Dillon Tate’s fastballs were primarily sinkers this season. Per Statcast, the 27-year-old Baltimore Orioles reliever threw 615 of them in total, versus just 16 four-seamers. Delivered with a one-seam grip at an average velocity of 95.5 mph, and with a spin rate that ranked in the third percentile, the offering has evolved into Tate’s signature pitch. Buoyed by its increased effectiveness, the right-hander appeared in a career-high 62 games, logging a 4.39 ERA and an almost-identical 4.40 FIP.
Tate discussed the evolution of his fastball(s) when the Orioles played at Fenway Park in mid-September.
Dillon Tate: “I’d always thrown a four-seam, but the evolution of my fastball changed throughout the years. When I was in high school, I would grip a standard four-seam, like so. But the way I was grabbing it… when you grab it with the horseshoe facing in — it’s making a “C” — and you throw it, the Magnus effect takes over; it will start to bring the ball down, and more so in to a right-handed hitter. When you flip it over — make it a backwards “C” — it fights gravity a little bit more, so will stay truer. I learned that in 2017 from one of my rehab coaches with the Yankees, Greg Pavlick.
“So, I’d been grabbing it [with the horseshoe facing in], and then with the Yankees switched over. I had a little bit of success, but then towards the middle-end of 2018, my fastball was getting hit pretty hard. That’s when I started switching over to a sinker, to a one-seam fastball. On a traditional two-seam fastball, a lot of guys will split the seams. I found comfort in going across the seam, and throwing my fastball with [the pointer finger] on one seam. I started to see my groundball rate go up. It’s turned out to be pretty good movement profile-wise — it dances more than my four-seam fastball did — so it’s been a better option for me. Read the rest of this entry »
Kris Bubic leans heavily on his changeup. The 24-year-old Kansas City Royals left-hander has gone to his signature pitch 30.9% of the time this year, the fourth highest percentage among hurlers with at least 120 innings. Low velocity and low spin are two of its attributes. Bubic — a Stanford product whom the Royals drafted 40th overall in 2018 — throws his change-of-pace 80 mph on average, with a 1,602 rpm spin rate.
Kris Bubic: “At the end of Little League, around 13 [years old], I had a club coach — his name was Erick Raich — and I tried to throw a changeup. At that point you’re not really developed enough to throw a breaking ball, at least not in my opinion. Your hand speed isn’t there, and the ball is bigger than your hand, so it’s tough to hold it and whatnot. Even a changeup. But the changeup was the first off-speed pitch I learned, and he showed me a standard circle grip. I threw a four-seam fastball, and [the changeup] was just a four-seam circle. It was pretty simple.
“As I developed it, I would play catch with it constantly, at 90 feet, at 120 feet, just to get the feel for it. I’d feel myself releasing it out front to get that good extension. But I think the separator for me… there are two things, actually. One is the velocity difference I’m able to create off my fastball. Two is that it essentially spins the same. There is variability with changeups — some have sidespin, some guys have split grips and whatnot — but mine essentially spins the same as my fastball. The axis is a little tilted toward more sidespin, but not enough that you can really tell from the eye. Read the rest of this entry »
The Learning and Developing a Pitch series returned this summer after being on hiatus last year due to the pandemic. Each week, we’re hearing from pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment features Gerrit Cole on his curveball and Austin Davis on his slider.
Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
“A.J. Burnett taught Charlie Morton and me the grip when we were in Pittsburgh. He would take me in the cage and do drills with me that his dad would do with him when he was a kid. The curveball is something he’s basically had since the first time he started playing catch, which is different than me, but similar to Jameson [Taillon]. So I had to learn it. He showed me the grip, showed me the drills, and kind of described what he was feeling and what he was looking for. This was in 2012, in spring training. Then in 2013, in the big leagues, we worked on it a lot.
“I’d been pretty much slider only. I had tried a bigger curveball. I’d tried to make the slider bigger. I’d tried to throw a shorter cutter. But I never really had a true downer breaking ball. At first, I incorporated it in Pittsburgh [and] a lot was changing speeds. It’s kind of developed a little bit beyond just that.
“One of [the drills] was with an L screen. We played catch in the cage a few times. He’d back me up to 50-55 [feet] — just in front of the mound — and I would play catch with the curveball. Then he would slide the L screen over. The objective was to throw the curveball and make it go right over the shorter portion of the L screen. It would get to the correct height at the finish. We practiced that a lot. Read the rest of this entry »
The Learning and Developing a Pitch series returned this summer after being on hiatus last year due to the pandemic. Each week, we’re hearing from three pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment features DJ Herz, Aaron Loup, and Trevor Williams on their changeups.
