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As the 2018 season is almost a week old, several pitchers have changed how often their pitch mixes.

While not all had success with new pitch mixes, it can help us evaluate when we watch their second starts.

Let's take a look at three starting pitchers who are making adjustments to their pitch selection in order to gain an advantage this season.

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Subtle Changes, Better Results?

Jacob deGrom's change-up

Jacob deGrom (RHP, NYM) told MLB Network that he wanted to throw more change-ups in 2018 because he thought it was his second-best pitch. The SNY broadcast echoed the same message during the first inning of Saturday's matchup against St. Louis.

The right-hander largely relied on fastballs during the first inning of most of his 2017 games, but his words held true in his first 2018 start. During the first inning, deGrom threw six change-ups compared to eight fastballs, three sliders, and one curveball. When he was ahead in the count (0-1) against Dexter Fowler and even (2-2) in the count, he threw two change-ups. Even though he missed down and away with the 2-2 change-up, he was throwing it at a higher velocity (90 MPH) than normal (85-86 MPH). After missing with it in 1-1 count to Pham, deGrom went back to the change-up in a 2-2 count. As Pham swung over the top of it for strike three, one could see the ball sink and fade over the inner-third of the plate. The two change-ups, one ball and one called strike, he threw to Matt Carpenter were both on the outside part of the plate.

In the second inning, his change-up had some late sink to it against Marcell Ozuna, and the slugger fouled off the thigh-high inside offering. In a 2-2 count against Jose Martinez, deGrom kept it over the outside portion of the plate, which resulted in an infield single.

As the game entered the third inning, deGrom threw more change-ups to LHB. Mixing three change-ups with three fastballs and a curveball struck out Kolten Wong. Although Wong fouled off two of his change-ups, he was retired on a fastball.

When Dexter Fowler came back up in the fifth inning, Jacob deGrom used an 0-1 change-up to induce a Fowler groundout. In the sixth, he offered three change-ups to Pham. The change-up velocity retreated to 85 and 86 MPH when he faced Pham, but Pham reached out to connect with an outside change-up for an infield single to Todd Frazier.

After only throwing 13.7% change-ups in April 2016 and 9.7% change-ups in April 2017, Jacob deGrom threw 20.8% change-ups in his first start. His four-seam fastball (40.59%) and curveball (8%) remained close to last year, but he didn't throw his slider (15.8%) as often.

Is this a good change?

It's best to monitor his starts over the next few weeks. His change-up (52.0 GB%) only trailed his two-seam fastball (56.7 GB%) in inducing ground balls, but his swinging-strike rate on his change-up slid from 21.8% in 2015 to 16.1% in 2017. Luckily, it did have hitters chasing it out of the zone (38.4% O-Swing) in 2017. Hitters had the least success (.581 OPS) against his four-seamer and the most success against his two-seamer (.833 OPS) while their success versus his change-up (.726) fell between the two.

Striking out seven Cardinals hitters while allowing one ER on four hits and one walk was a successful start to 2018 for Jacob deGrom.

 

Kyle Gibson's Curveball

After only throwing his curveball 28 times in April 2017, Kyle Gibson (RHP, MIN) threw the hammer 22 times against the Baltimore Orioles. In his previous four seasons, his curveball was his least-used pitch.

Hitters had plenty of success (.991 OPS) against his four-seam fastball and two-seam fastball (.850 OPS) in 2017, but his curveball (.553 OPS) created the third-most swings and misses (14.0 Sw Str%) in his five-pitch mix.

In the first inning, Gibson missed with a curveball down and away to Adam Jones for ball one. After going with three fastballs, throwing a sharp breaker down in the dirt got Adam Jones to chase for strike three.

In the second inning, he spotted his curveball down and in to Rasmus for a called strike before missing with a curveball in dirt. When he faced Tim Beckham, he also threw a 1-2 curveball in the dirt.

Gibson created some swinging strikes with the pitch in the third inning. He induced a swinging strike from Caleb Joseph on an 0-1 curveball, but the catcher didn't offer on an 0-2 curveball in the dirt. The right-hander started Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop with opening curveballs away and off the plate.

As he kept mixing in sliders and fastballs, Gibson would work in his curveball. He successfully started Trey Mancini with a first-pitch breaker away and at the bottom of the zone for a called strike.

In the bottom of the sixth, he started Manny Machado with three-straight curveballs. The first pitch is one that Gibson missed, as Machado swung through it at the belt. Gibson missed with the next two curveballs two down and outside of the zone. When he faced Mancini again, he threw a curveball at the belt for a called strike (0-1) before moving to down and away to create a swinging strike (0-2).

Monitor Kyle Gibson's curveball usage in his next few starts. His teammate, Jake Odorizzi, threw more curveballs (18.2%) against the Orioles. It could have been a game plan for Baltimore, or maybe both pitchers will continue to throw more curveballs in 2018.

Using more of his secondary pitches may help Gibson, as batters fared well against both of his fastballs in 2017.

 

German Marquez's slider

After only throwing 105 sliders in 2017, German Marquez (RHP, COL) threw 19 sliders in his 3.31 start at Arizona.

He didn't use his first slider until facing Nick Ahmed in the bottom of the second, which he missed down and away for a ball. He also missed (one outside and one up) with two sliders early in the count versus A.J. Pollack in the third inning. During some of the outing, Marquez had a difficult time keeping the slider down in the zone.

In an 0-2 count to Paul Goldschmidt in the bottom of the fifth, Marquez's well-placed slider (down and away) resulted in a chopper to second. Throwing a slider on the outer third and at the belt only resulted in Jake Lamb fouling the pitch off.

Monitor Marquez's ability to put the slider where he wants in his next few starts, as hitters squared up his slider (1.375 OPS) in 2017.

 

Conclusion

Throwing more secondary pitches well can contribute to a starting pitcher's success, but changing one's pitch mix does not always guarantee success.

 

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