Wacha was on the mound Sunday, twirling eight shutout innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Following the 7-0 victory, coupled with a Cubs’ defeat, the Cardinals moved to within two games of the divisional lead. As you may recall, last week, I wrote about how Wacha had been tipping his changeup, providing indisputable visual evidence, courtesy of the great @cardinalsgifs. And in case you missed it, our own Zach Gifford followed up with a statistical analysis of Wacha’s changeup over the years, providing a solid foundation for what I had found.

Well, writing such a bold post and subsequently ignoring its existence is bad practice, even for a mere baseball blogger. Thus, upon watching Wacha’s eight-inning gem two days ago, I thought I had noticed an improvement in the arm speed — the main tipping mechanism — on Wacha’s changeup. And just as I did to prove he was tipping the pitch in the first place, I called upon the talents of @cardinalsgifs to see if he had actually cleaned up the issue.

What we were able to discover is what I will consider a pleasant development. Wacha threw 26 changeups against the Pirates — his most since way back on April 25th against the Blue Jays (in which he threw 28). After reviewing each one thrown, we settled on documenting two of the 26 (remember, creating GIFs of this quality take time and effort), both taking place in the fifth inning versus Elias Diaz. I chose these two particularly because they took place when Wacha was throwing out of the wind-up. As you may recall from my original post, Wacha’s arm speed differed the most when throwing out of the wind-up. If you did not read that yet, no big deal, you can see what I mean below:

Swinging strikeout of Elias Diaz (BrooksBaseball At Bat)

As you can see, the timing of the release points is virtually simultaneous. The predominant GIF is a 94.8 MPH fourseamer, and the red-tinted GIF is an 87.3 MPH changeup. The balls begin their flight home with very little lag between the two. If you still aren’t totally convinced, @cardinalsgifs zoomed in and created a loop to give us multiple looks at the two release points:

Closer look at Wacha’s release

Watch this however many times you want, but you should still reach the same conclusion — the release points are timed up nearly perfectly.

Visual proof that the strikeout pitch was indeed a changeup

For good measure, I included Yadier Molina’s signaling of four — or changeup — on the strikeout pitch. Considering the pitch’s movement profile, it could have been considered a cutter that backed up on him, but Molina’s signal provides changeup confirmation.

Swing and a miss for strike two

If this changeup was even slightly tipped, based on its final location (see below), it would have gone a very long way. Fortunately, the timing, again paired against the 94.8 MPH fourseamer from earlier in the at bat, was nearly identical. Thus, a very poorly-located changeup resulted in a harmless swing and miss for strike two, instead of a solo home run.

BrooksBaseball.net

Bottom line

Without having access to the St. Louis Cardinals, I cannot confirm or deny that someone within the organization saw my original tipping post. Thus, the change between Wacha’s September 5th and September 10th starts could very well be nothing more than a coincidence. Or, it could be a conscious effort to clean up his mechanics, as the team needs him down the stretch. Regardless of the reasoning behind the development, I hope it’s something that can be replicated for four (or more) starts this season (and beyond). It is something I’ll be paying close attention to, as will opposing hitters.

As always, credit to @cardinalsgifs and BrooksBaseball.net for their contributions to this post.

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