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.
Jerry Blevins, Mets
“The story starts as a kid. You start learning about curveballs, and the reason mine is big and slow is because I wanted to visualize it. A lot of those smaller breaking balls you don’t really see from the perspective of a pitcher. I wanted to see the big break. That’s why mine is how it is.
“Did anyone ever try to change that? All the time. Every step of the way, coming through the minor leagues. Even in high school and little league. They were always telling me, ‘Look, you need something tighter.’ I always fought against that, and I think it’s done me well.
“I do throw different variations of it. Different shapes. It’s one of those things where you read a hitter. You read a swing and slow a guy down, you read a swing and speed him up. You do that with arm speed, hand speed, release. A little of everything.
“The grip is always the same. I don’t put the second finger down. Sometimes if I want to speed it up a little, I’ll apply more pressure — I’ll bring my other finger down a little bit onto the ball — but I mostly throw it with my middle finger across. So I will tweak. The pitch has kept me in the game for a long time. I’m 35 now.”
Taylor Guerrieri, Blue Jays
“My curveball grip was self taught. When I was 12 years old, my dad and I were throwing in our front yard. It was the first day I was allowed to throw curveballs and he said, ‘Get something that’s tight in your hand, and make sure you can spin it.’ The first thing I did was grip it and roll it deep in the palm of my hand. That’s kind of what I came up with, and I’ve been throwing it that way ever since.
“I want all the pressure to be on the middle finger. Whenever it comes out of there, it feels like it just shoots off. The ideal is to get as much spin on it as possible. The more spin you have, with the right hand placement… that’s going to equal more depth. More spin, more depth.
“That middle finger causes most of the spin, so if you can wedge it in between the ring and the middle… personally, that’s where I get the most spin. I haven’t gotten too in depth with it, but I think I have one of the better spin rates on my curveball. I think I’ve been around 3,100.
“Where I place my finger on the ball will change a little bit. Sometimes if I put it on the horseshoe it will spin more — it might have a little tighter spin with more depth. Sometimes, if I put it on the actual two seam, it will spin more. It just depends on the day, really. But the actual grip stays the same.
“I’ll show guys my grip when they come up ask how I throw my curveball. When that happens, they usually give me this look like, ‘Man, are you serious?’ It’s different, but it’s what works for me.”
Lance McCullers Jr., Astros
“After my freshman year of high school, I committed to the University of Florida as an infielder. I didn’t really pitch yet. But I would go to Perfect Game events and whatnot, and would throw hard from shortstop; I would get my velo up from shortstop. Then I started getting on the mound at those events and would be throwing 95-96, as a 16-year-old. At that point, no one really cared if I could play the infield or hit anymore. It all became about pitching. That’s when I met Jose Fernandez and started working out with him. That’s when I started making the transition.
“Going into my junior summer is when I really started pitching more. Our pitching coach, Geoff Goetz, who was the sixth-overall pick back in 1997, threw a spiked curveball, similar to how Drew Pomeranz throws his. He showed me the grip, told me to work on it, and I was feeling good with it, but it never really had the break I felt the pitch needed.
“One day I was out there messing around with it, and I put the spike in the middle of the seam instead of doing a full knuckle curve. I put my fingernail right in the middle of that seam, ripped over it, and it had the same spin as before — but with more depth and bite. And it was late. That was a very quick moment for me, the moment where it clicked. This was probably after a couple months of working on the other curveball and getting the spin.
“When you’re working flat ground, you’re looking for spin. If you can see movement, there’s going to be too much when you get on the mound. The hitters are going to be able to recognize that movement. So, if you’re on flat ground, working on a pitch — a sinker, a changeup, a curveball, whatever it is — just look at how it’s spinning. Is my two-seam spinning on the right axis? Is my curveball ripping over the way I want it to? If it is, that spin should translate over to the mound and to hitters not being able to recognize that pitch coming out of your hand.”
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.