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Jose Leclerc, Evan Marshall, and Tony Watson Discuss Their Atypical 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 — Jose Leclerc, Evan Marshall, and Tony Watson — on how they learned and developed their changeups.

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Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers

“I was around 10 years old when I started throwing it — 10 or 12 — and I thought it was a regular changeup. When I was playing Little League, nobody told me that it wasn’t really a changeup. I just kept throwing it, kept throwing it, and when I signed my contract with the Rangers, the pitching coach told me, ‘That’s not a changeup.’ I said, ‘That’s how I hold my changeup.’ He said, ‘No, that’s a slider.’ But I kept throwing it, kept throwing it, and it was good.

Jose Leclerc’s changeup grip.

“It’s a changeup grip, but I throw it like a football and it moves kind of like a slider. I don’t know why. I’ve tried to show it to my compañeros — to my teammates — and they can’t do it. Sam Dyson; he asked me to show it to him. A few others did, as well. Some of them could kind of throw it, but they couldn’t command it like I do.

“I throw it the same now as when I was a kid. Everything is the same. It is better, though. I throw harder now, so there’s more movement. But what it is … I call it a cut-change. It’s just something natural that I have. I don’t how I do it. For real.” Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Robert Stock Stimulates His Nervous System (And Hits Triple Digits)

Robert Stock is following a breakthrough season with a rocky season. Last year, the right-hander broke into the big leagues at age 28, and logged a 2.50 ERA in 32 appearances out of the Padres’ bullpen. This year he’s spent the bulk of his time with San Diego’s Triple-A affiliate, and scuffled in his smattering of opportunities in The Show. Currently on the IL with a bicep strain, Stock has a 10.13 ERA in 10-and-two-thirds innings of work.

There’s more to the Robert Stock story than his late-bloomer status and overall pitching prowess. When I talked to the former Los Angeles-area prep at Petco Park recently, I learned that he’s a converted catcher with an unorthodox workout routine.

“I use a training system called EVO UltraFit,” Stock told me. “It involves electrodes, and obscure ways of lifting weights. You’re doing things like jumping off of stuff, and catching things that are falling.”

Watching an ESPN feature on a former NFL safety was the catalyst. Learning that Adam Archuleta “found success through this weird training system,” he decided to try it himself. Just 13 years old at the time, Stock traveled to Arizona, “where the guru is,” and proceeded to adopt the program. He’s been a disciple ever since.

An electrodes apparatus was charging at Stock’s locker as we spoke. Read the rest of this entry »


Evan Longoria Talks Hitting

Evan Longoria has been a good player for a long time. Since debuting with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, the 33-year-old third baseman has bashed 289 home runs, been awarded three Gold Gloves, and garnered MVP votes in six separate seasons. A three-time All-Star, he’s been worth 50.4 WAR.

The extent to which his best days are behind him is difficult to determine. Longoria hasn’t been as productive since joining the San Francisco Giants prior to last season, but he’s showing signs of a revival. Going into the All-Star break, he was 10 for his last 25, with a pair of doubles and five home runs.

Longoria sat down to talk hitting prior to a recent game at Petco Park.

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David Laurila: A number of hitters have told me they go up to the plate hunting fastballs. Does that describe your approach, as well?

Evan Longoria: “It starts there. I think if you look around the league, the top pitchers have an ability to locate a fastball. Commanding the zone early with a fastball is a big reason they’re successful, so as a hitter it makes sense to stay on that.

“On a very basic level, my approach is … over the course of my career, I’ve had a lot of success hitting the ball from gap to gap. That’s kind of where I start, but then it changes every day based on a few, if not a bunch of, factors. The starting pitcher that day has a lot to do with it. Sometimes it’s the way I’m feeling, both physically and mentally. Where the defense is positioned … sometimes, if you’re feeling really good, you pick your spot to try to beat the shift, or hit a hole.

“Velocity has a lot to do with it, too. Against guys who are in the upper 90s, you really have to look for one pitch; you have to stay on the fastball even more. Against guys with a little less velocity, you can kind of sit on those in-between speeds and make adjustments from there.”

