Pitch Mix Changes: Duffy, Bundy, Gibson, & Fried

Hey everyone! Before we get started on pitch mix changes I figured I would introduce myself since this is my first article on Fangraphs. When I learned I would be writing for Fangraphs it felt like I had just won the lotto. As people would say these days, my mind was blown. For those who don’t know me, you can mainly see my work on my own blog and I am extremely active on twitter. I have an obsession with pitching, am a Mets fan (unfortunately), and my favorite pitcher in today’s game is, of course, Jacob deGrom. The baseball community is the best in the world and I couldn’t be more excited for this new adventure!

In this shortened season we sadly won’t be able to rely on a ton of metrics when analyzing pitchers. The sample size just won’t be big enough, but one factor that could be telling is pitch mix. We have seen numerous pitchers suddenly lean on different pitches, creating a significant difference in their performance (looking at you Patrick Corbin). Below are four pitchers who appear to be changing things up for the 2020 season. The question is, what does this mean for their future?

Danny Duffy

Danny Duffy
Pitch Type 2019 Usage 2020 Usage Difference
Fourseam 44.8% 40.5% -4.3%
Slider 26.4% 14.8% -11.6%
Changeup 11.6% 15.4% 3.8%
Curveball 9.0% 13.6% 4.6%
Sinker 8.2% 15.7% 7.5%

Danny Duffy came into 2020 with the mindset of keeping a pitch mix change he made towards the end of last season. In July and September (hurt in August) of 2019, Duffy started to get comfortable with his changeup. Most notably in September, he threw his changeup over 20% of the time, the first time he did that all season. In that month he threw for 30.1 innings while producing an impressive 2.37 ERA and 3.61 FIP.

One month is a small sample size, but enough to get us excited about a pitcher making a clear change to his pitch mix. Before the 2020 season started, Duffy talked about when he came back from his August injury, his coach suggested he move towards the third-base side of the rubber. This gave his changeup more room to work, thus providing him more confidence with this pitch. 

Overall last year his changeup was certainly his best pitch. It not only has above-average horizontal movement, but it also has an eight mph separation from his fastball. This gives Duffy a much needed viable swing and miss pitch. 

Bringing us back to 2020 we are three starts into Duffy’s campaign and his changeup has been his third most used pitch. While it is still early and underlying stats aren’t quite viable yet, his current 5.12 ERA does come with a 4.16 FIP and 17.3 K-BB%. Now, should we think Duffy will be a big difference-maker in 2020? Probably not, but he may very well become a serviceable pitcher. 

Dylan Bundy

Dylan Bundy
Pitch Type 2019 Usage 2020 Usage Difference
Fourseam 42.7% 33.5% -9.2%
Slider 22.7% 29.3% 6.6%
Changeup 17.3% 18.8% 1.5%
Curveball 9.9% 12.1% 2.2%
Sinker 7.4% 6.3% -1.1%

We all need to sit down and praise the baseball gods for this one! When Dylan Bundy went to the Los Angeles Angels it was a match made in heaven (see what I did there?). The Angels emphasize on having their pitchers throw their sliders as much as possible. Throwing more sliders is exactly the medicine Dylan Bundy needs.

Before we get to the slider we have to talk about Bundy’s dreadful fastball. Among starters who pitched at least 120 innings last year, his fastball was 102nd in pVAL with a -20.7 mark. Not only that but in terms of wOBA his fastball ranked 180th out of 190 pitchers. This is the reason Bundy really needed to lower his fastball usage. He leaves it over the zone regularly and unless he magically gains control over it, it will never become a viable pitch. Not only did he need the slider usage up but he definitely needed to bring that fastball usage down. Looking at the chart above and seeing that 42.7% decrease to 33.5% is precisely what he needs.

