Rowdy Tellez Would Not Be Fooled Again

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

You know how the old saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…uh, well, you can’t fool me again cause you already fooled me” (ref).  Rowdy Tellez must have said something similar, maybe even the proper phrase, while sitting in the dugout waiting to get another shot at Kyle Hendricks‘ changeup. That’s because Tellez struck out swinging in his first two at-bats against Hendricks on opening day. Both strikeouts came on the changeup. Kyle Hendricks’ changeup looked very good in his first start against Milwaukee garnering a 45% CSW and truly looking like a thing of beauty as he struck out five different Brewers, Tellez twice. My guess is that Tellez was either hoping Hendricks would leave the game before his third at-bat, or hoping to get another shot at the slow, disappearing changeup. Here’s a breakdown and video link for each Hendricks changeup seen by Tellez on opening day:

At bat #1

0-1 count, changeup #1, Tellez swings and misses: link

0-2 count, changeup #2, Tellez takes for a ball: link

1-2 count, changeup #3, Tellez swings and misses, strikes out: link

Now, that was three fastballs seen in total and Tellez looked miffed. The pitch just seemed to get as close to his bat as possible, without ever grazing it. Three pitches seem like enough to return dialed in. Tellez was likely thinking the same thing. Certainly, there was some kind of tablet video being analyzed, hitters talking hitting and sunflower seeds nervously shooting out of mouths left and right in the dugout after that first at-bat. It’s opening day, of course, everyone wants to get a hit.

At bat #2

0-1 count, changeup #4, Tellez takes for a ball: link

1-1 count, changeup #5, Tellez swings and misses: link

1-2 count, changeup #6, Tellez swings and misses, strikes out: link

Six changeups passed, giving Tellez six opportunities to time up the pitch. Back in February Ben Clemens wrote about pitchers who have thrown the most consecutive changeups. While Hendricks did mix in a few other pitches, it almost seemed like he was tempting fate. How long can a starter get away with throwing the same pitch to the same batter? Clemens’ piece focused on relievers for the most part, but hitters generally only see a reliever once and the hitter needs to get dialed in on a pitch within that specific at-bat. Next up, Tellez sees Hendricks for the third time.

At bat #3

1-0 count, changeup #7, Tellez fouls one off: link

1-1 count, changeup #8, Tellez lines a base-hit to right: link

I think if I were catching/pitch-calling for Hendricks, I would have wasted a mound visit after the 1-0 foul ball. Clearly, Tellez has timed up the pitch. Finally, on the eighth pitch, he demonstrated why he is a big leaguer. It doesn’t seem like a bad deal, Hendricks recorded two strikeouts on Tellez, and Tellez recorded one hit on Hendricks. Both players can leave the game accomplished. It does feel, however, like Hendricks was playing blackjack with a big stack of chips and said, “Hit me…” one too many times. The heatmap below shows the game’s exchange of changeups, including the one that got away:

 

Tellez/Hendriks Changeup Heatmap

 

I wrote this article mostly because I watched this game on opening day and was intrigued by this exchange. But, you may want to know, as did I, if Rowdy Tellez has some kind of innate ability to queue in on a changeup over the course of a game. If we look at the number of changeups seen in a game (not necessarily consecutive) and calculate the average wOBA value of each pitch, Tellez looked something like this in 2021:

 

TellezChangeupWOBAValue

 

That’s pretty good on average, he’s improving as he sees more of the pitch in a single game. But is anyone else particularly good at this? Going back to last season, there are some players that seem to do a good job of learning as the game goes on. One important point to note is that I’m not differentiating on pitchers. If the starter throws three changeups to a hitter and then the reliever comes in and throws one, I’m counting that pitch as the fourth changeup seen in the game. There’s certainly a bone to pick with that analysis given how different changeups can be from pitcher to pitcher. Here are all the hitters who seemed to improve in wOBA value on changeups over the course of a game. Each hitter’s highest performing pitch number is highlighted in yellow:

 

Average Changeup wOBA Value by In-Game Pitch Number
NAME CH #1 CH #2 CH #3 CH #4 CH #5 CH #6 CH #7
Martín Maldonado 0.03 0.09 0.09 0.10 0.14
Matt Joyce 0.13 0.18 0.35
Salvador Perez 0.06 0.08 0.12 0.18 0.20 0.15 0.42
Yan Gomes 0.08 0.15 0.18 0.23 0.30
Elias Díaz 0.09 0.04 0.04 0.17 0.18 0.90
John Nogowski 0.08 0.06 0.13 0.14 0.18
Corey Seager 0.06 0.07 0.11 0.19 0.29 0.11 0.26
Matt Duffy 0.07 0.07 0.07 0.09 0.13 0.90
Manuel Margot 0.04 0.08 0.15 0.37 0.41 0.90
Christian Arroyo 0.09 0.13 0.14 0.54 0.70
Reese McGuire 0.06 0.06 0.08 0.11 0.18
Ryan McMahon 0.07 0.06 0.12 0.16 0.16 0.09 0.13
Yu Chang 0.09 0.03 0.07 0.23 0.40
Lars Nootbaar 0.07 0.06 0.16 0.40
Kyle Tucker 0.07 0.07 0.11 0.11 0.33 0.18
Tyler Stephenson 0.06 0.12 0.14 0.21 0.58
Ty France 0.08 0.15 0.19 0.20 0.29
Yordan Alvarez 0.04 0.04 0.08 0.09 0.48

 

While most hitters in this small sample seem to peak at pitch number five, there were a few hitters in this list who maxed out even further beyond the fifth changeup seen in a game on average. Those are likely outliers, however, as typically hitters don’t see eight or nine changeups in one game. One particular hitter stands out, Manuel Margot. He shows consistent improvement in wOBA value over the course of a game on changeups:

 

MargotChangeupWOBAValue

 

While I know that most people who read the RotoGraphs section of this wonderful site are looking for fantasy baseball advice, sometimes it’s fun to dive down into some weird aspect of non-fantasy relevant baseball. Ok, that’s not enough? Maybe you should trade for or pick up Manuel Margot? There’s a lot of room for further research here, particularly on the topic of whether or not this is totally random or certain hitters are significantly better at learning as the game goes on. If so, is it a skill? Is it something that can be repeated year after year? Finally, do relievers come into the game using the previous pitchers’ repertoire as a point of strategy? Do the catchers think, “This guy has seen eight changeups on the outside corner today, let’s throw something else…” or, do they just work to the pitchers’ strengths, even if they are similar to the pitcher they’ve just replaced? For me, I know I’ve written a good article (or at least chosen a good writing topic) when I conclude with more answers than questions. But, one answer I have come to is this; don’t throw Rowdy Tellez too many changeups in a single game unless you’re prepared to pay the price.

 





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slingermember
5 months ago

Interesting that 5 of the 18 on your list are catchers!