Jake Brentz, Brooks Kriske, and Hirokazu Sawamura Break Down Their Changeups and Splitters

On hiatus since the onset of the COVID pandemic, the Learning and Developing a Pitch series returned last week with three pitchers telling the stories behind their sliders. Today, in the second of this year’s installments, we hear from Jake Brentz, Brooks Kriske, and Hirokazu Sawamura on their changeups and splitters.


Jake Brentz, Kansas City Royals

“I never had a changeup in the minor leagues. I was fastball slider/breaking ball, but I always mixed around my breaking ball. I didn’t really find a breaking ball that worked for me until probably a year and a half, two years ago — not until I got to Triple-A.

Paul Gibson is our pitching coordinator here with the Royals, and last year at the alternate site he told me, ‘Hey, I would like you to develop a changeup; I think it would be a very valuable pitch for you.’ So I really focused on developing one, throwing it as many times as I could during an outing. We were just playing each other — nothing really mattered — so it was just developing and whatnot. I’d throw it back to back to back, and messed around with grips. I found one that really worked for me, and then worked on it more over the offseason. In spring training I wasn’t throwing it a lot at first, but Mike [Matheny] came to me said, ‘I think your changeup can be a devastating pitch, so we’re going to throw that a lot.’ Over time, I’ve continuing to throw it.

Jake Brentz’s changeup grip.

“It’s a standard two-seam circle grip with my pinky under the ball. I throw a four-seam fastball, and a lot of times they say with a four-seam fastball you need to throw a four-seam change, but my changeup is more like a splitter in terms of movement. It’s a lot harder pitch. I throw it like 89-92 [mph]. When I start to baby it, it goes up-and-away and isn’t a good pitch, so I try to stay on top of it and throw it as hard as I can. So it’s kind of unique, and last year during quarantine is when I really started with it.

“The movement is down-and-away to a righty. I kind of get that side spin to it, but if I really get on top it’s… not straight down, but kind of straight down with a little bit of away to a righty. I’m not sure about [the spin] — I’m not big into the analytics stuff — but it’s maybe 1,700 [rpm]? So I just go out there and pitch my game and don’t worry about anything like that. I’ve also never been a guy that uses any sort of stick. I just go there and throw normal.”


Brooks Kriske, New York Yankees

“It’s kind of hybrid. Basically, I got to Double-A just throwing a fastball. I had a couple of clunkers and our former coordinator, Scott Aldred, mentioned learning a new pitch. This was in July of 2019. With my arm action, and the aggression I throw the ball with, the splitter was a good fit. I looked up a bunch of guys and stuck with Kirby Yates’s grip. I’ve tinkered with it a little bit, but I’m kind of emulating [Yates].

Brooks Kriske’s split/change grip.

“I guess you’d call the grip a typical splitter, but I have the ring finger up on it. That’s kind of why it’s like a hybrid changeup, like a split/change almost. The ring finger is there kind of as a stabilizer. It’s kind of a grip-and-rip type of pitch. I’m choking it and splitting the fingers super wide.

“My hands aren’t especially big; I have big palms and short fingers. I don’t know if that has any effect on the pitch or not, but what I get is kind of a really low spin-rate side spin. I want it as close I can to three o’clock spin, and the good ones are usually like a 600 spin-rate type of thing.

“I get pretty average arm-side [movement] but with depth to it. On the really good ones I’ll get over the top of it and it will be like a negative-two on a Rapsodo — but as close to zero as possible — so it’s just a straight side spin.[The velocity] is like 84 to 87 [mph], so it’s slower than a typical splitter. It’s got changeup speed, but from a splitter grip and with splitter spin on it.

“Generally, I aim at the catcher’s right knee — that would be to my glove side — and I kind of drive it straight to there. That’s when I want to bounce it; I want a strikeout, so it will be in the dirt. I’ve gotten to where I can throw it for a strike, too. Game-by-game you’ll change your sights, but generally that right knee is where I’m throwing 95% of my splitters.”


Hirokazu Sawamura, Boston Red Sox (via interpreter Yutaro Yamaguchi)

“I learned it on my own in college. When I started throwing a splitter it was sitting around 89-90 [mph] and right now I’ve picked up the velocity to where it’s consistently 90-94. Since my college days, I’ve been taking my workouts seriously and that’s when my body started building up. With this kind of body is how I’m able to throw that hard of a splitter.

Hirokazu Sawamura’s splitter grip.

“The grip has been the same. There was a pitcher named Kazumi Saito in Japan. I was reading sort of a breaking ball textbook, and I got the grip from [Saito]. He was never over here [in the United States].

“I really value the acceleration of my delivery. When I land my left foot, I kind of stop my body but my upper body will accelerate. It goes forward. That’s something I really value. And my arm slot, I try not to extend out too much. I try to release it around my body — near my body — and that’s something I focus on when I throw that pitch.

“I think my splitters are more effective when I’m able to locate my fastball pretty well. I’m known for having velocity on my fastball, and I think guys here are sitting on it a lot, so having a lot of velocity on my splitter works when I have velocity on my fastball. And I think my splitter is more effective when I’m able to keep my fastball below the zone, or that lower part of the zone — when I’m keeping it down.

“I kind of change the grip a little bit on my splitter, depending on the day and how it drops, but no matter how loose or how tight I hold the ball, the velocity is the same.”

[Is there anyone in Japan who throws a splitter as hard?] “Not that I know of.”

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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