Narveson’s Changeup Keeps Cubs Off Balance

I’ll admit that for whatever reason, it took me a long time to come around on Chris Narveson.

His stuff never seemed to be all that good, his initial success with the Brewers in late 2009 could have been explained by facing lesser competition in September, and he’s always been a pretty extreme flyball pitcher — something that will always make me worry in Miller Park.

By the middle of last season, though, I was impressed. Many still weren’t sold on him coming into this season — likely due to the fact that he needed another strong late-season run to get his ERA under 5.00 last year — but a very strong argument could be made that he was the team’s second-best starter behind Yovani Gallardo last year. Despite the 4.99 ERA, his FIP was a solid (for his spot in the rotation) 4.22, and his xFIP was even lower at 4.15. He’s always had solid numbers in these areas because he strikes out a fair amount of batters while keep his walks under control.

What I don’t necessarily remember always being the case with him, though, is the movement he’s had on some of his pitches. Jim Breen noted the above average movement on his fastball in his first start of the year against Atlanta, and a look at the numbers from his start against the Cubs look just as impressive. Jim noted that the average “H-Break” (how much the pitch moved horizontally as it traveled to the plate) in the Atlanta start was 8.73, and average is closer to 5. On Saturday night, Narveson’s fastball didn’t move quite as much — an average H-Break of 7.52 — but it was still considerably above average.

What was most surprising to me, though, was just how much his changeup looked like his fastball. The average H-Break on Narveson’s changeup against the Cubs was 7.71, and if you look at the top view visualization of his pitches, you’ll see the average fastball and average changeup traveled on nearly the exact same path. That makes it incredibly difficult for the batter to decipher the difference between the fastball and changeup, and we saw that confusion throughout Narveson’s 7 shutout innings. Of the 35 changeups Narveson threw Chicago hitters, 26 were strikes — and 13 of those were swinging strikes. Narveson also picked up 3 swinging strikes on fastballs and 5 more on curveballs. These aren’t the types of numbers you’d expect to see from someone with Narveson’s stuff, and it really speaks to how well he was able to fool hitters.

When the Brewers lost to Atlanta earlier in the week, spoiling six shutout innings from Narveson in that game, we were mostly disappointed because we thought we wouldn’t see outings like that from him very often this year. If his changeup keeps looking so much like his fastball this year, though, we won’t have to worry about that. He’ll have plenty of similar outings.

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