DJ Herz, Chicago Cubs prospect
“It was 2020 spring training and I was in the pitch lab. [Cubs pitching coordinator] Casey Jacobson was with me. I threw my regular four… I never had a changeup going into pro ball. So, I threw it off my four-seam grip, and it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good, either. It was too firm, only about four miles off my fastball. Casey had me try another grip, and again it was just all right. Then, the second grip we tried was kind of Vulcan-ish.
“I put it deep into the wedge between the middle and ring finger. I‘ve got the middle finger off the two-seam grip, so I can just rip down on it. I mean, the first pitch I threw like that, it was like, ‘All right, let’s stick with that one; that’s the pitch right there.’
“I went back home and just kept throwing it. I’ve always been told that the changeup is one of the hardest pitches to learn. I was determined. I said, ‘Man, I want to learn this pitch so much.’ I’d hear these interviews with guys saying that having a good fastball and a good changeup is an awesome combo, so I would throw that pitch every single day. I’d long-toss with it sometimes. I kept working on it, and it’s paid off, man. Read the rest of this entry »
Tanner Houck’s signature pitch is a sweeping slider. The 25-year-old Boston Red Sox right-hander has gone to it 35.5% of the time this season, and with good results. There is little question that the offering is the most lethal weapon in his arsenal. That said, it’s arguably not his most important pitch going forward — particularly if his future is in the starting rotation, and not out of the bullpen.
Bedeviled by an inability to master a conventional changeup, Houck began learning a split-finger fastball last year. The pitch remains something of a work-in-progress, yet he’s begun throwing it more frequently. Houck’s splitter usage is up to 7.5% on the season, a percentage that promises to rise if he can fine-tune it further. Four years after he was drafted 24th overall out of the University of Missouri, Houck is hoping that his newest pitch will take him to the next level.
Tanner Houck: “I had trouble throwing a changeup. I would constantly baby it — I would get on the side of it and just push it — so it was really inconsistent. They came to me and said, ‘Hey, we want you to throw a splitter.’ This was in spring training 2020, four days before we got canceled. It was a heck of a time to start learning a new pitch.
“They wanted me to keep working on the change, but also attempt to throw the splitter, and I was like, ‘OK, fine; I’ll give it a shot.’ I threw a bullpen the next day, and for every five, maybe one of them wasn’t too bad. At that time it was still 90-93 [mph]; it was essentially just a little bit worse of a two-seam. But I didn’t think anything of it. I was like, ‘This is literally day one of throwing this pitch, so it’s not a big deal.’ Then COVID happens, so I go home. Read the rest of this entry »
The Learning and Developing a Pitch series returned this summer after being on hiatus last year due to the pandemic. Each week, we’ll hear from three pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment features J.P. Feyereisen, Zach Plesac, and Nick Wittgren on their changeups.
J.P. Feyereisen, Tampa Bay Rays
“I started throwing a changeup in 2019, using your basic four-seam grip. It was okay. Then I went to the Brewers and got in their lab. They kind of switched my grip around, and now I have kind of a weird two-seam grip. The thought behind it is to get gravity to affect it and bring it down, so it’s nothing like the Devin Williams changeup where he spins it at 3,100 [rpm].
“Basically, I’m thinking about almost side-spinning it. The way I grip it, the top of the ball is facing up, and it spins [counterclockwise]. It comes off my middle finger. I think ‘ring finger,’ but my middle finger is the main anchor of it, for sure. When I spin it like that, I get depth and also a little bit of arm-side movement. The spin is 1,400-1,500 — nothing crazy — but the good ones I throw will act kind of like a lefty slider. I throw it upper-80s, so it’s kind of a different pitch. Read the rest of this entry »
Eli Morgan has “a bugs-bunny changeup.” That’s how the 25-year-old rookie right-hander’s signature offering was described when it was suggested that I interview him for the Learning and Developing a Pitch series. Delivered at an average velocity of 75.1 mph, Morgan’s changeup is the slowest among pitchers who have worked at least 40 innings (not including Seattle’s Paul Sewald, who per StatCast has thrown just one changeup all season).
Cleveland’s eighth-round pick in the 2017 draft, Morgan has made 14 starts and has a 5.48 ERA and a 5.01 FIP to go with 68 strikeouts in 67.1 innings. He’s thrown his changeup — a pitch he described in detail this past Sunday — 22.4% of the time.
