Grayson Rodriguez on His Changeup, Which Isn’t a Screwball (Or Is It?)

Grayson Rodriguez is a top-100 prospect thanks to a four-pitch mix that includes an explosive high-spin heater. As electric as that mid-90s offering is, it’s not the most eye-catching item in his arsenal. The Orioles’ top pitching prospect throws a changeup with screwball characteristics. While not technically a screwball — Juan Marichal and Mike Norris come to mind — the movement profile is anything but run-of-the-mill for a right-handed change. At age 21 with a bright future ahead of him, Rodriguez is armed with a unique pitch.

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David Laurila: You’ve developed a good changeup. What makes it effective?

Grayson Rodriguez: “The way I like to attack with my fastball sets up my changeup well, how it moves and what it looks like out of my hand. As I’ve learned how to throw it with TrackMan and Edgertronic cameras, I’ve figured out a way to get the ball to spin exactly how I want it to. Those things have really helped me, because my changeup is different from a lot of other guys’. It’s almost like a screwball. Hitters don’t see it as much as they do a normal changeup.”

Laurila: How do you get the screwball action?

Rodriguez: “At my release point, my wrist is pronating a lot more than normal. If you break down my hand movement and wrist position — break everything down in slow motion — it’s really turning over. It’s kind of an aggressive, violent turn-over. You don’t see that very often. My ball, on an axis, is spinning at about 3 o’clock to 3:30. If you were to picture that on a clock, it’s almost like a left-handed slider, or a left-handed curveball.”

Laurila: It has both horizontal and vertical movement.

Rodriguez: “Right. And depending on how I want it to spin… if I get the spin axis around 3 o’clock, it’s got more depth to the pitch. If I start getting over 3 o’clock — like I said, 3:30, sometimes 3:45 — then it starts being like a left-handed curveball; it gets more horizontal movement toward my arm-side. I hold it exactly the same, but depending on what I want it to do, I can manipulate the movement with my hand and my wrist.”

Laurila: What is the grip?

Rodriguez: “It’s just a regular circle change. It’s a two-seam circle, and I hold it at the top of the horseshoe. If you can imagine where the seams are the closest, that’s where my middle finger and my ring finger are. Then I have the circle on the side.

“I like to feel the seam on my middle finger. I’m able to rip down off of that, in order to get more spin on the ball. How I think about it… in my head, I’m throwing the changeup with only my middle finger. I’m pulling the trigger like you would on a gun.”

Laurila: That definitely makes you unique, as pitchers are typically trying to kill spin on their changeups.

Rodriguez: “Right. If there’s a low-spinning changeup, the ball fades. It’s not as sharp, but you’re getting lower velocity as well as getting fade. You’re still getting movement, because gravity is kind of working on the ball, giving it that effect.

“In my case, I’m trying to spin the ball harder, because just like with a curveball or a slider, the more something is spinning, the sharper the movement is. When I can get the ball to spin at about 3 o’clock, 3:15, the ball is almost creating a vacuum, and it’s dropping straight now.”

Laurila: What is the velocity on your changeup?

Rodriguez: “Usually it’s about 82–84 [mph]. It also depends on how much it’s moving — that affects the velo, too — but yeah, usually it’s in the 82–84 range. It’s not super hard.”

Laurila: When and how did you begin developing it?

Rodriguez: “I went home after finishing my first season — this was 2018, in the GCL after I got drafted — and I was at the workout facility I’ve been going to for a couple of years. Josh Tomlin, who was with Cleveland forever and is now is with the Braves, was there. I was talking to him about how the Orioles really wanted me to be working on a changeup, how they thought it would fit well in my arsenal. Josh is a very smart pitcher, and he kind of showed me, and told me, what a changeup is supposed to do — what the perfect changeup would be like.

“I was working on that. How to move it — the pronation of your wrist — and then when I got to spring training for my first full season, Justin Ramsey, who was my pitching coach in low-A, along with Chris Holt, our big-league pitching coach who at the time was our pitching coordinator… we really got after it with the slow-motion cameras. We did a lot of crazy things, like draw stripes around the baseball, to see how it was moving. Once we figured out the wrist positioning and the wrist movement — once we refined all that — then it was just a matter of which grip would fit me the best.

“We spent hours studying how the ball left my hand, and just how the ball was spinning. We were moving it around in bullpens, getting different feels in my hand with how the ball sits. Finally, we found the perfect grip. We just started rolling with it from there.”

Laurila: Were you able to refine it further this past season?

Rodriguez: “I was. The longer you do something, the more accustomed you get to doing it, the more comfortable you feel. So yes, I was able to kind of refine it. Obviously, we weren’t in a perfect situation — we weren’t in a normal season — but we were able to get in a lot of work. And since it was a controlled environment, having outings against people you know, with your coaches running the game, we were able to do some different things than you could in a real game. For instance, you can face five righties in a row, because you need to work on throwing that pitch to a right-handed hitter.

“In my case, I’d really only thrown my changeup to left-handed hitters in 2019. I’d achieved great success with it, but I wasn’t throwing it against any right-handed hitters. But this summer at the alternate camp, that was one of my main focuses: getting comfortable throwing that pitch to a right-handed hitter. You know, being able to be able to drop it in back-door, or being able to put it on their front hip — imitating an inside fastball and letting that pitch fall off, so they swing over the top of it.”

Laurila: Back-dooring a changeup is easier said than done, as you’re throwing it glove-side.

Rodriguez: “It is more difficult, because where you’re trying to throw it, it’s fighting how it’s moving. If you were to yank a curveball or a slider, that’s going to cause a sharper movement, rather than leaving it up or arm-side, just because of the way the ball is spinning. Tying to throw a backdoor changeup for a strike to a right-handed hitter is definitely harder, because the pitch doesn’t move as much. That’s just how it is. But my changeup is a little different, so I was able to get comfortable trying to catch that outside corner.”

Laurila: Do you view the pitch almost more like a screwball than a changeup?

Rodriguez: “Yeah, pretty much. Again, it’s just different than a normal changeup. I still call it a changeup, though. I don’t want to start calling it a screwball. I’ve played around with letting it move at a 4 o’clock axis, and that isn’t as sharp. It doesn’t spin as much. It’s a lot slower and just not as effective of a pitch. It’s kind of like what you would have seen back in the earlier days of baseball, but hitters can recognize it out of the hand because it kind of floats. When I’m able to make it more of a sharper changeup, with a small screwball movement… that’s what’s been more effective to me.”

Laurila: Another reason for not wanting to call it a screwball would be how the pitch is often perceived. A lot of people feel that a screwball is hard on a pitcher’s arm.

Rodriguez: “That’s what I always thought, too. I thought a screwball was something scary or whatnot, but really, it’s just the way the ball is spinning out of your hand. Its not necessarily a dangerous movement. It is different — not many people are able to do it — but the arm is naturally protonating when you’re throwing a baseball. Really, I’m not doing anything different; the ball is just coming out of my hand a different way.”





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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