The Learning and Developing a Pitch series is back for another season, and we’re once again hearing from pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment features St. Louis Cardinals rookie left-hander Zack Thompson on his big-bending curveball.
Drafted 19th overall in 2019 out of the University of Kentucky, the 24-year-old Thompson made his major league debut on June 3, and he’s gone on to log a 3.31 ERA and a 4.05 FIP over 16-and-a-third innings. Working primarily out of the bullpen, he’s allowed 13 hits, issued five free passes, and fanned 13 batters. No. 9 on our newly-released St. Louis Cardinals Top Prospect list, Thompson has thrown his arguably-best-in-the-system curveball 32.8% of the time.
Zack Thompson: “Growing up, my dad was always protective of me throwing breaking balls, so I didn’t start throwing one until I was a junior in high school. That’s when we began messing around with a curveball. We started out duct-taping two tennis balls together — my high school pitching coach, Jason Dudley, came up with the idea — and I just kind of flipped those to get the shape. It’s actually a lot easier to get feedback off of that. That’s kind of how it got started for me, and I ran with it from there.
“As I got older, I obviously started refining it more. The shape has essentially stayed the same, although I did have to cut down a little bit on the movement. That happened in college. Honestly, it was just too big. It was also too slow. Cutting down on the movement, my command got better, and the pitch also got a little bit sharper. Read the rest of this entry »
The Learning and Developing a Pitch series is back for another season, and we’re once again hearing from pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment features Detroit Tigers left-hander Andrew “Big Country” Chafin on his signature slider.
Chafin has a keep-it-simple-stupid [K.I.S.S.] approach to his best pitch, and it’s hard to argue with success. Since the start of last season, the mustachioed southpaw boasts a 2.17 ERA and 2.78 FIP over 94 relief outings, allowing just 62 hits and fanning 88 batters in 87 innings. Chafin has thrown his breaking ball 35.8% of the time this year.
Andrew Chafin: “I hold a curveball grip, throw it as hard as I can, and it comes out a slider. So, is it a curveball or a slider? I guess whatever it does is what it is. Really, I don’t care what people call it as long as the hitters swing and miss. If that happens, I’m happy.
“I want to say I started learning [a breaking ball] in my junior year of high school, give or take. I don’t remember who I was working with in particular, I just found a grip that felt comfortable, and I tried to make it spin. There’s nothing special about how I grip it or throw it. Read the rest of this entry »
The Learning and Developing a Pitch series is back for another season, and we’re once again hearing from pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment features Oakland Athletics right-hander Paul Blackburn on his curveball, a revamped pitch playing a key role in what has been a career-best season.
On track to represent Oakland in next month’s All-Star game, Blackburn has won six of eight decisions — this for the team with baseball’s worst record — while logging a 2.26 ERA and a 3.09 FIP over 13 starts comprising 71-and-two-thirds innings. He’s thrown his curveball, a pitch he no longer grips in atypical fashion, 18.5% of the time.
Paul Blackburn: “I started throwing a curveball right around my sophomore year of high school. I learned it from watching Barry Zito. I grew up in Northern California — I’m a Northern California guy — so I saw a lot of Barry Zito and his big curveball. Read the rest of this entry »
The Learning and Developing a Pitch series is back for another season, and we’re once again hearing from pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment, presented in a Q&A format, features Seattle Mariners reliever Paul Sewald on his slider.
Since signing with Seattle as a free agent prior to last season, Sewald has won 12 of 16 decisions, logged 15 saves, and has a 2.86 ERA, a 3.20 FIP, and 123 strikeouts in 85 innings. The 32-year-old right-hander has thrown his signature slider — a pitch he completely revamped after coming over from the New York Mets — 42.8% of the time.
David Laurila: You’ve developed a great slider. What’s the story behind it?
Paul Sewald: “Since the beginning of time — before TrackMan, before Rapsodo, before everyone realized exactly what the pitch does — every pitching coach in the history of the world said, ‘You need two planes on your slider, you can’t have it go just sideways. That’s not how you get outs.’ So that’s what I thought. I tried to make it have two planes.