Laurila: Regardless of how good you’re feeling at the plate, controlling where you hit the ball is easier said than done. Read the rest of this entry »


Jon Daniels and the Texas Rangers’ Draft

The Texas Rangers selected Texas Tech infielder Josh Jung eighth overall in last month’s amateur draft. They followed that up by taking Baylor infielder Davis Wendzel with the 41st overall pick. The Big 12 Conference co-players of the year both signed on the dotted line last week, Jung for a reported $4.4 million, Wendzel for a reported $1.6 million. Following get-ready stints at the team’s facility in Surprise, Arizona, each is expected to join short-season Spokane for the duration of the summer.

According to Rangers GM Jon Daniels, it wasn’t purely by chance that accomplished collegiate bats were his club’s top two selections.

“We didn’t make an about-face in our philosophy, but we did probably make a little more of a conscious effort to manage risk up top,” Daniels told me in mid-June. “That kind of dovetailed into where the strengths of the draft were, which in our opinion was more college than high school, and a little heavier on the position player side.”

The industry agreed with that assessment — only one prep pitcher went in the first 25 picks — but whether this was an outlier draft or not, pitchers are widely seen as riskier propositions. When I asked if that was a primary factor, Daniels delivered his answer with a wry smile. Read the rest of this entry »


Fernando Tatis Jr. Talks Hitting

Fernando Tatís Jr is arguably the most-exciting young player in the game. He’s certainly gotten off to a rousing start. Through his first 55 games with the San Diego Padres, the 20-year-old shortstop is slashing .327/.393/.620, with 14 home runs, a 162 wRC+, and 13 stolen bases. Twice he’s scored on a sacrifice fly that was caught by the second baseman. Defensively, his range and his arm have both elicited oohs and aahs from what is becoming an increasingly-invigorated Padres fanbase.

The conversation that follows is focused entirely on the young man’s approach to hitting. He’s learned his lessons well — primarily from his father, former big-league infielder Fernando Tatis — but at the same time, his M.O. at the plate is straightforward. Tatis likes to keep things simple, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. Given the numbers he’s been putting up, why should it?

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David Laurila: Is hitting simple, or is it complicated?

Fernando Tatis: “It’s complicated if you want it to be. I think if you take it as simple as possible, you can be more consistent every day. People make it complicated when they start doing a lot of stuff — when you start doing a lot of stuff to your mind; when you think you’re doing this, you’re doing that. For me, a big thing is to remember that I’m playing baseball. I’m just a kid playing in a park. Yes, I have to make adjustments sometimes, but as simple as I can be at the plate is way better.”

Laurila: Are you basically hunting fastballs?

Tatis: “I’m always looking fastballs. I don’t want it to sound like hitting is that easy. Don’t get me wrong. Hitting is not easy. But again, as simple as I can make it is way better.”

Laurila: How do you go about recognizing breaking pitches? Is it mostly a matter of reps?

Tatis: “More reps will be better for you, but for me, recognizing breaking balls is … a big part is when you’re looking for his fastball, you forget about everything down. If you see spin up, those are the good ones to hit. The ones down are going to be hard.” Read the rest of this entry »


Pete Fairbanks, Jack Flaherty, and Will Smith Discuss Their Signature Sliders

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 — Pete Fairbanks, Jack Flaherty, and Will Smith — on how they learned and developed their sliders.

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Pete Fairbanks, Texas Rangers

“My coach — this was in summer ball when I was 14 or 15 years old — was Matt Whiteside, who I believe pitched for the Rangers back in the day. He showed me a grip and said, ‘Hey, kind of just turn your wrist; turn it on the side when you throw it.’ It’s possible that it was originally taught to me as more of a curveball, but looking back it’s always had slider characteristics to it. Regardless, that was my introduction to a breaking ball.

Pete Fairbanks’ original slider grip.

“The grip was similar to the one I have now, although it has varied over time. My slider has been good and bad. For instance, it was really cutter-y in 2017; it was very flat. It had six-to-eight inches of lift to it, which obviously isn’t what you’re looking for from a slider. You’re trying to get closer to zero. But with the tweaks I’ve made to it this year, it’s really taken off.

“I worked with one of our systems guys, Sam Niedrorf, when I was down in High-A. He was the guy who was feeding me all of my numbers on it, so I could fiddle with it to get it where it needed to be this year. We had a portable TrackMan, and I threw a couple of bullpens in front of that. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Dakota Hudson Metamorphosed Into a Throwback

Dakota Hudson is somewhat of a square peg in a round hole. At a time where four-seamers at the belt are de rigueur, the 24-year-old St. Louis Cardinals right-hander likes to live near the knees. Since debuting last season, Hudson has thrown his signature sinker a full 50% of the time. And he’s done so successfully. Hudson has a 3.31 ERA over 119-and-two-thirds career innings.

