Kansas City’s Kris Bubic on the Art of the Changeup

Kris Bubic leans heavily on his changeup. The 24-year-old Kansas City Royals left-hander has gone to his signature pitch 30.9% of the time this year, the fourth highest percentage among hurlers with at least 120 innings. Low velocity and low spin are two of its attributes. Bubic — a Stanford product whom the Royals drafted 40th overall in 2018 — throws his change-of-pace 80 mph on average, with a 1,602 rpm spin rate.

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Kris Bubic: “At the end of Little League, around 13 [years old], I had a club coach — his name was Erick Raich — and I tried to throw a changeup. At that point you’re not really developed enough to throw a breaking ball, at least not in my opinion. Your hand speed isn’t there, and the ball is bigger than your hand, so it’s tough to hold it and whatnot. Even a changeup. But the changeup was the first off-speed pitch I learned, and he showed me a standard circle grip. I threw a four-seam fastball, and [the changeup] was just a four-seam circle. It was pretty simple.

“As I developed it, I would play catch with it constantly, at 90 feet, at 120 feet, just to get the feel for it. I’d feel myself releasing it out front to get that good extension. But I think the separator for me… there are two things, actually. One is the velocity difference I’m able to create off my fastball. Two is that it essentially spins the same. There is variability with changeups — some have sidespin, some guys have split grips and whatnot — but mine essentially spins the same as my fastball. The axis is a little tilted toward more sidespin, but not enough that you can really tell from the eye.

“I don’t do anything crazy with my hand, or finger, or anything. I also don’t really think about pronating; that’s kind of taken care of naturally for me. The biggest thing is making sure my ring finger is the one that’s behind the ball. I think that’s why I’m able to take off velocity. Sometimes if my middle finger starts creeping back towards the middle of the ball, it will be a little firmer and won’t have as much depth as I’m accustomed to seeing. I’m making sure that middle finger is kind of straddling the side of the ball, with the ring finger kind of taking over. I’ve basically kept the same grip ever since I learned it.

Kris Bubic’s changeup grip.

“My ring finger is placed in the center of the ball — the pad of my ring finger is on top of that seam — but I wouldn’t say I’m actively trying to pull it down. It’s just to have a little bit of leverage on the ball. If I wasn’t on a seam, I feel like it might slip out a little bit, and wouldn’t be as comfortable. The pinky just slides kind of naturally to the side of the ball. I can also kind of move my pinky around a little bit if I want to manipulate the pitch — I can bring it under the ball to get a little more fade — but most of the time it’s just kind of resting comfortably on the side. The ring finger is the only one that’s actively on a seam.

“Looking at Edgertronic footage and slo-mo video, I stay behind my changeup pretty well. My wrist position at release kind of takes care of the the action I want. If I were to over-pronate, I’d be getting almost too inside the ball. A lot of guys will tell you that they want to get to the inside of the ball, but my wrist is kind of already in that position — say at a 10 o’clock axis — and that kind of takes care of the spin for me. I don’t have to really manipulate my hand too much, because I’m turning the ball over naturally.

“Looking at the metrics of my changeup, the spin is a little below average. I kill spin pretty well. But in terms of moving horizontally or having crazy vertical movement… for me, I think the velo separation is what really makes the difference. I’m not a guy who’s throwing 95-plus consistently. I’m chilling around 90-92 [mph] with my fastball for the most part. My changeup comes in around 80-81, and having that double digit difference really comes in handy. I think any hitter will tell you that if you can command a changeup with that much separation, it makes your fastball look a lot firmer than what the radar gun says.

“You want to throw [your changeup] hard… not hard, but you want to keep the hand speed the same as your fastball. Something else I do well is kill my lower half. With a fastball you’re trying to throw as firm as you can, and breaking balls now are more power pitches than they are finesse pitches. The changeup is much more of a feel pitch, and I’m able to kill my lower half pretty well and kind of disguise that to a hitter. I’ve watched a lot of Marco Estrada — he had a really good changeup — and he’d mention ‘killing your lower half.’ That’s one way I’ve heard it described. I also read where Eli Morgan was talking about ‘landing softer on your front side,’ whereas with fastballs and power breaking balls you’re absorbing that force a little firmer; your front leg stiffens up a little bit more. Catching your force, or catching your weight out front, rather than driving into the ground, helps a changeup. I think I do a good job of landing soft pretty naturally.

“I’ve watched a lot of Lucas Giolito as well, and he talks about throwing high changeups, because he throws a lot of elevated fastballs. I’ve never actually tried to throw a high changeup, but sometimes I’ll throw one and get takes, or ugly swings, because of the velo separation. Guys will be extremely out in front. So that’s something I might consciously incorporate as I go forward, but probably only if I can gain a tick or two on my fastball and command it at the top of the zone. That’s not a standard approach, but I’m pretty open-minded when it comes to pitching.

“I think the book is out on me by now, and the changeup is a pitch I’m probably going to go to at some point in an at-bat. Hitters know that. So the ability to move my fastball around, and command that fastball pretty well… I mean, guys can cheat to the changeup against me all they want. That actually makes me feel better, because if I’m able to land a fastball where I want to, then it’s game over when it comes to going back to the changeup. It can be a fine line between understanding hitters’ approaches and what I do best, but sequencing can be the most important thing. As long as you sequence well, and set up hitters well, you’re going to have success more often than not.”

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The 2021 installments of the series can be found here.

The 2019 installments of the series can be found here.





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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“At the end of Little League, around 13 [years old], I had a club coach — his name was Erick Raich — and I tried to throw a changeup. At that point you’re not really developed enough to throw a breaking ball, at least not in my opinion. Your hand speed isn’t there, and the ball is bigger than your hand, so it’s tough to hold it and whatnot.

Thats interesting. I never had trouble with a curve. I could spin the ball like crazy and had a good curve (a couple different curves actually) by the time i was 12-13 but I always struggled to learn the change, even when I was in my 20’s, because my hands just weren’t big enough.