Walker Buehler is embracing (his) change(up)

Coming out of Vanderbilt, Walker Buehler was known predominantly as a fastball-curveball guy. Since turning pro, he has added a cut fastball (that he’s using more than ever) and a slider that, save for 2020, has been a 14-15% usage pitch for him. He also had a changeup that was average coming out of school.

Now, in his fourth season (third full), he’s embracing his changeup — a pitch he didn’t throw once in the COVID-shortened ’20 campaign. Buehler has thrown it 3.7% of the time this season, up from 0.5% in 2019. While it’s a pitch he uses almost exclusively against left-handed hitters (96 vs. LHH, 2 vs. RHH), it has been really good for him this season. Hitters are 3-for-23 in plate appearances ending with the changeup. All three hits have been singles. He has nine strikeouts on it and a 38.3 Whiff%, which is the highest of all his offerings. Yes, the small sample size caveat applies here, but he is, seemingly, gaining more confidence in the pitch.

He began throwing the pitch in May and has only seen the usage increase. With three other plus-plus pitches, it’s hard to see him using the pitch that much more than he does now, but it’s nice that he has it to turn to to give hitters a different look.

There have been instances in the past when he has used it, as Daniel wrote for The Athletic a few years ago.

And here’s one from a couple weeks ago that would make Clayton Kershaw envious (not just with the ability to throw it, but also the velocity).

Some pitchers have trouble mastering one pitch, let alone four or five. If he wanted to, Buehler could probably increase his changeup usage without much negative impact. It would mean throwing some of his other pitchers at reduced rates. That’s tough when all his other pitchers have positive runs above average (a cumulative stat) marks from FanGraphs.

  • Fastball: 22.7 (2nd in MLB)
  • Slider: 7.6 (10th in MLB)
  • Curveball: 3.8 (9th in MLB)
  • Cutter: 6.0 (2nd in MLB, behind Corbin Burnes, which, *eyes emjoi*)

And despite throwing his changeup fewer than 4% of the time, his 1.4 runs above average is tied for 16th-best in MLB with Luis Castillo, whose best pitch is the change.

——

Buehler is a unicorn. He might be on his way to a Cy Young Award (though, Burnes and Zack Wheeler will have something to say about that). But one thing’s for sure: He’s the ace of the defending World Series champions and will be leaned on heavily this October. And if he gets in a bind (against lefties), it’s nice to know he can and might embrace his changeup.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.