“When I first started throwing it, it was very slurvy. It wasn’t very hard, but it did move in two planes. It wasn’t a curve. It wasn’t a slider. It was somewhere in the middle. That’s how I grew up throwing it, and I always went back to that line of thinking. Slurvy or not, it had to have two planes.
“Then I got over here to the Mariners and it was, ‘We don’t care if it moves one centimeter down, we just want you to sweep it as far as you can possibly sweep it.’ I said, ‘OK, that’s interesting. I haven’t been trying to do that, but I throw across my body, so it seems like something I could do.’
“Immediately that worked. It was overnight. In camp last year, I didn’t pitch very well, but that was because of my fastball. The slider was very good. As soon as they told me, ‘We don’t care about any depth, we just want sweep,’ I took off with the slider. It was a very easy and very comfortable switch for me.”
Laurila: Outside of having the right delivery — throwing across your body — how did you go about getting the action the Mariners were looking for? Read the rest of this entry »
The Learning and Developing a Pitch series is back for another season, and we’re once again hearing from pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment features a young Seattle Mariners right-hander, Logan Gilbert, and a sneaky-good San Diego Padres reliever, Nabil Crismatt, on their changeups.
Logan Gilbert, Seattle Mariners
“I changed the grip this offseason. I’d been throwing it a little more off my ring finger, and now it’s more of a traditional circle change. I’m also trying to throw it more like my fastball, which has helped the consistency. I obviously wanted to keep good action on it, but also be able to locate it in the zone; I wasn’t commanding the old one very well. More than anything, I was looking for something that I felt comfortable with. Read the rest of this entry »
The Learning and Developing a Pitch series is back for another season, and once again, we’re hearing from pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment features a pair of southpaws — White Sox starter Dallas Keuchel and Brewers reliever Brent Suter — on their changeups.
Dallas Keuchel, Chicago White Sox
“A changeup was the first pitch I learned growing up. My dad never let me throw a breaking ball. He just had me split my fingers and try to throw a fastball as hard as I could. That was probably … let me think for a moment with my Rolodex here. I was maybe eight years old? Regardless, I don’t know how many miles per hour it was off, but it had some good deception and movement, so that’s what I rolled with through a lot of my childhood.
“I didn’t grip it like a palm ball, but a kid’s fingers are obviously smaller than the baseball, so we just tinkered with splitting the two fingers. What stuck was splitting three fingers together, instead of a circle change. It’s more of a three-finger prong changeup. When I say prong, what I mean is like a fork. But it worked well for me. It just kind of rolled off, and I’d get some whiffs and some weak contact. Read the rest of this entry »
The Learning and Developing a Pitch series is back for another season, and once again, we’re hearing from pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment features a pair of right-handers — Toronto’s Trent Thornton and Minnesota’s Josh Winder — on their distinctly different sliders.
Trent Thornton, Toronto Blues Jays
“Last year, I struggled with putting away righties. My slider wasn’t playing very well. I feel like curveballs are normally better to lefties anyways, so I started tinkering with a new slider grip that [Blue Jays pitching strategist] David Howell showed me. I started throwing that halfway through spring training, saw some pretty promising results, and took it straight into this season. I feel pretty confident with that pitch, being able to throw it in the zone, or out of the zone.
“It’s kind of an interesting grip for a slider. Normally, when guys are throwing a slider they want to think fastball as long as possible and kind of get that short, late action. But with this one, I’m almost thinking, ‘Completely on the side of the ball.’ In my mind, I’m trying to up-shoot it almost. I want to go straight across. It’s weird, because when I throw it, my wrist is literally like this; it’s kind of sideways. Basically, I’m thinking about bringing the back of my hands straight at the hitter. Read the rest of this entry »
The Learning and Developing a Pitch series is back for another season, and we’re once again hearing from pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment features Wil Crowe on his circle changeup and Nick Martinez on his made-in-Japan Vulcan changeup.
