For the second straight day the Yankees will face a pitcher who features a changeup. As Mike noted in the recap, Marcum’s change ranks fifth among major leaguers in pitch type value, and even though we know the stat has its flaws, we also know that Marcum has a very good changeup. I wrote about it after his Opening Day start, and Marcum has continued to use it effectively this year.
It just seems like the Yanks can’t break through on pitchers who feature quality changeups. James Shields on Sunday, and then Romero yesterday, flat dominated the Yanks by making them chase pitches in the dirt. That’s the idea, of course. The changeup, executed properly, might be the most devastating pitch in baseball. The Yanks simply play into it by displaying an inability to lay off it.
Earlier in the season Joe Maddon got some people thinking when he started running same-handed batters out against changeup-heavy pitchers. Mike wrote about it in the context of Mark Teixeira, who had been swinging over nearly every changeup thrown to him at that point. Yet the idea stretches across the entire lineup. A good changeup, the devastating kind that Shields and Romero feature, not only travels slower than a fastball despite using the same arm action, but it also tails. For the most part, a changeup will tail to the pitcher’s throw side. That means that Romero’s changeup would tail away from righties. Since it’s easier to hit a pitch breaking towards you than a pitch breaking away from you, doesn’t that change the platoon situation?
For Maddon it did. When the Rays faced Marcum earlier in the year he stacked his lineup with righties, and even had his switch-hitters bat right-handed. There’s plenty of randomness in baseball, so it’s tough to attribute the Rays’ success that game solely to Maddon’s lineup decision. Still, it’s tough to ignore the 10 hits and seven runs the Rays scored in four innings against Marcum. They had also scored five runs in 8.1 innings against him the time before. His ERA went from 2.59 heading into those two games with the Rays to 3.38 afterward.
Does this mean that Girardi should employ a similar tactic? After last night it might not appear likely. Against Romero he went right-heavy, so why would he change tactics with Marcum? If he really is a numbers guy, as he proclaims, he might have reason. Righties have actually fared a bit better against Romero both this year and during his career. They hit home runs less frequently, but they also strike out less often and walk more often. Stacking the lineup with righties, then, made a degree of sense. It seems to make less with Marcum on the mound.
When looking at his career it looks like Marcum fares worse against opposite-handed hitters, despite his heavy changeup usage. Yet he seems like a different pitcher this year. He’s throwing the changeup a bit more often, 24 percent of the time, but he has also almost completely stopped throwing his slider. After throwing it between 12 and 15 percent of the time from 2006 through 2008 he has thrown it just 3.8 percent of the time this year. That’s the pitch that breaks away from righties. It seems, then, that he might be susceptible to a righty-heavy attack.
I’m not sure Girardi would have Teixeira, Swisher, Posada, and Berkman go up and bat right-handed, but he could mitigate some of Marcum’s threat by leaving, say, Brett Gardner on the bench and giving Kearns another start. Looking at it, that’s the only real substitution they could make. Which is a shame. It does seem like Shaun Marcum is having a bit tougher time against same-handed hitters this year.