Cleveland’s Eli Morgan on the Art of the Changeup

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.

“One of the things I did to help develop it was long-toss. I’d max long-toss with my fastball, and on the way in I’d do my pulldowns with my fastball. Then, when I’d get to about 150 feet, I’d start ripping the changeup until I got to 90 feet. I’d go 10 or 15 in a row. It’s something my college pitching coach recommended, and had a lot of us do. When you’re throwing it from that far, you can kind of see the bigger movement. It’s easy to make a pitch move from 150 feet. As you get closer, it’s a matter of compacting that movement.

“In terms of how I actually get it to move, I’m on the first-base side of the rubber and I kind of land open. My head tilts. I have an easy angle to get inside the ball — swipe the inside of the ball — because of how my body moves. The trade off is that it’s tougher for me to get to supination on my curveball and my slider. It’s why my changeup grades out a lot better than my breaking balls.

“At this point, it’s a matter of finding that middle ground, because I can’t be too far open just for the changeup. I have to be able to throw the slider. But I’d say that’s how I get the movement: the throwing motion, kind of pulling off to the first base side, and then swiping the inside of the ball.

“I definitely pronate more on the changeup, although a lot of that is natural. On every pitch you have natural pronation, and I’d say I have very good natural pronation. When I throw a four-seam fastball it can have kind of a two-seam movement, just because of that natural pronation.

“Taking off velocity… I’ve never been a hard thrower, and in a way, my changeup is slow just from that. When I do throw my fastball, I find a way to put a little extra on it, but it still ends up being a little below league-average speed. So it’s that, and also getting way out in front of it while making sure that I sell it with my arm action. You don’t want to slow up your arm on a changeup.

Eli Morgan’s changeup grip.

“I have sort of a split grip, with my middle and ring finger. I’ve always been taught that the closer your fingers are together, the firmer it will be. That’s why on a four-seam fastball your fingers will be touching. A two-seam is a little wider, and then a splitter is wider still. I kind of took that same thought-process to my changeup. If I split my fingers farther apart — a little more separated than a normal circle — I can take off more velocity. They’re not separated enough for a Vulcan, but rather somewhere in between the two.

“I don’t really do much [with the lower half]. The only thing would maybe be my front leg brace. Rather than bracing at throw, it will be a little later. But that’s not something I’m even conscious of; it just ends up being how I throw the pitch. It’s kind of an extension type deal, with a slightly-bent knee, whereas on my fastball it’s really blocked to helped with speed on spin.

“I’m not sure what the best comps for my changeup would be, but we just faced Jackson Kowar and I saw some slow-mo of how his hand goes through the ball. I’d say mine is pretty similar, although his changeup is 10 mph harder because he throws 10 mph harder. But, like me, he is more of a pronator than a supinator and kind of pulls off a little bit. It looks like he has a really good feel for getting over the ball.

“I’ve looked at guys who have a really good changeup. I’d watch Pedro Martinez highlights; I’d watch Johnny Cueto highlights. I really liked watching Marco Estrada. He had a really good changeup, although his was more of a straight one, just with how he threw it. He got a lot of run and sink, but would throw it more normally, rather than with exaggerated pronation. Cueto and Pedro were more ‘sweep inside the ball, try to get more on top of it.’ I would watch those guys to help work on my changeup.”


The 2021 installments of the series can be found here.

The 2019 installments of the series can be found here.

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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