QED Dept.

=== Neyer / James ===

Hey, to settle this whole 2-pitch argument once and for all, what if we did this?  ... what if we took a data-oriented approach, instead of an opinions and baloney approach?

What if we sat down and catalogued every pitcher in ML history, and their arsenals?  And then we tabulated whether it was feasible to pitch with fewer than 3 pitches?

Oh, wait.  Neyer and James did that.  

And after looking at every pitcher, ancient and modern, they summarized their findings like this.

"A starting pitcher can win with:

  • Three decent pitches, or
  • Two very good pitches, or
  • One great pitch."

Ah, what does that tell you, though.  It's only every pitcher in major league history.


The Mariners' three pheenoms happen to be three pheenoms who are perfect candidates for 1- and 2-pitch approaches that exploit their natural gifts.  We would'na said that about Hultzen, or Felix, or Fister.  But some guys have their natural gifts crammed into 1 or 2 pitches.  Doc Gooden, if he'd thrown a change, woulda been doing the hitters a favor.  You wanted the 1997 Randy Johnson to throw an 88 mph pitch for them?

Taijuan Walker should not be dinking around with a change, not if the Mariners want him winning in the big leagues before his arm blows out.  How many pheenoms saw their arrivals delayed, because of this kind of thing, and then got injured before they could ever help?

Clayton Kershaw was an impact pitcher for the Dodgers, at the age of 20, precisely because they reduced him to the 2-pitch arsenal.


Walker should pitch like Doc Gooden, fastball-yellow hammer.  Paxton should pitch like Kershaw, high FB, overhand curve (though he's the one you could argue for a changeup; Mulder threw one).  Jose Campos, if his fastball is really what they say it is, might very well be best off throwing one pitch and just showing the other two.

Ah, well.  Michael Pineda figured out, quickly enough, to avoid throwing his changeup.  I guess things will shake out naturally.

... it's not the biggest deal in the world, y'know.   I'll cheerfully concede that Paxton could early handle a full arsenal, as Mark Mulder did.  He definitely does not need three pitches, but in his particular case, the third pitch probably won't mess him up much.

Developmentally?  Whatever they do, they're kinda good.  Walker-Paxton-Campos is beginning to remind me of that Halladay-Escobar-Carpenter group that the Jays had back in the '90's.



Dr D



TAD's picture

Dr D.  I’ve seen you make this point 4-5 times every year and I’m not one to disagree.  But there definitely is an advantage to having three pitches in a starting pitcher’s repertoire. This is especially so when a pitcher is facing an advanced offensive team i.e. the Yankees where they stick to a game plane which even if they are not totally successful in plating runs they are often still able to run up the pitch count to get the pitcher out of the game by the 6th inning or so.
But really how difficult is it for a pitcher to develop a change-up that they only need to be able throw 10-15 times per game.  We are not talking about a pitch that you expect the hitter to swing and miss, but one that will miss up his timing and be a nagging thought in the back of his head.  I’ve seen it written somewhere and it’s probably true that for every pitch they typically only have 2 things for which they are looking for and any more than that they do not have the time to process in info.
I’m here in Chicago so I did not see very many M’s games this year.  But I did see one game where Pineda was pitching and in about the 5th inning and a series hitters were able to continue to foul off pitches until they were able to put a good swing on the ball – he was not able to mess up their timing that if he did have that 3rd pitch perhaps he could have kept them a little more off balance.
It seems like there are two issues that you are hanging your hat on with this argument:
 By learning a third pitch, this will delay a pitcher’s development and the time spent on learning this pitch will not necessarily make him a more effective pitcher.
This third pitch (the change-up) may have a deleterious effect, in that there is a good possibility that it will cause him to be less effective overall by losing his feel for his other pitches.
I’m not totally sure if I agree with you.  But if you have time can you back up your argument/conclusion as to why it’s not wise to spend development time on a third pitch?
Case in point Doug Fister – yes he always had control/command of both his fastball (which before this year was on the velocity scale tick below avg he has brought the speed up some but really its still on the avg side of the house ) and has combined it with an excellent change.  But from my recollection his curve seemed to be only so so, this year he throws curve (his third weapon) all the time and it has become an out pitch.

