Dodgers Pitching Prospect Ryan Pepiot on His Devin Williams-Like Changeup

Ryan Pepiot is No. 6 on our Los Angeles Dodgers Top Prospects list largely because of his changeup. Baseball America has described the 23-year-old’s best pitch as “devastating [and] plus-plus,’ while our own Eric Longenhagen has likened it to Devin Williams’s Airbender. Per BA, Pepiot has the second-best changeup in the minors, with only Jackson Kowar’s grading out as better.

The Dodgers’ third-round pick in the 2018 draft out of Butler University, Pepiot has made six starts with the Double-A Tulsa Drillers this year and has a 1.64 ERA to go with 33 strikeouts — and just 10 hits allowed — in 22 innings of work. He discussed his signature offering, and touched on the rest of his repertoire, prior to last night’s game.


David Laurila: How would you describe your changeup?

Ryan Pepiot: “I’m trying to make it as close to a screwball as possible. A lot of guys cut the spin when they throw their changeups, but the way mine works, I actually spin the ball more than I do my fastball. It’s kind of like how Devin Williams does it, where he spins it close to 3,000 [rpm]. I’m not that high — I’m in the 2,500-2,600 range — but I get arm-side fade and depth. I throw a four-seam circle change, and that allows the spin to look closer to a fastball from a hitter’s perspective. That helps get swings-and-misses, and also takes on pitches that sometimes I wouldn’t get takes on if it was a two-seam changeup and you could see the spin.”

Laurila: It sounds like you don’t back away from the Devin Williams comps you’ve gotten at times.

Pepiot: “No. I see his and I’m like, ‘That’s just gross.’ Like, how do you make something move like that? When I’m out there, I’m trying to do something similar.”

Laurila: What is the story behind your changeup? You don’t just walk onto the mound and start throwing a pitch like that.

Pepiot: “The story behind it is that I didn’t really have much of a changeup in high school or the beginning of college. It was hit-or-miss, so I’d throw it once or twice a game, not really having an idea of where it was going to go. I went out to the New England Collegiate Baseball League after my freshman year and kind of got exposed a little bit, because I didn’t have a changeup.

“Knowing that I needed one, I started messing around with different grips. The spin on a two-seam, circle change didn’t really make any sense to me, so I started playing catch with the four-seam grip that I have now. I started throwing long-toss with it and just kind of honed that back in to the 60-feet distance. The movement just kind of followed with it. So it’s kind of a self-taught thing where I just messed around with grips — a little trial-and-error — until I found something I liked. I kind of went from there.”

Laurila: That was when you were in the NECBL…

Pepiot: “Correct. That was in the summer of 2017, and that fall I went back to school and started throwing it more and more. Then, in the spring season of 2018 with Butler, I started using it in my arsenal.”

Laurila: Grayson Rodriguez throws a screwball-like changeup with a two-seam grip. You said yours is a four?

Ryan Pepiot’s changeup grip.

Pepiot: “It is. It’s like a standard four-seam grip, but my hand kind of hooks around a little bit. Playing football growing up, and basketball, I got some jammed fingers, so my fingers… like, it works to where I can just kind of hook them around the horseshoe. And a lot of guys get their pinky fingers off the ball when they throw their changeup, but I actually try to hook my pinky around the horseshoe, on the seam, and try to keep it on there as long as possible. That’s kind of a cue for me. When you slow down the video, my pinky finger ends up coming off at the end, but trying to keep it on as long as possible helps make sure I’m releasing it out in front. That helps me get the fade and depth to it.”

Ryan Pepiot’s changeup grip.

Laurila: I assume you’re pronating quite a bit on the pitch…

Pepiot: “Yes, I am. I’m trying to get the ball to come off my hand like… to roll down the side of the ball as I’m releasing the ball.”

Laurila: Outside of being screwball-ish, what is the actual movement profile?

Pepiot: “I can never get the positive or negative horizontal break straight, but vertical it’s around zero to four inches. I’ll get it negative-one or negative-two every once in a while, but usually it’s around the zero-to-four range. Horizontal-wise, it’s 14 to 18. The spin axis is around 2:30 to 3:00 o’clock. And again, the spin is around 2,500 to 2,600.”

Laurila: Is it always the same pitch, or do you vary it at all?

Pepiot: “I don’t try to vary it, but based on the release point it sometimes has a little more arm-side. More of my misses tend to be arm-side, so I try to eliminate those. When it’s at its best, it’s more straight down and just kind of dies as it gets to the plate. It fades away from a left-handed hitter.”

Laurila: Where is the velocity when it’s at its best?

Pepiot: “In the 84-86 range.”

Laurila: What percentage of the pitches you’re throwing are changeups?

Pepiot: “This year has been a little different since we’ve been on shorter pitch counts. I’ve been heavily fastball this year. But on a normal day, I’d say probably in the 25-30% range for changeups. It doesn’t matter if it would be a right-handed hitter or a left-handed hitter, either.”

Laurila: I assume you’re more than willing to throw back-to-back changeups?

Pepiot: “Yes. I like to double up. I’ll triple up, and a couple times I’ve gone up to five or six in a row. I’ve joked about trying to do the Lance McCullers Jr. thing where he threw 20-something curveballs in a row, but I haven’t gotten to that yet.”

Laurila: The Dodgers are obviously big on data and technology when it comes to pitching development. How much has that impacted how well you understand your changeup?

Pepiot: “The only reason I know the movement profile numbers, and a lot of what I’ve said so far, is because of the Dodgers. I had some Rapsodo in college, but that was all we used, and I couldn’t have told you what any of it meant when I was looking at the sheets after bullpens, or after games. Now I understand what everything means.”

Laurila: We should at least touch on your other pitches. What can you tell me about your fastball?

Pepiot: “My velo has definitely ticked up since being drafted. It was in the 91-94 range and would get up to six every once in a while, and now I’m sitting in the four-to-six range and getting up to 97-98 every once a while. Heat helps, definitely.

“With that, and the tech data that we have… being able to understand what release point, and how my hand is angled, has helped my spin rates go up. And then the vertical movement has ticked up as well; it’s in the 18 to 20 range. I get pretty good arm-side action as well. It’s in the 10-to-15 range on any given day.”

Laurila: You get horizontal along with the ride…

Pepiot: “Yes. I think it’s due to… mechanically, I kind of step across with some crossfire action. Since college, I’ve been able to move a little better hips-wise, so I can open up a little bit without sacrificing any leg strength.”

Laurila: What about your breaking ball?

Pepiot: “I’ve cut out the curveball for now, so it’s a three-pitch mix with the fastball, changeup, and a slider. My slider is like a cutter/slider hybrid. I’m trying to throw it hard, and as straight as possible with late break at the end. I try to keep it on the same plane as the fastball to tunnel well with that, and then have it break late to miss a barrel. I can use it as somewhat of a swing-and miss pitch, and for weak contact as well. It’s in the 88 to 92 range, and the vertical break is anywhere from two-to-six. The horizontal is six-to-eight.”

Laurila: Basically, it’s a pitch that moves glove-side to complement your changeup going arm-side…

Pepiot: “Correct. When you look at the report, I want the triangle of my three pitches to have a good distance break, and to have everything look like it’s coming out as a fastball. One goes to my glove side, one goes down-and-away arm side, and then the fastball plays up in the zone, and down in the zone as well.”

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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This was great. I always find it interesting how guys develop their signature pitches. So many seem to sort of stumble into something that just works for them.