He hasn’t always relied on the worm-killer responsible for his MLB-best (among qualified pitchers) 60.3% ground-ball rate. As a young pitcher at Mississippi State University, Hudson was primarily four-seamers from straight over the top, and a breaking ball he couldn’t consistently command. Then came his metamorphosis.

“Butch Thompson was my pitching coach at the time,” explained Hudson. “I was 10 or 11 appearances into my sophomore year, and had just gotten through maybe two innings. He came up to me and said, ‘Hey, are you willing to make a change?’Of course I was. So I dropped down.”

The original plan was to drop all the way down to sidearm, but Hudson couldn’t comfortably get that low. He ultimately ended up closer to three-quarters, with a sinker and a cutter/slider becoming his weapons of choice.

The process of finding the most-optimal arm slot was achieved sans a catcher. Read the rest of this entry »


Paul DeJong Talks Hitting

Paul DeJong will represent the St. Louis Cardinals in next week’s All-Star Game. He’ll do so with solid, albeit unspectacular, offensive numbers. The 25-year-old shortstop is slashing .260/.344/.455, with 13 home runs and a 110 wRC+. Thanks in part to plus defense, he leads the Redbirds with 2.9 WAR.

Two years ago, in an interview that ran here at FanGraphs, DeJong discussed the mental side of hitting. This past weekend, the Illinois State University graduate — his degree is in biology — sat down for a far-wider-ranging conversation about his craft.

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David Laurila: How would you describe your hitting approach?

Paul DeJong: “My general approach is to hit something hard through the middle. I’m usually looking for a fastball that I can hit gap-to-gap; not pull, not oppo, but kind of through the middle. That gives me the best chance of adjusting to different speeds and different locations. I’m able to open up, or if I’m late, I still have time to keep it fair.”

Laurila: Something I’ve been asking players about is the idea of an A-swing, and whether hitters have multiple swings.

DeJong: “Hitters absolutely have multiple swings. For instance, if you get fooled on a breaking ball, you’re kind of adjusting your body. But for me, it’s more about keeping my hands back. If you do that, you can drift forward with your body — you’ll be off balance out front — but if your hands are still back, you’re able to deliver the barrel, still put the ball in play hard.”

Laurila: What about on fastballs riding high in the zone? Read the rest of this entry »


Carson Fulmer, Lucas Giolito, and Clayton Richard on Reworking 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 — Carson Fulmer, Lucas Giolito, and Clayton Richard — on how they learned and developed their changeups.

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Carson Fulmer, Chicago White Sox

“I’ve always thrown a four-seam fastball, so early on I wanted to throw a four-seam changeup. I could never get enough velocity off of it, so I needed to come up with something else. What I came up with was kind of a fosh. This was about two years ago. But I couldn’t find enough consistency in the zone — it would throw me into bad counts — so I kind of got away from it. Read the rest of this entry »


A Conversation With Brendan McKay

Brendan McKay continued his fantastic season this past Saturday. Making his big-league debut with the Tampa Bay Rays, the 23-year-old left-hander retired 18 of the 20 Texas Rangers batters he faced. And his work on the farm had been every bit as dominating. In 66.2 innings between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, McKay compiled a 1.22 ERA and allowed just 38 hits.

And then there’s the offensive side of the equation. As you know, McKay can swing the bat. Aspiring to be the major’s next Shohei Ohtani — sans the Tommy John surgery — the former Golden Spikes winner as a two-way player at the University of Louisville was 11 for his last 33, with three home runs, at the time of his call-up.

What is his approach on each side of the ball, and does he truly expect to be able to play both ways at baseball’s highest level? I addressed those questions with the 2017 first-round pick a few days before he arrived in The Show.

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Laurila: Nuts and bolts first question: What is your approach on the mound?

McKay: “I’m a pitcher who likes to get ahead — just like every other pitcher — and force the action, rather than letting the hitter have any control over the at-bat. That’s basically it.”

Laurila: Are you looking to induce contact, or are you out there trying to miss bats? Read the rest of this entry »