Lonnie of MC's picture

... would definately be a plus to any pitcher, and with most it is an absolute requirement.  If a pitcher displays the ability to get batters out while utilizing just two pitches then that pitcher really shouldn't be held back for the purpose of developing a third.  Pineda WILL develope a viable changeup within the next year or two (I bet this is at the top of his list of things to do this off-season), and when it is ready he could step up into elite status among MLB pitchers.

RockiesJeff's picture

Jeff, good thoughts. Same to Tad and Lonnie. I really don't get why more kids are not taught to properly throw a change up early on. I think it should be thrown in early years before the curve primarily to teach variation of speed in the importance of keeping hitters off balance. Sadly, most throw a change more like a slow fastball and coaches don't like that because it allows the lesser hitter to get around on it. Live bats could spell disaster. But to good batters it is essential to keep them guessing. The extra look helps, especially when it doesn't have the obvious curveball look in the hand.
I thought the success of Phillies pitchers a few years ago would start a trend aided now by the conformity of softer bats in HS and college. My 15 year old this summer beat a traveling team of 17-19 year olds by primarily working off the change. They had so many big swing and misses because it was completely different than the fastball/curveball combo almost universally used (and he does possesss very good fastball/knuckle curve). That particular day the big swingers needed something different to frustrate them.
Does that require pitchers to have a certain amount of pitches? That should go under the category of luxury rather than absolute. Lonnie, you got that one right. It is very helpful but not the reason to hold one back. Give me a winner with two solid pitches and then let him learn on the job as he develops in his pitching maturity and confidence. Would you tell Lee Trevinio he should hold off joining the tour until he learned to hit a draw as well as his fade? We don't live in a perfect world. Let the kids play! THANKS!


But not NECESSARY.  As long as Paxton has two very good pitches - and he does - then the hold up in getting him to the bigs shouldn't be waiting for a 3rd pitch.  
Do I think a change would help him?  Sure.  With a curve like his, it'll cause him trouble when he can't keep it in the zone and "all" he's got is that 93-95 mph fastball.
And the Mariners know that it would be great to give him a 3rd weapon so that he can still be really effective when one isn't working that night.
I guess it's lucky for us that he's already adding one to the arsenal successfully.
It means the Ms scouts who believe you can't be a two-pitch pitcher in the bigs will have to step back a bit.  I think Paxton will be fine with 2 pitches and great with three.  I don't think having two dominant pitches is a reason to hold him back, though.  It's funny to me that just about the only pitcher who had a better season involving AA was a guy named Moore who just finished pitching game one of a playoff series as a rookie.
Nobody's telling HIM that his okay changeup should keep him in the minors because it's not possible to win with serious hit and a fall-off-the-table curveball.
Looking forward to Spring Training with a vengeance and seeing if our next dominant pitcher can convince the Mariners that he belongs in the same conversation with Moore.


Ever heard a pitcher say "I couldn't find the feel for my curve/change/slider today"?
Pineda had his hands full as it is, fine-tuning his 2-pitch sequences and keeping his mechanics consistent.  It's similar to stripping down an NFL offense so that a new QB can execute an offense.
You have two 80 pitches, and you can add another 70 on the fly, without confusing the kid, fine.  But why would the 1997 Kerry Wood have wanted to mix a 40 changeup in with his 80 fastball and 80 slider?
Paxton, with his incredible mechanics, probably could throw the changeup without taking away from his fastball and curve.
But they mess around and try to turn Taijuan Walker into John Lackey, they're going to be sorry.