Bundy’s slider is no doubt a superior pitch. Ranking towards the top of the league in terms of vertical movement, his slider often leaves hitters looking at the ground thinking “what just happened.” Not only did hitters chase this pitch outside of the zone often, but they also whiffed on it frequently. This is by far Bundy’s best pitch and with the Baltimore Orioles no longer holding him back he has upped its usage 6.6%!

We can’t say for certain he will become the next Patrick Corbin, but we can say he will be a much better pitcher with his new pitch mix. In three starts this year he has achieved three quality starts, including a complete game and at least one strikeout per inning. Bundy could certainly be on his way to becoming a top 30 pitcher. 

Kyle Gibson

Kyle Gibson
Pitch Type 2019 Usage 2020 Usage Difference
Sinker 32.4% 38.6% 6.2%
Slider 20.2% 20.4% 0.2%
Fourseam 18.0% 16.5% -1.5%
Changeup 16.1% 16.8% 0.7%
Curveball 13.3% 7.7% -5.6%

In 2019 Kyle Gibson’s season was a lackluster one as he pitched 160 innings with a middling 4.84 ERA and 4.26 FIP. His main Achilles heel was without a doubt his fastballs. His four-seam has little movement and an average velocity of only 93.7 mph. It posted a torrid 180 wRC+ against. His sinker had a -7.9 pVAL and .356 wOBA against. The reason he throws it more than any other pitch? No one knows. Step one for Gibson to get back to his 2018 form was to lower the usage of his fastballs and he clearly isn’t doing that. In fact he is throwing his sinker way more.

The next step for Gibson was to up the usage of his secondary pitches. Last year his changeup and slider both produced a SwStr% of 20.0% or more. He was one of only four starters in 2019 who had two pitches above that mark. Quite simply, the more he uses his secondary pitches the better. He went this route in his first couple of starts but has slowly gone away from it and back to his fastball.

Going forward if Gibson keeps this pitch mix change rolling we will unfortunately see a repeat of 2019. Joining the Rangers and moving into a new stadium that seems to be pitcher-friendly will be helpful but only if he starts rolling with his breaking balls more and dropping those fastballs.

Max Fried

Max Fried
Pitch Type 2019 Usage 2020 Usage Difference
Fourseam 54.0% 41.9% -12.1%
Curveball 24.6% 22.1% -2.5%
Slider 16.0% 22.7% 6.7%
Sinker 2.9% 9.6% 6.7%
Changeup 2.5% 3.7% 1.2%

Max Fried was one of the more enticing pitchers coming into 2020. A pitcher who is able to induce weak contact and also create a ton of whiffs is a pitcher destined for success. Fried was able to do that in 2019 with a 56.8 GB% and 12.5 SwStr%.  He also went on a nice little run in the second half posting a 3.63 ERA, 3.12 FIP, and 27.4 K%. His second-half success is undoubtedly attributed to his prodigious slider.

Fried’s slider breaks well above average both vertically and horizontally. He loves to jam right-handed hitters by attacking their shoelaces with it. This left hitters chasing it out of the zone at over a 40% clip last year. In summary, this is a beautiful breaking pitch that really brought Fried to another level. Going back to that great second half in 2019, Fried’s slider usage jumped from 13.0% in the first half to 19.0% in the second half. The 22.7% usage so far this year is looking pretty good.

Moving forward Max Fried’s outlook is bright. Coming into 2020 every fan of Fried wanted him to keep up the utilization of his slider and it seems like they are getting their wish. Pairing this slider with his true 12 to 6 curveball, he should be a force to be reckoned with all season.

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1 year ago

Welcome to FG! Great first piece.

Matt Wachmember
1 year ago

Is Gibson’s graph off?

Matt Wachmember
1 year ago

Actually, I think the chart looks good. It was these sentences that had me confused about whether it was accurate:
Step one for Gibson to get back to his 2018 form was to lower the usage of his fastballs and he clearly isn’t doing that. In fact he is throwing his sinker way more.

I think perhaps the reference to fastballs in the first sentence should instead refer to sinkers, since he has actually lowered his fastball usage further from 2019.