White Sox bullpen notes: Codi Heuer throwing changeup with purpose
Last year, a dynamite sinker and occasionally devastating slider propelled Codi Heuer into some of the White Sox’s most important situations by the end of the season. Beyond the 1.52 ERA driven down by a scoreless September, perhaps the most encouraging thing about Heuer’s emergence was that he had more to give.
His 14.4 percent swinging strike rate was fine, but it was actually a point below that of Alex Colomé, whose peripherals were long considered a target for regression. Heuer didn’t need to get more whiffs — that’s what the 50-percent ground-ball rate is for — but they remained possible without any great alteration to Heuer’s approach. Whether he threw them earlier in the count or just stopped steering so many of them into the left-handed batter’s box, he could get more out of his breaking ball.
Alas, he opened the season with wonky command of both pitches. The sinker stayed up, the slider spun, and the middle-middle location on too many pitches led to more hits (six) and runs (one) over three outings in April than he had over 11 appearances last September (five and zero).
Of the first 12 sliders Heuer threw, only one of them induced a swinging strike, and it was one he shouldn’t count on getting. But whether necessity is the mother of invention or desperate times call for desperate measure, Heuer has turned a corner without his best breaking ball.
Here’s Heuer’s swinging strike leaderboard:
On the one hand, this is a very small sample. On the other hand, Heuer has already exceeded his swing-and-miss total on changeups from last year, when only two of 35 such pitches got whiffs. He didn’t get burned on it (zero hits allowed), but he also didn’t generate much useful action, as nearly 70 percent of them were taken for balls. Last year, Heuer approached changeups like I do rye beers — the idea sounds briefly appealing after some time away, only to remember why I avoid them after one swig.
I still don’t care for rye beers, but Heuer’s acquired the taste for his offspeed offering. He might’ve only thrown five of them over his 32 pitches against Cleveland on Monday night, but all served a purpose. His first capped off a three-pitch strikeout of José Ramírez …
… and he was off from there. He went 5-for-5 in strikes with the changeup, getting three whiffs, a routine grounder to second, and a first-pitch take for an 0-1 count. Here they are in quick succession:
The last one is his worst one in terms of location, finishing in the heart of the zone. Yet when you look at Josh Naylor’s reaction, he checks up as though he’s going to get jammed.
This pitch occasionally showed such life last year, but most of them were useless. He either got under them, or he started them well off the plate. This year, he seems to have found a release point, and the confidence to put them in the zone. The year-over-year pitch charts are startling.
The early success could reflect a mere wrinkle in the scouting report that will be ironed out in short order, but even if its role as his second pitch is only temporary, it does buy him time for the slider to sharpen up. Even better, the similar action and release on his pitch might give his sinker more places to play in the zone. He closed his appearance by striking out Roberto Perez with full-count sinkers at the top of the zone resulting in a pair of strike threes, and it didn’t matter that only one was called correctly.
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On the other end of the spectrum of pitches looking different, Liam Hendriks‘ unimpressive debut in a traditional save situation on Sunday stemmed partially from his inability to pump fastballs by hitters in the manner to which he is accustomed.
When you look at his pitch chart from his appearance on Sunday, he threw his fastball mostly where he wanted them, and with a velocity in line from his last two years. He just couldn’t get them completely past Kansas City bats, which fouled off nine of the 16 fastballs they saw.
If it’s not location or velocity, then the ride is the next culprit. And while that was an issue, James Fegan relayed Hendriks’ finer point on it:
You can track this on his Baseball Savant page. He aims for seven feet of extension, but he’s been down to 6.7 and 6.6 feet in his last two appearances. It appears to be something that has a little bit of ebb and flow over the course of a season, but 6.6 is lower than any point last season, and so there probably is some need to address it.
(Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire)
great analysis. Thanks for digging through that data. I’ve been a fan of Heuer since 2019 and even touted him as a potential bullpen piece prior to his inclusion last year. Hopefully he is only scratching the surface of what his arsenal can include moving forward.
Probably a stupid question, but if you have a 24 year old with potentially 3 plus offerings, should he be considered as a starter at some point in his career?