A high school kid touching 89-90, no doubt, the Grand Strategies are going to help.
Question is, supposing he's 94 in high school and is trying to hone his command -- does he spend his time on mechanics and release point, or on learning a new pitch?

ghost's picture

Good thoughts G.
I think the reason people are very dogmatic about third pitches is that baseball history is littered with phenomenally talented pitchers who hit the big leagues, succeeded for a while very briefly, got booked, and then got their butts handed to them in a paper sack...and many of them are guys like Halladay who debuted throwing mid-90s heat up the ladder and a huge overhand curveball (This is Paxton as well, to some extent...mid-90s gas and a big straight-drop curve...at least, that's what i seem to remember...correct me if I'm wrong). The trouble with gas + overhand curve is that it's hard to get umps to call it a strike so you ahve to get your strikes with it on swings, mostly...the instant you have trouble locating it, you're throwing fastballs all game and big leaguers can hit that.
If Paxton's second pitch was a Randy Johnson nintendo slider...that would change the equation...most two-pitch pitchers, in fact, dominate with a lateral-breaking pitch, not a vertically-breaking pitch to compliment their fastball. And most of them throw UPPER 90s...not mid-90s too. But that isn't always true. The thing about lateral pitches is that umps call strikes on those and hitters are therefore more likely to be defensive against them. This may sound incredibly silly to you, but when I am playing a baseball simulator, I lick my chops for the pitchers who throw overhand curves with their fastball because I can see almost immediately that it's a breaking ball and not a fastball...it helps my reaction times and makes me better at judging balls and strikes...whereas the guys throwing sinkers and sliders give me fits.
Roy Halladay is a classic example of the two-pitch pheenom who blew up...and began succeeding the minute he introduced a sinker and variabile speeds on his fastball.
Just saying.

TAD's picture

I've never been a pitcher, thrown batting practice to my son, but that's the extent of it - well I thumbed through a 'how to pitch' book written by Nolan Ryan when I was helping my son learn to pitch.
But yes, I've heard that that phrase 'Could Not Find The Feel Of My....' numerous times whether it's from a 1+ pitch pitcher - Brandon League, 2 pitch pitcher Aaron Sele, or even a 4 pitch pitcher Felix Hernandez. 
Actually being able to command 3 pitches (and being left-handed) is why the M's had Hultzen rated as the first pick in the draft. 
It's a valuable tool/weapon, and if learning a change-up adds 2-3 mos of development time to a  young pitcher coming up, I'd say go for it - at least give them the opportunity to toss it to home plate a few times in a minor league game, that's why we have the minors for.  (As Ted Williams said timing is the key to hitting - the change is used to counter a hitter's timing)
I agree every pitcher is different and if it looks like he is having difficulty such that it is messing with their mechanics well then scrap it.   But being dogmatic in saying hey don't mess with a good thing they can throw the fast ball by anyone especially with the added wrinkle of a slider sounds eerily similar to what League said earlier in the year when says that is going to just stand up there and through the fast ball by the batter because is his strength.
A similar but different topic, maybe they should have scrapped Mike Morse and Tui from playing short long before they did and maybe they could have focused on developing their offensive side of the game while they were still with the M's.

RockiesJeff's picture

Jeff, fun thread by everyone. Many good thoughts. I probably did not articulate with clarity but I assume that a kid should have learned the change up early on after the fastball when still growing, etc. That is not just to learn another pitch but is also helpful to learn the very dynamics of pitching.
Give me a kid who is 94 in high school? The team goal is to win. That might be done with one or two pitches. If that 94'er is trying to hone his command? Perfect what you have right there. Make that 94 into a true out pitch...movement and location. Why toy with that. The extra pitch at that time is a distraction. Potentially later, an extra pitch luxury might become necessity in order to succeed. But that would come later with the honed, established command, even greater maturity equating to greater potential for success.
At any level, if a pitcher is special and can win with two pitches...isn't that the goal? I would fear being guilty of over-coaching someone into confusion. These guys are special and I always fear tinkering too much. Hopefully that make some sense. I totally agree with your premise. I think I am looking at it more in real time looking at each individual's skill levels.
It is fun to think through these. Thanks!!


