Darren O’Day Adds a Change Up
Darren O’Day is adding a new pitch to his toolbox in hopes of improving an already solid arsenal. Former Oriole and current scout Todd Frohwirth has been working with O’Day during Spring Training to hone a new pitch for the submarine righty. Recently O’Day threw a handful of change ups in their March 8th split squad against the Boston Red Sox.
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O’Day hasn’t thrown a change in his major league career outside of a few he tinkered with during his rookie season in 2008. He generally relies on a 4-seam fastball, sinker, slider mix to keep hitters off balance. That and his quirky delivery.
Throughout his career, O’Day has been very effective against right-handed hitters, primarily because of his mix of pitches and his release point. As recently as 2012 he was even very effective against lefties, and Dave Cameron wrote an entire article about O’Day’s ability to get them out.
Last season however, that trend didn’t hold and O’Day struggled against left handed batters for much of the season. In fact, lefties hit nearly twice as well against O’Day as righties did:
Vs. L: .298/.367/.556, .394 wOBA
Vs. R: .154/.219/.224, .206 wOBA
Coming into this season the Orioles inevitably looked for a way to improve O’Day’s performance against lefties. One solution is adding a pitch, specifically a change up, that allows O’Day to battle lefties more effectively. Frohwirth’s work with O’Day is reportedly paying off and Darren seems pleased with the pitch thus far. However, it’s difficult to determine how effective it will be for him.
For some comparison we’ll look at two similar submarine pitchers in Chad Bradford and Brad Ziegler, to see how their change up usage has worked over their careers.
Bradford threw just under 8% change ups, but that number changed dramatically once you account for batter handedness. Left handed hitters saw 24% change ups and only 8% curveballs, while right handed hitters got 18% curveballs and just 2% change ups. Overall the change up was the worst pitch for Bradford, with opposing hitters batting .333 with a .458 slugging percentage against it. For Bradford, it seems the change up wasn’t the saving grace to solve his platoon issues that some might hope it would be.
Ziegler also throws a change up, along with a 4-seam fastball, sinker, and slider. Basically his pitch mix exactly matches Darren O’Day’s, which is always good when trying to make comparisons. Ziegler throws his change up around 9.5% of the time, so a bit more than Bradford, but not a lot. Ziegler, much like Bradford, all but eliminates his breaking ball against lefties and uses his change up much more predominantly, 23% of the time when facing opposite handed hitters. Righties on the other hand only saw change ups 1% of the time.
Ziegler’s change is also much more effective than Bradford’s was, with opposing hitters batting just .210 with a .350 slugging percentage against the pitch. It’s also an excellent swing and miss pitch for him, with opposing hitters swinging and missing more than 30% of the time they offer at a change up.
Ziegler throws a little slower than O’Day, 85 mph vs. 86, and his change up comes in roughly 8 mph slower than his fastball. This works well for Ziegler as his slider is even slower, at just over 73 mph on average. O’Days slider is a little harder at 78 mph, and it’s likely that his change up will settle in around there as well.
Looking at Bradford and Ziegler we don’t get an incredibly clear picture of what the change up will do for Darren O’Day. Hopefully it’s more like Ziegler’s and less like Bradford’s, but only time will tell that.
It is however, a good sign that the Orioles and O’Day are exploring options to improve his repertoire. O’Day is one of the best pitchers in the Oriole bullpen, and this experiment will likely only serve to make him better.