Was just about to type the same question. Don’t know his history but looks like Heuer has been a reliever following Great Falls in ’18
FWIW, he started 15 games in his last year at Wichita St. and averaged about 5 IP per start. Just a thought – since the Sox seem unwilling to shop at the high end of the starting pitcher market it would be nice to unearth a few surprises.
I mean, I have to imagine he’s not throwing 98 mph sinkers as a starter and if his fastball velocity is lower, does that lower the effectiveness of his other pitches?
His stuff definitely jumped upon the shift to the bullpen, but he also didn’t have a changeup. Should this pitch have staying power, it’s not insane to reconsider his role.
He’s almost 25 and has ~280 innings pitched across the last 6 years. How realistic is it that he can get stretched out/acclimated to starting in a reasonable amount of time (especially since his clock has started already)?
Depends on what they do with him this year. If he routinely goes 30-40 pitches and 2-3 innings each time out, he’d be getting near swingman territory.
I’m guessing it’s low probability and merely a theoretical discussion because they like him in the late innings and have other ideas for the rotation. But RSWS’ question isn’t a dumb one, especially since the changeup addresses his biggest draft-day issue, which was a way to neutralize lefties. He was knocked for a long arm action and poor secondary pitches.
Sox may have other ideas, but only 3/5 of the current rotation is currently booked for next yr and only Kopech seems like a really good bet to join. Just given the lack of depth everyone seems to concede, seems the Sox should give real consideration to anyone who could add to it
Had to do a double take but Fangraphs had Heuer facing 52 LHH v 40 RHH last year. I don’t recall what usage pattern would have generated so many opportunities against lefties. For what it’s worth, he was equally effective against both sides of the plate and has faced more of a 4:1 ratio of righties to lefties so far this year.
I looked it up because I was wondering if he needed an out pitch against lefties: thus the newfound changeup usage. But I guess 97-98 with late life plays against pretty much anyone.
It will be interesting to see how the rest of the year plays out for him, but I agree with other commenters that if it’s favorable they should take a look at seeing if he can do it multiple times through the order.
I think it’s pretty obvious that, eventually, this bullpen unit will be the best in baseball (if healthy).
The talent is just too extreme. Even Ruiz has reached an exciting place in his long development process from position players to bullpen arm.
Losing Cordero hurt, but the depth of Lambert, Stiever, Burdi, Johnson, Burr, Vargas, Medeiros, etc at AAA is enviable.
What some of us really forgot about though is that
1) even very good bullpen arms have quite a bit of variance year over year.
2) young pitchers will have their struggles just like young hitters do. Assuming Heuer, Foster, Crochet, Kopech, and even Bummer to all just play up to their potential right away was more foolish than assuming Moncada, Robert, Eloy, Madrigal, or Vaughn could jump up to the show without any bumps.
Can’t believe Fegan buried the lede?
What’d the tarot reading say?
Merkin’s got the full story.
This is satire, right?
Just a superstitious baseball player. Nothing new.
This is new levels of superstitious. Most superstitious players are mostly weird habits (jumping a line) and shit like that, but this is hardcore.
Just be glad no one brought a live chicken into the club house.
I dunno… Remember Giambi’s golden thong?
I tend to feel lighter after phoning my tarot card reader, which I do on the toilet, but it has the desired effect. The sage spray helps, too.
Aren’t you supposed to burn sage, not spritz it?
He’s probably not allowed to burn it in the clubhouse
I didn’t notice the other day when I shared Longenhagen’s Arizona scouting notes on Jake Burger, that he also had notes on Cespedes. https://blogs.fangraphs.com/a-wednesday-scouting-notebook-4-7-2021/
“He looks like he’s having issues discerning balls and strikes and swung at the first four pitches he saw, resulting in a strikeout and groundout. He also half-swung at some pitches that were nowhere near the zone in his final at-bat, eventually resulting in a softly-hit single. Cespedes is also running in the 4.50s (a 30-grade time) right now.
He does have big league physicality and bat speed/power and you could argue that this guy deserves time to acclimate himself against pro pitching after not having seen it for a couple of years. But at 24, that’s part of why I consider him such a significant hit tool risk and a low-probability flier more than a top-of-the-class prospect.”