Eli Morgan: “I started out mainly fastball/breaking ball, and then my senior year of high school I began developing my changeup. I’d thrown a splitter — that was my changeup for my first couple years of high school — but I figured that probably wasn’t great for my arm going forward. At the time, there was talk of Masahiro Tanaka having issues with his elbow because of the splitter, and that kind of turned me off of that pitch. I decided to go to a regular circle change.
“When I got to [Gonzaga University] they told me that if I wanted to pitch, let alone be a starter, I needed to have a good changeup. That was a big thing up there, so I started throwing it a lot more and got comfortable with it.
“Because I throw a four-seam fastball, I throw a four-seam changeup. That’s something one of my pitching coaches mentioned: ‘Make sure it comes out with the same seams as your fastball.’ That’s what I went with, and I had pretty good command of it right from the start. Over time, I began getting more movement on it, getting more fade. Read the rest of this entry »
The Learning and Developing a Pitch series returned this summer after being on a year-long hiatus due to the pandemic. Each week, we’ll hear from three pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment features a pair of right-handers, Joe Barlow and Bailey Ober, and a southpaw, Alex Young, on one of their breaking balls.
Joe Barlow, Texas Rangers
“I was a fastball-curveball guy until last year. The pandemic happened, then I went to Driveline to see if there was an opening for a better pitch… not even a better pitch, just any pitch in general to add to the repertoire. That way, if my curveball wasn’t on, I wouldn’t just be throwing fastballs.
“I played with changeups, two-seamers, sliders, and cutters. The pitch that I could seemingly best repeat was the slider. Even though it wasn’t good, it seemed like there was an opportunity to grow on that and get it to be a pitch that I could use. So, I went into the offseason and started throwing it. It was meant to be a third pitch — behind the curveball, behind the fastball — but I ended up getting a good feel for it and now it’s almost 50-50 with the fastball. Read the rest of this entry »
Martín Pérez has a plus changeup, and he relies on it often. The 30-year-old native of Guanare, Venezuela has thrown his “cambio” 24.6% of the time since coming to the Red Sox prior to the 2020 season. A four-seam circle delivered at an average velocity of 84.9 mph, it’s the pitch the southpaw was once told would be his ticket to the big leagues.
Perez discussed the art of the changeup prior to a recent game at Fenway Park.
Perez on his changeup: “I started throwing my changeup when I was 14 years old. Before that age, I just threw fastballs. I’d met couple of guys in Venezuela who played — Ramon Garcia, a righty with Houston, and Ernesto Mejia, who signed with Atlanta — and they told me not to throw breaking pitches, to just throw fastballs. As soon as I started my process to sign as a professional baseball player, I started to throw changeups, breaking balls, and fastballs.
“It’s important to have a changeup that will have the same arm speed as the fastball. You throw your fastball, and you throw your changeup, and they’re going to look the same. That’s why it’s so hard to hit. It’s hard for hitters to recognize that pitch, because they both have the same rotation. So, that was my focus.
“After I signed [with the Rangers] in 2007, the guy who was my boss at that time was [Director of Player Development] Scott Servais. In 2008, I played in [short-season] Spokane and it was a good year. I threw my breaking ball, my changeup, and my fastball. I had a big breaking ball. It was 12–6 and really good; I could throw it in any count. But then, in 2009, I went to Hickory, Low-A, and they told me, ‘Martín, you don’t have to throw more breaking balls. We want you to focus on your changeup, because that’s the pitch that’s going to take you to the big leagues.’ Read the rest of this entry »
The Learning and Developing a Pitch series returned last month after being on hiatus due to the pandemic. Each week, we’ll hear from three pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment features Peyton Battenfield, Demarcus Evans, and Josh Fleming on their cutters.
Peyton Battenfield, Cleveland prospect
“Slider, cutter… that pitch is kind of loosely defined. I call it a cutter. The horizontal movement isn’t super high, and I throw it anywhere from 87–90 [mph]. I’d tried throwing a slider in college, but I could never really get it to move. When I got drafted by the Astros, I had the same grip and still couldn’t get it to move. For whatever reason, I didn’t understand the right type of spin that I was supposed to be getting out of it, but then I got showed a cutter grip. This was in October 2020, in instructs, and that’s when it started moving.
“I actually tried learning one back in 2019, when I was with the Astros, but like with any pitch, when you’re first starting to learn it takes time and patience. You’re learning a new grip, so you’ve got to figure out the right release point, what feels right coming out of the hand in order to get the movement profile you’re looking for.
“I came into spring training this year able to throw it for a strike more consistently. I was also getting more consistent movement, the way I wanted it to move, and the velo was higher on it as well. As much as anything, I simplified the pitch. Trusting the grip and throwing it like my fastball was probably the biggest thing. Read the rest of this entry »