A welcome change for Singer
Brady Singer has finally unleashed a changeup. It's working so well because it's the perfect compliment to his sinker.
When Brady Singer was exiled to the bullpen to open the season, followed by a turn in Triple-A, his career seemed to be at something of a crossroads. Sure, he could get major league hitters out, but it was a challenge to do so consistently. He lacked a third pitch—a changeup—to go along with his sinker/slider combo. He would talk openly about the need for a third pitch, but then would rarely throw it. He got knocked around in 2021 as a starter. For a moment it seemed as if his future was in the bullpen.
Singer reported to Omaha to get stretched out, but while there, discovered a newfound and comfortable feel for a change. He brought that back down I-29. In his three starts, the success has been obvious.
Three consecutive starts with Game Scores above 50. A ton of strikes underscores how he’s attacking the zone. The ground balls are still there and he’s cut down on the walks. Singer had similar successes in 2020, but after the struggles of last summer, it’s an amazing transformation.
The difference from Singer in three starts this year to any other time in his major league career? He’s finally started that changeup. Yes, that third pitch we’ve been begging him to throw has finally arrived.
Not only is Singer throwing the change more often than at any point in his career, but it’s also become an effective pitch. I’m not going to go overboard with the hyperbole and call it a weapon or anything like that. However, it’s a perfect complement to his primary sinker/slider offering. He starts on Friday as the Royals open a three game series at The K against the Astros. It’s a perfect time to see how that change is working for Singer.
A change will do Singer good
Let’s geek out.
We’ll begin with the basics…Singer’s changeup doesn’t feature a lot of movement. It’s far from an elite pitch. It generally carries around 23 inches of drop, which is below average by about seven inches. It also features about 14 inches of run. That’s closer to the league average horizontal movement on the change, but still a couple of inches shy.
So why is Singer’s changeup so important? It’s because it plays off his sinker.
When Singer returned to the rotation, he arrived with a changeup with the highest spin rate of his career. The rate of spin on the change is now almost equal with the rate of spin on his sinker. I think this is important, as you’ll see in just a moment.
The chart below illustrates the difference in spin for the sinker and changeup over the years.
The change and the sinker ran relatively close in his rookie year, and you’ll recall that Singer did have some success that year. However, he only offered the changeup 4.7 percent of the time. He neutralized it’s potential by avoiding throwing it with any kind of regularity.
In 2022 Singer is throwing the change in 10.8 percent of his offerings. So just the idea that he’s more likely to throw that pitch is enough to give hitters (mostly lefties) something to consider. The fact he’s ramped up the spin rate adds a wrinkle of deception he’s ultimately using more often.
Not only are the spin rates for the two pitches close, but according to data collected from Baseball Savant, the ball leaves Singer’s hand and spins along an axis that is very similar for both the sinker and the change. The diagram on the left is the spin of how it comes out of his hand. It’s arranged around a clock face, so we can say that the sinker is at 1:00 on delivery, while the change is at 1:45. That’s not much difference between the two. The diagram on the right is the observed spin at the plate.
In Singer’s case, both the change and the sinker arrive at 1:45. They are almost identical pitches by spin and by horizontal movement. The difference comes in the velocity where the change runs at about seven MPH slower and it features a bit more drop. These pitches may look extremely similar coming out of Singer’s hand and will continue to look that way for the first few milliseconds. That’s enough to keep hitters off balance.
Imagine you’re a big league hitter. You’re standing in looking for a sinker, thinking you can adjust for the slider. Except now a pitch is coming in that looks a lot like the sinker, but it arrives a little later and dives just a bit more. The change mimics the sinker at first, but by the time it reaches the plate it’s going to warp your brain. With apologies to Pitching Ninja, something like this will be running through your mind…It’s the change from the gif above, overlayed with a sinker:
The proof is in the results. The sample sizes remain small for the data from this year, but Singer is off to an encouraging start.
Singer’s whiff rate is down on the sinker this year, but as I noted yesterday, that’s endemic with this pitching staff so far this year. But he’s countered that a bit with a hefty increase on whiff rate on the change. The column to really focus on is the last one. Run Value tells us how good the particular pitch has been. A negative Run Value is better. Singer was awful last year on the change—because opposing hitters were able to key on that pitch and clobber it. This year, they’re not able to do that. Because of the addition of an effective change.
One quick, final thought about the change. Singer faced the Twins in each of his last two outings. He threw fewer changeups in his second start against them, probably to give them a bit of a different look. Nevertheless, here is how he attacked left-handed hitters:
The change is represented by the green circle. The sinker is orange while the slider is yellow. The size of the circle is a visual representation of the percent the pitch is thrown.
Keep in mind, that’s off two games worth of data. It looks like Singer is extremely comfortable in starting the plate appearance off with a change. Likewise, he’ll throw it when he’s ahead in the count. (Oddly, he avoids it for the most part when he’s up 0-2.) But once he goes to two balls against the hitter, forget about it.
As he continues to develop the feel and comfort for the pitch, I’d like to see him use it more in those 2-0 or 2-1 counts to try to claw back into the battle. Something to watch in Friday’s game.
What about the slider?
Going back to the spin charts above, you’ll notice Singer’s slider “mirrors” the sinker and the change on observed spin. That’s where a pitcher wants his breaking pitch to live, with an opposite spin from his fastball. The results aren’t exactly there on the change so far—opponents are hitting .310 against it—but it does feature a 40 percent whiff rate. I suspect that as the season progresses, that batting average will fall somewhere around the .250 range or lower. If that happens, he’s going to be in for a helluva year.
I’ve always felt Singer was a “confidence pitcher” meaning he didn’t handle adversity on the mound particularly well. That’s another benefit of adding the change to the arsenal. He’s throwing with extreme confidence now that he has that third pitch. You can see it in the tempo as measured by Baseball Savant. Last year, with the bases empty, Singer delivered in 16.5 seconds with 32 percent of his deliveries classified as “fast.” This year, he’s throwing in 14.7 seconds with 54 percent of his deliveries that are “fast.” That’s a huge change.
The question going forward: Can this hold? Can Singer continue to find success? I think it’s entirely up to him. He’s shown that when he throws the change with confidence, the positive results follow. As long as Singer maintains his comfort with the pitch, can maintain its spin rate and throws it at least 10 percent of the time (or more), I think he will have more good starts than bad. He’s not a front of the rotation type of starter, but he’s a guy who can be a solid mid-rotation option on a contending ballclub.
This is a very positive start from Singer. I’m intrigued to see how the rest of the season plays out for him. He makes the start on Friday for the Royals against the Houston Astros. In a season that has already lost significance, Singer has quickly become a must-watch when his turn in the rotation comes up.