As FanGraphs readers know, Brandon McCarthy made some notable changes prior to the 2011 season. As Ryan Campbell wrote last October, the A’s right-hander fined-tuned his mechanics and traded in his four-seamer for a two-seamer and a cutter. The results of his data-driven adjustments were striking. Armed with a new repertoire and approach, McCarthy emerged as a frontline starter. He wasn’t satisfied. McCarthy is in the process of perfecting a new pitch, which he talked about prior to last night’s game at Fenway Park.
Brandon McCarthy on his new changeup: “When I started this process, I knew that I needed a changeup and that I wasn’t going to go back to my old one. Finding a grip that will work has kind of been a slow process. I need something that I can throw for strikes, where I want it, and with enough action. It also needs to be slow enough.
“My old changeup was something nobody else throws. I gripped it with my ring finger, pinky finger and thumb. I didn’t want to go back to that, so I’ve kind of flirted with different grips. Some feel really good, but when you throw the ball it doesn’t do what you want it to do. [The new] one has sort of stuck the last month or two. It’s close to a split-finger grip, but it’s not as far down on the ball. My fingers kind of run along the sweet spot, just outside the seams. Now it’s a matter of finding out which counts it will work in and who the best candidates are for it. I need to get it into more game situations to see what the reaction is to it.
“It’s 85-86 mph, so it’s not like a true, true changeup. But it has some sort of deceptive action and depth to it, so I can make it work. I’ll kind of find out [about the velocity] as we go. Felix Hernandez’s changeup is 89 and [Tim] Lincecum’s changeup, when it’s at it’s best, is 85-86. It’s the movement on it that gets hitters. Two to three mph will work if you make it look like a fastball and have some downward action on it. I need to make sure I have that. If it just kind of rolls into the zone at that speed, I’m going to get killed.
“In my last game, I ended up not feeling a need to throw any. The few games before that, we started throwing it more. [Kurt] Suzuki knows that if he wants to call it, I’ll throw it. It’s just a matter of working it into the game plan and finding out what we can and can’t do with it.
“It’s a pitch that I’d love to be able to go to 15 or 20 times. If I can possibly get it to be a strikeout pitch, that would be my ultimate desire for it. The best pitchers in the game all seem to have a good changeup. Hitters don’t like to face it. The good ones can be almost impossible to hit. In order to reach the next level, I need to somehow introduce a good changeup. That’s why this process has been so frustrating. I’ll kind of struggled to get it, but it’s coming along.”
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.