Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.
Gerrit Cole, Astros
“It’s all about the fastball. From a young age, I’ve thrown both the two-seam and the four-seam. I just try to keep my fingers on top of the ball and get after it, man. It’s pretty simple.
“You try to locate it the best you can, knowing that overcooking the pitch — whether that’s overthrowing it or overthinking it — can cause you to maybe leak the ball over the plate or simply lose some of the quality of the pitch. You try to be as relaxed as you can, and have the most-connected delivery that you can. You keep your fingers on top of the ball, spin it, and take it right through the glove. Don’t try to do too much. Just let it eat.
“The fastball is important for sustainability. It’s important for the baseline. Regardless of a starter’s repertoire — and everyone will tell you this — it boils down to fastball command. When you can throw strikes and establish all four quadrants of the zone… you have to get ahead of guys. You have to put pressure on hitters. You have to be able to establish the strike zone with your fastball, whether it’s a four-seamer a two-seamer, so that you can get swings and misses on breaking balls outside the zone.”
Dallas Keuchel, Astros
“I had a standard two-seam grip. I was in college — I think this was 2008, my sophomore year — and one of the ESPN games was on. Jon Lester was throwing. He had this one-seam grip. He offset the two-seam in a way that when he throws it, the hitters only see one seam. That’s why they call it a one-seam.
“They were showing his pitch grips [on the broadcast]. They were saying how he offset his two-seam because of Tim Hudson and how he got better action out of it. I started tinkering with that. I’d always had run on my two-seam, but then I started getting sink and run. Two-plane movement is better than one-plane movement.
“Something that that works in my favor is that I’ve always gotten great extension out front — I’m above league average — and I think late movement happens with full extension, as opposed to when you’re cutting yourself off. I think it’s one of those things where it kind of naturally comes out of my hand the right way.
“Everybody has their quirkiness about them. Everybody has their specialty, and mine is late movement. I don’t really know how to teach that, other than full extension out front and just letting the grip do the work. Some guys have high velocity and some guys, like myself, have late movement. Part of that is God-given ability, and conversations and adjustments also factor into it.
“I’ve never talked to Lester about it, but I do talk to our guys. We have a pretty good group, and as pitchers, if you don’t have conversations, you’re missing out on stuff. There’s always room for improvement, whether you’re the worst pitcher in baseball or the best.”
Charlie Morton, Astros
“My sinker is a pitch that developed over the course of five years. My two-seam used to not do anything. When I got to High-A, Bruce Dal Canton — he’s since passed away — was there. He was a really good man, and a really good [pitching] coach. I worked with him in Myrtle Beach, and he recommended that I offset the grip on my two-seam.
“With a normal two-seam you might be between… the bottom of the horseshoe, how it comes together — where the two seams become the closest — that’s where a lot of guys put their fingers. They put their two fingers between those seams, right at that spot. He showed me a grip where I moved it down, closer to the bottom of the horseshoe, and I have my index finger up against the seam. My middle finger was dry. So both of my fingers were inside that half of the ball. It actually started moving a little bit. That was a pretty big deal for me, because now I had a fastball that was moving.
“I kind of stuck with it here and there. Then I got to the big leagues. It was a pitch I threw a decent amount of the time, but then in 2011, when I changed my arm slot… that arm slot, coupled with that grip, made my sinker a lot better. It made it more dynamic. It started [to move] more vertically, as opposed to horizontally.
“I’ve tried to grip it normally — like it would normally be gripped — since, and I don’t get as much movement. I don’t get as much sink on it; I get some run. So for me, that was a pitch that developed over time, based on a few changing variables.”
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.