Connor Brogdon, Garrett Whitlock, and Cade Cavalli on Learning and Developing Their Changeups

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 focuses on changeups and features a pair of big-league relievers — Connor Brogdon and Garrett Whitlock — as well as Cade Cavalli, the top pitching prospect in the Washington Nationals system.

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Connor Brogdon, Philadelphia Phillies

“A changeup was the first off-speed pitch I ever learned. It was… shoot, I was probably eight or 10 years old. When I was growing up, you weren’t taught to throw a curveball too early in your life. Mine was just a straight circle change, basically right off the grip of my four-seam fastball.

“I had the same grip all the way through Little League, and even into high school. When I got to college, I started messing around with grips to see if I could throw it for a strike more consistently. I ended up talking to one of my teammates at Lewis Clark State College, Henry McAree, and picked his brain on some things.

“I finally settled on a grip that felt comfortable to me, then took some of his tips. One was to lay on your back and flip the ball up in the air, focusing on turning your wrist. By that, I mean physically taking a baseball, laying on the ground, or on a bed, and just flipping it up into the air, seeing the rotation of the ball and focusing on pronating your wrist to get that action — kind of that side-spin action you want to get.

Connor Brogdon’s changeup grip.

“My grip is kind of a circle, a two-seam circle change. It’s a hybrid blend of his grip, my old one, and what I settled on after a few trial-and-errors. There’s really not anything pressure-point-wise. The two main things I focus on are throwing it exactly like a fastball — fastball arm speed — and then as I’m finishing the pitch, pronating my wrist as if I’m turning a doorknob the other way. I’m trying to generate a sidespin to get it to kind of fade away from a left-handed hitter, and in to a right-handed hitter.

“I’m not presetting my wrist in my glove — I don’t want there to be any tips for the hitter or baserunners to pick something up — it’s all just natural wrist action. And like I said, I try to maintain fastball arm speed, and fastball intent. From there, it’s about pronating at finish and letting the spin take over. I think the spin rate is higher than average. It’s typically around 1,800 to 2,000 [rpm].”

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Cade Cavalli, Washington Nationals prospect

“In my opinion, the changeup is the hardest pitch to hit in baseball. I know that when I was a hitter, I didn’t like hitting changeups. And I didn’t have one going into college. Along with being hard to hit, it’s the hardest pitch to learn. So it took a little bit of time and effort, every single day, to get that feel and be able to command that pitch.

“My freshman year, I threw [17-and-a-third] innings and was basically just a fastball/slider guy. I barely ever threw my curveball, so that’s something I’ve developed, too. I’ll throw a slider, a spiked curveball, and a two-seam circle change. My sophomore year is when I really started throwing a changeup. I was challenging myself, throwing it in games — throwing it in a competitive mode, which is when it matters — and I developed it throughout the year. It became a big pitch for me.

“As far as learning it… I was reading stuff on my own, for sure. And I’m a very feel-oriented guy. I’m pretty blessed to be able to feel my body — how it moves — and then having video to back that up, I can learn a lot just by myself. At the same time, I had one of the greatest pitching minds in baseball in [University of Oklahoma Head Coach] Skip Johnson, as well as Jay Franklin and Sean Snedeker. I picked up things here and there, like arm speed, release point, how to grip it.

Cade Cavalli’s changeup grip.

“I played with a lot of grips. I went from a two-seam to a four-seam, to off the lace. I was trying to figure out which movement profile I liked best, and which one I had the best feel with. I ended up going across seams.

“If you have the two seams and you turn them horizontal, where they’re perpendicular to each other, looking at you… I was just straight up over the top of those, in the middle of the ball with my ring finger and my middle finger. What I did was slide the ball clockwise about half an inch, so the ball isn’t straight up in my hand anymore. I’m kind of on the side of it. Honestly, I just throw the pitch as hard as possible, and the grip and spin will take care of itself. The more aggressive I am with my changeup, the better it usually is.

“The [velocity] will be anywhere from 88 to 91 [mph], and it fades. I want more depth on it than I want horizontal movement. There are some times where it will hit midway to the plate and shoot off like a left-handed slider almost — it will be funky and fade arm-side — and there are also times where it will just have depth to it; it will stay straight, but then dive. In my opinion, it’s better when it’s staying straighter and has depth at the end. If it fades too much… sometimes hitters can see it fading sooner. Of course, I can’t control it once it gets midair.

“I think the spin is around 1,800 to 1,900, and maybe it will catch 2,000 [rpm] every once in a while. It’s not a super-low-spin changeup. It’s not like Devin Williams with the Brewers, who has that crazy-high spin rate. But I think if you can spin it on the right axis, and it’s spinning a lot, you’re going to get the movement profile you want. The grip takes care of the velocity. My fastball will be anywhere from 96 to 101, so with my changeup being 88 to 91, the speed differential is fine — especially if I can throw it with the same effort and have it look like a fastball until the very end. That’s what I try to do with that pitch.”

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Garrett Whitlock, Boston Red Sox

“The [changeup] I throw now, I started messing around with during Tommy John recovery. I had my fastball and slider, and I knew that I was going to need the third pitch if I was going to still be a starter. Obviously, this was before coming to the Red Sox. When I got to spring training, Matt Andriese helped me a lot with it — things like how to throw it and how to really use it in counts.

“I’d had a changeup before, but it was never really that good. It was always too hard. Then I saw the video of Pedro Martinez talking to Dan Plesac about why his changeup had been too hard: he’d been using two dominant fingers to throw it. So he slid the ball over a little bit, and used two non-dominant fingers. That kind of deadened it a little bit, so during TJ rehab, that’s what I did. I moved it over to my ring finger and my pinky. Then I played catch with it every day and developed a feel for it.

Garrett Whitlock’s changeup grip.

“[Andriese] said that pretty much everyone will tell you, ‘Throw it the same way as your fastball, throw it the same way as your fastball,’ but that’s not really how he visualizes it. He visualizes it as like, ‘Throw it like a well-completed pitch, but always focus on pronation.’ He said to focus on making sure you get the ring finger through the ball, to really get that spin you’re looking for. That’s kind of what I focus on, making sure I’m getting that ring finger through the ball. Everyone naturally pronates, so as long as your hand is on top, you’re going to naturally pronate through the ball.

“I’m looking for more of that three o’clock, nine o’clock — that sideways spin — but I have no idea what the spin rate is on it. I’m just trying to miss barrels. I’ll go to our analytics guys to see how it grades out, and they tell me that the grades are good, so as long as they’re happy with it, and it’s getting outs… that’s all I’m worried about.”

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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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I love this series, and wanted to look back at all the old articles. When I go to the archive, there’s only one page of articles, is there a place that indexes all of them?