Jeff, others ... just for fun.  Where are you on the idea of Jose Campos pitching like Bartolo Colon?
Colon, for several years as a young pitcher and again during his reincarnation, literally pitched with ONE (1) pitch, moving his FB in and out, around the zone, and was very good.
Supposing we grant the scouts' premise that Campos not only has great velo, but also command, feel, angles, deception, etc. ... what's your reaction to his just throwing the FB until they prove they can hit it?


... is that I've run this dog way too many times.  Doug Couglin's First Law:  bury the dead.  They stink up the joint.  :- )
Next spring, when everybody starts in predicting Michael Pineda doom again, I'll see whether I can resist.  Heh!


I don’t think it’s just that umps call strikes on sliders, it’s that hitters feel like they have a better chance against sliders than overhead 12-6 bombshells.  Sliders are more along the plane of a swing, while a curve that falls like that only intersects the width of the bat on its way through the zone.
Hitters give up on curves that drop from above like that – they might foul it off but it’s not likely they’ll put a good one in play as a hit.    That’s great if you’re getting free strikes with it because you can keep it in the zone, but if you can’t throw it for strikes and they’re not hacking away at it (since it’s not like a forkball that they can’t pick up til later, or a slider that MIGHT be a K until it’s not) then you’re in for a long day.  Maybe Paxton’s is different – I was astounded by the number of swinging Ks he was getting this year on that curveball.  Minor leaguers couldn't hit it with a cricket bat. But I’ll want to see him get those swings from big-leaguers before I believe he can keep it up for the Mariners.
One of the reasons Bedard has such poor IP/start figures is that he’s not getting cheap outs.  He’s working for all of them.  And he gets them – he’s pretty dominant.  But he doesn’t get them FAST.  I think Paxton’s control of his curve is the big question.  If he can Aaron-Sele the curve into the zone all the time AND throw 95 on the black?  Be afraid.
But he’s gonna walk people, because pretty much EVERY big-curve pitcher I can think of does.  I think he only pitched into the 7th once this year (partly because of all the Ks he was racking up, but not entirely).  If a changeup helps him increase his IP, I’m all for it.  But I’m fine with him being a 5-6 inning pitcher while he gets the changeup down.
That’s what we have Furbush for: to pickup Paxton’s extra innings.  Right? 

RockiesJeff's picture

Good question Jeff! If I am driving a bus, more than one set of brakes is advisable. But this is not life and death so if it works?????? Why fix it? League catches up? If a smart, good pitcher can master one pitch then in the right time, help him complement it. 
If you were Lee Trevino's teacher would you have stressed he "must" learn to draw the ball so he would have a better shot at Augusta? Actually, he could do anything with the ball he wanted to but that is beside the point. Isn't it better to absolutely master that one key shot, his little fade, than to change everything around to "potentially" help with one course? 


NOBODY hit that fastball.  All he had in the minors was a fastball, and when he got to the bigs he would throw just fastballs for 4+ innings.  Until the 3rd time through the lineup he was pretty good at just using one pitch, too, even in the majors.
He demolished the minor leagues easily with just the fastball.  Campos might have the facility to do the same.
Doesn't mean he'll make it as a starter, but his arm is terrific.  He'll get time to find other pitches while he hammers opposing lineups with the heat.  I don't think he can be a successful ML starter with just the FB - even Schilling needed something other than the heat - but he can be a handful with that pitch in some scenario.
I just want him to stay healthy and keep learning.  He was weirded out by pitching in front of more than 20 people to start this season - that hadn't really happened to him before, certainly in opponents' ballparks.  He was startled by fans yelling at him because he wasn't used to fans watching him at all.
By the end of the season it was old hat.  He's in the middle of a massive learning curve, and he'll get the years Soriano did to prove or disprove the theory that another pitch is on the way.

tjm's picture

Reminds me of a Koufax story I think I first heard from Ron Fairly. Details are sketchy, but it went something like this:
Koufax is pitching against Aaron, has him down 1-2, throws something funky that Hank hits into the 15th row. Next time he comes to the plate, Aaron asks Roseboro:
What was that?
Roseboro says: Slider.
Aaron says: Tell Sandy he doesn't need that pitch.

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