Anthony Kay, Pablo López, and Zac Lowther on Crafting Their Changeups

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Anthony Kay, Pablo López, and Zac Lowther — on how they learned and developed their changeups.


Anthony Kay, Toronto Blue Jays

“I’ve been throwing this changeup ever since I’ve been pitching. I never really had a curveball until I was 16 or 17 years old. Growing up, it was mainly just fastball-changeup because my dad didn’t want me [throwing curveballs]. My older brother played, and he also didn’t have a curveball until he got older.

“I first learned a circle change, and I still pretty much throw it to this day. Of course, there has been a little bit of variation. When I came back from [Tommy John surgery] in 2017 it was pretty inconsistent, and I was trying to find a grip that made it more reliable. I used to be on the seams, like a two-seamer, and now I’m kind of moved over to where it’s almost the same, but just off the seams. I was cutting it a lot, and I think being on the seams was a big reason for that. Now that I’m off them, I feel I get a truer release to it.

“It was mostly an inconsistency issue. There were some days where it would be really good, and there were days where it wouldn’t be good at all; it would cut. So I figured I might as well just mess around with it a little bit and try and get it more consistent. I don’t know that I really understand why [the adjustment makes made it more consistent], but it did.

(Anthony Kay’s changeup grip.)

“I talked to Drew Gagnon, with the Mets, and he pretty much throws his changeup with just his ring finger and his pinky finger. He’s got one of the best changeups I’ve ever seen. You learn from other guys and he said moving just off the seams was one of the things I should try. Once I tried it, it kind of clicked. I throw it as much like my fastball as I can, and then right at the end I pronate a little more than I would on my fastball.

“It’s definitely harder since I came back from TJ. It’s probably 6-7 mph off from my fastball, whereas it used to be probably like 9 or 10. It plays nice to my fastball now, because it looks like my fastball. I feel like the miles per hour difference isn’t a really that big of a deal for me. It’s more about getting that downward action.”

Pablo López, Miami Marlins

“Growing up, I was playing on this Little League team, and as soon as you turned 10 you were allowed to start throwing breaking balls. But my dad was the coach, and he didn’t want me to start throwing breaking balls. He said he was going to teach me to throw a slower fastball instead. It was with three fingers — my index, my middle, and my ring — and he had me put it really deep into my palm, and then throw it just like a fastball.

(Pablo López’s changeup grip.)

“Later on, I was asking around and was taught the circle changeup, with your middle finger and your ring finger on top of the two seams — and then how you want to throw it, how you want to protonate it. Funny enough with the pronating, I used to play volleyball in high school and when you’re serving you’re pronating naturally, even more than when you’re throwing a baseball. Hitting a volleyball, I wanted to make it spin, and I eventually applied that to my changeup.

“Another thing that helps me with my changeup is that I play long toss with it. I throw it 120 feet, 150 feet, and if the ball isn’t making it to the guy, that means it’s dying. That means it’s good.

“I went to the circle when I around 14 years old. Pitching was getting a little more competitive, and I was throwing harder than when I was younger. It was, I want to learn something good, something that along with being slower will have some depth; it will move. That’s when I found the circle changeup with two seams, and then with the pronation I created some depth.

“I watched [Johan Santana and Félix Hernández], yes. I always liked Johan’s better, because he was slower. King Félix’s was disgusting, because he had so much movement, but I thought his was too fast. I didn’t throw as hard as he does, so I couldn’t have such a fast changeup. That’s why I tried to pay more attention to Johan. The thing that always amazed me was that you could never tell he was throwing a changeup until it was slower. His arm action was the same. His mechanics were the same. Being able to sell it that way is what makes a changeup so successful. That’s something I try to emulate.”

Zac Lowther, Baltimore Orioles

“My [changeup] usage went up a lot last year. I was able to throw a quality changeup, and not just something that’s slower and might have a little bit of bite to it. I was spinning it out of my hand so that guys would see it as my fastball, then it would break off. The hand speed is what you want to sell with a changeup. You’re already killing spin with the way you’re throwing it. You’re tricking them with the hand speed, and killing spin with your finish.

(Zac Lowther’s changeup grip.)

“The grip is basically my own. I’d tried your standard circle. I’d tried a standard four-seam one. I’d tried a bunch of different grips. Then I kind of just found something that works for me, and I can be consistent with it. I’m on the horseshoes, so it’s kind of like a two-seam circle. I guess you could say it’s a modified circle.

“The velo difference from my fastball is probably 6-7 mph. The movement profile is a ‘big split’ in terms of I’ve been able to kill spin a lot better, and have more depth to it. When I’m throwing it the right way, it has tumble and fade.

“The analytics and pitching guys here with the Orioles have been big helpers. Before, I was just guessing at what would work; I was trying to see what the hitters told me. Now with the quantitative numbers, I can see it. Whatever it does is what it does, but that still helps me see the development, the improvement of it week to week.

“One thing I’m looking at on the Edgertronic is my wrist. Is it stiff? Am I pushing at it? I want more of a roll, like I’m kind of rolling over, pronating. When I see a certain spot on the video, I know immediately if it was going be a good one or a bad one. You could pause the video and I’d know. Something I like to do is, if I throw a good one, I’ll purposely try to throw a bad one just to make myself more aware of what I’m doing, and how I’m doing it. Being able to see the video, and correct it that quickly, has been really big for me.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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