Wil Crowe, Pittsburgh Pirates
“I learned a changeup when I was about eight or 10 years old. Ex-big leaguer Steve Searcy lived in Knoxville, and my dad wanted to find me lessons — he’d played college ball, but wasn’t a pitcher — and that’s who he found. Steve was always big with fastball/changeup. I didn’t throw a curveball or slider until I was a senior in high school. Growing up, it was fastball/change. Locate the fastball, and the changeup comes off of it.
“The grip is a circle change. Now it’s a little modified; it’s out in my fingers a little more than it used to be. Middle finger and ring finger hold onto the laces, and the thumb is underneath. So it started out more of a traditional circle ball, and now it’s more on the end of the fingers. I did that in college, after I grew into my body. My hand was bigger and I was able to grip the ball better. But I think that starting at such a young age helped, because it’s a comfort thing. Read the rest of this entry »
The Learning and Developing a Pitch series is back for another season, and once again we’re hearing from pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment features a pair of Pittsburgh Pirates on their quality curveballs; Chris Stratton is one of the club’s back-end relievers, and prospect Mike Burrows is rated by Baseball America as having the best breaker in the system.
Michael Burrows, Pittsburgh Pirates
“My dad said I couldn’t even try to throw a curveball until I had hair under my armpits; that was the saying for him. But yeah, I really started as soon as I could, maybe at 13 or 14, and then just developed feel for it. As I got older — as I continued to progress — I had to change the shape of it, because as hitters got better I couldn’t have a curveball that was popping out. So it’s really been an evolution of a curveball that was in the low-to-mid 70s and has creeped up into the low 80s. It’s sharper now.
“I would say it [improved the most] over COVID, and then as I got into the 2021 season. That spring training, I really started working on building intent and throwing it harder. Metrically, when you look at a curveball that’s over 80 mph, it’s significantly harder to hit — hitters’ numbers go down — and I think that was the biggest turning point for me. Throwing it harder, there’s not a huge decrease in break, but a better shape to where it tunnels my fastball better.
“[Prior to 2020], I didn’t have Rapsodo, TrackMan, or anything like that. Right before COVID hit, about a month until that spring training, I went out and got a Rapsodo. I started diving into the metrics of pitches — why some are better than others, what spin direction was going to do for me. That’s when I really started developing my curveball. I was also throwing with a guy from the Dodgers, Nolan Long — he’s since signed with Athletics — and they have endless amounts of information over there. Another thing I did was take the Rapsodo course, so I could better understand all of the numbers.
“In terms of adjustments, it wasn’t really mechanics; it was more so thinking about that last five percent, rather than the entire motion. It’s about keeping my body under control, and then in that explosion, when I’m really throwing the baseball, is when the effort happens. It’s like a karate-chop motion, where your hand is staying neutral through the throw. It’s that last bit, where the hand is coming through and it rolls over top.
“The curveball was always there for me. It’s not like it had bad spin or anything like that. Everything was there. All I needed was to find a better shape that was going to tunnel my fastball. I still want that 12–6; I still want that vertical break to it. Again, I want to be able to tunnel it, not have it pop out.” Read the rest of this entry »
The Learning and Developing a Pitch series is back for another season, and once again we’ll be hearing from pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment features a veteran left-hander, Jake Diekman, and a young right-hander, Griffin Jax, on their signature sliders.
Jake Diekman, Boston Red Sox
“I learned a slider in my first year of college, or maybe in my senior year of high school. It was my breaking ball. If you’re under 16 years old, you should not throw a curveball or slider. That’s my opinion. You should just develop a heater — maybe a two-seamer — and a changeup.
“When I started [throwing a breaking ball], I threw it from over-the-top. It was curveball/slider-ish. When you’re 18 years old — this was back in 2005 — no one really gave a care if it was… I mean, we just saw it break. It was, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a breaking ball.’ Now they classify [pitches]. And there are sliders that look like curveballs, and sliders that look like cutters.
“My slider two years ago is different from any slider I’ve ever thrown. You just evolve. Sometimes you’ll keep the same slider for three, four years in a row, and then you start throwing it in spring training or in the offseason and you’re like, ‘I don’t know how to throw this thing anymore.’ You have to find a different seam, different thumb placement, a different whatever. Read the rest of this entry »